The Thursday morning of Origins, I stopped by the booth of Reaper Miniatures, one of the premiere miniatures companies in all of gaming. I was able to have a chat with Bryan Stiltz, Production Manager for Reaper Miniatures. We talk about all things Reaper, everything from minis, paints, games, hosting their own convention. We even talked about a naked succubus. So I hope you enjoy this interview and primer on all things Reaper.
DHGF: I am here with Bryan Stiltz, better known to some as Reaper Bryan of City of Doors Podcast fame and the D20 Radio Network, which I also have a podcast on. Reaper Miniatures has been around for a long time starting back in 1992, so tell us a little history of Reaper.
Bryan Stiltz: Reaper is actually twenty years old this year. We started off doing historical miniatures; airplane models for a WWII plane game our CEO Ed Pugh played. He wanted to make more miniatures for it. He got into that and also decided since he played role playing games, he wanted to make role playing figures. He started doing that with our Dungeon Dwellers line in the late 90′s. Then we started Dark Heaven, which at the time I think we called Dark Heaven Apocalypse. Now it’s Dark Heaven Legends. That line really took around the time third edition came on the scene around 2000 and we’ve just really been popular ever since.
DHGF: How has the process of making miniatures evolved over that time?
BS: We’ve learned a lot about mold making technology and sculpting the greens themselves. Back in the day it was not uncommon to have a figure break and you’d have to repair it. We’ve learned to work with our sculptors. One of the things we do at ReaperCon every year, is we bring our sculptors in house and they get to work directly with our mold makers and learn how you make a miniature that will survive the process of being pressed in a vulcanizer. Vulicanizers are heat and pressure, and they are bad for almost anything. We’ve learned a lot about how to make a mold that will survive better. How to make a mold that won’t create as radical mold lines and will get us a better figure.
DHGF: Do you use any 3D modeling in creating figures?
BS: We do use the 3D modeling. We have a motorcycle in our chronoscope line right now, that was done on a 3D printer. All of our CAV figures were done on a 3D printer. We are experimenting with 3D figures for organic shapes. Right now the technology is really close but faces still come out a little bit grainy. So we are getting there but it’s definitely something we are interested in. Bobby Jackson, one of our best traditional sculptors, is also a very accomplished 3D sculptor. We are working with him very closely trying to generate some 3D sculpted organic figures, character figures.
DHGF: You brought up CAV, which actually one of your miniature games. So you are not just a maker of miniatures, you also have your own game systems in CAV and Warlord. So tell us about those game systems.
BS: CAV was launched in I want to say 1998, but it might have been 1999. It works off a damage track system. The idea behind it is you take damage and you become less effective in combat. Warlord was an evolution of that. Our Warlord 2nd Edition and CAV 2nd Edition were a further evolution of that system. A lot of people compare it to the clicky games, like Mage Knight. What is interesting about that is we can out with the original CAV system 3 years before Mage Knight did their damage track system. So we actually pioneered that, but they get a lot of the credit for it unfortunately. We will be soon coming out with a Reich of the Dead game which is fighting zombie nazis in a World War II battlefield. The idea there is it uses small skirmish units. So you are talking 6 to 12 figures instead of the 50 to 80 figures you need in many other games. And as you get hit you will get less and less effective in combat. we are developing is a game we are calling Crisis Point right now. It’s a superhero game and one of the more interesting characters in it actually gets more effective as he takes damage. In a way he’s actually more like the Incredible Hulk at that point.
DHGF: It seems like you are working on expanding your game end as well as your miniatures lines. I know superhero miniatures have been kind of hit and miss. Mostly you see your fantasy miniatures or your sci-fi . The superhero genre has been kind of lacking in the miniatures market.
BS: It has. What we are actually doing for our games Crisis Point, Reich of the Dead, and we got a cowboy shoot out game, is they are a box set games. You buy the ten miniatures that come in the set and we offer additional miniatures in the blisters in our chronoscope line. The rules themselves are available as a free PDF download off our website. So while we are selling you a game, we are not selling you a game book. We are giving you the game for free. We are just asking you to buy the minis.
DHGF: That’s nice. I know when I play the Marvel Superheroes RPG or any superhero RPG, I’m reduced to using Heroclix since that’s mostly what’s on the market. It will be nice being able to customize my character oppose to settling for a licensed character that is kind of close. And speaking of licenses, you also have the license for Pathfinder. Tell us about the process of getting that license and working with Paizo.
