Today I get to show you one of my favorite miniatures from my collection.
Manufacturer: Heritage USA
Line: Dungeon Dwellers
Figure: 1231 Fire Giant
Release date: 1979
Date painted: 2014
The Dungeon Dwellers line has a special place in the history of D&D, and lately I've been adding a few figures here and there to my Dungeon Dwellers collection (which is respectable at this point but far from comprehensive). While we Dungeon Dwellers fans can admit the figures that make up the line tend toward the crude or primitive end of the miniatures spectrum, this figure is an unqualified success and a real gem in the line as far as I'm concerned and rivaled only by the Asmodeus and Orcus figures. Here the art brut sculpting style works to advantage, giving the figure a savage, menacing presence. Like those two the fire giant captures the essence of the creature described in the monster manual as well as the factual details. However, the expression and dynamic pose of the fire giant lend it more power than the other two. The expression on this figure is fantastic. The angry, googly eyes, the gritted teeth, the fiery beard, all of it. Honestly it's one of my all-time favorite D&D figures in my collection and amongst fire giant miniatures I think it perhaps second only to that by Paul Muller for Otherworld (got it and will get to it eventually). It's been a few years now over which I have gotten him out every now and then and looked forward to doing him justice with paint.
I should say somewhere, this being as good a place as any, that this a considerable chunk of lead. Hailing from an era where sculptors would skimp on giants this is fully up to Monster Manual spec in terms of dimensions, and is one of few fire giants from the original years of D&D figures whose sculptor took to heart the part about them being "very broad (about 6' at the shoulders), looking almost like dwarves."
Does anyone know who sculpted it, BTW?
I got it for literally two bucks at a flea market a few years back, though it was missing the sword and the I'd say I invested about what a complete one is worth in energy fabricating a new one from brass sheet and brown/green stuff. Later I saw a complete, pristine-looking one for $22 buy it now on Ebay and had to fight the impulse to pick up a spare. I regret a bit now that I didn't get it but hopefully it found a good home. The sword is carefully based on actual measurements I took from a photograph of a complete figure, though mine turned out a millimeter longer and a bit wider. It's also of uniform width where the original is narrower at the base and it flanges at he point, and the decoration is a bit different.
If you compare the unpainted above with the painted below you'll also see I added gauntlets between the times the pictures were taken. The figure is so cool I wanted to keep it as original as possible, but on the other hand this guy doesn't look like a fool, and it'd be foolish to be armored up like that and leave your hands exposed right at the level where humans tend to stab and slash. The style of the figure is obviously fairly stylized, abstract, cartoon-like, what have you, and I wanted to find a way to abstract the gauntlet concept, but I just couldn't figure out how to do it and wound up sculpting each overlapping plate distinctly. Something of a chore (for a one-off) as I believe there are six plates per finger plus several more to cover the hand.
There was also what looked like an empty socket in the knife hilt so I dropped in another gem.
In the pics above you can spot how I polished it with a brass brush in the dremel to make the armor smooth. The original surface was a little rough and would have dulled the effect of any metallic paint applied over it.
And here it is painted.
Obviously, when it comes to painting, the focal point is the face set off by the beard, and these need to be just right. The beard has to be a burst of flame around the ebony face, with smoldering red eyes. After a red basecoat on the beard I undercoated most it with dozens of coats of white to get it has white as humanly possible, then many coats bringing it up to yellow, and then alternating glazes and highlights until it was as bright as I thought I could get it. Same with the eyes.
The face, meanwhile has no highlights at all. It's pure black. Many painters feel they need to highlight black the way they do other colors, and especially on creatures that are to have black flesh, like fire giants and drow, the painted result is usually gray, purple or blue. But that's not how black flesh works. Flesh has small, specular highlights that are only readily apparent under certain conditions. Meanwhile, I'm in control of the actual reflectiveness of the surface of the miniature through the use of varnishes, and I trusted that when I was done the flesh would produce it's own natural highlights.
I couldn't be happier with the results and am glad I fought down the urge to highlight. This was a nice trial run in the lead up to an encounter group of drow, which whose flesh I'll also leave pure black. Generally speaking I think painters should consider how glossy or matt the surface represented on the particular thing being painted and vary their highlighting scheme accordingly. As for the varnishes on this one, after the standard coats of "matte" Rust-oleum Ultra Cover clear (actually satin) and Testors Dullcoat I went back to brush the gems with Testors gloss-coat. I was being conservative and thinned the gloss a little, and the result was a bit more conservative than I was aiming for, even after ~ten coats, but eventually I built up a pretty good lustre. Next time I might try it full strength.
A brief word on the gemstones. They are done in the style Mike McVey popularized in the nineties and which has become the standard, but I try never to lose sight of the fact I'm representing an actual object, and I always use reference. The tendency with gem stones is to push the contrast, so you have black at the top fading through red to white at the bottom. But this gives you an effect that looks like glass, rather than a gem, and honestly if you successfully sell it as glass it looks cheap, rather than like treasure. The ones I did have less contrast and have speckled gold at the bottom of the gem and result is something that glitters and shines but is not transparent. It's not a cut, clear stone like a ruby.
Next up here are three true giant types I've covered so far, frost, fire and hill. I've also done a verbeeg, which is a slightly lesser giant, but I'm aiming first to cover the major types in the Monster Manual before I start including the lesser types in the family photos. BTW I have the Paul Muller Otherworld stone giant about 90% done, which is also one of my favorite D&D figures of all (and hands down the best D&D stone giant full stop). The other two have been shown before, but I reworked the hill giant since I put him up.
As always, the collection can be viewed in its entirety at flickr.