The Warlock used his scrying sphere to track down the painter and then summoned him to the depths of Firetop Mountain to find out more...
The Warlock: Who are you, where are you from, and what is it you do for a living?
Paul Cooke: My name is Paul Cooke, I'm from Bristol and I am self employed, splitting my time between commissioned miniature painting and scenery building, and tutoring English at GCSE and A Level.
TW: How long have you been painting miniatures?
PC: I started painting miniatures (badly!) when I was about 13 with my HeroQuest set (I'm actually currently in the process of stripping, repairing and repainting my original set!), I've had a few gaps, and prior to returning to the hobby four years ago I hadn't painted a figure for approximately six years. [Paul turns 45 on 22nd October. Happy Birthday! ~ The Warlock]
TW: What was your first exposure to Fighting Fantasy? Do you have any favourite titles in the series?
PC: I think when I was 11 or 12 I played my first gamebook and it happened to be The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - that's still a standout because it's so challenging. I also love Deathtrap Dungeon, The Forest of Doom, City of Thieves and the Sorcery! series in particular. It was the whole package really; the interactivity and feeling like you were really in that world, drawing out my maps as I went and then making a neat version on completion, and gazing at the amazing artwork. I still have my collection, and I've also been enjoying the various PC game versions.
I remember my local Waterstones held a design competition when I was around 14 to create your own monster with stats etc. I got a lovely letter explaining that, as it happened, I was a bit older than most other participants so they didn't feel it was fair to give me a prize, but they did send me all of the display posters from the event, which I was more than happy with! So they were so influential and were definitely my way into the world of wargaming and role-play, along with HeroQuest of course. So you can imagine my reaction when I was approached to paint this set!
TW: How did you feel when you discovered that Atlantis Miniatures would be producing the Fighting Fantasy Legends range?
PC: Very excited - I'm familiar with Atlantis and I really enjoyed painting one of the Trolls for my Frostgrave games so I knew they'd be fantastic - but also torn as I had to make a tricky decision about which miniature to get! The design of each miniature is so well done and evocative of the original artwork.
TW: Which pledge level did you select?
PC: I backed at the single figure level, as that's what I could budget for at the time, and had to make the difficult choice between the Shapechanger and the Bloodbeast. In the end I went for the Shapechanger; the cover art was always a favourite and it's such a good match to Ian McCaig's original watercolour.
PC: So far I have been referring to the cover art to aim to match details and colours as much as I can. As I'm lucky enough to be painting this set for Ian Livingstone, it's invaluable that he can give me guidance on colour choices for those which are based on the internal black and white artwork, and I can consult with him on any tweaks or changes. In general I am using a range of techniques including the 'traditional' basecoat/shade wash/highlight method, wet blending, and some airbrush work.
For larger figures such as the Shapechanger and Bloodbeast I've found it best to paint them in their separate pieces, and for all of them I'm painting the bases separately as they are very nicely detailed in their own right. It's important to note that as these are resin miniatures I've made sure to wash them in soapy water and carefully scrape away any flash and mould lines before priming.
TW: Are there any particular challenges to painting an FF mini? Is there anything you found particularly hard, or anything you're especially proud of?
PC: I think as above, knowing how to prepare resin figures is important. A wash in soapy water and a gentle scrub with an old toothbrush will remove the traces of the release agent from the casting process - if this isn't done the primer won't adhere and indeed can completely flake off. Dry-fitting the pieces is a very good idea, although these are really well designed from that perspective, and in most cases the pieces 'plug' together in a fairly intuitive way. Looking over the figures to check for mould lines and flash is also vital - I found it is very thin and feathery, so a gentle scrape with a new scalpel blade is all that's really needed. I use superglue for assembly, and in some cases I've drilled and pinned parts together for a stronger join.
Honestly, I have been so impressed by the quality of these miniatures; Altantis produce lovely work anyway, but these are definitely up there with their best. In terms of painting, they all have their own challenges - most recently I was finding the yellow flame-like edging on the robes of the Archmage of Mampang really tricky - yellow can be a pain anyway, but it is a very fine edging, probably only 1.2mm thick. Basecoating with pink really helps with yellows and oranges, otherwise it's hard to get it to sit evenly, but even with this method it took a few attempts. So far the one I'm most pleased with is the Bloodbeast.
PC: Again, it's a tossup between the Shapechanger and the Bloodbeast, and I can't really decide! Having painted both now, I still like them equally.
TW: Are there any other FF characters or monsters you would like to see turned into miniatures?
PC: I think a rendition of the cover of Freeway Fighter would be great. Admittedly, that would be much more of a diorama in its own right, with the car and characters. I also think Zanbar Bone, although he already has a 28mm miniature, is definitely worthy of being turned into a larger scale bust to match the original Ian McCaig cover of City of Thieves. The Iain Miller cover of House of Hell is another contender!
PC: For this set, I don't know. Ian might have that in mind for display purposes; these are being painted in time for the 40th anniversary of the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in August 2022. For my own Shapechanger.. .that's got me thinking. It would be good to do a scene to emulate the cover art, maybe incorporating some forced perspective to get a sense of peering into the depths of the forest behind the monster.