Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Interview Hawk Wargames David J. Lewis

Hawk Wargames is run by its lead designer David J. Lewis

Hawk make a sci-fi wargame called ‘Dropship Commander’ at the 10mm scale. I became interested in it when I saw their remarkable sculpts.

As regular readers may know, I believe that creating little sculptures that are;

1. Playing pieces in a game.

2. Meant to represent and communicate entire cultures.

3. Meant to look like weapons.

4. To be beautiful, or ‘cool’ (which is what teenage boys and Americans say when they mean ‘beautiful’ but are scare of looking gay.)

5. For a mass audience and market (or more mass than any other kind of sculpture anyway.)

6. To be ‘used’ (painted, assembled, modified, picked up, touched, moved around)

places a huge series of overlapping pressures on the design. If a designer can solve all of these problems in an interesting way, they can create something very special indeed. I think Lewis has done this.

I had a huge number of questions for Mr Lewis, so many, in fact, he didn't have time for them all. But he was able to answer five.

Lets start with the dropships themselves. These carry your little tanks into battle and move them around. All the dropships are designed so that if you magnteise them you can actually stack the wee tanks up inside them.

The UCM albatross in particular, loaded it must look like a giant brick of force and mass, unloaded it looks more, predatory? elegant? Like an animal standing on its legs, or like an insect with long legs hovering in the air The leg aspect is mimicked by the tank-holding bits and the flying limbs.

 This is the UCm condor, so you can see what they look like loaded.

Scourge Despoiler

Scourge Harbringer.

PHR Posieden

This is where the designs really sing I think, with the dropships and their interaction with the smaller craft that go inside them.

Elegant empty space-encompassing forms, which you then fill up or as chunks of mass.

1. The Dropships give an entirely different aspect when loaded. They are also fairly unique in terms of war mini’s and in terms of sculpture, unique interacting parts that work alone and assembled as part of something larger.

Was there anything in particular that inspired you or lead you in this direction?

Lewis - It was mainly a case of having the idea for the game (designed around dropships and air mobility) and then designing the models to suit this concept. I looked at a lot of sources for the initial design stages but one of the key driving forces behind the configuration of the models was controlling the cost and size of the dropships. They needed to be efficient and compact and around the same cost or cheaper than their cargo most of the time (especially for the larger dropships). With most games, the few dropships that do exist cost many times more than their cargo and are very large, making it impractical to have large numbers of them.

It feels like Lewis has made CAD-Art. I hope that’s not an insult. Other people have been using computer aided design to imitate or make efficient the things they already did with their hands. He has treated it as a canvas. 

This is the Underside of the tank.  You never see it in combat.

 Everything here could, in theory, be made and designed by hand, but I don't think anyone would have ever designed like this by hand.

2. You use enormous detail at smallest scale and your models are truly three-dimensional. They look interesting from any possible angle and have interesting elements on every surface. How do you do this?

Lewis - I spend a very long time on each design! I never rush anything I work on and I work long hours. Ultimately, you get out what you put in both in terms of design and content creation. I guess I'm also lucky in that I can visualise what the finished model will look like from the 2D concept stage onwards - this is something that is hard to learn but can be improved upon and sharpened with effort and practice.

I was very interested in the UCM standard tanks the first time I saw them. I kind of regard the sci-fi tank as almost-untrotten ground as it seems there is a great deal that could eb done with them that is not. (GW is still in WW1, Forgeworld has moved onto WW2)

The extended limbs mean the tanks project force in an entirely different way than normal tanks. A normal tank is a bit more like a rhino, some thick heavy aggressive beast, these feel more like hunters, they have a mantis aspect

3. The asymmetry and back bent limbs on the human tanks are really neat design choices that knit together the army. Where did you get the idea and at what stage did you decide on it as such a powerful identifying factor for that army?

Lewis -  I decided on this particular design feature quite early in the UCM's design development. In this case, the design came from a detailed study of the concepts that modern militaries are exploring for future armoured vehicles combined with a certain logic and the implied presence of better materials, energy sources etc in the future (i.e - if we have X, what would we be able to built that's superior to today?) With better control and automation we can have a tank with one crew member and If he/she lies prone we can have a lower profile hull (almost always a good thing for low vulnerability). If we had the tech to build an articulated turret then the weapon could be raised over scenery while not exposing the hull and also allowing the tank to be highly compact for dropship carriage.

With the second of his alien races, the Shaltari, he has really cut loose.  For pure beauty these are some of my favourites.

These are 10mm models, a little larger than a big coin.

The bigger something is the more likely it is to have those articulated ‘leaves’ or vanes. Which I imagine to be slowly moving in real life. This means the largest Shaltari machines feel ‘lighter’ less massy, like they are gently floating. 

4. In form the Shaltari walkers have those articulated mobile heads with sensing pods as black ellipses like the infantry faces. Shaltari warstriders have different arrangements, giving the illusion of constant movement and a sense of speed. Why did you decide on such an extreme amount of articulation for the Shaltari compared to the other factions?

