Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tom McBride, model maker extraordinaire



Tom McBride is one of the growing group of elite resin casters who make after-market parts for miniature wargames.  As someone who has bought his accessories to make my own chapter's Fellblade, I can attest to the quality of what he makes. 

How did you get your start in the hobby?

It seems like millennia ago, shortly after the Earth cooled.  I was a sophomore in high school way back in 1994 and had just joined the local Gaming Club.  At our first event a bunch of guys came in and set up this huge board complete with terrain, tanks, and all these little painted figures.  I was like “Wow, what the heck is this and where do I get some?”  And so that is how it all got started, with a big 1st edition rulebook, a Rogue Trader box set of plastic Space Marines, and the old Mk1 Rhinos and Land Raiders.

What made you begin resin casting?

I had dabbled around with resinmy many years of gaming with my first big project being parts for my Imperial Leviathan.� �ϖ� �92-4008.Ĉ� �ᒏ  It was the quickest and easiest way to make all the giant tracks and road wheels I would need to complete this project but it was a real messy bit of trial and error.  However, it wasn’t until a few years after that where I really began treading on the path I am on today.

That all started about two and a half years ago when a friend told me he had built a couple of Plague Towers and sold them for a nice chunk of change.  I realized this could be a fun way to earn a little extra cash and we agreed on a venture where I would design, build, and cast a number of parts and he would assemble and paint the model.  It turned out very successful and I ended up branching out on my own first with a modular kit for a Doomblaster and Tower of Skulls before finally began catering to a niche market of tank builders by providing them a source for tank treads, road wheels, bogies, turrets, and weapons.

What kind of resin do you use?  Any special silicone for the mold?

At first I started with a beginner’s casting set from a general hobby supplier but as I began casting more I had to find a source that I could buy from in bulk.  That is when I found Smooth-On, a company that specializes in making mold and casting supplies of all types.

For the resins I’ve always used their urethane plastic Smoothcast 300 Series, either the 305 or the 310 depending on the curing time.  For the silicone molds I first started out with their OOMOO 30 Series, which is a relatively inexpensive mold making material that has an easy 1 to 1 mixing ratio and cures with no special procedures involved (I highly recommended starting with this material if you’re a beginner or only have a few things to cast).  However, the OOMOO isn’t particularly durable when you’re casting in quantity so I upgraded to their Mold Max 30.  This is a little bit trickier to use as it has a 10 to 1 mixing ratio and can produce air bubbles during the curing process.  But if you cure it in a pressure vessel or a vacuum chamber this usually takes care of that issue.


Your "Fellblade" kits are amazing.  How did this tank get your attention?  What made you decide to build this customization pieces?


I believe I was first introduced to the Fellblade when Bell of Lost Souls (BoLS) published their Lords of Battle supplement and I loved the idea of Space Marines having their own super-heavy.  Like most people that play Warhammer 40K I have a fascination with big tanks, and the bigger the better.  But what really started this whole project was a night of insomnia I had last year.

While lying in bed I was thinking of ways to promote my newly opened eBay store Blood & Skulls Industry and also a cool new project to work on.  I thought the best way to do this was to build something epic that I could auction off on the site and gain some attention.  That’s when I remembered the Fellblade and thought: Why not do a series for all the loyal Legions?

However, what I wanted to avoid doing was just painting a Baneblade in Space Marine colors as that just didn’t look right to me.  I wanted something that came across as a 1st generation Space Marine vehicle that had been modified over the millennia to better serve the Chapter.  After reviewing the art work from Vision of Heresy and what was available online I began to form an image in my head.  It needed to be something that looked big and heavy but without the cumbersome look of the Imperial Guard or the clean, spartan look of the current Rhino or Land Raider.  Most of all it had to be unique.

