Wednesday, August 16, 2017

INTERVIEW: Brandon from GMM Studios

There are many hobby heroes out there in the community, but I don't think any of them are anywhere as prolific as Brandon from GMM studios. You may have seen his work around before without realizing it, but he does all of those extremely well painted armies that boggle the mind with their size. Not only are the armies massive and very well done, but the display boards and photography are amazing as well. Today I have an interview with this miniature mastermind as we talk about his recently completed Stormcast army, commission work, massive displays, and more!

Tyler: How did you first enter the hobby?

Brandon: Hello Mr. Mengel!  Thank you for having me.

My first introduction to Warhammer was in a game store in Greenwood IN.  Was around 13 or so at the time.  Just looking around on a family shopping trip, and happened in the store in the mall.  Walked around, and saw a starter set for Fantasy.  It was one of those times in a person's life when something just "clicks."  When one sees something they didn't know existed, didn't know they wanted, and when they do it hits the spot perfectly.

I grew up in a pretty rural area, and was an only child for quite a while until my brother was born.  So playing around for me was always very in my head.  I was lucky to have an Aunt that spoiled me a great deal and bought me all the Ghostbusters and whatever toys I wanted when I would go to visit.  For me, goofing around was very Calvin and Hobbes except figures and lots of made up forts and castles out of Christmas boxes, whatever.  Chairs were the Ghostbuster fire station and New York.  If it snowed it was Hoth.  That homemade "playset" (and back then those weren't much of a thing), or terrain as we call it in Warhammer, was just as important to me as the figures themselves.  My imagination couldn't handle just playing with figures on a carpet floor.

So you take that person, let them grow into their teens, and show them Warhammer.  This is figures, realistic terrain, and painting.  Have always been an artist so the painting side of things was just another perfect puzzle piece. That also carries over to today, and why I make so many big displays and the backdrops for me are so fun and important. Of course I have matured, and in business very professional and have the reputation I do, but for me work is play time and I'm just a big kid at heart.  In that way I am the same person.  If the little me could see what the Brandon of today is doing, he would probably pee a little and just hang on for a life of contentment, instead of trying to figure out other big boy things to do that ended up not being very fun.

Tyler: When and why did you start doing commission work, and when did it morph into the large scale projects you are so well known for?

Brandon: Well that is a good segway from my last point.  After High School came college and I chose Graphic Design. I had dropped all Warhammer during these four years to focus hard on school of course, which was sad but I hoped a brief interlude.  Around the middle of the fourth year, I started to dabble again in painting, just because I missed it so much.  Since these character models weren't for anything specific, and I saw people selling figures on ebay, I decided to sell them instead of just sitting on my CRT.

After only a couple of months, I started receiving requests for commissions.  At the time I didn't even know that was a thing, but thought about it and gave it a go.  Within the span of the last semester this had snowballed so much, and I enjoyed it so dang much, I decided "well forget it, as long as I can survive I will do this over design."  My final graduating assignment for design school was a website.  Mine was my first painting site.  Which was always GMM, and a silly name but I keep it anyway out of sentimentality.  I left school, painted out of my parents house for a couple months and then rented a tiny office space in a nearby building to use, and you can probably guess why.

I could easily write a whole lot more of my story, but it can be summed up as people see armies, people then want armies, and I love painting armies.  Mixing my story of my childhood, and the gestalt effect of a big army on big terrain, it really is addicting.  There is a rush of finishing something big and seeing it all come together. From the beginning planning stages, to that marathon of work, to the final photography and reveal, it is really the best reward for who I am as a person and I just love every step of it to death.

Today I live out in the country but still in Bloomington.  Working out of the house and garage, which some probably get glimpses of in backdrop WIP pictures.

It's funny, recently, and can't even remember why I saw it, I read an article about a Porsche repairman who works out of a two car garage on the beach in California.  I remember the picture of him in his garage drew me in.  The aesthetics of everything being really well worn, lived in, cozy,  it gave me goosebumps and I loved it.  I read the article, and fell more in love.  The way he works, it is not something you can describe and I am not sure some people of different wiring can understand.  There was a quote that stuck out along the lines of "if a guy brings in a 356 and I notice he is missing his cigarette lighter, I dont go pull a new one out of a baggy, that would be the nicest part of his car.  I go get one with character out the back."  At least for me, him doing exactly what he was born to do just leaps off the page. Mixed with the aesthetic of the garage, I really was so jealous.

