Welcome back to Community Outreach, the series where Sarna reaches out to various members of the BattleTech community to ask them “what’s up?” And what’s up this week is Metal Core Collectibles, both a custom miniature’s small business based in Canada as well as a person! He’s a recent BattleTech convert but a longtime fan of giant stompy robots of all kinds. Plus he makes really awesome miniatures at home.
Sarna sat down with Metal Core Collectibles to see where it came from, where it’s going, and how its fate intertwined with BattleTech in an unexpected way. Enjoy.
Sarna (Sean): Who are you? Briefly introduce yourself.
Michael (Metal Core Collectibles): Hi, I’m Michael Szita. I grew up in the 90s here in Canada, in the wonderful Okanagan Valley. Online you might find me going by ‘OrangeKNight’ or ‘CybranKNight’ and if you ever see me in real life I’ll probably be fawning over some small dog I’ve happened across.
Sarna: What IS Metal Core Collectibles? That is, how would you describe it to someone who doesn’t know much about it?
Michael: Metal Core Collectibles (MCC) basically started as a sort of ‘brand’ to collect my assorted works together. It has a decent ring to it and didn’t seem to be used by anyone else. What more can one ask for, right?
Sarna: No argument here. When did you start Metal Core Collectibles?
Michael: It didn’t really take off as a more serious endeavor until late 2014 when I opened my shop on Shapeways. Things feel a bit more real once you start asking people to buy stuff from you (more or less, in Shapeways’ case), so that’s always been the ‘real’ start to it for me. It started with the Torrent (pictured left), a 29-part kit with posable legs, arms, and thrusters. Let’s just say I set myself a standard and it’s something I’ve kept coming back to! This also marks the first time (and not the last) that I based a digital design off of a LEGO build I had built previously.
Sarna: So what made you want to start Metal Core Collectibles?
Micheal: I mean, making my own Mecha, naturally! It’s just one of those things where, for years, going back to when Gundam Wing first started airing on TV on our side of the pond, that I knew I had found like… the thing that I’d be obsessed with for the rest of my life in one form or another. The problem I had was expressing that obsession. I couldn’t draw well and back in the ’90s and early ’00s that was basically all you got. Once I got out of high school I was able to really get into 3D modeling, initially out of the hope of getting into the games industry, but I settled on it as a hobby.
I spent a lot of time modding an RTS game called Supreme Commander for close to 10 years. On-and-off at least that served as a great outlet for designing cool things. When that kinda petered out, around the same time I found Shapeways and started working towards that and working on truly ‘original’ stuff rather than leaning on another properties’ aesthetic or style. Making my own stuff and being able to get it printed into a real physical thing was quite the treat. The kind of thing you can only dream of as a kid, you know? Since then it’s basically been the focus of a LOT of my free time.
Sarna: How did you get into BattleTech? I know on your website you mention a large collaboration with a fan-made TRO project. What’s that all about?
Michael: BattleTech was always one of those properties that I knew of and was certainly something I might reference here and there, but ultimately it was something I never really got into. The turning point happened in late 2017 when I was contacted through the Shapeways forums, one Sumaire_STi–whom I later came to know as Devin R.–about adapting one of my designs for his project. I was a little skeptical at first. I had already dealt with some of my work being used without credit–or even acknowledgment once confronted–in a couple of instances. But, as we chatted a bit, his passion for his project really shone through. Agreeing to help out the project has easily been the best decision I’ve made in the last 5 years.
As for Operation Lancaster itself, what had started out as a fun TRO project just for kicks so that Devin could have some kind of fun lore for a handful of custom miniatures he played on tabletop with friends has exploded into a fully-fledged sourcebook complete with an integrated extensive TRO. It became what he calls a “Love Letter to BattleTech,” and his “Claim to his own little (unofficial) corner of the BattleTech universe.” What started out as a basic fan-TRO turned into a project that has involved a number of Devin’s friends, as well as even the likes of Critical Rocket and Tex. Artists include the likes of Matt Plog, Alan Blackwell, and Matt Maeda, and it even involves a handful of miniature designers–with Devin hoping that maybe, just maybe, this project might give them some attention from the BattleTech community, myself most certainly included. Happily, it seems I managed to get spotted a bit before that.
Lancaster primarily follows the story of a private military organization called the “Dreadnought BattleCorps” as well as two mercenary units created by Devin’s friends, the “Blackwood Templars” and “Ronin Free Companies”, due to their key involvement in the plot that unfolds involving the Word of Blake. So many units fell during the Jihad era. Will these units rise to the challenge, or will they be swept aside like so many others?
