Agincourt 600: Making the Agincourt Diorama – an introduction

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with Alan and Michael Perry of Perry Miniatures.

Here, the model maker and project manager David Marshall introduces himself, the Perry brothers, and how this model took shape over the last two years.

Meet the model makers: David Marshall, MMDioramas

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David Marshall (me) and the Agincourt diorama

I’ve been a wargamer from the moment I bought my first packs of Airfix soldiers from the local toy shop over 40 years ago. I still remember what they were, WW1 German infantry and American Civil War artillery! Since then I have bought, painted, played and built anything to do with the wargaming and toy soldier hobby. As a regular show demonstrator, my work was getting increasingly positive responses from people, so one Monday morning in April 2002 – after I had had a particularly successful weekend show – I walked into my boss’s office and handed in my notice.

TmTerrain was born, a business I started initially with my friend Mark, supplying one off quality terrain to the hobby market. As a full time model maker for over a decade I’ve built all sorts of projects for customers all over the world, and I haven’t had a day off due to lack of work in all that time – something that continually amazes me.

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When the Agincourt project with the Royal Armouries came along, I decided that I wanted to develop this side to my work through MMDioramas, so I could work on future large military based projects for museums and other similar organisations. Time will tell if it is a success, but one thing I can say though is that any future work will have to go some way to get more high profile!

Perry Miniatures:

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The Perry brothers, Alan and Michael, have been making figures professionally for 37 years, as they began freelancing when still at school! They started sculpting professionally at Games Workshop in 1978, making historical wargames figures for Wargames Foundry in their spare time from 1985 (alongside their Games Workshop 9-5 day job). After leaving Wargames Foundry in 2001 they started up their own company Perry Miniatures, making historical figures in over 30 ranges covering periods which range from the first Crusades to World War Two. They aim to make more ranges in both metal and plastic, and they both sculpt figures in the traditional way – by hand rather than digitally.

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Recently they were heavily involved in a massive Gallipoli diorama for Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, which is now on show at the Pukeahu National War Memorial museum, Wellington.

The Perrys are both keen wargamers themselves and enjoy using their own ranges to game with. Being re-enactors since 1980 (until 2014) they have a full grasp of how various weapons are used/held and armour is worn etc. which is invaluable when designing figures. Michael’s right hand was blown off in an accident when loading cannon in 1996 at a re-enactment of the Battle of Crécy, but learnt to use his left hand in a couple of weeks. The brothers have also illustrated many military books and are keen collectors of militaria.

Introducing the model: the facts and stats

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The Agincourt diorama is 4 meters by 2 meters in size, and made up from four 2m x 1m sections. 4,400 28mm figures make up its face, supplied by Perry Miniatures. 4,000 of the figures were painted by only two gentlemen from Nottingham, Painted Wargames. The other 400 on the field were painted by Andy Taylor, Dave Andrews, Steve Hall, Simon Chick, The Perrys, the Royal Armouries Thom Richardson and me.

The 100 trees and coppicing were made for the model by Keith from Realistic Modelling Supplies, and the 40 banners were supplied by GMB designs. The model itself took two years to make.

Overview of the project.

In January 2014, the letter arrived informing myself and the Perrys that we had won the contract to work with the Royal Armouries on this project. I had to put my project manager hat straight on as I realised my model making skills won’t be seen for a few months! Now was the time for planning.

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The first priority was to get the figures started. We had not got a final number confirmed yet, but there would be 1000’s required to finish the model, so the sooner we got going the more time we would give the painters to get them done. Every figure from the Perrys Agincourt range was approved by Royal Armouries, which was really important to everyone involved as it reflected our commitment to a true authentic representation of the battle. As the Perrys had worked closely with the Wallace Collection’s Tobias Capwell when creating their original Agincourt range of figures, we were confident there shouldn’t be any major issues, but it was still a relief when the approval came through.

At the end of June (2014) we got to see the figures, and received an approved colour pallet (see below) which went straight to Painted Wargames for reference. They had committed to painting 500 figures a month so getting this to them on time was vital. Phew!

