Fritz the Nazgul; Wargaming the 40th Anniversary of Ralph Bakshi’s Animated Lord of the Rings

Hard as it may be to conceive, there was a time before there was a Lead Mountain; a time before time itself; a time before memory and ‘membering, before even that glooming Spider Queen, or her long-suffering scrivener. Though few recall or care to remember the darkness of those days, still there were things crawling in that primordial ooze that might even today be a matter of some interest to the passer-by. Legend holds that this era was called The 70s, and if the televisual media of the day is anything to judge by, they were cold, cruel, greyish brown, miserable and a bit rubbish. Of course your brown-flared-corduroy-dungaree-clad typist missed out on this, because he was only a baby. The first thing he recalls is in fact the 80s.

The 80s are seemingly the basis for the current Retro fad. Retro is in. Retro is all the cool things from the past; The stuff we get nostalgic about, remember fondly and warmly, usually from our childhood or formative years. Computers that used sound to load games. Bicycles shaped like ‘real’ motorcycles. Transformers shaped like real cars. Cartoons that weren’t just explosions and shouting for 20 minutes. Paradoxical, because in reality a lot of these things were actually terribly shit. You couldn’t even stay in the same room as a loading ZX Spectrum, there was no safe way to ride a chopper without actually dying, and the cartoons were badly animated and generally loaded down with morals, or a fourth-wall breaking monologue about teamwork or not smoking at the end. As for the Transformers: OMG so hard. It is known that the only Transformers anyone could competently transform without breaking were your own, and they were probably covered in lead paint anyway. (And we wargamers really listened to THAT nugget of Safety Information.) Rose-tinted spectacles leave scars, man.

Not so THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Gandalf and Hobbits Lord of the Rings Animated Movie Poster
An image so awesome we insist on showing it to you over and over again. We bought it and hung it on the wall.

Similarly a product of  the 70s, but first viewed as a child on Betamax (it’s the better quality format y’know) whilst the young scribe built elaborate fortresses with precarious bridges (for all know that precarious bridge is best bridge) from cardboard tubes, stationary supplies and cereal boxes, and re-fought battles to the stirring ‘March of the Orcs’, using the PBS1 Citadel Skeleton Horde plastics, and HeroQuest pieces (A handy guide to recreating these events has been helpfully enshrined for future historians here.) Ralph Bakshi’s Animated Lord of the Rings is still exactly how you remember it. Fucking BRILLIANT. *

The youngling scribbler didn’t mind that the film appeared to end without finishing the tale, for as a Reader of Books he knew full well that LOTR was made up of several very large, very long volumes, so a sequel would probably come out in due time. (Recall if you will that this is still the era where it took YEARS for a film to move to television, so long delays were expected, and there was no way to check up on progress, no IMDB, no Wiki, no nothing. How anybody knew anything is a mystery).

Four decades have passed in the Shire since the cinematic release of Animated Lord of the Rings. An excellent interview with the man himself here gives great insight into such matters as ‘executive misunderstanding’ and ‘studio interference’, with the mild glimmer of hope that now certain players are gone, Bakshi is not against completing the work. It seems surprising that given the prevalence of computer technology in cinema, nobody has particularly tried to do any fanservice for this project. It isn’t that hard: this band did it: https://youtu.be/3kY8-Vhiq7w?t=31

At the time of such an epoch-making anniversary, it seemed only right that the Lead Mountain scrivener concentrate his efforts on a recent idea/project, exhume some ancient models, mix in some new ones, and create something suitable for the occasion.

The primary source of fodder for this project was this: Grenadier Miniatures ‘Fantasy warriors’ game-in-a-skip.

Grenadier Fantasy Warriors Box Art
If we ever find a copy, we will certainly review it at length…

Sadly no copy of this game is extant in the mines or anywhere else, although the rules themselves are available in pdf format here. However, many of the plastic orcs were to be found in the mountain, not far from a dusty chamber full of discarded scimitars and a burned book. The project began as a simple Dragon Rampant Warband that could be painted to completion in a day or so, but rapidly got out of hand, and is turning into a full blown army. (Yes, one worthy of Mordor.)

Em4 Miniatures still stock these ugly plastic beauties, with their primary selling point being that they are cheap. Pound for pound they may be the cheapest dedicated wargaming miniatures on the market. Sadly there are only 3 poses for each faction but in a rank-and-flank game, that may not be particularly problematic, and when paying tribute to an animated army with whole brigades of cardboard extras,it is positively compulsory.

The jutting jawlines are wonderfully reminiscent of Bakshi’s orcs, and the ape-like stances are spot on. The cast-on bases are 25mm square, with rounded off corners, , much akin to the Heroquest miniatures of yore. Some effort had to be applied to remove the mould-lines, but generally these orcs are more than acceptable for purpose.

 

Ralph Bakshi Orcs
One always assumed that the robed Orcs are intended to represent the Uruk-Hai of Isengard, whilst the Horned-helmet Orcs were of Mordor

Finding true colour images of them is next to impossible. Even several rewatchings of the Blu-Ray edition were of no real assistance.

Ralph-Bakshi_Lord-of-the-Rings_3
This image is probably the easiest to reproduce in miniature. Black and green, bit of beige.

What they grind down to are: Black skin, off-white fangs and signature glowing red eyes.

Orc army
Orcs of the Red Eye advance, supported by a host of Goblins

The orc in the right rear is holding the original ‘Tin-opener’ spear. One of the most effective ways to make the monopose orcs look more varied is to swap out some spear-tips. Donor models include Citadel plastic Zombies, some Skaven handweapons, and several unidentified pointy bits. Several old Nick Lund-sculpted Grenadier orcs were added to taste (originals, rather than the new run of the range from Mirliton.)