BS: We’ve been very fortunate, Lisa Stevens, Erik Mona, Sean K Reynolds, Jason Bulmahn all the big names over Paizo are actually huge miniatures fans. They approached us and said we’d really like to find out about getting a license. We’d had a very good relationship with them in the past through their web store, Paizo.com. So we were really excited to get the Reaper name attached to something as popular as Pathfinder and they were really excited to get the Pathfinder name attach to Reaper. We both felt like it was a feather in each of our caps. So we’ve had a wonderful relationship with them. They give us concept art and basically said you guys produce cool mini. You know what’s going to be cool and what’s not. So rather than them dictating you make this figure next, they’ve given us all the art they had, and they’ve literally handed us thousands of pieces of are and said which one’s do you think will be cool minis. So we send those to our artist and they say oooohh I wanna make this one. One of the reason’s the Pathfinder minis are so cool is because not only are the based on amazing concept art, since Paizo has some of the best artist in the business, but the sculptors get really excited about that piece. When a sculptor loves the piece you can really see that in the figure. So they are great figures based off great art from two great companies.
DHGF: The process of vetting through all that art: is it the sculptors jumping up and saying I want to make this or does the company also saying we need to make more of these type figures?
BS: Our art director will choose some of the ones he thinks, based on what he knows. He’s been in the business for seventeen years now. He’ll go through and say this will make a good mini. This is a cool drawing but it doesn’t translate well in three dimensions. There is some of that. He’ll basically come to the sculptors and e-mail them four or five copies and ask are you interested in any of these. And if they say no, they say no. But generally they will go, “Yes, I really love this one right here!” the lady with the red and whatever. They’ll get excited about the figure and want to sculpt it.
DHGF: What are some of the challenges in making minis. You mention there are some things that do not translate well. What are those characteristics that just aren’t suited for 3D?
BS: Boy, that’s a tough question because it’s really hard to put your finger on it. A lot of it boils down to certain things do no translate well down to a small size. Obviously scale is an issue. When you look at most of our figures the belt buckles would be 6 inches tall if they were real life. So you have to be careful with things that have lots and lots of intricate detail. We can do intricate detail but there is a breaking point where we can’t squeeze that much more detail on to a figure. The other thing that doesn’t work well is exactly the opposite, large plain broad smooth flat areas. It doesn’t look attractive. There is a mid-level of detail that works really well. There are certain shapes that work really well in the 3D sculpt. When you draw something flat, it looks cool on paper but in three dimensions isn’t not quite right.
DHGF: Right it’s the problem you’ll seem sometimes with animation action figures. When drawn they look great but in three dimensions it just looks really weird.
BS: Right it’s the same kind of thing.
BS: We have our Master Paint and our Master Series HD Paint. Our HD paint is based off the same formula as our Master Paint but it’s formulated to cover better. Our original Master Series Paint was designed by Anne Foerster, who is a multiple international award winning painter, who said I need a paint I don’t have to futz with. She had been using a couple of our competitors GW and Citadel and Vallejo and some of those, and was always adding additives and additional mixtures and working to make the paint work. She said I want to make one that works the way I want it. So she developed our Master Series Paint. We’ve been working on that for years now and it’s been incredibly popular. But one of the biggest complaints we got was because it’s designed by a pro painter, with layering and blending and those kinds of techniques in mind, it’s a little thing and doesn’t have tremendously good coverage. It does cover but sometimes you need two or three or four coats because we wanted to layer with it and blend with it. So we developed the HD paints so that we have a one or two coat solution. We have a one coat solution on everything but our red. Our HD Red I believe still requires two coats. But even the HD yellow is a one coat coverage over your primer and it’s amazing. So it’s really great for your based coat, really great for your foundation. Or if you are a novice painter it’s really good to get you started in painting without having to worry about all the techniques of an advanced painter.
DHGF: You brought up priming. You also have your bones line which doesn’t require priming for the novice painter. Tell us about that came to be.
BS: We originally developed our paint and take support because we do paint and take support at major conventions like this one. We found that we were just spending tons and tons of man hours cleaning, assembling, and priming these figures and we wanted something better. We had our Legendary Encounters pre-painted plastic line and we thought what if we could get those unpainted. We got some samples in and discovered that we could paint on them directly without the need for primer. And we just went crazy with them. We started ordering a whole bunch of them. Originally when we ordered them we thought this would be a one year supply for the paint and take convention support. And what we found happening in the shop was that the employees were taking them and wanting to paint on them. So we thought if we love them this much, the public would probably really enjoy this product. We looked at them and they had the same level of detail as the metal figure. There is no prep, no cleaning, no priming necessary. So the entry point for understanding how to paint it was reduced radically. And they were so cheap we could release them for two dollars. When’s the last time you saw a two dollar figure that’s 28mm? So it just all came together perfectly to create this. There are 12 twelve figures now, and by the 4th of July there will be sixteen. By the end of, I think July, there will be four more. So there will be twenty figures by GenCon.
