Recently my wife told me that she had just found out that a colleague’s partner was into wargaming and making his own scenery. This of course piqued my interest, so I contacted him and arranged a visit. Arriving in his workshop, I found to my surprise that Matt Barker wasn’t scratch-building scenic items in the traditional manner, but was designing 3D files and marketing them through his website printablescenery.com, a branch under his parent company Catalyst Creative.
Matt had plenty of printed out and painted examples of his terrain to show me, which took my breath away. They included a variety buildings and structures for fantasy, future and historic genres.
You buy a Printable Scenery file from the printablescenery.com website, print it at home if you’ve got a 3D printer (or use a 3D print service), paint the resulting print, and you end up with another excellent piece for your gaming table. You can print out and paint any number of items, and put them together to form really impressive scenery, such as the above fantasy castle.
Watching the ‘MakerBot’ 3D printer in action was fascinating. A filament of plastic ‘wire’ unwinds from a drum and is fed into a print head, which zips backwards and forwards (just like a paper printer’s head). The head squeezes out the molten plastic filament, gradually building up layer after layer to form the structure from the bottom up.
Where there are big overhangs, the printer produces supports (like ‘sprues’) to hold them up during the printing process, which have to be cut away afterwards – you can see some of these in the arches in the above picture.
It is quite time-consuming to print out an item, but worth the wait. As Matt told me, you press the ‘Print’ button, go to bed, and the next morning there’s a new model house waiting for you!
The real skill with 3D printing is the initial design work to create the file. The designer needs to have both an artistic eye and the technical knowledge. Matt and his team luckily have this ability through their experience in the TV industry.
I was really impressed with the design of the fantasy buildings. To me, they have captured the quaint and quirky look of Terry Pratchett’s ‘DiscWorld’, though they would also fit in well with the more black and morbid look of Warhammer.
The buildings are made up of modular pieces, so all sorts of variations are possible, as with the fortified cottage above. One of the advantages of 3D printing over more traditional mass production is that it’s easier for the designer to make any number of variations to a basic design, so that the modular elements can all look slightly different.
I especially liked a deceptively simple piece: bendy walls. How often do we see wargames tales where everything is lined up straight and square? But in real-life, nature has few straight lines, so fences often follow curving contours. Printable Scenery’s curved fences come in short lengths that you can put together in any combination. There are pieces with different radii, so you can even build circles within each other.
All in all, I think this is a very exciting concept. OK, not that many people have 3D printers yet. But Matt reckons we’re at a similar stage to where normal paper printing was a decade or so ago, when only a few houses had dot-matix printers. So, just like with paper printing, it won’t be many years before 3D printers will become normal in most homes.
Matt and I talked about an idea for his next range of 3D printable scenery. I’ll keep quiet for now about what this range will be until it is confirmed, but suffice to say it’ll fill a current gap in the historic gaming scene, and will also work well for fantasy and pulp fiction too. You’ll just have to wait and see – all will be revealed in due course!
I’ll just leave you with this parting shot of Matt’s gaming table, showing off some of his printable structures. You can visit Matt’s printablescenery.com website if you would like to know more.