Then I realized, why the hell am I jealous, that is me.  He is doing the exact same thing, It was just easier for me to appreciate because I was looking from the outside.  It is strange as human beings, we often take things for granted.  I am doing what I was born to do and have to make sure I don't, it would be a waste. There is no beach in front of my garage, but the woods and Bloomington are beautiful.

Tyler: You recently completed a truly massive Stormcast Eternals project, how did that come about?

Brandon: Like pretty much everything I do and post, that was a commission, which always starts from someone coming forward and requesting it whether a new customer or old.  The process itself really doesn't vary, only the requests themselves. I keep the back end of things very tight and professional to keep me on my toes, but in terms of the execution, I am always up for anything.

Tyler: About how long did it take you to complete it, and do you know how many models you painted for it?

Brandon: I believe I started that around middle of May, and finished early July.  I don't keep track of exact hours, that isn't really important to me or a motivation.

Model count I do not know, again for similar reasons.  Not to say at any point I am not aware of what is in the army, just do not take a full head count.  On the other hand I have developed a very compulsive behavior over the years where I have to count each individual batch out the army any time it moves.  So if an army is 80 marines, 10 tanks 4 fliers, whenever I move the 80 marines around from either outside the garage to inside, or even just from the work bench in the garage to another platform to be primed, I have to count them all.  This is a good thing but I will admit it would look like OCD if someone watched me, haha.

You know, those two things often get reaction out of people, the size of the armies, and the time it takes me.  However, and only by nature of always trying to do what is best for the process of painting for someone, and what is healthy for me, I don't actually put either one as a priority, especially time.  I don't personally put any pride in how fast I paint something, that is only something to take pride in at expense of quality.   People don't give me their hard earned dollars to paint quickly, they do so to get something cool, and the experience, but by nature of doing this constantly it probably does seem fast to the average guy out there with a day job and painting for recreation.  So I do understand and appreciate those reactions.

Tyler: After painting the entire Stormcast range, how do you feel about those models?

Brandon: I liked them going in, and liked them going out but for more the same reasons, just more appreciation.  They are a bit like marines - they are charming in their simplicity, but the characters are by contrast pretty wild, which I think adds to the look of an army as whole.. Not simple as in plain sculpt or simple concept, but the flavor is in the aesthetic rather than sheer amount of detail.

Some hobbyists like to get more refined in how they judge sculpts, and I can see why that would be enjoyable and it is valid.  For me, anything relatively recent is going to be good, and even beyond that you have models that are arguably less well done but have character for it, such as Chaos Dwarves.  The type of person who contacts me for a project is going to have their own personal tastes that cancel what I think anyway.  I am sure down these questions we will get into that more, though. I am not here to tell customers whether their opinion is valid, that voids my whole goal of vicarious enjoyment of fulfilling what they are after.

The hierarchy of creative outlet is create>teach>critique>consume.  This is not a judgement or ranking of intelligence or opinion, just the amount a person needs to be creative.  Some people on one end do not need much creative outlet, so they enjoy watching movies, collecting art, etc.  On the other, creation of something tangible by their own hand is the only satisfying reward and life is less-than without it.Think of it as percentages in 20's, from 100 down to 20., as I don't think anyone is without any need for creativity at all, then you are no longer human. I believe this is what actually drives a lot more of art than we simply give credit to talent or calling. The stock broker that says he can't draw a stick figure to save his life - does he simply lack talent or is he more likely just without desire to be creative, as who he is as a person?

How we got here, I dunno, but it is fun for me to think about and you have given me a rare platform to give opinions without drowning out my work, which is for me more important. :) Maybe my point in the end is, I am not one to ask for opinions on sculpts, same as you probably wouldn't ask the Porsche repairman his opinions on models of Porsche even though that makes sense roughly on paper.  He likes them all to some degree in his heart or he wouldn't be there by nature of the market.

Tyler: I noticed that there are quite a few conversions, with head swaps and the like, mixed into the army. Is this something you normally do on projects this large? I imagine most people would just want to do everything stock when doing such a huge assembly line.