For those curious, the project includes a handful of military unit profiles, a key event (Operation Lancaster – surprise!) and Tables of Operations and equipment associated with it, four planetary profiles, four new forms of local fauna, well over 100 TRO articles with numerous variants, half-a-dozen short stories, and more. As of now, it’s over 323,000 words and more than 430 pages in length with roughly 170 art pieces commissioned by Devin for the project (and counting)!
Sarna: Wow. I’ve had university textbooks that were smaller than that! Swapping gears, let’s get into your BattleTech cred. What BattleTech products have you played? Tabletop, video games, etc?
Michael: Prior to 2017 I had only really dabbled in some of the video games. I kinda-sorta knew of the tabletop game but never really had the chance to get into it, and Warhammer 40K kinda occupied that “slot” in my life for a good long while. Since starting work on Lancaster, I’ve certainly gone all-in on the tabletop, including a sizable pledge for the Clan Invasion KS (Let’s just say I have a canon character and a number of doubles for the Lance Packs!), alongside the new box sets. I’ve also been playing a bit of Mechwarrior Online–turns out I’ve had a founder’s pack with four ‘Mechs in it that basically sat unused and forgotten for several years!
Sarna: Are there any BattleTech things you haven’t gotten around to that you’d like to consume? I know of a great 90’s animated series you could give a try…
Michael: Heh, I feel like I must have watched some of the cartoon way back when I was younger. That, or something VERY similar. Given it’s non-canon (aside from it being propaganda) I’ve not really looked into it any further. The last thing I need is to be MORE confused about BT’s lore/history! Thankfully I’ve also been introduced to Professor Tex’s excellent lessons, they’ve really helped me get a much better understanding of BattleTech’s lore. And a love for the Blackjack!
Sarna: Personally, I love your minis, and especially the Tyrant. Are there construction stats for any of these minis that comply with the BattleTech rules?
Michael: Devin has been building everything used for OpLan using the construction rules, so everything is legal for gameplay (era pending of course). I let him handle that for OpLan (though I have gotten a couple of my own variants in there!), but over the last couple years, I’ve been dabbling more and more into it myself. My Hailfire Missile Platform was actually my first ‘original’ MCC design. It was initially based on an existing BT unit (Stygian), but quickly diverged into its own thing, I even wrote some bits of lore for it. I’ve also worked out a handful of other designs I’m looking forward to getting to once I clear out more of my OpLan design backlog!
Sarna: If your shop really takes off with BattleTech fans, have you ever thought about getting your designs canonized?
Michael: Much to my surprise, a number of BattleTech fans seem to have already responded to my store. Enough-so to keep me operating in the black, despite some troubles with the printers I use to make the miniatures I sell. It’s been really rewarding to see that people like my work, and I hope to keep creating miniatures that people enjoy building and painting for their games!
As for getting canonized, if it even comes up, I wouldn’t argue with it. Ideally, I would want it to be one of my more original designs I want to get around to, at this point Devin has extensively integrated some of my designs into his lore.
But yeah, it would be a pleasant surprise, but I’m also perfectly content creating cool stuff, regardless!
Sarna: Let’s talk about 3D printing a bit. What’s the market like for these at-home manufacturing shops? Is this something that could one day be your day job? Will 3D printers replace giant factories in China?
Michael: I can’t speak for others doing something similar, but I think it would be tough to work it as a proper “career”–I’ve been working more or less full-time throughout MCC’s life and I’m not sure I could get it to the point where it’s an income comparable to my day job. With 3D-Printing I can foresee a point where the labor needed to keep up with printer output cuts into the time I’d use to design new stuff. Even now, I feel the strain of balancing the need to restock older products and producing stock for new stuff. I’ve recently started to really look into ways to optimize and increase efficiency in my production pipeline, so there is still room for improvement! It’s definitely a challenge I’m eagerly approaching head-on!
Sarna: Let’s talk about your 3D printing journey. How is the quality of your products overall? I know you mentioned on your website that print lines were a common issue with your prints–is that still a problem or have you got that all figured out?
Michael: Let’s not beat around the bush. ‘Consumer-grade’ printers, as amazing as they are, are still ‘consumer-grade’. At this point, I don’t think there is any affordable printer that won’t have some form of print lines. I print with 0.03mm layers and, yes, layer lines will still be present, but they’re also really easy to clean up, especially compared to what you expect to see out of FDM printers. I see them as less of an “issue” and more just a by-product of the manufacturing process, not unlike mold-lines from injection molding, or flash and mold slip from resin casts.
