Inside the World of Gary Hunt Miniatures
On any given weekday, you’ll find Weta Workshop sculptor Gary Hunt deep in the bowels of the design studio. Hidden behind an ominous black curtain, he’ll be conjuring up magic of the darkest sort: the very latest, top-secret collectibles from Middle-earth. But should you gather the courage to peer a little bit closer into the nooks and crannies, you’ll discover that Gary has a long and successful career building creatures, characters, and whole worlds entirely of his own making.
Gary Hunt Miniatures is the creation of a talented artist who has been a star of the Weta Workshop cosmos for over sixteen years. Hailing from Somerset, England, Gary’s first brush with the Workshop came in 2001, seven months after his arrival in New Zealand (after working at the art department on The Lord of the Rings) and 11 years after he picked up a sculpting tool for the first time. Exciting and challenging in equal measure, Gary’s work with 3ft6 on LOTR fanned the flames of creative endeavour in his personal life. “I guess I always had an interest in making miniature figures. It started as a hobby and then I realised I could just bust out my own ideas and do whatever I want, basically.”
The portal for exploring those ideas was to be www.garyhuntminiatures.com. From humble beginnings as an online portfolio in the post-Lord of the Rings haze, by 2004 the website had morphed into an online shop, selling the figures that Gary was crafting when he wasn’t on the Workshop clock. Fast forward to 2016 and his collection has grown to include more than 100 figures in three wildly creative ranges. Available both online and at the Weta Cave, figures range from $10NZD-$130NZD, standing at a digestible 28mm (standard wargaming size) and 54mm. They’re as perfect for long-time collectors and wargaming enthusiasts as they are for fantasy fans, history buffs, sci-fi experts, and people dipping their toes into any of those things for the first time.
And what of the figures themselves? Anyone with a film portfolio that includes not just The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies but also Avatar, King Kong and District 9, has earned their stripes in the dark art of fantasy figure sculpting. In Gary’s Fantasy Warr range alone you’ll find orcs and dwarves, demons and dragons, elves, wizards, and plenty more besides. There are 33 figures in the range – not that you’d know it.
“With my minotaur figures, I created them in such a way that you can make a mass army that looks totally different because they’ve all got interchangeable heads and bodies and weapons. So you at home can create, say, 60 minotaurs that all look slightly different, just out of those 6 bodies and 7 heads.”
The most recent addition? A series of baboon warriors called Geladan: a cross between a Gelada baboon and a human man. “They’re quite a weird-looking creature. The fact that they roll their lips all the way back and bare their teeth, it’s quite amazing and terrifying at the same time. I like mixing and morphing animal and human anatomy, learning stuff in the process.”
‘Mixing and morphing’ is a common refrain in Gary’s world. His sci-fi range is a deliciously deranged motley crew of Mudmen, giant raptors, Amazons, zombies, and “weird hybrid-type mantis girls with gas masks…DNA splicing gone wrong.” These post-apocalyptic miscreants are a chance to really push the boundaries of creativity, says Gary, boundaries he’d like to explore even further. I can hardly believe they’ve come out of the brain of someone so nice, which of course only makes Gary’s work more interesting.
Although Gary Hunt Miniatures ship to collectors and wargamers the world over, production is based almost entirely in New Zealand. After sculpting each figure, a 3D print is made and sent to Gary’s manufacturing partner, Regal Toy Soldiers, who are based in Greytown, Wairarapa. The team at Regal Toy Soldiers mold the figures and spin cast them in pewter, before returning them to Gary to be packaged and sent out, or assembled and ink-washed for the Weta Cave.
Like the other artists stationed in the Weta Workshop design studio, Gary sculpts his figures on the computer using digital sculpting software ZBrush. But that wasn’t always the case. His journey as a sculptor started in 1990 with nothing more than a piece of wire and a packet of Green Stuff. “When I started, I was a physical sculptor so I would use wire, which you buy at model shops, and I’d bend it into an armature that resembled a stick figure of whatever creature I was sculpting.”
Green Stuff – that’s a technical term, I assume?
“I think Games Workshop may have coined the term. It’s actually called Kneadatite – a two-part Epoxy polymer resin. It air dries and goes hard so you’ve got a working time of about an hour to do what you need to do. So you build up the muscle structure, wait a bit and then add the clothing, eyes, nose, and hair over the top…it can take between two days or even a week to make a figure though.”
Sounds like a recipe for stress with figures measuring just a few millimetres. Did you ever use a magnifying glass? “No, not until recently…I guess the skill is just honing in and focusing on a tiny area, sometimes holding your breath until you get it right. Like, you’ll be doing an eye that’s less than a millimetre wide and yeah, you just hold your breath,” he laughs. “I worked with a company doing Star Wars merchandise and it was the quietest workplace I’d ever been in ‘cause you couldn’t even hear breathing half the time. Every five minutes there’d be this massive exhale.”
