Monday, October 25, 2010

That "Wrong Thing" I Was Talking About

Gonna keep this installment of the running thought experiment a bit short even if it is 'late'.  Fallout New Vegas has been sucking the life out of me through my eyeballs for four five days now (in a good way).  I'm a little bit sleep deprived, a little bit addled and a lot distracted.  I'm also jonesing for more Fallout.

On my desk right now, I have 6 bottlecaps.  If I was in the Fallout universe, I'd only have enough money on me to be barely worth the ammo it took for the hero of the story to kill me as I tried to mug him for no reason.  He'd be frustrated with me and would probably be wondering why he used his fancy pistol rather than the service rifle he has a bajillion rounds for.  That would last for a few seconds and then I'd be just another generic corpse for him to step over on his way to the next town.

Why did I think mugging a heavily armed sociopath was a good idea? Was I really that high on jet?

The game designers spent a ton of time skillfully building all the 3D meshes required to give me shape.  They also spent a ton of time rendering my textures, tweaking the animation for when my head flies off and they even bothered to give me some voice acting.  A lot of man hours went into me and I'm excellently presented.  Yet I look exactly like everyone and everything else in the world.  I'm forgettable -hockey pads, mohawk and all.

Which is kind of how I feel about the current state of what is often considered the 'best' examples of miniature painting, the Golden Daemon.

[Warning: generalizations ahead]

Take a look at the winners from the last couple of Golden Daemons from Baltimore (especially the gold winners).  Here's 2009 and 2010 for our reference.  Each individual winner is exceedingly well painted and meticulously crafted; they are masterpieces.  However, they all tend to blur together when you look at them as a group.  There's a preponderance of drab colors, a focus on realism and most of the entries are painted as you'd expect them to be.  Stylistically speaking, they are all very similar as well*.  It's a bit boring when you get right down to it.  The models just aren't memorable beyond the fact that they're really, really, really well painted.

This has to do with the mind numbing focus on technical details that comes as part of painting to win a Golden Daemon.  You really get the sense that artistic risk isn't rewarded so much as painting to the judges' expectations.

Need proof?  Take a look at the descriptions for the slayer sword winners for both of the example years:

"Once again Todd Swanson stuns us with his precision painting, smooth blends, attention to detail and strong narrative style."

"Congratulations go to Dylan Gauker for his utterly flawless Nurgle Chaos Marauder unit. Very rarely do we see a unit of models painted in such a clean, precise and consistent manner as these!"

Seriously, the essence of the big winners' models get boiled down to how good the blends are?  Fucking precision is a key factor?  In the two lines that you had to describe the winners, these are the things that we're chosen to be mentioned over everything else?  Its hard to see a love for the artistic possibilities that miniature painting presents with descriptions like the ones above and a field of gold winners that looks suspiciously homogeneous.

Now, I'm not trying to tear the artists down or shit on their wins.**  Their accolades are well deserved. They've produced some very stunning models that put most anything I've ever done to shame.  On more than one occasion I've been watching a tutorial and been convinced that what these guys do is nothing short of sorcery. No question, there is a great deal of skill and artistic savvy involved.

Also, you can win a fucking sword! 
I'm also well aware that the competition is stiff and that technical factors are often touted as the only way to choose a winner, but it seems to be the sole focus.   You have to think:  to what extent are the artists pursuing the win by playing to the judge's expectations?

All the hoopla surrounding the Golden Daemon presents the contest as the pinnacle of miniature painting excellence.  It's not, though.  The Golden Daemon is a specific contest with specific expectations. Its a great example of what the miniature painting hobby can look like.  It's just not THE example.  We need to stop treating it like it is.  Because doing so is, in turn, driving a lot of what I'm worried about with all this business about that missing thing I've been obliquely yammering on about.

Right, I think that's a good spot to stop for now.  In terms of where I'm going in the future:  I think I have a bit more about the Golden Daemon style to discuss - though I worry that it will be become a focal point rather than a stepping stone so it may drop off. Anyway... I've also got some stuff about the fear of failure to talk about as well a discussion on the differences between an entire army vs. individual models that will be more than the 'no shit' moment it might be. 

------[Foot Notes]----------------
*Special props to Dave Taylor for being a clear outlier.
** Though I'm sure it will come off like I am to some people.  Such is life.