For the resin parts I decided I would need a new design for the treads, turrets, fuel tanks, and engine.  Luckily I already had the treads finished and in production so that part was easy.  The turret would be a multifaceted dome reminiscent of the old Predator design and what was pictured in Visions of Heresy while at the same time would have the sharp angles and rivets that matched the Baneblade chassis.  The fuel tanks were made to look more integral to the tank as they are in more modern tanks.  Lastly the engines were completely redesigned and given a Space Marine-y look that would be something reminiscent of a Dreadnought or Land Raider.  
I built my first "Fellblade" with your parts and was AMAZED how well the parts fit.  Your mold lines are clean, your flash comes off easily.  What is your secret?

Well it took a lot of practice and trial and error to get to that point.  My first molds were far from successful but eventually you learn a few tricks.  First when designing the master part you need to keep in mind how you will cast it.  Make sure the undercuts are at a minimum and there are no areas that could catch air bubbles and ruin the cast.

Next when designing the mold make sure you have a good pour channel that will allow you to pour the resin in quickly but won’t be difficult to remove from the finished piece.  Also make sure you have enough mold material around the piece to be cast that it won’t distort when clamped together.  Using nylon plates made from cutting boards are a great way to distribute the clamp load across the mold sides and keep things straight.

Most importantly make sure there is a second channel for the air, and later the air bubbles, to escape.  This should be at the highest point in the mold.  It’s also good to angle the piece so that all the air bubbles can float easily up and out of the mold.

Finally to get the best casts you need to let the resin cure in a pressure vessel or vacuum chamber (I use the former).  The additional pressure will cause the air bubbles to dissolve into the resin while the vacuum will pull them out.  Either way will give you a clean, professional looking cast in the end.
  
Tom's resin accessories on a Games Workshop Baneblade

With the lawsuit against Chapterhouse studios, there is a lot of chatter about the GW aftermarket.  Many of us who are attorneys think Chapterhouse was doing it the wrong way and asking for a lawsuit, while others like you, seem to be very smart not to use any GW IP in your advertising or sales.  What are your thoughts on being part of the GW aftermarket and staying out of GW's expansive legal sights?

That is a very good question given what is going on with Chapterhouse Studios.  First I want to wish them the best of luck and hope that they will continue their casting business after all this is over.  But to be honest I was surprised it took Games Workshop this long to go after them.  Given that Gamers Workshop is very protective of their IP, and rightfully so, those of us that supply the aftermarket have to walk a fine line in a very gray zone.

Of course Games Workshop weren’t the inventors of elite soldiers in powered armor nor were they the originators of huge tanks fighting in planet wide wars or the concept of a God-Emperor ruling over mankind.  But they now have a very particular look and style to what they have created over the years that is very well established, and we have to be respectful of that.  Now that shouldn’t preclude us from coming up with our own incarnations of these ideas but we cannot simply copy someone else’s IP and call it our own.  As such I try to position my products such that they’re usable in say the Warhammer 40K universe but not exclusive to it.  For example the large turret I make can be used to build a Fellblade but here’s nothing on it that say “This is a WH40K piece”, it’s just a generic turret.  As such, I believe it’s best to position ourselves and our products as accessories to 25-30mm scaled war games as oppose to a WH40K aftermarket supplier.
  
What are your best selling parts?

It’s been interesting seeing what changes in popularity over time.  The turrets, engines, and other parts that I used to build my version of the Fellblade have been extremely popular.  But I’ve also had parts that have had lack luster sales suddenly sell out because someone found a cool way to used them and after posting their creation online everyone else wanted to build their own too.  The best part of this work has been seeing what other people can come up with using the parts I supply as many of them are much more imaginative then me.


What can we expect next from you?

Well I plan to continue adding accessories to what I already have on the market while adding new products when I can.  Some immediate plans are to continue adding more weapon options for the turrets such as giant flame throwers, laser cannons, and some kind of big plasma gun.  I also have some side projects for things like light tanks and/or tankettes, jet bikes, and artillery cannons.  Also I get request or suggestions for all sorts of cool stuff that gets added to the list.  So keep your eyes peeled, even I don’t know for sure what is coming next!


To buy Tom's model parts, go to:  Tom's eBay Store


Tom sells parts either individually or in kits

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