Aaron and Zac at Battlegroup Helios kindly answered some of my questions on the painting and design process for their amazing ships as well as offering some advice for aspiring model makers.
How large is the team over at Battlegroup Helios? Is it just you and Aaron Dickey?
Correct, just the two of us. Aaron takes care of the website, design and 3D modelling. I take care of the scratchbuilding casting and distribution. It’s a good team!
Your design process seems to involve Aaron sketching the models out on graph paper and then you using creating a 3d model using a CNC router and a cutter ready for final sculpting work followed by casting. How long does this process take from be idea to creating a sellable product?
Our process isn’t actually that set in stone! Yes, Aaron does devise concepts which he then refines on paper. He’s a really talented artist! From there we have two options: either Aaron will 3D model the design for printing or I’ll scratchbuild the design (with the help of a 2D CNC router for creating base shapes in plastic sheet). It comes down to time availability which, since we both have very busy full-time day jobs, can be scarce at times! So far only the Helian Frigate variants have been scratchbuilt. The cruisers and corvette were 3D printed.
There isn’t really an answer for the typical timeframe to take a concept to market. It’s kind of proportional due to the size (obviously a larger model takes longer to design) and again due to time availability is FAR longer than if we were doing this full time. 6 months is probably the average.
There is quite a lot of high praise for these models around the web, I’ve put a few together myself and I can see why as they are really well designed models with plenty of space for expert painters to really go to town on them in the prows, was this your intention when they were designed?
Absolutely! Aaron also being a talented painter means that he’s able to approach the design from many perspectives and often wary of adding too much detail in certain areas.
Have you worked on any other projects using these skills before this both inside and outside the miniature gaming world?
I’ve scratchbuilt and cast many of my own space ship (and other) models prior to this. I’m an engineer by day and a lot of my fabrication skills cross over. Aaron is a professional graphic artist so that’s obviously why he’s so good at the design and illustration side of things.
Your casts are always in a small scale which makes this more of a hobby business, would you ever consider doing a larger release either via Kickstarter or selling to retail businesses?
This certainly is a hobby business – we make no qualms about it. We occupy a very niche market and since we both enjoy our busy day jobs we simply don’t have the need to take this to a full time venture. Kickstarter has its uses as a marketing platform but it’s honestly not something we’ve ever felt the need to pursue. We designed our pricing around direct sales, so it really isn’t worth our while wholesaling to other retail businesses.
Can you walk me through how you painted the models on your site, I assume they are done by Aaron using an airbrushed basecoat followed by a light wash of some kind?
Aaron: I don’t have access to an airbrush so my process is all hand brushwork. I start by priming the models white and then giving them a heavy wash to shade them followed by building up the highlights close to white. For Helians we didn’t want to go straight white, but more of a bone. The next step is to block in the metal bits and douse them with layers of washes to build up the tone and shadows before giving them a bright highlight. After metals I do the detail work to fix any shadows that are still messy and line areas that I painted over when I was building the highlights. Next I do all the reds and freehand work on the models. The last step is to do lit areas. The domes are greens and the engine glow is blue. For the engines I’ll build up the gradient with white and then tone it with blue glazes before final highlights.
Have you got any advice for people wanting to create small hobby business for themselves that you wish you’d have known when starting out?
When we entered into this we both had a very good understanding of the market so there’s not really anything specific that has come up. My recommendation is similarly to know your market and your costs before you get started. Doing your casting in house helps a lot in terms of keeping costs down but I know can be a big learning curve for many!
The current release on your site are from the Helian faction, however I’ve seen some nice Terran drawings on your website, your fans wishlist must be huge but what would you like to work on next?
We always get asked about a Helian battleship! It’s something we’d love to do one day, but it’s such a massive time and money investment so it’s not on the cards just yet. We’d like to get the Terran ships through to production first and we’ll see where we go from there…
You can buy these over at at Battlegroup Helios.