Instead, I focus more on areas I can offer something unique and/or rare. Things like accurately modeled variants and optional parts, as well as extreme levels of posing and magnetization options. From what I’ve seen, these aren’t things you normally associate with BattleTech minis, but these are things I focus on for everything I’ve made. To the point where my catchphrase might as well be, “The only thing not optional, are the options!”
Sarna: Tell me what happened to Shapeways — What is Shapeways and what made you go from just a store on Shapeways to having your current store on Shopify?
Michael: So, Shapeways is basically a company that aimed to bring high-end printing to everyone, essentially ‘renting out’ these large and fancy industrial-grade printers to people. For a time, it was good. I liked it because they handled a lot of the logistics so I could focus on designing, I didn’t have to worry about site design, production, QC and so on. You end up paying a bit of a premium, but it helped me focus on the designs themselves at a relatively low cost to me.
Eventually, there was, as far as I can tell, a shift within Shapeways, and through a number of changes and reading between the lines, I could see the writing on the wall, as it were. Prices were going up, the ‘marketplace’ had a lot of issues that made selling stuff more difficult than it needed to be without any sign of improvements on the horizon. So, I jumped ship. I bought my own 3D printers and got to work essentially overhauling the meshes that worked fine on fancy industrial-grade printers but wouldn’t work for the way my new printers work. After about 6 months, I’d figured out enough about the new printers that I set up my new shop through Shopify and produced stock for 4 initial products. That was a year ago, and since then I’ve managed to overhaul a total of 6 of my old Shapeways products and come up with 4 completely new designs.
Sarna: What’s in store for the future of Metal Core Collectibles?
Michael: Of course one can’t talk progress without talking about the backlog! I’ve still got 4 more new designs and 2 more overhauls left to do for my portion of the Operation Lancaster project. And don’t get me started on the rest of the backlog I’ve built up while working on OpLan!
For 2020 I’ve tried to set myself a bit of a goal: to have at least one release every month. Not always a new design but sometimes new variants or smaller “Part Packs”. So far I’m 5 for 5 and. If I can keep it up, I should finish all of my designs for OpLan by the end of the year, which should open me up to some other fun projects. I have a particular Grasshopper build in MWO that I call the “Tourniquet” that I’ve been wanting to bring to the tabletop with a fresh new look!
Sarna: So long as you don’t start selling that Grasshopper, otherwise things will get legally complicated. Anything else you’d like our readers to know? Feel free to get shamelessly self-promoty.
Michael: Well, the obvious one would be to check out the Shop! Not a lot of ‘Mechs yet, but a variety of vehicles, ranging from high-speed VTOLs, assault-class artillery options, and even a bridge layer. If nothing happens to strike your fancy yet, be sure to check out and follow me on Facebook, where I try to post semi-regular updates, including assorted WIP shots and more!
Thanks for chatting with us, Michael, and good luck with your shop and Operation Lancaster!
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.
Oh man them paint jobs.
If my models can look like those one day I will be a happy man!
It’s not a complicated as it looks! No fancy fades or even any highlighting, just slap on your base colors, then break out the Nuln Oil, making sure to fill in all the panel lines and crevasses, then you just go back and clean up the panels with your base colors again, leaving a nice sharp contrast between the wash and the colors.
For anyone interested in an update on Operation Lancaster itself:
The Operation Lancaster project has continued to progress, and even though I expect it’ll be a a couple-few months before it’s finished, we’re even starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
At present, Lancaster itself is sitting at 373k words and 443 pages with a little writing and a *lot* of editing left on the table. I’m proud to be able to say that I’ve done the majority of the writing, but this project simply would not have been possible without the contributions of everyone involved, and on the writing front Zach (Blackwood Templars), Don (Ronin Free Companies), you guys are absolute champions. An artist is always their worst critic and, while response so far has been happily pretty positive, I just hope the project can live up to the expectations of those who have been following along with the sparse updates. When it’s finally finished, it’s planned to be a free download for anyone interested in taking a look.
The project art folder has around 180-ish art pieces in it these days, with at least two more waves of art planned (one of which is in progress). To *everyone* involved in the art team, I say “Thank you dearly for everything you’ve done. You’ve been a dream team, for sure, and it has been an honor and a pleasure. I can only hope that I may have the privilege of having you involved in future projects.”