StudioLevel terrain review

StudioLevel terrain

Some time ago we’ve been contacted by StudioLevel and asked if we could do a review of their products. We hadn’t seen them until the moment we received our samples, so it was a completely new product for us. We knew it from the advertising materials but getting a first-hand opinion was more important as their models looked pretty interesting on the website. Now they even have some promotional video clips, which you can see just below this paragraph, but at the moment of our testing these were not available yet. Long story short, we received one model set and two plants sets from them for testing and reviewing.

The products are quite obviously aimed at wargamers, and many of them will find these items pretty interesting. They can be used to make their tabletop battlefields look much more interesting with just minor effort.

StudioLevel terrain
Balrog, one excited hobbyist…

StudioLevel Terrain wanted to know if their products can be of interest to miniature painters and modelers. If you’re looking for a brief answer, without all the details provided below, the answer is: yes, but only to some degree.

What we received

The samples that we received from SLT were: 1 set of “Archaic Ruined Walls”, 1 set of “Plants: Detail Mix” and 1 set of “Plants: Detail #2”. The products were packaged in plastic bags with paper labels. There was enough information on the labels, like addresses, explanations and some basic instructions. Not that these were really necessary.

The walls set was the most interesting to me, while the two plants sets left me pretty indifferent. So as these seem to be of really minor interest to me as a painter or diorama maker, I will address the last two only shortly.

StudioLevel terrain
Simple but nice packaging.

StudioLevel terrain

Plants mixes

I couldn’t find these in StudioLevel’s catalogue, so I was unable to check how much do these cost. Eventually we were informed these are simply free bonus packs, which are not meant to be sold separately. While they are a cool freebie, I doubt they would make good standalone products. Why?

I assume most of you have have found your own ways to deal with the subject of vegetation/plants on your models. These can range from using smaller specimens of real plants, through plants made for train dioramas or toys, to aquarium plants. And aquarium plants are exactly what you find in these sets.

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I don’t know about you, but I have easy access to fishkeeping stores, in which I can easily buy larger plants which can be divided into smaller ones or larger packs of smaller plants. While maybe not dirt cheap, these don’t really cost so much that it would be too expensive to pay like €8 or equivalent to have a nice supply of plants. I myself had bought two larger plants to split them into smaller chunks and have more than enough than I need to cover my tabletop for gaming.

Why should I buy these plants packs from StudioLevel Terrain is  a bit unclear to me. Maybe if I didn’t know the alternative or source of these plants, was really low on storage space, or really low on money? But I cannot ever see myself purchasing any of these sets, especially that they have some more interesting and better detailed plants in their catalogue.

Additionally the quality of these plants and the way they are made makes them insufficient for any more serious modeling tasks beyond tabletop gaming. While they may be a great way to make your battlefield green, I don’t think you would consider them good enough for your miniatures or dioramas, but your mileage may vary. Our packs were enthusiastically received by our very own Balrog, now a miniature gamer (and painter) who happily added them to his own terrain collection!

StudioLevel terrain
You see how anxious he is to put his hands on this stuff? 😉

So are they something with no potential? No, they just need to be slightly adjusted depending on their purpose. If they are to remain promotional/bonus freebies, I would clearly mark them as such. And if they are to be sold,  I think they don’t make a very good standalone product but can be a part of interesting mixed packs, like a small pack of one tree, one bush and a few of these plastic plants, larger pack with several of each and a large pack with enough plants to cover a small tabletop battlefield. Even if not of real interest to painters or modelers, such pack might be cool for gamers who could easily make their battlefields green and full of cover.

The more interesting thing is definitely the Ancient Ruined Walls set, which I am going to review now.

Ancient Ruined Walls

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This set looks is priced at €68 and looks very cool on promo materials and I must admit it can really easily be turned into an interesting (and pretty large) terrain piece even with minimal skills and effort. But what if your skills are much higher and you really want to put some serious effort into turning it into a breathtaking diorama centerpiece terrain? Well, I am not sure if this is the best choice. Why? Let me explain.

As you can see there are quite a few elements in the pack. Just enough to build three walls and one pillar/column with a statue on top. Yes, they may look good from distance and can surely look good from close up. Unfortunately I think you will have to put some work into concealing some shortcuts taken by the sculptor.

See the photos below for some additional comments.

