Monday, May 12, 2014

Kingdom Death: Plastic or resin?

Just how well do the plastic Kingdom Death models stack up to the resin ones?
Before the Kickstarter campaign made Kingdom Death a common name amongst miniature wargamers, and before there were widespread claims of it having sexist aesthetic design choices, Kingdom Death was only a small collection of models and a vision of mind-numbing horror. A few years before the Kickstarter was launched, I saw their Forsaker model, with his frightening height, segmented armour, and antlered mask, and was captivated by the baroque design, one that seemed to be mimicking Kentaro Miura's masterwork graphic novel/manga series, Berserk. When they released their King’s Hand model, I was convinced that it was strongly influenced by Berserk. With the exposed brain design on the King’s Hand’s helmet, the creepy porcelain faces, and the grasping hands, I felt that I was looking at the spiritual successor to the horrific and unknowable evil that is the character Void of the God Hand from Berserk. This strong visual connection to one of my favorite graphic novel/manga series convinced me to try to get a few Kingdom Death models. This was before they started to experiment with casting their models in plastic (one of the primary goals of the eventual Kickstarter), so all their models were in extremely limited production runs  (~450 or fewer), making many models highly collectable and inaccessible to fans (you would find yourself continually checking back to their site and/or coolminiornot hoping to find the small window when the models were available). All of these models were hand cast in white resin, and came in a little cardboard collectors box, with a numbered certificate and art print. Recently, due to the success with their Kickstarter campaign, they were able to release a selection of their models in plastic. With the release of this kit (Pinups of Death - Hard Plastic Collection), I thought it would be a great time to look at some of their models, and examine the strengths and weaknesses of their resin and plastic models.

Kentaro Miura's Berserk inspired me to convert my own version of its protagonist Guts, the Black Swordsman.  
Kingdom Death always goes the extra mile to make each of their releases special, and feel like a premium item, with little art prints, numbered certificates, and classy boxes.
Despite having several of the resin Kingdom Death models, I have never willed myself to actually assemble any of them until very recently. Why is that? My reluctance stemmed solely from the media they are cast in: resin. While the fine detail on each model has always come out looking fantastic in the resin casts, the models are plagued with numerous casting defects, primarily in the form of slight mold-shifts scattered about the models. And while I cannot fault Kingdom Death too much for these, as it is a problem that I have seen with nearly every resin model that I have assembled over the years, it is still a major issue that can be difficult to overcome and is always time intensive to fix. Oftentimes, these mold-shifts cannot easily be removed with trimming alone, necessitating the use of modeling putty.

The Storm Knight comes in a multitude of parts, so many it is difficult to know where to begin!
Admittedly, for many of the models, if you simply ignore the casting defects and assemble them, they will look presentable. However due to the level of effort that went into sculpting the models, I simply cannot assemble them without laboring over every detail until they are nigh on perfect. Also, many of the models are very organic, favoring curves and seamless transitions over rigid angles and segments. This accentuates any mold-shift and distracts from the overall splendor of the models.

Nothing drives home this point further than the release of the Storm Knight, a towering knightly construct of steel, engulfed in a maelstrom of wind, water, and lightning. The swirling miasma of lightning and steam billowing from the cracks in his armor quickly made the model one of my favorites in the Kingdom Death line. Despite the limited production run of 450, I managed to acquired one.  My excitement about the model was quickly dashed on the rocks upon receiving it. Despite getting a relatively nice cast of the model, nearly every piece contained at least one noticeable defect requiring modeling putty work to remedy (and with ~16 pieces...). And just like that, the model went into a box filled with countless other unassembled models. Eventually I brought myself to begin work on the model, working on and off over the period of a month or two. After a lot of trimming, pinning, gluing, and putty work, the model is done, and I must say I am pleased with the results and think the effort was worth it.

Assembling the Storm Knight is not for the faint of heart, requiring ample modelling putty work and patience to avoid breaking or losing any of its components. 
At first glance, there is so much going on with the Storm Knight that you might miss all the little plumes of steam and lightning projecting from the Knights back and all the little slots in his armor.
That being said, after spending countless hours assembling a single model, it is clear that, in the future,  I will have to choose which Kingdom Death models to assemble wisely. I say this because I really do not have the time to put that much effort into every single model.  Thankfully, the cast that I received of the King’s Hand was very good, encouraging me to assemble him, as well.

