Thursday, 3 November 2011

SPOTLIGHT: John Bear Ross

The Dropship recently caught up with John Bear Ross to find out a bit more about the man behind a large number of 15mm sci fi vehicles and mechs!

First of all, how did you get into the hobby and science fiction?

I've always loved science fiction. It's just one of those innate, ingrained things.  I was born in 1975, so I barely remember the original release of Star Wars (but loved the toys), but saw Empire and Jedi in the theatres.  I grew up drawing army men and tanks, like many boys my age. Transformers and GI Joe were also staples of my childhood.

 JBR MK.1 and JBR MK.2

My mom remarried when I was 8, and we followed my dad (stepfather, technically, but he raised me like his own) to Japan, where I became immersed in all the coolest toys a 9-year-old boy could possibly want. In particular Robotech/Macross and Zoids. Those two sparks were what made me fall in love with walking armoured vehicles. I also got into model-making, and Japan, being the home of Tamiya and Hasegawa models, was the perfect place to be.

When dad was transferred back to the States, I was 12, and we ended up in Seattle. I bought the boxed set of Citytech, my brother the original Battletech boxed set. I started using the construction rules in those rulebooks to start making my own variants, factions, and their associated fictional back stories.

I got deeper into science fiction:  Niven and Pournelle novels, comics, RPGs (Rifts and Robotech in particular, with dashes of TMNT). Like Battletech, I was writing and world-building more than I was playing.  I enjoyed the creative side of it.

When we moved to Las Vegas, I was in high school.  A guy I was sitting next to in US history noticed the mech I was doodling, and invited me to play with a Marvel Superheros group he had going. His name was Chad Hardin, my very dear friend.  He introduced me to Rogue Trader, WH40K, and Space Marine/Adeptus Titanicus.  Chad is an extremely gifted artist, and now does work for Marvel, D.C., Dark Horse, and any number of other comic book publishers.

Like before, I started to make my own creations within the structures of these new games. Now, it wasn't just fluff, stats, and factions I was dealing with, it was also miniatures. I got heavily into Epic scale gaming, but thought I could do better. I created my own "Tolkein in Spaaaaace" universe, with a dozen warring factions, mercenaries, titans, mechs, you name it. I nursed that project for a number of years, shaping the art and manuscript while holding onto the notion that I could publish it someday.  I just needed miniatures.

So how did get started sculpting and what companies have you sculpted for?

Well, I tried my hand at manual sculpting.  Horrible.  I just didn't have the chops for it, despite years of hobby experience. I started researching this new thing called rapid prototyping.  "Wow, we've arrived in the future," was my initial thought.  Then I got my first quote for a pair of Elven mechs and power armors.  $4000 for a pair of 15mm scale figs, in 1999.  Talk about a punch in the soul. I started researching more, and found a small software program called Rhino.  "Hey, I can do this on my own, for a lot less," was my thought at the time.  I ordered a copy, learned the tutorials, and approached Bathsheba Grossman, who owned a 3d printer and sold time on it, for pointers.  She was awesome, and very patient with me.  I started saving money, and was starting to prototype and print a faction of Dwarf titans, mechs, and power armours.

I can't describe the amazing feeling you get when your first product shows up on the front of The Miniatures Page.  That was back in 2000.

CAD designed CAV Dictator from Reaper Miniatures

About this time, in Texas, there was this company called Reaper Miniatures, led by the inimitable Ed Pugh.  Reaper had just premiered their CAV mech game, but wanted to push the envelope when it came to designing their mechs, or CAVs as they're called in the game. They went to Bathsheba Grossman, and she pointed them to me.  I did their CAV flagship model, the Dictator, in 3d, and they were satisfied with the results.  They gave me my first shot as a pro sculptor, though I wasn't sure what to call myself.  "Digital Sculptor" seemed to work, since I was pushing around electrons instead of epoxy putty.  Ed gave me my real start in the industry, and I thank him for it every chance I get.

From my formative years at CAV under Ed's tutelage, I started taking on other clients. Xtreme Hobby, which was Mike Hardy's baby, gave us the Cold Navy line of starships. Rebel Minis, Khurasan Miniatures, Critical Mass Games, Comfy Chair Games, Conflict Horizon Minis, among many many others.  I've been very fortunate to have been involved in a number of very exciting projects, and to still be involved in this industry.

15mm Sci Fi Interiors from Khurasan Miniatures

What are your key sources of inspiration for your 3D creations?

Coolness, plausibility, functionality and modularity.  Probably in that order, too. Not realism, because there's nothing realistic about giant robots or starships, but realism is not why I enjoy this stuff anyway. I enjoy it because it's cool and transports me back to those days of GI Joe, Transformers, Robotech and Zoids. I also enjoy looking at the major film studio design houses, and how their process works.  I've always been a WIP kind of guy. Yes, the final product is slick and shiny, but I want to see how you made it, what your design process was so I can compare, contrast, and possibly adapt it to my own. I always liked looking at sketchbooks than the final product. I'm silly that way.

Viper Suit from Rebel Miniatures

So what does your 15mm sci fi collection look like?

Often clients will send me freebies for samples or reference for future work. I have something from just about all my clients.  I've assembled a few mish-mash warbands, things like superhero teams or small mercenary hit squads, but no formal infantry or vehicle units with formal colours and insignia.

I prefer a patchwork multiverse, with different technology levels and genres mixed together. Everybody is able to fight everybody via a shared or interfaced universe of multiple realities. Alan Davis' concept from Marvel Comics is one of the big inspirations to me when it comes to this (Excalibur, Captain Britain, etc.).  Thus, one company's figs can fight with or against another company's figs. These small, tactic-oriented squads are what appeal to me more than mass combat and combined arms.  Think SWAT team level actions like North Hollywood or the running brawls in Blackhawk Down, more than reinforced companies meeting in the town square.  Only with antigrav tanks, mechs, power armor, superhumans, and assault-class cyborgs thrown in for good measure.


  1. Great post! John Bear Ross is a cool dude, I was casually acquainted with him back in the day in Las Vegas via the 40K scene. As it was I think one of his better friends was one of my best friends so he'd occasionally end up at gaming nights at peoples houses. Once or twice he even showed up at my garage (which was an epic man cave gaming room). I recall once he was running a 40K army with the old paper rhinos and I had no clue they were paper until the end of the game, they looked damn good on the table what can I say ... lol. Ah the old days.

  2. Hum,well I can remember John sitting next to me at Reaper as we went over my design concepts for cavs and batting ideas around. Full of ideas..definitely full of ideas!

  3. Heh, bonus points for sneaking in an Alan Davis reference!

  4. My thanks for Matt for wading through my long-winded ramblings.

    And thanks for Jimbo for teaching me how to loft that first session. It must have been like teaching a kindergartner how to hold crayons, Jim. Thanks.


  5. Darn, you, spammer. Darn you straight to heck.


  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. John your an awesome guy. You and the Crime Lord have thought me alot about this world of miniature gaming and digital sculpture. I can't ever thank you guys enough.

  8. John is awesome! A great guy and a very understanding sculptor. All I have to say is.. "Make it bad ass! " :)

  9. Alan Davis, Excalibur and Rifts are very cool but when it comes to 1:100/15 mm machines, JBR is the best!