Friday, April 27, 2012

Interview: Patrick from Advanced Terrain

For my first interview I talked with Patrick. He is the owner operator of which is making highly durable terrain pieces based off of Hirst Arts molds.
[TP]: What inspired you to create a business building wargame terrain?

[Patrick]: It started very slowly, I made terrain for friends long after I stopped playing any miniatures games. I put a couple on eBay, and they sold well, but couldn't even come close to paying for the time that was invested in them. Then I got introduced to Hirst Arts molds, and I had great fun playing Legos with those. Then I got introduced to mold making, and I realized I could potentially mass produce what I had been building, so I thought I would give it a try. I don't really think of it as a business though, it's a self-sustaining hobby. And not even that, most of the time!

[TP]: How many Hirst Arts Molds do you have? Do you have multiples of any particular mold?

[Patrick]: I think I only have maybe 8 or so. I've given most of them away. I have a guy locally that does my builds or loose block casting for me, for a fee of course. I've also used Iain of for casts, he does good work. I don't have enough time to do all steps of production, and casting takes a lot of room and is very time consuming. And frankly, it's not a lot of fun.

[TP]: What is your preferred casting material and why?

[Patrick]: I've used a lot of materials. I prefer Hydrostone right now. Picks up great detail, cheap, widely available, decently hard. Since I'm molding my models, the initial material doesn't really matter. If I were to sell the actual Hirst model instead of a casting of it, I would go with Tufstone or Merlins. Merlins is great if you don't plan on doing a ruined look like I do. It's SO HARD that it's actually difficult to dremel through. Tufstone is basically Hydrostone plus better impact resistance with some fiber content.

[TP]: You used kickstarter to raise capital for the business. How would you guage the success of that? Were you able to quickly raise the capital you needed or did it take time?

[Patrick]: Kickstarter exceeded my expectations, and exposed the gap between my "hobby" and what I was presenting as a "business". I got so many orders I couldn't fulfill them, and had to take things to the next step by outsourcing the production. I lost money on the Kickstarter project as a whole, but it gave me the kick in the pants to think bigger, so in the end I consider it highly successful. If you are considering a Kickstarter, I could go into a lot more detail about that.

[TP]: Your vision is to fill a table with terrain to make it resemble a gothic version of the ruined city of Osgiliath. How far are you along with this vision?

[Patrick]: Hah, not too far admittedly. I have quite a few pieces in the pipeline, but it will take me two years at this rate to have even a 6x4 table nicely covered. I'm very persistent though, and good at sticking to the vision - there are lots of possible distractions. And in my defense, I already have full time job, I'm in school part time, and my wife and I spend lots of time with our three children. I keep busy!

[TP]: Do you have any other Lord of the Rings inspired terrain ideas?

[Patrick]: I have tons of ideas. Ideas are not the problem here! Execution on those ideas while keeping mass production affordable is the hard part.

[TP]: When painting and dry brushing the terrain how many layers do you do? I have seen some people just do 3 colors and others do 4. What is your method to providing realism?

[Patrick]: I think I've got the painting down to a excellent level-of-effort versus time-spent balance. That's outsourced too, so other than coming up with the initial scheme, I don't do any of the actual painting. Right now it's just 4 steps: basecoat, details, a wash, and a drybrush.

[TP]: Ever messed up a piece so bad that you had to start over? What was the mistake and any lesson you learned?

[Patrick]: Not on the builds so much... I usually dry-stack so I know what I'm getting, or I use Google Sketchup with the guy who actually does the builds so we have an agreed upon piece before he starts. I've certainly messed a lot on the molding and casting and production side. Lots of trial and error there!

[TP]: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in this business?

[Patrick]: I wouldn't think of it as a business, unless you're planning on feeding your family doing it. Which I would advise against! You are unlikely to make a lot of money, given the time spent. If you're having fun doing it, though, it doesn't matter. I've found  I enjoy the "business-y" aspects much more than I expected, almost as much as the creative bits. Things like outsourcing production, working on the website, finding cheaper or better component materials, etc. I'm just starting to look into marketing (I'm getting a big delivery of sets soon!) and that's pretty interesting as well.

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