Wednesday, 14 September 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

For me Fighting Fantasy is where this whole obsession with my hobby began, way before GW etc entered my life. And during my blogging life I've made a few scratchbuilt models to re-create the wonderfully evocative illustrations from the books. Recently I re-visited (with some trepidation) the first Fighting Fantasy book I ever read; The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

 I say trepidation because I was slightly worried that it would now not be quite as exciting and amazing as it was when I first read so many years ago in the local library. I was not disappointed. Ok the actual dungeon is not very difficult to explore and it's actually quite hard to die but the map I drew as I was exploring was relatively easy to construct (more on that later), the story is still great and the illustrations by Russ Nicholson are still as wonderful to pore over as they were back then. Now I can further appreciate his sense of a light space in a dungeon and the detailed textures and wonderful expressions on the often dim-witted monsters that are encountered (who can forget the sleeping Goblin sentry or the frightened orc slave taking a whipping?)

I read the book several times, both in story mode to help make my map (because you just have to make a map) and in numerical order just to get to read every passage and see every illustration. But also because I want to recreate this dungeon in my model making. Yes that's right, I'm going to start on a crazy project that will see me re-create the illustrations from the book, so that a dungeon explore game can actually be played within the setting of Firetop Mountain, with familiar foes, landmarks and puzzles.
So to kick this off, where better to start than with page 1:

At last your two-day hike is over. You unsheathe your sword, lay it on the ground and sigh with relief as you lower yourself down onto the mossy rocks to sit for a moment's rest. You stretch, rub your eyes and finally look up at Firetop Mountain.

The very mountain itself looks menacing. The steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles. At the top of the mountain you can see the eerie red colouring - probably some strange vegetation - which has given the mountain it's name. Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what grows up there, as climbing the peak must surely be impossible.

Your quest lies ahead of you. Across the clearing is a dark cave entrance. You pick up your sword, get to your feet and consider what dangers may lie ahead of you. But with determination, you thrust the sword home into its scabbard and approach the cave.

You peer into the gloom to see dark, slimy walls with pools of water on the stone floor in front of you. The air is cold and dank. You light your lantern and step warily into the blackness. Cobwebs brush your face and you hear the scurrying of tiny feet: rats most likely. After a few yards you arrive at a junction. Will you turn west (turn to 71) or east (turn to 278)?

And here's my interpretation of the original illustration through using some of the descriptive prose from the above text:

But of course this is a photograph of my 3d model, so to align it even further with the original illustration I used an iPhone app called Prisma which puts a filter over the photograph, here I used the filter named Light Summer Reading:

 And here I used Heisenberg:

And here you can compare it to Russ Nicholson's original drawing:

Next I'll show you some WIP photos of the model-making process, using just a few tools and materials:

An MDF offcut created the base and backing (screwed together with some brackets for support). A citadel tree was chopped down so as to curve further to the right, as in the illustration and mounted on a bit of cork for some rocks. Expanding foam was then built up for the side of the mountain (I used too much, it really did expand more than I was expecting!)

I added a few brass leaves to the tree and carved away the cured expansion foam, trying to recreate the "steep face in front of you looks to have been svaged by the claws of some gargantuan beast. Sharp rocky crags jut out at unnatural angles."  Sand was added with some pva to the ground.

I added some skulls to cocktail sticks to recreate the entrance, added further sand to the craggy mountain side and then tested some grey primer onto the foam. It distorted it slightly and created a further textured dimension to the rockface (even occasional drips like stalagtites from the ceiling of the cave entrance. Pure chance!
I got carried away with the painting and forgot to take any wip photos, but after the grey primer the rocks were washed with a dark grey to get into the nooks. I then drybrushed with a loaded brush, successive lighter greys, ensuring the lightest was on the most raised areas. Lots and lots of washes were then applied, mainly ochres, greens and browns to introduce some moss like colours and a bit more interest. The ground was sprayed brown and then highlighted up with drybrushed lighter greys and browns. Finally some gloss varnish was poured down from the top which created little streams of water and pools of moisture. A couple of swamp tufts and liberal scattering of bitch seeds completed the vignette.
Here you can see the structure.

And the map which I drew up as I was exploring the dungeon. This took me right back to being a kid and will help me as I re-create each illustration throughout the book. To make it easier upon myself, I'll choose a route that actually gets me to the end, but a route that has the more interesting illustrations in (hence the page numbers to help me reference the illustrations):

Finally as I was doing some research on this I found two nuggets. First of all I discovered that the illustration I've work from was not the initial sketch submitted, apparently this one here was (I think it is much more interesting and even slightly Ian Milleresque...):

but it was decided that it did not fit the story as well - perhaps a bit too scary for the little ones? And then amazingly when I was completing my research, I found this Warlock of Firetop Mountain colouring book which has given me a chance to add colour to the original black and white version, kind of a reversal of what I achieved with the Prisma app on the photograph of my own model!

My colouring in! I wanted it to be quite mute but with some patches of colour, which is kinda how I painted the model. Here I've used pencil shading, pretty quickly applied for the rocks and tree and then blended in a few colourful hues (greens, yellows and browns) to represent the natural, outside feel to the drawing.

So until next time....