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Check the column at the connection of the two lowest sections. The connection seems messy to me. As if one of the sections melted.
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The small square decorations, why are they so uneven?
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These cracks don’t make much sense to me…

StudioLevel terrain

I am not any kind of expert in casting and resin, but the kind of resin used here was not the one I was used to working with. It felt rough, like there was a lot of filler in it. I can’t tell if this was the case or was it caused by any different factors, but the result was that working with it was less comfortable than I expected. It was not particularly difficult or annoying, but simply less fun than I expected it to be. It was partially balanced by the nice design and some details of the sculpts, but this first problem bothered me until I was about halfway done with the models.

The details, while quite plentiful, were not always clear and sharp enough (check the closeups to see what I mean). Or maybe I should say: they were soft where I would expect sharp, and sharp where I would expect smooth.

StudioLevel terrain
Those small uneven squares again. And these cracks in stone floor seem soft, as if they were pressed in styrofoam with a sculpting tool…
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Those soft cracks again.

For example check the stone blocks on the photos – most of them have very sharp edges, as if they were precisely cut (with a laser, or maybe a modeling knife through XPS) but basing my expectations on the title of “Ancient Ruined Walls” I thought these should look different. Just check the ancient pyramids and temples – their stones have been already worn by sand, wind, rain, etc. They’re no longer sharp, but more softer-edged. And on the other hand, some damage, cracks and breaks in the stones look much softer than they should in my opinion. They don’t look like broken stone slabs but more like butter, putty or styrofoam pressed by some kind of sculpting tool. Depending on how fresh the damage is, these lines could be sharper to some degree.

StudioLevel terrain
See how sharp these edges are. Shouldn’t they be softer, weathered by years of atmospheric conditions, while some cracks and breaks could be sharper because they’re newer than the building itself?

Now while details like these may be irrelevant for a wargamer, they may be significant for some model builders. When you put multiple hours into your model or diorama (and hundreds of hours are not uncommon) you want to avoid such inconsistencies. And while these are more of ‘internal logic’ shortcomings, there were two things I really disliked.

Maybe they were just my personal preferences, or maybe just traits of my particular copy of the model, but that’s something that bugged me for a serious part of the process. And both of these issues can be collectively addressed as “roughness” or “graininess” of the model. Maybe it’s the casting or maybe it’s the sculpt, but I found many parts of the model rough. Just as if it was covered with glue and then with pretty fine sand. I don’t think that this coarse finish served the model well. To me it just made painting less comfortable, but I am well aware that for many others it can be an advantage, which will make painting easier.

StudioLevel terrain
See the grainy surface?

Let me explain – when you are painting the model with relatively wet brush, such rough details will break your smooth brushstrokes and maybe even damage your precious paintbrushes. On the other hand they may be a blessing for drybrushers. When painting with the drybrushing technique you usually use a harder brush, which will be more durable and also sharper details will be easier to pick by drybrushing. So if you intend to paint the models in this way, consider it well suited for drybrushing. When wetbrushing you may need to be more careful, or take it into account when preparing the model for painting.

StudioLevel terrain
My favorite part! I love how his features and details are faded and unclear, but the surface is grainy and porous again…

This rough detailing also felt out of place on the statue. It seems to depict some human figure, possibly a knight of old. The features and details are not clear and look weathered and faded, which is great and adds a lot fo character to the model. But then some parts of the model feel sharp and rough again. Grainy, almost porous. Wait, are we really talking about something “ancient” and “ruined”? Have you seen old statues? They usually seem to be pretty soft-featured, smooth, and details are often gone already. Surfaces are weathered and almost polished by atmospheric conditions. And this model feels rough, pumice-like. No, it was no fun for me, but definitely much easier for drybrushing.

StudioLevel terrain
These models are best suited for fast and easy painting methods. The quality of detaild doesn’t seem to be encouraging advanced and precise painting, but some drybrushing and washing easily makes the ruins look really cool.

Fortunately I had somebody who would enjoy this kind of painting! Balrog was waiting anxiously for his participation in painting of these models, so as soon as I said “come on, son, let’s continue together” he couldn’t get any happier! 😀

StudioLevel terrain
Good, large surfaces to practise drybrushing and washing.

These models were perfect to teach him shading and highlighting on really large models, with washes and drybrushing respectively. Then we even added some moss to make the ruins look even older and I am sure they will be used frequently in our battles, as he was absolutely impressed by these massive castle ruins and the mysterious statue. Also seeing how easily he could achieve relatively good effects on these models made him happy and confident in his skills. So if you want something good for painting with beginners, these sets may be a perfect choice.

