One of the key elements for the Inquisitor Cynole game at BOYL last weekend was the ornithopter. The story snippet from the original Chapter Approved that this game was based on describes it as follows “The ‘thopter was a local model, ancient and noisy, the dull beat of its engines drowning any attempt at conversation”.
Here’s the finished model – Curtis of Ramshackle Games cast this in resin from a master that I built. He also created the wing designs which are printed on clear acrylic. Massive thanks to him – apart from the technical expertise and moulding equipment, he painted this one because I was away on holiday and didn’t have time. This will be on sale in due course on his website – expected price £25 including P&P, and it’s quite a big beast as you can see from the second shot with a models in front of it. I was working on some solid wings (still unfinished), and it will be available in two variants – one as below and one with the solid wings. If you are in a hurry and you want the ‘dragonfly’ wing option then contact him through his website and he will probably be able to sort you out.
When I started planning the game last September, I realised I needed at least one ornithopter, but googling for one, there wasn’t much on offer. I really didn’t like the Revell Dune one: http://www.fantastic-plastic.com/HARKONNEN%20ORNITHOPTER%20PAGE.htm, and I couldn’t find anything else, so I was going to have to make one. I came up with the idea of actually making something that could be cast, as I was hoping to field two or three, and spoke to Curtis who agreed to do the casting.
I bought some old Robogear kits, with a view to using some of their bits, but in the end I just raided the big boxes of old model parts and plastic off-cuts that I have hoarded over the years. Long ago I played the old Dune 2 Amiga game, and that had relatively elegant white ornithopters flapping big, long wings – an image that stuck in my head. I wanted a more streamlined and technological look than later GW stuff – all square corners and riddled with rivets. As a Rogue Trader game, they should have more of a traditional sci-fi aesthetic, a bit like this tiny ornithopter from the rulebook, but I needed something pretty big that looked like it could carry a squad or so.
I started off with a really rough full size cardboard mockup (now binned), just to get the size of it. Next step, I mocked it up in Lego. This was a big help in imagining to overall size and shape of it. I was aiming for something that two people could sit side-by-side in the cockpit.
Armed with this and a few bits I had been tinkering about with, I went to see Curtis at the end of May (August looming worryingly close) and he went over the basics of how to design stuff for resin casting. I didn’t have a clue about this, but you have to be very careful about designing to avoid trapping bubbles, and to get something that will go together well without weak spots. We sketched out a few ways to break down the model. An additional constraint is that the rubber is pressurised when making the mould. The master has to be really solid or it will cave in. I got round the fact that I was using some thin plastic shells for much of it by filling it with plaster after the basic shape had been made.
Some of my early sketches looked a bit like a helicopter gunship with wings, and that seemed a bit dull. I wanted something a bit more sci-fi and the legs seemed a good way to achieve that. I settled on big back legs, which gave it an interesting insectoid feel, and I imagined that it might use them to spring into the air on take-off. Coupled with a strange, bulbous cockpit, it was taking on the right look, but painfully slowly. Cutting a bit of plastic card to just the right shape and getting it neat and crisp is a lot more difficult in reality than it is in your head.
Over the next 6 weeks, I worked on the scratch building and got as far as this by mid July. As I was away the week before BOYL, I was almost out of time. With only two weeks to go, I dropped off what I had, and Curtis came to the rescue by sorting out the wings, doing the final tweaks to make it castable, making the mould, casting the first one and assembling it and painting it. I first saw it on Saturday, with just hours to go!