  1. This year in Baltimore was my first time going to a Games Day and it really blew me away. The skill on display at the Golden Demon was absolutely incredible.
    I entered two of my minis and both made the first cut. I was stunned. The blending on those who won was incredible - really clean and smooth and just amazing. I've still got a ways to go to get my transitions that smooth, so don't take the following as me suggesting I should have won anything.
    I really did notice that when you looked at a lot of what was there, it all just blended together. Look at it closely, and yeah, it's amazing work, but few jumped out at me from the very dark style most people used. (some certainly did though)
    I like to think I at least stood out from the crowd, and in considering what I'd want to enter the next time I get the chance, fitting into a winning formula is the furthest thing from my mind.

    Mine were:

    Space Hulk Terminator

    Harlequin Wraithlord

    (better quality photos of my entries here )

  2. The Golden Demon entries I will always remember are from way, way, WAY back in the dawn of my hobby career: the 'Blackadder: the Warhammer Years' diorama that someone put in for the Open Competition, and the Wizard's Staff from the year after. Both a long way outside what you'd expect of conventional Warhammer, and both different from a top tier of entries that even then, as I recall, featured a lot of Space Marines who were very similar in style. I wonder, sometimes, if that wackiness has been bred out of the hobby at large. I won't say out of the hobbyists, because people ARE still doing wacky and creative stuff all the time; they just aren't getting into White Dwarf with it.

  3. I have to say the same was going on with PP when I last was reading No Quarter. All the entries were these crazy dark, heavily modded, super intricately posed diaramas or conversions that didn't look anything like the original figs. And there were nerdgasms aplenty if you could mold greenstuff. I just got bored with "how many ways can I cut apart a perfectly good model so I can win money"...

  4. I blame it on the net! Ok a small amount of sarcasm there but in reality I think that is it. The reason in the past those deamon winners stood out was because not many were creating those types of works. Now you see it everywhere. It is readily available at the click of a mouse.

    In addition, the number of people who have the skill to actually accomplish that is growing as well. I also blame this on the net. When I first started painting if I saw something cool in a mag I had to experiment to figure out how that was done. Now I see something on the net I like and I go to that persons blog/site/forum post and see how they did it. I can also read tutes for days on how to do things.

    As for boring, I am not sure it is the term I would use but I can understand how some may thing so. My question really is, if I painted a space marine yellow and pink would you like it? If I painted a ork with purple skin would you rave about how it is something different? If it is applied with skill and sharp technique I bet you would, but if skill was even average or slightly sub-par I think most people would not like it. What it comes down to

    I guess is if you are in a competition would you vote for daring and unskilled or expected and highly skilled? Who should win a 40K tournament; a player who builds a Space Wolf list and goes 5-0 or someone who brings a Necron army and goes 1-4.

  5. @Dave: that is some great stuff and exactly what I'm talking about. I love the high contrast style you're rocking along with the bright colors. You're doin' your own thang and I'm jealous.

    @von: Yeah, there's a lot of hilarious stuff from back in the day and you're right about that missing whackiness. While I was rooting around for stuff, I found this and wondered where stuff like that was these days:

    @Loquacious: exactly. The Godlen Daemon isn't really unique in its entires since the same artists with the same goals will enter a lot of similar events - often with the same models.

    @MM: Good points on the internet stuff - it plays nicely with some ideas I had trimmed from this post for length reasons. Looks like I may have to write up another post sooner and incorporate some of direction you took the idea about interenet's impact in.

    Ss to the stuff on color choice - its really only part of the "as expected" changing colors is all fine and dandy, but it's only a small part of what I was talking about.

    As to the 40k analogy, the point is well taken - So yeah, the most skilled should win, bit it's really a 'no shit' moment. The issue isn't that they shouldn't be winning ('playing' to the expectations and rules is 100% expected) its that what they're competing in is only ONE way to do things but is often viewed as the 'best'.

  6. @Lauby: Thanks. I've just always liked looking down at my whole army on the battlefield and been able to not only see them, but have them stand out. So many armies are just masses of darkness when you stand away from them.

    Now for my Eldar, I'm just trying to balance the right amount of vibrancy but avoid a "cartoonish" look that some in the past had a hint of and still work in shadows and whatnot. The Termie and Wraithlord are my most recent high quality works, so I think I'm headed in the right direction.

  7. a question to those who know...

    during judging (either slayersword of GD), do the judges know the names of the contestants when they are judging the pieces?

    this is because in the past, i have seen multiple GD categories won by a single person and was wondering to myself, either that guy was the only person who took part or everybody else was really that shit.

    also, the same people keep winning year after year... despite the number of copy & paste paintjobs that can be seen in final cuts.

  8. I'm fairly certain that the pieces are anonymous during the judging. I remember reading a blurb on some GW publication where they explained the whole thing.