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August saw the first 500 figures back from Painted Wargames. This gave me something to play with and it felt like real progress was being made. The battle was starting to take shape. Around the same time a big box full of trees arrived for us to play with. I love making terrain so I was really looking forward to this part.

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We discussed whether the landscape should be 3D printed with the Royal Armouries, however this was soon discounted due to cost and so I could apply a more traditional approach, which meant I could get my modelling hat on at last.

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The model base being constructed

In January 2015, the landscape was mostly shaped and nearly 3,000 figures painted, so we could start playing soldiers – which involved moving blocks of figures around to decide on the final layout. The overall layout and content had been decided months before, when the figure scale of each 1 figure equaling 5 men was agreed on (see initial sketch at the top). We still had to pin the detail down however; including the personalities, banners, stakes, and we had to check that the whole exciting story of the battle was being told and interpreted properly.

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Allan Perry with Thom Richardson of the Royal Armouries and the Queen of Agincourt herself Anne Curry, who is also Trustee of the Royal Armouries.

I think this was the most frustrating, exciting, worrying and ultimately rewarding part of the whole project. It was worth every minute of discussion and it just left us to push on now to completion. Details still needed to be decided on such as field patterns, woodland use, and the style of coppicing in the woods either side. It took two or three goes at it to get the coppicing right, but the attention to detail really paid off.

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Furnishing the model involved placing 4,500 figures, 100 trees, 100s of wooden stakes, and over 1,000 arrows stuck into the ground. A mammoth job but with amazing results!

The first figures are fixed to the board. No going back now!
The first figures are fixed to the board. No going back now!
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Alan and Michael Perry having an ice cream break from placing figures

June (2015) saw the diorama 95% complete, so it was time for the final meeting with the Royal Armouries before the model went off to have its special case fitted for the exhibition. I expected this to be one of the most nervous days of my life as I collected everyone in a conference room before the big reveal. When the moment came however, I was totally calm. I was confident that we had delivered a spectacular diorama of the battle and just couldn’t wait to share it with them!

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The project took about 2 years to complete. During that time many people have seen the diorama as they worked on it, and a few other war gamers and history fans have had the chance of a sneak a peek.

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The Perry brothers, Royal Armouries team, and myself placing Henry V on the battlefield.

Just before the model was due to be delivered, I had a visit from my son Ben and his girlfriend Rachel. She has been put through visits to tank museums, and other military and architectural delights since joining our family. I was very pleased to see her and they spent a while having a good look at the diorama. They then went off to lunch with her family where the discussion started about the battle, as her Dad has read a lot about it so could explain what happened during the engagement.

Rachel suddenly realised she understood and could visualise what happened on that day in 1415. The diorama allowed her to connect and understand the battle. I have had lots of people tell me how good the diorama looks and what a great job we’ve done, but it was Rachel’s experience that was the most satisfying for me. It demonstrates how powerfully a diorama can connect with the viewer and make historical moments such as the battle of Agincourt accessible to a wider audience. The perfect result!

 

The 22nd September saw the team working in the shadow of the Tower of London in the pouring rain, looking at a crane to winch the whole exhibition up into the top floor.

We waited for our turn, which was easily the most nervous part of the whole project, and thankfully when it was the rain stopped and each piece went up beautifully. I suddenly realised I was running high on adrenaline and coffee up to then, so once I saw all of the sections up there I was very relieved!

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The next two days saw us install the diorama in the exhibition space and complete the final hand over, with the project sign off occurring at 2pm on the 23rd September. The Royal Armouries team gave us the all clear.

After two years of work completed successfully, we packed up our tools and drove home! To celebrate when I got home, I watched the Great British Bake Off and then went to bed! Mission accomplished.

To see David and the Perrys stunning work make sure you visit the Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London. Please visit this link for further blog posts from David and the Perrys on how the model was made as they are published.

After the exhibition closes at the Tower on the 31 January the model will be making its way to Leeds later in the year, where it will remain in our permanent War Gallery. The museum will be marking the occasion when it arrives with a special Hundred Years War Wargaming event. For details please get in touch with Kirsty Rogers via kirsty.rogers@armouries.org.uk.

 Pick up or download the October issue of Wargames Illustrated for more pictures and details of the model!