Brandon: Swapping the heads around was a request. Whenever I do a project, starting from the first email, the end idea is fleshed out.  There are quite a few variables. Some customers want everything out of the box, some want everything converted and themed, such as an Ogre army I am doing now, which is all converted around a tribal cannibal theme.  Within that is a tennis game of back and forth.  Sometimes the customer gives me an idea, sometimes it goes to him.  Sometimes they want to play blindfolded. Sometimes the concept is already fleshed out before he comes to me, sometimes they come with a broad idea they are having trouble putting into words and we talk in image searches.

In the end, as much of it is me feeling out the customer and what they are after as throwing out ideas.  The Stormcast army is a good example of one end, he wanted straight out of the box, notes on heads swaps and wouldn't like surprises. On the other end, the Ogre customer wants wild and free, do what I want, and half of it will be a surprise for him at the finish.   Either is valid, and as much fun for me.  The enjoyment of giving someone what they want is my own personal priority, and through that I have fun.  For a person who is a hobbyist wanting to get into painting, a good sign you are doing it for the wrong reasons is if you feel disappointment at a customer turning down an idea.  My ideas are there to refine and improve his vision, not to satisfy my own.

As another note, on the assembly side I also get all sorts of requests and customer preferences.  Have had several customers send each model in baggy to be assembled, with specific bits.  That is fun because you can see their creativity in it and that gives them a special personal touch without having to do the part they do not have practice or desire to do.  And again on the other end I have had people say just order whatever models and parts you like for the theme, within this army list.  Same goes for paint.

Tyler: How do you go about painting a project of this size?

Brandon: That depends on two factors, the sculpts and the paint scheme.

First question is are all the models the same paint scheme?  If not, obviously they need to be separated.

Those that are the same scheme, how different are the sculpts?  If varied they need to be separated.  While on paper and through sheer time of touching paint pots it seems like it would be faster to paint an army that is all one color at once, but the difference in sculpts are jarring to the muscle memory enough that for me I am more efficient if they are separated.

For the Stormcast, anything on foot and not a character and in armor was close enough to do them at once.  After all the same colors were done, then the models within that with additional different colors would be pulled and those painted.  For Prosecutors, anything riding a monster, characters, etc, those were done in individual lone batches.

As another example I am already thinking about a big upcoming AoS Chaos army.  For that I know I will be separating every unit, even though pretty much the entire army is the same scheme.  There is too much difference even among the infantry to be worthwhile.  Flesh here, different armor there, 'letters are completely different, crushers are too big and more steps that would just bog down, etc.  Better for that one each unit it's own contained and smooth process.

Tyler: You are also known for creating some awesome looking display boards for your large army projects. Is this standard, or something the client needs to request? Do you send it to them along with their army?

Brandon: Again, these vary based on factors. By nature of being who I am, all armies *have* to be on something.  The feeling of an army on equally wild terrain is a complete package, less-than to do without.

As for the purpose beyond photography, it depends.  Some customers want a tournament display board so I wrap the photography around using it as the backdrop.  Some do not, so that is when I make something just for photos.

Whether it is for tournament display or just photography each have their own sets of challenges.  If a display is just for photography then it needs to be built to maximize showing off the models in a somewhat compact space for best impact and best view of the models.  For example your average gaming table or a flat board with paper makes a poor display for armies because you cannot see it all, models cover each other.  One thing I believe is hard to tell in the photos is how vertical a lot of the "just for the garage" backdrops are, and more vertical they get as my eye for it refines.  There is a balance as too vertical, you get light issues, it is more about maximizing space and view than anything.

For tournament displays you have the added challenge of making something that will show off the whole army for photos but also not look barren when they play with just a tournament list. This requires the platforms and areas for models to sit having a lot of character and being able to stand up on their own without models.  Lot's of creative use of space.  The Ogre display will be a good example of this, so something to look at when it comes out.

Tyler: You have made several truly unique, and cool looking display projects for Adepticon. Can you talk a bit about these, and which one is your favorite?

