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Making the Agincourt figures

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

In the last post, model maker David Marshall introduced himself and the Perry’s and gave an overview of the project. Here, Alan and Michael talk through how these figures were made.

two men working on a miniature model

When David Marshall approached us initially to ask whether we would be interested in working on the Agincourt diorama with him for the Royal Armouries, we of course considered it an honor to be involved in such an amazing project.

Fortunately, we had already developed an Agincourt range of figures with the help of Tobias Capwell (Head of Arms and Armour, Wallace Collection in London), so we were fairly confident that our figures were historically accurate enough for the job.

Making the figures

The way we make original Perry Miniature figures before they’re cast in metal is fairly standard. The figures we make are generally 28mm from the foot to top of head. We start with a 1mm tinned copper wire armature (or framework); bent in the right places to form the basis for the torso, head and legs in the right pose.  This is placed into a cork (see stage 1 below), which is handy to hold and maneuver in your other hand (or bionic arm in Michael’s case).

An ‘Epoxy putty’ is then added to the wire, but only a thin skin in the bulkier areas of the torso and muscles of the legs. This is then left to set, which takes about an hour. Once hardened, more putty is applied to the figure starting with the feet and legs, adding the general body shape and adding detail (stage two below). Starting with the feet and travelling up is the best way, as any overhanging cloth/armour etc. will automatically hang over in layers going up the body. Once the legs have dried, the body and head are treated in the same way (stage 3). Armour is usually added to the body at this stage, the head is left to dry before the hair/hat/ helmet is added (stage 4-5). When this is all dry, holes are drilled in the shoulders for the arms (stage 6).

numbered stages of the process for sculpting a miniature model soldier

Stages for sculpting a miniature model soldier

Wire is inserted and bent into the right pose, and a thin skim of putty is then attached to the arms and shoulders to hold them in place and left to dry (stage 7). The arms are then worked up with more putty as before, whilst also adding the finer details. After the arms have set, the weapons are added with super glue and the figure’s hands are sculpted around the weapon (stage 8). We usually make and cast the weapons in metal before the figures so we have ready supply at this point. After this, the figure is removed from the cork and glued to a base. These putty figures are then sent off to be cast in metal.

As the majority of the figures were already in our range, one of the first jobs was to get the entire Agincourt metal figure range approved by the Royal Armouries before we could start production on the diorama itself.

Unlike our Perry Miniatures range however, these model figures weren’t intended for wargaming but for a static diorama. This meant once they had been approved we had to take off all their bases and replace them with pegs, so they could blend in seamlessly with the terrain on the model. This meant quite a bit of work as we had to go through the entire range, but it was well worth the effort in the end. Once this was done, these figures all went off to be remoulded and cast in a tin alloy centrifugally i.e. spun-cast.

Metal castings of model soldiers with pegs

Metal castings of model soldiers

This was the way we were going to produce all the figures for the diorama, in just the same way we make all our metal figures. However, Alan came up with the idea of making a resin block of around 40 French men at arms, all tightly packed and weathering the arrowstorm (as mentioned in accounts), which conveniently reduced both some weight and painting time required.

Along with the lightness of the resin, the middle two ranks of men at arms were just heads and shoulders, which saved a little painting – although metal spears still had to be drilled into the figures’ hands. Single metal figures were then placed along the front and rear ranks of these resin blocks on the diorama in order to blend the mass together, which worked really well.

Basic resin model soldiers in rough formation

Soldiers in rough formation

Setting the scene

As the project progressed we also needed to make more bespoke figures specifically for the diorama i.e. falling horsemen, key nobles at the battle, artillery pieces on carts, arrow carts with attendees, running bowmen making way for the nobles to fight, etc. Most of these were metal, although we did use a few plastic parts as our new English Army box had just been released. Making these ‘one off’ figures for the model was great fun and what we think big dioramas are all about. In the end it’s all about the detail, something that the public – especially kids with their keen eyes – will pick up on.

The completed diorama can be seen in the War Gallery at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

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