Interview – TaroModelMaker

Who is Taro Model Maker?

I often notice people’s comments online talking about Taro Model Maker as a company and I don’t think people realise that it’s just me, one person in my shed doing this in my spare time and that is kind of how I want to keep it. I enjoy having control over every aspect, from design, to drawing up everything, getting prints done, cleaning the prints, preparing it all for moulding, tooling it all up, molding it, casting it, recasting it, and retooling it. I do the whole process, I pack up every single order, I post every single order. I do all my own graphic work, I made my own website.

Everything I have done for it I have done by myself. Part of it is an achievement I wanted to do. It has worked really well and paid off. That sense of pride doing it all myself. Even online I sometimes refer to myself as “we” but no I am one guy, in my shed doing my best to create what I love.

This is a philosophy I have always worked to. If it ever grows into the only work I do, then I will try to keep it as just me doing everything, keep every day different that way.

How did you get started into the world of miniatures?

I first started in miniatures when I was about 8 years old (1992). My brother used to collect and he took me for a trip to GW Guildford, after pointing out a Space Marine Apothecary one of the staff members started going into real detail about the gene seed and background of the Space Marines and from that moment I was hooked. 

I constantly read White Dwarf and years of collecting led me onto the path of painting, entering Golden Demon, going up to games day every year and getting to know more people in the community.

How did you get started in 3D design? Was this a path you always wanted to go down?

Going to college I always knew I wanted to do something creative and started following a path into graphic design but ended up really hating it (because it wasn’t hands on enough) 

Chatting to an enthusiastic staff member at my local GW store I mentioned not knowing what I really wanted to do and he suggested model making. He was telling me about the course he was doing in Model Making at Hertfordshire Uni. 

Having no idea you could actually do this as a course I instantly thought this was incredible. Looking into it further I found the course in Bournemouth, went for an interview and spent the next 3 years in utter bliss!

While studying I looked extensively at every aspect of model making, but I was steered away from the idea of Games Workshop by the lecturers. Being quite impressionable I thought this made sense, so I ended up looking at everything but wargaming. 

Having worked for a short time doing product design in New York, I found a far more local design firm in Windsor. While there we developed Dr Who action figures, Primeval, HM Armed Forces. Loads for other big toy companies and briefly the 28mm Dr Who range that sadly never really took off.

A few years later I worked on Priscilla Queen of the Desert as the chief airbrush artist producing all the makeup masks. Following that with some time at Spartan Games to test my hand as a miniature sculpture. Turns out I wasn’t that good and some of the stuff was rather questionable. None of it ever got released which in my eyes was good as it was pretty bad to be honest.

Eventually I ended up working on visual merchandising, large scale props and exhibition at a local company. After some years I branched off to help start the company I now work for known as Trick of the Eye. 

Being told not to do Games Workshop at Uni and then spending years in the industry doing everything else, I ended up with a rounded knowledge of everything, but realised what I still loved doing was miniature wargaming. So I started collecting the hobby again and started focusing on my own parts alongside my day job and that is when the imperial knight kit got released.

It was the kit I knew I had to make things for and to start with I made everything by hand, a lot of my first products like the missile launches, the gatling guns, the shields. All the masters were carved and machined by hand just like the guys at forge world used to do.  

Later as I started wanting to produce more complex parts I knew I had to move into CAD.

How do you approach choosing what to design? Do you design something you want and then adapt it for mass production?

Everything I made I wanted on my Knight, I wanted a wicked shield, I wanted to see top mounted gatling guns and I knew I had to make it.

But when you scratch build they can be quite fragile and delicate. So I would design it, make it and mould it and from the mould I can cast a couple. In order to fun my new found obsession I started selling castings on Etsy and it snowballed from there. 

The more pieces I designed the more I learnt about how to tailor them to the moulding process so everything I make is designed and built with the intention that I can mould it. The beauty is in moulding it I can make more for myself and other people can enjoy them too.

Do you make any initial drawings of the design before you jump into the digital world?

Yeah everything I tend to do I sit down and sketch. I’ll be on holiday, at a convention or on a car journey and I think up ideas. Often following this up with hours of online research where I can translate ideas into concept sketches.

I look at a lot of pictures, see what other people have been making, see what other concept artists come up with and just spend hours trawling through pictures and get inspiration from wherever I can, like a lot of designers do, you pull information from everywhere and go from there. 

To help translate these ideas into models I’ll produce technical ‘at scale’ drawings to help me get a feel of the design before I start making. 

Many of your designs are Games Workshop upgrades or alternative weapon options. How do you approach scaling and compatibility with the kits? I guess there is a lot of measuring involved!

Loads of measuring man! I measure the heck out of everything! From working on action figures in the past and needing to have everything scaled properly, I have gotten into the routine of measuring, scaling and doing everything accurately.

Often when I am producing the CAD I will actually draw up a component that it is going to fit to. If I know it is going to the top carapace or something I will draw it up and replicate it as best I can and that way I have something to work from in the CAD world and a reference to work to.

Importing a 2D image or photograph into the CAD package and scaling that is a really good way of working because you have a visual reference of the model it will fit to. Such as a side profile shot of the knight body. 

Do you take design ideas from other parts of the original kits for your design?

Yeah I kinda do but it is all based on what I want to see on the model so if I see something that is on the model that I want to tweak, I want to change, I want to make it work for how I need to use it, I will take inspiration from stuff and change it to make it work.

What 3D modelling software do you use? Why do you use this over others?

I use Rhino 3D, we all trained on it at Uni. It’s a really nice package and works mostly from solids. Just make a shape, cut a bit out, pull it, tweak it and work from there.

I’d also worked with Solid Works, Pro Engineer but was thankful to find out a lot of companies use rhino so I was able to revert back to using it. 

