Monday, 24 September 2012

By the power of technology!

Axemaster is approaching (it's now about 3.5 weeks away), and this time I managed to settle on an army list well in advance. One of the things I need to assemble and paint as part of this army list is an Arch Lector on a War Altar. I've had plans to build one of these for a long time, however it has taken until now for me to actually act on those plans.

Recently I seem to have developed a nasty habit of making things harder work than they need to be. I have overlooked things like the normal Demigryph models and instead converted my own, opting for theme and style over practicality. The War Altar continues this theme - there is a perfectly adequate plastic kit available nowadays, but of course that would have been too simple. Besides, I don't yet have any Sigmarite priests in my army - they all worship Ulric. Another conversion was the order of the day.
The War Altar as sold by Games Workshop
After a lot of fiddling and dithering, my plan is to use a number of parts from the official War Altar kit, but the end result will be quite different. For instance, I will not have horses pulling my Altar. Nor will the statue at the back be a Griffon. I don't really fancy the small house and ridiculously elevated position of the Arch Lector, either. So really, I will be using the chassis and that's about it.

I have started work on this project, although I don't yet have any pictures of my work in progress. As I was assembling it however, I ran into a problem. My statue needed to be elevated well above the chassis of the Altar, and I couldn't work out how best to do this. I also wanted to leave a central section of the chassis visible, as I had carved off a couple of the Sigmarite symbols and replaced them with wolf heads - I didn't want that to be wasted effort. So I needed a plinth, but it couldn't just be square. At painting night I was making resolutions to build the thing out of plastic bases before covering them with greenstuff and trying to make them look like a construction of wood and metal when Pete (one of the painting night regulars) said, "I could print you one."

This offer may not make much sense without a little bit of context. Recently Pete bought one of those fancy newfangled 3D printers you may have read about. Actually, he bought all the bits to make one, and then set about the laborious task of assembling the thing from a confusing jumble of wires and bits of metal and plastic. Once this was done (and it didn't happen overnight), he set about trying to calibrate the thing so that it would actually make what he wanted, rather than a strange, blobby, slant-wise version of it. This involved battling printing speeds, different temperatures, extrusion rates, and other things that I may or may not be making up. Eventually though, this is what he ended up with:
Pete's 3D printer waves its magic wand and creates something out of (almost) nothing

If you have no idea what a 3D printer is or does, it's basically a machine that gets fed a string of plastic and computer instructions, melts down the plastic and then spits it out into a 3 dimensional object. So you make stuff out of plastic. Major companies are starting to flip out at the potential of these things, as the high end ones can basically create exact replicas of patented objects. Pete's one can't do that - it has far more pronounced limitations in terms of the detail it can reproduce, and the density and smoothness of the finish. But it still magically makes things in the real world out of nothing (or next to nothing), so it's a pretty cool toy. Anyway, back to the story.

Having a fair idea of what I wanted my plinth to look like, I sat down on the floor with the computer, downloaded Sketchup (Google's free 3D drawing tool), and (with helpful tips from Owen, who had used it before) whacked together a model of what I wanted. This is how it looked:
My 3D drawing in Google Sketchup
The same thing with a bit of colour to show where the wood and metal will go.
Once I had created my masterpiece (a process which was exceedingly easy and could prove rather addictive), I grabbed the file and emailed it to Pete, who went home that night and transferred my creation in the Real World. The following day I was presented with this:
My plinth in glorious 3D!
The same thing from behind. You can see lines showing the layers of plastic used to make the thing.
The innards of the thing look something like this - a mesh pattern of hardened plastic.  This top layer can be smoothed, though.
This was all very exciting. As anticipated, the final product had visible lines showing the layers of plastic the printer had used to construct the plinth. My plan is to shave down the raised areas (which will all be painted as metal) until they're smooth, and then leave the lines in the other indented bits, which will be wood. Hopefully once they're painted, those lines will do a reasonable job of looking like wood grain. That is the plan, anyway.

Now that I have my plinth, I think I have basically everything I need to construct the War Altar - so you should see it pretty soon. Of course, this process has left me wondering what else I could get designed and printed in 3D... 


  1. That's bloody awesome. The future is on us, in spades.

  2. Models out of the box are for wusses!

    I'm keen to see how this guy turns out!

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