Brandon: I would say the three most popular, as I affectionately call them, are "the golden throne" "the boat in a box" and "the skeleton throne." They have actual army titles, but that is more fun :)

I like each one for different reasons, and genuinely don't have a favorite.  The golden throne was the hardest, so see that as the most rewarding one.  It's very vertical, and it was the most mentally challenging to figure out as it was built.  The boat was probably the most sheer fun.  I drank a lot of rum and listened to a lot of alestorm making that.  I get serious sensory memory looking at that one.  It was also the first really out there one, going from the themed cart to the box, so it was really popular.  The skeleton throne, for me is the most charming.  It's the best balance of all factors involved in making one, and is sentimental for the throne itself.

Tyler: About how many of these large scale projects do you do a year?

Brandon: In terms of Adepticon displays, when I was making them more they were sort of my month long vacation every February, and once a year.  I like to say "a workaholics vacation is more but wilder work." I haven't done one in a couple years simply because of life.  They are very expensive, require 1-2 months without income, and the cost of Adepticon.  As I get older I have a little more desire in the direction of doing what is financially smart than simply having fun.  On the bright side, I feel like that energy has instead been poured into my regular work, and has improved and gotten wilder the past couple years for it.  However, I do still have three ideas that would be as large as those and very wild that I want to do, and need to get those out at some point!

In terms of large commissions, it depends upon how many I can pack in an individual year and how big they are.  I would say 10-12 though off hand.  If I get a lot of requests and book a lot of smaller armies then by nature in the same amount of time I will do more armies.  This year is a lot of really big ones, so there will be less actual army posts in 2017 compared to 2016.

Tyler: Have you ever "hit a wall" while in the middle of one of these projects? If so, how do you get around it and keep going?

Brandon: To be honest my natural resting state is painting.  I am only at peace with something in my ears and sitting in my little paint room with wood paneling, flooring and the ship cabin look.  So I do not get burned out, and if anything were going to it would have by now with some of these projects.  A lot of people ask how I stay focused and honestly I think it is just weird wiring mixed with years of doing it.  There is no secret.

I completely understand when people say they hit a wall, or get burned out, from my experience with other things in life.  It isn't that I have a massive attention span, in fact I have a surprisingly low attention span for anything else.

Tyler: I know you have also done a large Ironjawz army for Age of Sigmar, have you done any other AoS projects?

Brandon: No these are the first two.  Third will be the Chaos in a month or so.

Tyler: What is your favorite large scale project that you have done?

Brandon: Well, I will take your question and split it in two.

Large scale as in big, I will say the Warlord and Reaver Titans I did, covered in freehand.  That was just so backwards opposite of everything I normally paint it was a hell of a lot of fun, and I was very proud of how it came out.

Large scale as in most models, I will say the Clan Lachesis Marine army I did last year.  Marines are fun for me, that army had crazy backstory the customer wrote, and it all came out well as a group of overall army and cool terrain.

That is a very hard question to answer though.  I always try and make every army I do the best I have done, if no other reason than to push myself and tickle that reward center in my brain. So in terms of quality and personal satisfaction the answer should always be my last.

Tyler: Do you play any games yourself and have any personal armies?

Brandon: I used to, and I enjoy playing Warhammer a lot.  I get together once or twice a year with some locals for a big 9th game.  I have played most of the big skirmish games in some capacity way in the past and enjoyed them all.

However as time has gone on I realized I simply get more reward from doing stuff for other people. There is no desire to paint just a play army for local games anymore, it is simply less-than.  A definite Santa complex where there is simply more enjoyment out of the gift of making something awesome for someone else.  The fun is more than the sum of it's parts, since I had fun, they are excited to get this army that was only a thought in their mind a while back, and adding on the reward of seeing it through and nailing it for someone else.

It is just part of introspection and learning as a person as you get older. Accepting something, making it a part of your life in larger and larger amounts, and being happy.

Tyler: How can people get ahold of you for commissions?

Brandon: to set up email or phone chat about your ideas. You can also find me at GMMStudios on whatever social media you prefer, or the site

Tyler: Any final thoughts?

Brandon: Remember to always do exactly what you think you should.  If you're in the right place, you'll be doing it all day.

Thanks Mr. Mengel

Tyler: I would like to thank Brandon again for taking the time to do this interview. I'm always awestruck by how well done these truly massive armies are by him. I am eagerly awaiting his next project, especially that Chaos AoS one.

Until next time,

Tyler M.

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