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I didn’t allow him to assemble the models, except for dry-fitting, because I don’t think allowing a kid of his age to play with toxic glues is a good idea. But even he managed to notice that the parts don’t fit perfectly together. They fit well enough, so there’s no real problems in assembling them at all, but making this review a honest one requires mentioning that all the connections required several consecutive applications of glue, as there were gaps large enough to need more glue than a clean joint would.

StudioLevel terrain
StudioLevel terrain
Another gap in the wall 😉

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But there is an easy answer to this problem. You don’t even have to fill the gaps with putty. You can cover them with moss or grass! 🙂

StudioLevel terrain
We applied some moss to make it look even better (and to cover gaps between elements)

My opinion

Now do I think these products are a good pick for a diorama builder or miniature painter? Well, it depends.

They wouldn’t be my first choice for sure, but I can easily find several groups of hobbyists who would be happy to choose them.

First of all they’re good for beginners and slightly more intermediate hobbyists. These will be satisfied with the level of detailing and quality of execution, and should be able to cope with assembling and painting with ease.

See how good these models can look with just some simple work from a boy like Balrog and his dad:

StudioLevel terrain
This is the official way it should be assembled – the column is a part of this ruin now. Unfortunately our placement of moss doesn’t make much sense this way, but when you’re a kid it doesn’t ruin your fun!
StudioLevel terrain
See, the two elements are put together here….
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… but despite it, we decided to keep the statue as a separate part to make it more flexible for gaming purposes.
StudioLevel terrain
Some drybrushing, 2-3 washes, and a little moss.

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Yeah, that’s the two of us working on the statue! 😀

On the other hand use of these models by more experienced and demanding hobbyists would require some more involved work from them which might make these models less interesting for them. For example while a beginner might be fine with some gaps in his model, an advanced diorama maker wouldn’t allow it to stay this way, especially in places where it makes little sense. More experienced painters may also be less likely to drybrush their models than beginners, which would call for a smoother finish of surfaces than what I got with my model.

Possible uses

And what uses could there be for such models? Definitely the most obvious one is for wargaming. Wargamers will find these models more than satisfactory, easy to build and paint, and they would be a wonderful addition to any fantasy battlefield! Such models could also be incorporated as parts of dioramas (or large scenic bases), even of showcase quality if you are willing to do some work to overcome their shortcomings. Or maybe even become a more interesting version of photo background for one’s models?

We’ll try to show you how the ruin can be used for gaming or as a part of a photo setup, but that will be covered in a separate post.

It’s going to be a long way back…

About “Chewie, we’re home”, I bet you know the quote, right? That’s quite much the feeling I had when I finally managed to sit and paint during one of Ana’s open workshops. Yet in my case it was more like “We’re on our way home, but it’s going to be a long way back”


I’ve had a very long break from painting. Many years long, in fact. I never lost interest in the hobby and remained involved in various miniatures-related activities, yet for many reasons I didn’t manage to paint anythinhg for years. Being able to return to once loved activity felt like going home to me!

Without getting into unnecessary (and probably not very interesting for you here)  details, let’s only say that after 2009 I wasn’t painting more than 1-2 minis a year, and I cannot remember a single miniature painted by me after 2013.  Until now that is!

The change?

Now after all these years I managed to paint something. One of the most encouraging factors was that Balrog got old enough to find his interest in miniatures. Not only he’s interested in them, but also keeps looking forward to playing games with them and, what seems to be most important here – is patient enough to spend time painting them too.  So now we can have a valuable family time enjoying the hobby together!

Orc band
That’s a par of Balrog’s orc warband. There are also numerous goblins in it and any creature he finds interesting enough to add to them. Unless it gets added to the opposing dwarf warband he also collects. But orcs have bigger muscles, weapons teeth, are mean and green and generally more impressive than any dwarf can ever get (without riding a bear or wearing a suit of very shiny and ornate plate armor). The boss was painted by the daddy as a gift for him.

Ok, painting with him is not even half as efficient as it used to be when I could paint without getting distracted by him, as he needs some attention and assistance pretty frequently, but still I can paint and spend time with my boy, who is as happy as a boy painting miniature warriors can be! So we can have a good father-and-son time this way. 🙂

But as one could expect, the years-long break took its toll on my painting quality. And returning to the previous skill (not even mentioning improving it) will take time… 🙁

So we’re like starting anew!

I managed to find a few old miniatures started back in the painting days, and decided it would be best to finish them, as if in closing an old chapter in order to be able to start a new one.

Witch Hunter Captain

The first of them was the Witch Hunter Captain from my own Mordheim Warband. Yes, I used to play and enjoyed the game, but never managed to paint more than 3 miniatures, including this captain. He was started many years again and placed in the cabinet unfinished. Now I did what was still missing and here he is. Didn’t want to spend too much time on him, just to wrap an old project up.

