Video tutorial reviews (Warning! Long post!)

Recently ive been buying a lot of video tutorials about modelling. I've always found paper tutorials to be okay, but they lack the ability to actually see things like the thickness of the paint, the direction of brush strokes etc.
This is a collected review of several different ranges of tutorials. I will review each as a set (by company rather than by subject) and at the end i will compare and contrast the different companies style and give an overall recommendation.

The companies whose videos im reviewing are:

Miniature Mentor
Night vision creations
Steel Dog
Compendium Films

I should say right from the start that each of these companies covers the subject of modelling in different ways. MM and Steel Dog are mainly looking at the "Fantasy" end of the subject, with NVC and Compendium mainly focussing on "Real" subjects (such as tanks and the like). Obviously this changes the way the subject is dealt with. However, i still think that the different products can be compared, we just have to take in to account these differences at the start.

Miniature Mentor
Miniature Mentor (MM) produce a series of downloadable video tutorials (some are also available on DVD). The download tutorials are supplied as zipped files accessed via a link sent to you in your purchase reciept. The videos themselves are in .H264 format and the quality is excellent.

They range in price from about $15 - $25 as well as offering a subscription service where you can access all of their films at any time. The subscription is priced at $70 which to me seems a little bit high. I've purchased almost all of their films to date and i have yet to spend near $70 in one year - Im not sure who the subscription is aimed at; however it may prove to have more value depending on the speed at which they can produce future videos.

In general MM tends to focus on the new wave "French" style of miniature painting - ultra smooth blending with acrylics. Many clean lines and with an attention to colour matching and theory. This is a style of which i am a particular fan (for an example, just check out "Ravage" magazine at your local hobby store).

Each tutorial starts with a very nice "Interview" with the artist featured. Generally the artists are well known in fantasy modelling circles and are often multiple award winners.

The tutorial proper follows the interview and it is here that the "meat" of the actual tutorial is presented. The camera remains focussed upon the model for almost the entire tutorial, except for cutaways to show the consistency or colour of the paint on the palette or to show cut aways with explanation of some part of the technique that they are currently showing.

The MM style is very much to be considered in with "proper" art - they focus a lot on why colours are chosen, where to place the colours and how to move the brush itself.

This "low level" tutorial style is very useful, if you are unused to mixing colours, or making decisions about which part of the model to paint and in which order. However for the slightly more experienced painter, it can often be a bit too much detail. MM tends to do continuous shots with audio of the presenter and the painter talking about the technique over the top. Whilst the actual conversation is interesting, because of the detail being show it often ends up that what you are actually watching is literally paint drying! The presenter often seems to run out of things to say; and rather than use (for example) background music he resorts to silly platitudes ('Nice job', 'great work' etc).

I also found it rather annoying that they dont show the final model at the end of the video - its quite unnerving to always see a model at such an extreme close up, so it becomes hard to see how the parts fit together in the final model.

This is not to say that MM's tutorials are bad! Far from it, they are excellently produced (the photography is clear, the cutaways are useful and the techniques are solid) and have contributed a lot to my knowledge of the subject. In some ways tho, i would like to see them produce slightly shorter films, with more of the "Paint drying" being removed, if only to speed up the process.
Overal they built to be a nice collection of tutorials and with a few small changes could be an excellent series for anyone interested in fantasy modelling

Steel dog
Steel dog produce a series of downloadable and DVD tutorials. The download comes via an email link as a .divx file. I have to say that this was my first annoyance with Steel dog - Divx is not a particularily useful file format for me - although it will play in VLC, i prefer to have all my modelling videos in iTunes, so i ended up converting them to m4v file format to watch inside iTunes. Each video costs $20.

The Steel dog videos concentrate on slightly different areas of modelling to the others, mainly covering some more esoteric areas, such as how to produce bases, non metallic metals etc. Again this is firmly in the realms of Fantasy work, although most of the techniques would be suitable for AFV modelling too.

The videos themselves are fairly low quality (from the point of view of the actual pictures). Close focus on the parts tends to be blurry and generally the camera is focussed on the presenter, sometimes making it hard to properly see what he is doing on the work bench.

However, the topics covered and wonderfully inspiring! After watching each video i have been left with a sense of "I can do that", even for things that ive always been scared of (scuplting!). The presenter has a slightly infection enthusiasm for the subject and seems to truly love what he is doing. Whilst the techniques covered are much more suited to "gaming" models rather than proper display models, with refinement they work beautifully for static models.

In all? Well i felt that Steel dogs videos were let down by the camera. Without the close focus many of the techniques are lost. They are inspiring though, so they may well be worth the investment.

Night vision creations 
Night vision creations (NVC) currently produce 2 DVDs, both under the "F.A.Q" title. The first deals with the application of pigments and the second with "Modulation style" of airbrush painting. The focus here is solely on ultra realistic AFV models (generally WW2 German Tigers). The DVD's cost about £10 in the UK (I got mine from ModelZone in Holborn).

Produced and written by Mig Jimenez (google his work if you dont know Mig Jimenez....) the F.A.Q series are superb. From the packaging, which includes an inlay book detailing each technique and the products, to the DVD itself everything oozes quality.

The camera work is steady and ultra clear. Each step is covered in enough detail to be understandable, but without boring the viewer. The narrator speaks only when necessary (and obviously from a well prepared script) and the background music is awsome!

The techniques presented in these videos gives amazing results, but having tried a few of them, they are incredibly easy to actually pull off to a reasonable level. One thing about the F.A.Q videos is that they do rely on the purchase of quite a few supplies (pigments and oil paints being the key). However, i really feel that the investment is worth it, for the results that it generates.

Compendium Films
Compendium files produce a series named "Expert model craft". Like NVC they focus on the "Realistic" end of the spectrum. Each DVD is nicely packaged and aswell as the main feature they also include several bonus chapters, such as a profile of the narrator, a selection of images of their models as well as a list of the sources and references used in the production. Each DVD is priced at around £15

The DVD's each focus on a small area of model work, generally following an artist as they build a complete kit. One artist of special interest was Macus Nichols (the editor of Tamiya Internation Model Magazine), because of his special focus on building to deadlines. His tutorials tend to focus on getting great results quickly, and being an impatient modeller this definately appealed to me.

Generally these films remind me very much of old modelling shows i remember watching as a child on BBC2! In the main the presenters are slightly older and they have a considered, patient approach to model making. Personally i like this style. Its relaxed, yet exacting.

If you are solely a fantasy modeller, or you never go near tanks i would definately recommend Miniature mentors videos to you. They cover the techniques needed for single model painting is great detail and you will be able to learn a lot.
Anybody interested in AFV modelling solely, i would point to the F.A.Q series. Overall the F.A.Q series was the best presented, planned and executed set of the DVD's.
If you work in both fantasy and AFV arenas i would combine the Miniature mentor and F.A.Q series. Together they give a great combination.

The steel dog films are hard to judge. The quality is a let down, but the material itself is great. My recommendation if you are just putting models together for the battlefield, rather than for contests is to take a look. Lots of the techniques are fast and very suitable for army building

The compendium films DVDs were in many ways my favourite - the slowness of the presentation, combined with the accuracy of the result really appealed and they are slowly building up a nice collection of subjects.

So, which of the companies films would i recommend? This is a tricky one, because each covers so much of the modelling field, what i really want to say is that you should purchase all of them! If thats not possible, i suggest that you watch the clips provided by each manufacturer on their websites and try to judge which matches your needs closest.