In our recent full-colour article in Sci Fi Fantasy Modeller Magazine, we spoke about how Wild House Models was created. We’re now 1 year old and so we wanted to share what we wrote for the magazine.
For our new venture we wanted to create a kit that would appeal to everyone in the Sci-Fi audiences, a kit that would be instantly recognisable and could have a wide range of building and painting styles applied to it. From watching Aliens, Star Trek, Avatar and other sci-fi movies we realised that a Stasis Pod would be a subject that modellers could immediately identify with, and we have been working hard to create the kit that we felt would appeal to a worldwide audience.
Our team put their heads together and brainstormed loads of ideas, some of which were actually deemed quite sensible! The MECS70-B Stasis Pod was the unanimous favourite that emerged out of those concepts and ideas, and we felt that this would be a kit that was also unique in its nature, in that we’d not seen other similar kits before. Searching the web gave us a lot of reference material that had already been created by artists and moviemakers, and from that we created ‘mood boards’ to provide us with some nice ideas we felt we could work with.
We started by investing in the license for some basic 3D models from www.DAZ3D.com. That allowed us the license rights to the 3D printing of the concept, which was important from the legal standpoint. Unfortunately however, these basic 3D models turned out to be unsuitable for the high-end 3D printing technology that we had already selected for our parts production. We therefore made the important decision at that point to go right back to the drawing-board and create our own professional CAD model, still based on these original concepts but redesigned in such a way that they would be more suitable for the SLA Viper 3D Printer hardware we had decided to use.
We started working on our new CAD model using Solidworks 3D – a professional CAD software tool used by engineering and aerospace companies around the world. In October 2013, as the kit concept evolved, it quickly became apparent that we would have to “imagineer” our own universe to set the concept of the kit in, and thus a backstory developed. It was started mainly as a piece of fun for the team, but as the backstory was shaped, it gradually started to evolve and take on a life of its own before shaping up into something we considered almost reality. The new Hostile Realms universe, so-called because of the conflicts that could potentially be placed within it, comes into existence not that much ahead of our own present time in a relatively few years time. It’s set a time where an advanced alien race, called the Flexani, was instrumental in enabling mankind to reach for the stars. The Stasis Pod would prove to be an essential part of the long-range exploration of space.
Back in our present, we spent several more weeks further refining the CAD model. The level of complexity was increased to ensure that the model kit allowed for the installation of circuit boards, wiring looms and LEDs for the lighting. This stage proved to be especially challenging and our CAD expert had a few problems with defining how the lighting was to work. However, regular communications between the team members ensured that the precise dimensions needed for some of the parts were constantly checked and controlled.
Once the CAD model had been finalised, it was passed to our appointed 3D Printer. We were absolutely amazed with the speed of the turnaround, considering that we were ordering just a few days before the 2013 Christmas break. The 3D printing company, based in Cambridge, UK shipped the parts out to us just after Boxing Day – just a little over 36 hours for printing the master parts from the initial CAD model files – quite amazing! We selected a material called Accura25 for the 3D print. It is a mid-range resin material that has the look and feel of moulded polypropylene, but has high flexibility with excellent shape retention and was therefore tolerant of the strict requirements for the fine micron printing needed by the Viper SLA machine. Next, came the relatively simple steps of cleaning up any minor issues with the master parts by hand, adding in a few extra details (greeblies) and then sending off the finished 3D printed master parts to our casting partner in Birmingham, UK. It was just a little over 6 weeks later and we received the first proofs of the finished kit.
Another element of the model we have given close attention to is the facility for a modeller to light the kit and we made sure that no corners were cut in this aspect. We knew from experience that a range of self-made and custom lighting boards were available from a wide range of suppliers, but we wanted to make available a lighting effects circuit that was made specifically for this kit and would be plug and play with no demands of electronic knowledge or soldering skills from the modeller.
We have designed and built our own custom circuit board design which utilises an AVR ATmega328-based Promini microprocessor board at its heart. This is programmed with our own in-house developed programming and forms the main heart of the electronics kit. Being developed on the Arduino platform, it gave us the flexibility to amend and control all aspects of the code and lights as demanded, and allowed us to make rapid changes during the prototype phase. As a consequence, we were able to develop the LED lighting set so that it features several different ‘modes’ of lighting, including a Failure mode, which changes the normal operational blue lighting in the Stasis Tube to a more urgent flashing red warning display. It is the use of very small, bi-colour, SMD LEDs (surface mounted light emitting diodes) that enables us to have the ability to control the colour of the lighting displayed by the LEDs and to keep the lighting kit’s footprint inside the model small and compact. Our original design actually used some LEDs that we had sourced from Germany, as due to the unusual colour combination of blue and red they were difficult to obtain. However, when we came to use them we found we had a slight space issue! We have since changed the design to use very tiny LEDs that we were eventually able to track down. So, if anyone finds themselves in need of any large red/blue LEDs, we seem to have plenty spare for some reason!!
Creating a new model kit business from scratch has certainly been a very interesting challenge. As the Team and Creative Lead, I’ve had to address every problem and decision making process around the kit’s design and construction; from finding partners and sculptors able and willing to work within budget, to organising and planning the printing and design of the instructional leaflets and packaging and, of course, the creation of a web presence in the form of a website with online shop and social media experience that seems to be the standard nowadays to enable any business to thrive online. A couple of things that I learned very quickly, was that the compilation of the kit requirements needed thorough and almost ruthless planning and that every single piece of design work needed very careful thought and consideration before committing it to production. I, and the rest of my team have learned a great deal during the process but still managed to have some fun along the way!
We’re already working on the second Hostile Realms kit, aimed at an autumn launch – a Medical Bay Console Unit to compliment the main Stasis Pod as well as another 1:24 scale figure for the interior of the Stasis Pod. The CAD model of the new Medical Bay Console is now complete and we’re already processing the 3D parts, ready for casting and moulding. This Medical Bay Console can be built as a separate kit, or can be combined with the Stasis Pod in order to create a diorama. The console will also be lit by its own custom electronics board. However, if the Medical Console is used in conjunction with the Stasis Pod, the two electronic circuits will be able communicate with each other in order to synchronise the lighting effects between the two!
The Hostile Realms universe needs inhabitants and strong characters, and we’ve been working on creating a range of 70mm figures for the inside of the Stasis Pod, figures to compliment the Medical Console as well as some plans for 1:6 and 1:9 scale characters in different poses.
All of these figures combine together with some other exciting ideas already waiting eagerly in the wings, including a Mining Spaceship and some Alien Attack vessels. We’re always open to ideas and suggestions from the readers however to suggest ideas for new kits that we can develop, design and create to take their place within the Hostile Realms universe.