Imperial Guard Officer

This model is an Imperial Guard Officer (yes, I keep using the old name instead of the current Astra Militarum), originally a Mordian one, but I painted him in a color scheme matching that of my own army more closely than that of Mordians.

It’s still a work-in-progress photo, but I won’t be spending too much time with this model as well. I have a collection of older Imperial Guard models that I want to have painted, so I will have to sacrifice some quality in order to get them painted at all. Will be cleaning-up a bit here and there and need to tweak the base quite a bit for sure.

The Wolfman

And here is a mini that should be placed in a spoiler tag or hidden from view of most readers here. Much like “the mini”, which was not for the weak-hearted. 😉

If you’ve been following us in the days of old and your memory serves you well, you may still remember that I have a soft spot for miniatures of, let’s say, “alternative beauty”. And so I picked up a bunch of miniatures from Reaper Miniatures that are not the most popular and admired choices (and I am sure my paintjobs will not make them any more popular ;)).

This one is the Wolfman, which will join Dracula in my cabinet, and maybe be followed by the Frankenstein monster when I finally get to paint it…

The miniature was dropped so many times through all the years that I cannot be sure if it originally looked the way it looks now (especially the nose), but I managed to add what was missing, re-apply the paint that was scratched off, and this one can be ticked off, too!

Time to move forward!

So I think most of the models which needed to be finished are done now. Maybe I missed something, so I will add it in one of the future posts as soon as it’s painted, but now I am free to start a new project!

I chose to start with the Dwarf King on War Bear from Scibor Monstrous Miniatures. I am not going to paint him in the usual golden armor, so I also made my bear’s fur brown instead of the commonly used white.

Let’s see where I end up with my paintjob here and keep your fingers crossed that I remain motivated to finish this one!

Hussar 2016 entries – full gallery

It’s been quite some time now since the Hussar 2016 miniature painting contest. But we are sure there will be another edition of this competition in 2017, so we decided to encourage you to come and join us at Hussar 2017.  And can there be a better motivating factor than a gallery full of painted miniatures? 😀

Thanks to Slawol we can present a collection of photos he took at the show. The gallery is huge, going over 360 photos, but I am sure you will find many interesting and inspiring models there!

We expect Hussar 2017 to take place in late October, but have no sure date yet. We will keep you informed about it, so stay tuned for more news. You still have time to prepare some cool contest entries, and let me remind you that the main prize is definitely nothing to scoff at. The winner receives a nice saber and a return ticket to the Crystal Brush contest (yep, it means: a free flight to the US and back). So will you be joining us at Hussar 2017?

PS – If you are an author of one of the works presented here and would like to be mentioned in description of your work, contact us either via the contact form or leave your name and title of your entry in a comment below or under the respective Facebook post.

Adolforc – I don’t mind…

In late 2015 I posted my thoughts or doubts about potentially offensive miniatures and your opinions on that subject. Now, after more than a year I stumbled upon this model from Scale 75:

If you ask me it’s a very interesting model, and the inspiration is obviously clear. It’s not my intention here to judge if it’s subtle or not, but I like the model. I would like to paint it and wouldn’t really mind the reference to the real-world counterpart, who was a genocidal dictator, and thus not a person to look up to.

Yet some of you may feel different about it. And I don’t really find it weird or ridiculous that somebody may feel uncomfortable painting a caricature of a mass murderer.

Still we often paint models depicting characters (real or not) who commit various heinous acts. But for each of us there is a line that we’re not comfortable crossing. It’s a hobby but each of us has their own borders we don’t want to cross to keep the hobby enjoyable.

I would paint this model. I appreciate the sculpt and the potential it offers. Is it too literal? Probably yes, a bit. I understand people who would rather not paint this model.

Yet there’s something that about it that disappoints me. The fact that this model is so literal leaves no room for interpretation. Painting miniatures is a creative hobby as long as the painter has a chance to add some of his own interpretation to the model. And with the very literal and obvious theme here, it leaves hardly any room for creativity. I like it as a 1930s-style orc, and would like to paint it this way. Of there are pirate orcs, why not a military uniformed orc with a funny moustache and hair? But with the insignia and stuff you’re almost pushed to go the particular way unless you want to convert the sculpt. So where’s the space to be filled by the painter’s creative input?

And what are your thoughts about it? Definitely a controversial model, and I think controversies serve models well, but would you paint Adolforc? Or not and why?