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The colour scheme is simplicity itself. Based black, they were simply drybrushed in a variety of dull khakis, greens and beige, chosen at random. (The Vallejo Model Colour range has a large assortment of such drab shades, designed as it is to serve military modelling. There was no need to be consistent, because the orcs in the film are not consistent from one frame to the next. Over this was applied a wash of black and sepia ink, and the skin was touched up with black. Any highlights that have appeared are entirely a by-product of the thinning of the skin coat. In keeping with the animation, bare wood was rendered grey. Metalwork was done in a more traditional fashion though, lest the blades and spearstaffs blend in too much with the basing.

Finding a suitably ugly Balrog might be difficult, but the scribe suspects one could be constructed from a pound shop toy action figure.

Balrog Bashki
This is undoubtedly the effect of too much of the Halfling’s pipe-weed.

(Though what he really wants is the Citadel version.)

Cover art for Citadel Lord of theRings box set Encounter at Khazad Dhum
It seems likely to this (giant red) eye that this rendering of the Flame of Udûn is what the Bakshi one would look like if it wasn’t horrifically awful and took off its Cybergoth/EDM boots.

But, pending the location of an awesome Valaraukar, it is to the Nine that we turn for leadership.

 

Nazgul Bakshi
It would be fascinating to see these costumes before rotoscoping

Suitably horny and unsettling Nazgul were suggested by the omnipresent all-seeing Eye and resident Tolkienophile of North Star Miniatures, Nick Eyre; a pair of Frostgrave Wraith-Knights

Ring-wraith Conversions in the style of Ralph Bakshi
Just some basing tufts to add, and these servants of the Dark Lord in Mordor will be ready to search for Bagginsss…

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Extra horns were applied for effect, cadged from a box of Chaos Warriors and the paint scheme is even more simple. One imagines that complicated tonal effects could be used here, OSL and the like, but the scribe deemed it unnecessary. However, they may make a good base for future experimentation. After all, in the film, the nine as Black Riders are rendered in traditional animation techniques, and are somewhat less psychadelic, whereas when Frodo finally puts on the ring at the Ford of Bruinen we witness the true visage of the Nazgul . Paintingwise, the same process as the Orcs was followed, substituting the beiges for slightly brighter greens, with a number of washes of Green ink, and a highlight of GW Moot Green.

5db95ba0d8317a7207916397e7cec76a
The scribe is open to further suggestions of other suitable miniatures for the rest of the Nine.

 

20181118_000009.jpg
Goblin Archers, from the excellent Oathmark Goblin box set. Either a small support unit in a larger game, or a band of Light Missiles for Dragon Rampant

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This time, the source miniatures are Oathmark plastic Goblins, who received a combination of the Bakshi scheme of dull khakis, black ink and so forth, and also the shiny black scheme that appeared on these Alternative Armies Goblins. They may well end up serving in the same army.

Oathmark Plastic Goblin Warriors (10)
A small unit of Goblins. Ten is a good compromise for Dragon Rampant basing. Visible to the rear are future Unfinished Orcs, waiting to be brought in to line with the main horde.

At least 50 more EM4 orcs await completion, not to mention sundry Mithril, a pile of random goblins from all manner of places, Warg riders, even a troll or four. (YES, WE HAVE A CAVE TROLL.), giant spiders, and perhaps even a dragon. Future Oathmark releases also include plastic Orcs and Wolf Riders, so they too will be added to the burgeoning masses.

*Argue if you dare. Tell us it isn’t brilliant, precioussss, and we’ll send HER round your house. She’ll eat your dog, gollum, gollum.

 

8 thoughts on “Fritz the Nazgul; Wargaming the 40th Anniversary of Ralph Bakshi’s Animated Lord of the Rings

  1. An excellent post!

    I think the scene where Boromir is getting skewered by umpteen arrows still stands up to this day. A much more moving scene than Peter Jacksons retelling.

    Love seeing your horde coming together. Those EM4 are indeed the best unit fillers money can buy.

    Well done 🙂

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    1. I think if people try and look past the inconsistencies and limitations of 70s animation, they can find quite a lot in the Bakshi film. Boromir’s death is one such, and its well known that Jackson basically lifted the Nazgul tree scene straight out of Bakshi. The greater part of the flaws in Bakshi are entirely studio-based anyway, so complaints that it finishes oddly should be disregarded as akin to saying Firefly is rubbish because it never completes a story arc. It’s a sad indictment of society that so much great art is restricted by money-men who have no idea what it is they are even looking at. At least one exec thought LOTR was about a wedding. Sigh.

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  2. John Leahy

    I am also a big fan of this movie. I just picked up the Dvd last week. I own a lot of the Heritage 25mm miniatures from the movie. Those figs are still being sold today. I really like the Rider’s of Rohan figs.

    Your armies are quite nice! I also use those Em-4 Orcs and Dwarves. I painted up around 60 of them with some Cave Trolls and command from Grenadier for my oldest son for Christmas. He was pretty geeked about it!

    Thanks

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    1. I think the Em4 were originally gathered in order to interest one of the (now much) older brood-spawn in wargaming, without putting expensive miniatures at risk. Based on the grasping hands, this lot appear to have intrigued the current brood too.

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  3. Pingback: Oathmark, Mithril, Em4,Citadel & Warmonger/Wargames Foundry Orc Comparison: Expanding the Bakshi Horde – Lead Mountain Widow

  4. MADAK 88

    Love it, I Burned up more than 1 copy of that VHS when I was young. Those orcs always scared the crap out of me. Very nicely done.

    Like

  5. Pingback: Mithril Miniatures Warg Riders: The Demon Wolves of Middle Earth Ride Forth to join the Bakshitsu Host – Lead Mountain Widow

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