Lewis - With the Shaltari Warstriders, I looked at the amount of movement that may be required for a towering tripod walker. Ideally, you'd need a lot of flexibility to achieve a dynamic movement that could cope with a wide range of scenery. Also, pure aesthetic considerations came to the fore here and a certain shape presented itself during the concept generation phase. With the Warstriders, I went for a configuration that could allow almost any leg movement, giving a feel of poise and almost life-like movements on the battlefield.

Lewis is very good at creating force identity. The feeling that a group of disperate models that all do different things all come from the same culture. 

Scourge have that eye configuration, those flexing tube weapons and those vents arranged like pores or mouths. The flares at the end of some Scourge craft, like leaves or tentacles. The destroyer infantry have the same ribbing as the ships. Scourge hunters have the double line of eyes,  the troops have the three eyes.

PHR have the dots. Eyeless faces. Blank, long drawn out armour shapes. They have armour on the front but that ribbing on the back. The walkers and the infantry share these qualities. 

The Hades Walker seems like the most perfect expression of the PHR culture, like whatever it wants to be is pressing through the human covering.

Shaltari craft have that strange semi-hexagonal pattern with the balls, the linked circle designs, that’s just decoration.

guys like to have a little Dawn on each vehicle

And of course, the repeating sunray designs on the tails of the tanks, those vernal ‘leaves’ on the gates and some large machines. 

5. The way you have linked all these tiny elements of design. The shapes, ‘decorations’ and the character of each race, is really good. Perhaps exceptionally good. Can you tell me anything about your design process for this?

Lewis - Detailing is obviously something I spend a lot of time on and take very seriously. Well over half of the development hours of a new model is spent detailing (sometimes as much as 80%). It's all too tempting just to repeat detail sections arbitrarily, almost adding 'artificial' detail as a texture. I try to avoid this most of the time, as it feels somehow 'false' and detracts from realism. Most of my best detailing work revolves around functional elements (e.g. how would this joint work/ where would the panels be separated for easy maintenance/ where would cooling need to be placed?). When there are real reasons for the detail, it looks far more deliberate. The Shaltari are partly an exception to this, as their technology is so advanced as to be unfathomable to us. However, I use certain design rules for their detail elements, sticking to them to add a sense of almost definable purpose to their outlandish technology.

Check out the Hawk site if you are interested. (You may also wish to take a look at the 10mm scenery. Lewis has created his own mini architectural style called 'sci-deco', 

he has also put a huge amount of thought to the stuff you find on top of buildings, vents etc

 because, of course, thats what you see in a wargame. The vent of the top is ore important than anything inside becasue you will never see the inside.

And an extra question if you want it.

Is there anything in sculpture right now, either in mini design or elsewhere that you find or exciting? If you were going to interview someone who especially interesting would it be?

Lewis - A good question! I guess the top of my list would be the entire design team at Weta Workshop - I have enormous respect for their work and always enjoy watching special features on films they've worked on. Picking their collective brain would be a fantastic opportunity and a privilege! 

(I will probably try and do a pretentious 'theory' post about all this later.)


  1. Really interesting interview, thanks for this. Do you play any wargames and do some painting and modelling? I find painting a model brings a different kind of appreciation of its form as some are incredibly enjoyable to paint in a way that trancends the aesthetics of the piece.

    I've only recently become aware of Hawk Wargames thanks to the rumours of a spaceship wargame and haven't seen any of these models before, they're really beautiful. There's a definate anime feel to them, the clean lines of the UCM (humans?) and the Ghibli/Nausicaä (hey those Röck Döts came in handy!) and Blue Gender feel to the Scourge. The Shaltari in particular remind me of the creepy organic style of the angels in Neon Genesis Evangelion.

    Did you ever try and get in touch with Jes Goodwin about your interview? I wonder whether it'd be worth asking on the Oldhammer forum, I know some of the people on there are in contact with ex GW design staff, if they don't know him they may be able to pass a message on.

    1. I used to play 40k when I was a kid and have painted a very small amount.

      I'm not very good at it, I am not a man of my hands, I lack dexterity, skill and patience so I didn't stick at it long enough to get good.

      I always feel like a bit of a whore going on forums. I don't spend long enough on any of them to be a real part of any community. It's a nice idea though.

    2. I think with painting enjoying the process is the key, as soon as I start worrying if it looks any good the fun just evaporates.

      It'd be interesting if you looked at the relationship between a factions design and their rules/background, that may be difficult if you don't play any of the games though.

      Re forums I totally understand that. Would you like me to post on your behalf? I don't think anyone would see it as an imposition.

  2. I think it would be great if you did that.

  3. Gorgeous designs all. I particularly like the tracked tanks for the way they break out of late 20th century paradigms and try to explore new forms to follow new functions. They remind me of design proposals for real world laser weapons -- lack of recoil and direct line-of-sight fire favor mounting the weapon on a spindly "cherry picker" arm, away from the vehicle proper, which can remain behind cover. See also a World War II-era prototype along the same lines, the "Praying Mantis" tank -- http://alliedtanksofworldwarii.devhub.com/blog/655993-praying-mantis/

  4. Hey Patrick, I posted on the Oldhammer forum (http://forum.oldhammer.org.uk/viewtopic.php?f=6&t=2893&p=34024#p34024) and on my blog (http://brushoffumbling.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/jes-goodwins-contact-details.html).

    I'll let you know if I get anything back.