DHGF: So it was spawned out of a need for the novice painters at your paint and takes. And I believe you also have Saturday workshops at your warehouse down in Texas for painters as well.
BS: Yeah, we have paint club every Saturday and we have two professional painters come in, some weekends we have three or four It’s a free painting workshop, free to participate in. You just come and sit down with them for hours. They will give you as little or as much instruction as you want. If you are happy with a tabletop quality figure that is just a base coat and it’s done then that’s it. But if you want to learn to paint at the highest skill level they can show you, they will show you that and anything in between. We’ve found tremendous response. When we first started we were getting four or five people a week. And now we are getting twenty to thirty people a week that come in and want to learn to be better painters.
DHGF: Also two weeks ago at your warehouse, you had ReaperCon. Tell us how this year’s ReaperCon went.
BS: This year’s ReaperCon was I think the largest ever. I don’t know the final attendance count but it was extremely popular. I know our online preregistration was up by 30% over last year. We bring in all of our painters, all of our sculptors and make them available. We don’t sequester them away in a little room. They are out there sitting on the general public floor and you can just come up and talk to them about sculpting, talk to them about painting. We’ve ran games. We have role playing games going one. The Paizo people sent Greg Vaughan, who’s one of their freelance authors who’s written one book out of every single adventure path they’ve ever done. He came down and ran Pathfinder games for us. We had people come in and run new games. The D20 Radio people came and ran Edition Wars. And Chris (GM Chris of the Order 66 Podcast) ran Star Wars Saga edition. Chronicles of the Void, a new roleplaying game that’s coming out, came to ReaperCon and ran demos of their game. Tim Peaslee, who is set up in the miniatures area here, setup a ReaperCon dungeon crawl. So there was gaming going on. The guys from the Sonic up the street come in so we had fresh burgers. They are sitting out on our shipping dock with a barbeque grill cooking up burgers on site. So we had fresh burgers and hotdogs for everyone that was there. It’s absolutely a wonderful time. It’s just four days of just sitting there and hanging out with painters, sculptors, and gamers.
DHGF: It seems over the years, it’s starting to have more of a gaming influence. It started out more focused on the miniatures and the painting, but the gaming is growing every year.
BS: That’s true. And I think the reason behind that is the people taking the painting classes figured out, in their first year they are like I’m going to take four painting classes a day and I’m going to learn so much. Then at the end of the con your brain is about to explode from everything you’ve learned. The veteran ReaperCon attendees will tell you take one class a day, maybe two, but try to keep it to one. Then spend the next two or three hours practicing what you’ve learned on another mini and spend the rest of the time playing games. So as they get use to that idea that filling your brain with painting classes is more than you can absorb, they’ve started to get more into the gaming. At ReaperCon, five years ago, we hd two and that was enough. This year we had seven and the GMs were going “I’m turning people away at every session. I need more tables.” So gaming is becoming bigger, but I don’t think the painting is getting any smaller.
DHGF: Basically it’s just growing everyway. What things can we look forward to from Reaper? You mentioned more game lines. What other release do you have coming up?
BS: I actually don’t have any information on our upcoming releases. I know we come out with between sixteen and twenty figures a month on our website. We do half of those every other week. So every other week there is eight to ten new figures. There are new Bones coming out. We just started the Heavy Gear license so we have those. And we are in talk with other companies with licenses I’m not allowed to talk about. I know that’s terrible. It’s hard to generate excitement when I’m not allowed to say anything. But I’d say keep an eye on the website because we are always trying to get more things out there for the hobbyist. We try to be a one stop shop for your miniatures need. We want to be the most affordable high quality figures you can get. And one of the ways we need to do that is to be everything you’d need a miniature for.
BS: Sophie the Succubus…our very first concept artist drew her one day and was like we need an edgy mascot and he drew her. She was fully nude at the time. Our original artwork for Sophie was fully nude and it was 100% there was nothing covered by strategic anything. It was popular but we got complaints. There were some game store owners that didn’t feel comfortable with exposed breasts and hair in the nether regions being shown on the back of the blister cards. Our next concept artist who came in, put the bikini that is now famous on the back of the blister cards on her. And he treated Sophie, instead of a sex object succubus, more as a playful kid sister succubus. Yeah she’s a demon, but that’s just her job.
DHGF: Yeah, she’s a friendly one.
BS: Exactly. So now, that’s Sophie has been around long enough, we can dress her up in costumes. There’s Bourbon Street Sophie, Pirate Sophie, Cat Girl Sophie and all these different things we can do with her now that she’s a friendly icon instead of a pure message of sex.
DHGF: Thank you very much for your time
BS: Thank you.