I thought it would be interesting to go into the "making of" a miniature for the first few posts. Often I get asked how the sculpting process actually works overall. The first thing that happens is the planning process. The client will provide all the specifics like scale, desired pose, number of parts etc. Some clients provide full concept art that includes an exact pose and full turnaround art.
What is turnaround art you ask? Turnaround art is a drawing that includes the front, back and complete blueprints of any equipment like guns etc. A lot of gaming companies use this art because they need it commissioned when they design their game to get a unique look and include it in any rulebooks they produce. It serves a second purpose by allowing them to supply the art to sculptors if they produce miniatures for their game. Other companies that own major Intellectual Properties insist on turnaround art to control the quality of the property.
Turnaround art makes the sculptor's job easier because it cuts out a lot the research that I would otherwise have to do myself and provides an excellent guide. The only drawback to turnaround art is that it limits the sculptor's creative license and means that you have to follow the art exactly, which can be difficult when you are first starting out. The above photograph of the ninja is a piece I sculpted for Aberrant Games and is an example of a figure that I was given turnaround art for.
Often you are not given turnaround art, in which case the client usually provides a set of guidelines as to what they are looking for but otherwise leaves the details up to you. This is normally done for historical pieces or fantasy pieces where they will say something like" I want an elf with a bow". If the character is already established like a comic character, such as the figure below, or from a movie, the client will provide you with reference but not turnaround art.
So once I have the art, I get the scale from the client, which is usually in mm. This is provided by the client and if I screw up and go over the given scale, I am responsible to fix it. Scale is one of those skills that you have to constantly work on and develop, and it grows with experience.
When I first started sculpting, I struggled with scale and often my figure grew to be to big and I had to redo them but it is a natural part of the learning process that develops with experience.
By no means am I infallible when it comes to scale, but I have trained myself to watch scale and my figures usually match the specifications I am given more often than not these days.
Often a client will ask you to sculpt in a specific style. Clients usually have a complete range that is done in a specific style and will desire any new figures to match that style. This can vary from sculpting more realistic proportions to sculpting more cartoony or misproportioned figures. As a professional you have to be prepared to meet the needs of your client regardless of your own tastes.
The last thing you consider before starting a project is production requirements. This usually involves how many parts the client desires the piece to be when it enters production. This can effect the complexity of the pose because any parts of a figure that are on a different plane will need to be molded separately which increases the cost of production.
That's how a sculpt is commissioned, how it is actually sculpted is another matter altogether.
James Van Schaik