The King's Hand model is one of my favorite from the Kingdom Death range. I can't help but think the model draws heavy influences from the different members of the God Hand in Berserk.
Now getting to the main topic of the post. Just how nice are the Kingdom Death plastics? In its favor, it looks like the plastic is identical to that used by DreamForge and Wyrd, a mixture of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and high impact polystyrene (that works with super glue and most plastic glues). Having worked a lot with this plastic on Malifaux models (and now a few Kingdom Death models!), I can say this is probably the best case scenario. The plastic handles extremely well and can be easily cleaned up with an x-acto blade or any other tool. The models come on sprues similar to what you would see with any Games Workshop release, but like the Malifaux and DreamForge plastics, they have little feet on each corner to prevent them from being crushed together. Due to the complexity and detail of many of the original sculpts, in the transition to plastic they were force to cut each model into a multitude of pieces (around 8-10 pieces for most). Overall the plastic casts look exceptionally nice, with crisp, well defined details and manageable mold-lines.

To maintain the level of detail seen in the resin casts, the plastic models have been cut into a huge number of tiny pieces.
Initially for the post I wanted to do a side-by side comparison of the plastic and resin version of the original Twilight Knight Pinup model. However after pulling out my cast of the resin version, I was reminded why I never assembled it in the first place. The majority of the detailing on the model’s leggings are all but lost due to poor casting. Needing to find another model for the comparison, I looked through the other models I had, which included several of the other pinups. Eventually I settled on the Architect model because it was the only one that would not require a significant amount of greenstuff work to remedy casting issues. The only really significant casting issue on the Architect was a noticeable mold-shift on the model’s back.

Both versions of the model were pretty similar in ease of build. The resin version had fewer individual pieces, expediting the build time, while the plastic version was easier to work with because the pieces were much more resilient to breaking. Each of the components of the two models fit together nicely with only minimal seams, that could be easily filled with normal or liquid greenstuff. I cannot really stress enough how this relative ease of assembly for the resin version is more the exception, rather than the norm. Every single plastic pinup model will be straightforward and quick to assemble, while maybe 1 in 10 of the resin versions I have are that way. I don’t want to discourage anyone from buying the resin versions of Kingdom Death models (I have purchased several and will continue to do so), but I think it is important to know that you have to be willing to put in a significant amount of effort if you want them to look as nice as they were intended to by the sculptor. If you are an seasoned modeler, this might not be an issue, but if you are relatively new to the hobby and do not have much experience with green stuff or resin, I would seriously consider just waiting for the plastic counterparts.

While both of the Architect models were pretty easy to build, the resin one required more modelling putty work, including having to re-sculpt one of the tassels on her cloak. 
The two Architects mirror one another closely, but the plastic version is noticeably larger.
I do need to mention that while the details on the plastic version of the Architect are great, there is a noticeable difference when compared side-by-side with the resin version. The plastic version is slightly larger in size and the details are rounder and in are not as well defined. The most noticeable difference between the models in is on the Architect’s facemask. In the plastic version, the vents for the mask’s mouth are almost nonexistent compared to the resin version.

In most cases, you can only really notice a difference between the resin and plastic if compared side-by-side. In this case, notice the detailing on the mask of the plastic version is lacking.
Overall, if I had to choose between a resin or plastic version of a Kingdom Death model I would go with plastic. While the resin versions are detailed marginally better, they come with a lot of extra baggage in the form of mold-shifts, bubbles, and fragile components. With the plastic models you don’t have to worry about running into a long list of casting defects; they come properly cast every time. And for such fine and delicate models, the extra durability of the plastic is also a welcome addition, particularly if they are to be used in a game. While I am extremely pleased with the Storm Knight, it is difficult to see it being anything other than a display piece, due to the material it is made of. So anyone who was worried that Kingdom Death’s transition to plastic would take something away from their range can rest easy. Now let’s just hope they continue to release more Berserk inspired monstrosities (the new Gold Smoke Knight is a good sign)!

- Adam Wier


  1. Thanks for this comparison. I also hadn't seen the kings hand model before. It's breathtaking!

    1. No problem! The King's Hand model certainly is a cool one. Hopefully in the next few weeks I will have a couple more of the different Kingdom Death knights assembled to show on the blog.