Rhino is an inexpensive package to buy compared to SolidWorks, it’s also been around long enough that it’s not that glitchy, everything works as you want it to and it has good online support which is the key really. I’d recommend it to anyone.

You 3D print your designs, do you run test prints before ordering the final prints?

Most of the time my 3D prints are actually the first run!  As I do so much scaling and measuring while I am working in CAD I get the sense that the part is going to be right by the time it is printed. Printing off 2D pictures of the parts at home is a great way to check what you have drawn up.

Often the only thing I have to change is hole depths or rivet details, so I will sort these by hand. The guys I use over at Rennd provide an excellent service. I have been working with them for a few years and they have great turn around times. I’d rather employ the services of someone who knows what they are doing than invest time in printing parts myself. 

Perhaps at some point I’ll look into getting my own printer but for now i’ll leave it to the guys who know what they are doing and keep supporting a small business.

Once you receive the 3D prints back what finishing do you need to do in order to cast them?

I get the 3D prints back in a pretty raw state, I do say to them not worry about cutting off risers as I’m happy cleaning them all up. Year of working as a model maker has left me wanting to control as much of the clean up as possible. Having drawn up the parts myself I am familiar with the detail and can quickly see what needs to be amended.

I know there are advocates of 3D printing over casting and I certainly see why there would be but having a cast of a professionally cleaned print is surely easier for anyone without the time to work on prints. 

So i’ll do loads of modelling on the prints, removing and adding details back in, sanding out build lines. I will happily spend days on 3D prints to get them exactly the way I want them to be, so they are as good as they can be to produce a quality product.

What is involved in the casting process? i.e. moulds, resins, vacuum chamber etc

What is involved in the casting process? i.e. moulds, resins, vacuum chamber etc

Even before Uni casting was fascinating to me, realising you can replicate something is like magic. You pour in this liquid that suddenly changes state and goes hard, you open the mould and you have a perfect replica of the original! I absolutely love it.

I started with a cheap vacuum pump from eBay and then upgraded to a second hand belt driven one I picked up from a guy who lived in a castle in kent. Eventually I splashed out and spent a good wad on a really decent pump which has seen me through the past 5 years. 

Along with the pump I’ve got one large vacuum chamber, big enough to get a good size bucket in and then I have a smallish pressure pot. Everything I do is degassed in the vacuum chamber for about a minute or so then quickly taken out and put into the pressure pot while it is still liquid and pressurised up to about 60-80psi and that just helps alleviate any extra bubbles within it.

What are some of the challenges of casting in resin?

The whole challenge is to get the air out of the mould and the resin in. So learning how to correctly set a model up in the mould is key. I spent a lot of time studying this, making mistakes and learning how to achieve consistent results and also looking at how other people do it and seeing what results they get. 

In order to get a good cast I realised you have to use the best materials. A lot of people cast it out of pink or blue silicone. It is good, it does give good castings, but in my mind it is tempermental. Having come from a product design background I use a product tooling silicone, it’s harder and clear, in my eyes it gives a better cast and is what I prefer.

Because it is harder there is less slip in it. You still have to be careful in casting with it. Also finding a decent resin is key, a lot of the guys use the smooth on brand, I like my parts to have that extra bit of flex which i think is important for gaming miniatures as they get knocked around more than display pieces. So I managed to find a product called FC120 from PS Composites.

Paired with the silicone I manage to get great life out of my moulds as well as great quality castings.

Do you vary between different resins depending on the pieces you are casting?

For all my add on parts I use the FC120 due to its ability to cast detail and remain slightly flexible. When casting larger items such as the Ironskull trophies or plinths I’ll switch out to a general purpose resin. As you are casting in such larger volumes there isn’t the need for flexibility as the bulk of the cast provides strength to the piece.

The Chainsword builds on the Reaper Chainsword of the original kit, but bigger and damn awesome! What was the inspiration behind the piece?

There is a guy called Art of War Gaming on instagram and he converted an awesome Imperial Knight Sword and having seen it and chatting away to him I knew i had to make one. 

When it came around to starting my own Chaos Knights I didn’t really like the Reaper Chainsword in the kit. I had already made the knight sword but I wanted something different for this knight. With the new edition of 40K coming out and all the hype about chainswords coming back I knew exactly what I had to make next!

The arm and hand seem to be your own design? Did you have any difficulties with the articulations?

A lot of what I try and do is to take existing parts and develop the design further. Even if it is only a very slight variance, be it the articulated fingers to me that is quite a big thing. When working on the articulation for the fingers I spent a lot of time in CAD making sure they could bend right to hold onto things. Engineering a way to make the fingers articulate turned out to be a fun challenge, esp as whatever I was designing had to still be mouldable. I honestly couldn’t have been happier when I painted up my chaos knight with his chainsword.

What do you have next on your workbench?

Well, I have actually just finished a massive batch of CAD. You’ve probably seen printed popping up on my instagram and I still have a few parts in development. As I always intend to create parts that I would want on my own figures i’ve been designing loads of tau parts lately, 

I have a huge Tau army sitting in a box ready to paint. Having been inspired by Andy Wardle’s paint scheme, I also want new weapons for them. So I’ve got new rail guns to fit the broadsides that are more articulated and more akin to the supremacy ones, as well as new missile pods. There is also a huge batch of weapons for the Armigers and a few more gun options for the knight gun arm. I’m sure my tau options will grow depending on how my own army develops. 

This lot will probably take up to Christmas and from there who knows? I have got loads of designs sitting in my sketchbooks and not just for add on parts. I’d love to expand into my own range of figures and busts, I treat every project as part of my hobby and hope to enjoy it for years to come. 

If you are not following Taro Model Maker on Instagram you should be, head over there now and see what he’s up to! – Instagram

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