So that’s one tick in digital’s box: less fainting spells. All things considered, it must be a little easier sculpting digitally? “You would think so, but at the same time, I could knock out those green figures pretty quickly. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent more time on the digital ones because I have that time to finesse them, whereas with the green stuff it’s like ok, this has gone hard now, I’ll move on. You can’t touch it after that.”
The diminutive figures that populate Gary’s world are quite a contrast from his latest collectible for Weta Workshop, the Witch-king. It sits on Gary’s desk at a towering 1:6 scale. Magnifying glass aside, is there a different approach to sculpting something at the other end of the scale, I wonder? “Oh yeah, for sure,” says Gary. “You exaggerate the detail quite a lot for the small ones. On screen it can look almost grotesque, but when the figure is 3D printed, there’s just the right amount of shadow or the details give enough of a guide that the painter can see what he’s doing.”
With the advent of digital sculpting, the days where an artist can freely utter the phrase “Green Stuff” and not get weird looks are slowly fading. And it’s true that the ability to sculpt digitally has been a wonderful asset to Gary and to many of his colleagues here at the Workshop. But despite all that, it’s clear that physical sculpting has played an incredibly important role in shaping the artist Gary has become. He points to a row of tiny pewter figures perched on his shelf, which, to my untrained eyes, are impossibly intricate not to have been created in a computer.
“All of these I sculpted physically. Sculpted with a scalpel and a pointy stick.” He hands me a well-loved tool that’s seen better days. “This I’ve had since I began sculpting. There was a point, when if I lost that it’d be like Samson cutting his hair off, I’m not joking – I’d panic if I couldn’t find it! It’s just a sharpened bit of rod they gave us at art college for doing etching. And that’s just a build-up of modelling material,” he says, referring to its slightly bulbous neck. “Like putty from rolling it in my fingers over the years, so it’s molded itself to my sculpting – it’s totally in tune with me. And it’s travelled everywhere with me.”
‘Everywhere’ is right. Gary’s a seasoned explorer, heading to the likes of India, Morocco, Thailand, Cambodia, Africa, Australia, South America and Papua New Guinea in pursuit of artistic inspiration. Along the way, he’s amassed an impressive personal collection of sculptures and artefacts from his travels abroad: tribal objects from Papua New Guinea, Indian sculptures of Hindu deities, blow-pipes from Borneo… “whatever I can fit in my backpack.” All of them, including close encounters of the Gelada Baboon kind (seriously, ask him about it), are fodder for his own miniatures.
Other than picking up fascinating cultural treasures, Gary’s travels have bore fruit in other ways, too. Remember when I said the production of Gary Hunt Miniatures is an “almost entirely” New Zealand affair? That’s because, as it turns out, Gary is a package deal: both master sculptor, and master networker. He’s recently teamed up with California collectibles company ZombieSmith Miniatures, who will distribute his fantasy figures in the United States. It’s a fitting match, with Gary’s satyrs, barbarians and minotaurs rubbing shoulders with ZombieSmith’s gun-toting foxes, murderous cyclopes and cute critters with missing torsos.
All of this is to say that – in case it wasn’t abundantly clear by now – there’s rather a lot ticking away in the head of this brilliant sculptor and beloved Workshop crew member. Which begs the question: what’s next for Gary Hunt Miniatures?
“Well, I’m still continuing with the Fantasy Warr range so I’ll be working on a few more baboon variants. A different riding beast and some higher profile characters like a chieftain (maybe with a Berber style rifle), so I’d like to look into some more armour or costume design, maybe make them more brutish with bigger physiques. I’m also expanding the barbarians with Hyena to take on the Minotaurs. More Dwarves and I want to throw some elves into the mix, but they’re not going to be traditional woodland elves, they’re going to have a slightly different spin on them.”
I ask Gary, what with a steady stream of Middle-earth collectibles and Workshop projects knocking on his curtain, how on earth he finds the time to do all this; let alone dream it up in the first place. He looks a little nonplussed. “I don’t know,” he laughs. “I’ve got two kids, so when they’re asleep and I’ve cleaned the house I probably get in 2 hours most nights. But I have amazing help from the guys at Regal Toy Soldiers. If I’m in a bind and need, say, 50 more figures for the Weta Cave pronto, they’ll cast them up, assemble them and even ink wash them for me.”
With loyal fans and colleagues both here and abroad, and no shortage of great ideas, Gary is well placed to expand his empire of fantastically creative creatures and characters. And if he should find the time to invent a new species or two? That would all be in a day’s work. □
Pick up a piece of Gary's art:
Gary Hunt Miniatures
Weta Workshop Collectibles
- The Witch-king at Dol Guldur
- Saruman the White at Dol Guldur
- Lord Elrond at Dol Guldur
- Legolas Greenleaf
- Bard the Bowman
- Helm of the Witch-king
- Bofur the Dwarf Barrel Rider
- Oin the Dwarf Barrel Rider
- Smaug: King Under the Mountain
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