Light Miniatures

Never be afraid to paint outside the lines

Step-by-step: clockwork base


When I painted Commander-Adept Nemo, I was inspired by Natalya “Alexi-Z” Melnik’s amazing version of Nemo from the previous Gen Con. I really liked the non-metallic metal armor and the elaborate base she used, so I decided to do something similar for my version. It’s a fair bit different from hers, but I really liked her idea of putting Nemo on a raised platform with technological elements. For my version, I wanted to create a clockwork mechanism you could see into, like a skeleton watch.

If you want to duplicate my process exactly, you will need:

  • 30 mm warmachine base
  • plastic card in .5mm and 1mm thicknesses
  • metal watch parts (can be purchased from eBay or Etsy)
  • water effects (hobby store or boutique miniature suppliers like Secret Weapon)
  • metal mesh (I got mine from an art store, which was basically a lifetime supply)
  • wire
  • epoxy putty
  • superglue

As the starting point for the base, I used the outer ring of a 30mm warmachine base, with the center part removed.

outer ring of a 30mm round-edged base

To remove the center part, take a swiss army knife (or some other knife with a sturdy blade) and repeatedly stab through the base near the edge of the ring to make a large hole in the center. Then use a hobby knife to carefully widen the hole until only the lip of the base is left. It would also be possible to use one of the round-lipped bases with a deeply recessed center, but removing the center completely gives you a bit more room to work with.

Using this ring as a template, I cut four circles out of .5mm plastic card exactly the same size as the hole in the base. This thickness of plastic card can be easily cut with scissors.

circle of .5mm plastic card, with inner circle marked for removal

I then used a hobby knife cut a circle from the center of these disks, turning them into washers.  Two of these washers were for the raised platform, with wire mesh sandwiched in between, and two were for the mechanism case. In order to give good visibility into the mechanism, I used clear materials and pieces with lots of holes.

Here are the watch parts I used. I really recommend getting one of these tins of assorted watch pieces, they are great fun to use.

tub of gears—I picked out the parts I wanted to use

After playing around with the gears a bit to come up with a pattern I liked for the final base, I built two gear sub-assemblies.

gear sub-assemblies—attached with green stuff

Unfortunately, superglue doesn’t adhere very well to these parts. Probably epoxy would have been best, but I just used large blobs of green stuff where they wouldn’t be visible. I only needed to hold them together long enough to finish the assembly, paint them, and secure them permanently using water effects (to simulate a glass cover over the gears).

I built the mechanism in layers. The first layer was a clear plastic circle, with a rim made from a wire key ring just small enough to fit inside the 30mm round-edged base rim.

building up the mechanism in layers—bottom layer

I used clear plastic so that I could make the entire thing see-through. However, I eventually scrapped that idea as I thought the mechanism looked  looked better with a black background than a transparent one. The purpose of the wire and green stuff around the edge was to form a basin I could fill with water effects and cover the gears.

It’s always a good idea to test fit things before adding any glue.

building up the mechanism in layers—sub-assemblies (test fit)

building up the mechanism in layers—completed mechanism (test fit)

This was when I really started to get excited about things. It’s always a great feeling on a project when things work out just as you had imagined. I could have stopped here, and I would have been very happy with the result, but I decided to give Nemo some extra height with a raised platform, rather than having him standing directly on top of the mechanism. I made the platform from two more of the same plastic circles I had made before, with some wire mesh sandwiched between them.

the platform for Nemo used more .5mm plastic card and wire mesh

These were also attached with green stuff, to fill the spaces in the holes of the mesh and firmly attach each piece of plastic card.

I cut plastic feet out of 1mm plastic card to suspend the platform over the rest of the base. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of that step. I also drilled a couple of holes through everything at this point. These holes have a dual purpose: first, I used them to line everything up during assembly, and second, they provided extra strength by tying the entire base together, and to the figure (since I drilled one of these wires into Nemo’s foot). In the end, the platform is attached to the base with the three plasticard feet (one of which goes through the base), and four pieces of paperclip, one of which goes all the way into Nemo. This makes the figure and base quite sturdy, despite the fragility of its appearance.

Even though large portions of the base were unassembled, I needed to stop here and paint the internal mechanism. Ever hear the mantra, “paint from the inside out”? This was especially important here, since assembling the base made many areas completely unreachable by a paintbrush; areas which were still visible, either through mesh or through water effects.

I started with the inner mechanism.

the inner mechanism, painted

I was going for a corroded metal appearance, so I used oxidized iron colors (grays and rust orange) for the fixed parts, and oxidized copper colors (browns, yellows, and turquoise) for the wheels and gears.

Once I had painted the gears, I added the water effects over them. Someone with more experience with water effects probably would have done everything differently, and used a different product than I used (probably two-part clear resin). I used a clear gel medium, which has its shortcomings but I was able to work around them. First I filled around the mechanism with several layers (this is a very slow process as you can only apply the gel medium in thin layers and need to wait hours for each layer to dry—this is why resin would likely be preferable). Once I had a nearly flat surface over the mechanism, I applied a final layer of gel medium and sealed the top with another layer of clear plastic from a Warmachine blister, to get a perfectly flat surface, and glued one of my plastic circles to the top. The center of the disk was filled in with more of the gel medium to slightly above the level of the disk, to create a convex surface (like a watch crystal). Finally I attached a second disk, and glued the base rim flush with the top disk. This completes the mechanism part of the base, which I then finished painting.

the lower mechanism, fully assembled and painted

(Sorry, I should have taken more pictures during this process. I tried to describe it as well as I could, but it’s tricky without pictures, so please leave comments if you have any questions about this part!)

Finally, I painted the underside of the raised platform, then attached it and painted the upper side.

completed base—front view

completed base—rear view

I actually painted the base before I painted Nemo, and later, when I saw how the colors worked together, I decided the turquoise didn’t work.

Here’s a final shot of the base with Nemo on top.

completed base with Nemo—once I had painted the figure, I decided I needed to change the color scheme

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