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If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?

Please Note: This article is presented with a hefty dose of pseudo-science and a high-degree of amusement and waffle. Take it entirely seriously at your own peril.

If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?

I’ve been asked this question on a good few occasions now and it has proven itself to be a rather sensitive subject for some people. Indeed some people will use it to beat-up manufacturers and say that their products are wrong, they are the wrong scale, they are too big, or too small. You will probably have seen many an argument just like that at some point in time on a wargame forum.

The most common form of the question I have encountered is when gamers want to know what size, or scale, of vehicles they should buy to go with their figures, usually something like “I use 28mm figures, so what size kit/die-cast car should I buy to fit with them?”

The answer is very simple: “Whatever you think looks right.”

However that statement, while true, doesn’t really offer much help to the people who are buying online and cant physically match their figures to the vehicle. They want to know what scale or size they should buy so they can pick them from an online store. Raising all sorts of mathematical and philosophical reasons why the question cannot be answered “properly” is really just dodging the subject and being rather unhelpful too boot.

The question can be answered, it simply involves a few personal choices which can alter your perception of what is “right” and what is “wrong”, although I would rather avoid those terms altogether as, “so long as you are happy it looks OK, then it is OK.”

So let us first all agree that there is no “right” or “wrong”, however, there are some guidelines that center around how we humans judge heights, and I will go over those using some 3D images to help you be able to answer the question for yourself.

How we judge height.

When we look at a person we use a number of subconscious methods to enable us to get an idea of how tall that object or person is. The most common is a comparative method, where we compare the person with “something” that we know the height of; somebody standing next to a 2 meter ruler being a very good one, but not all that common. Far more common is our subconscious using a “known” object size to help us gauge a height.

A good example of this is a doorway.

We know roughly how tall a doorway is, we walk through them everyday and most of them stick to a roughly uniform height: the doors in your house are unlikely to be different heights, they usually match a standard height that will be common in many other people’s houses around you also. We then know, subconsciously, roughly how tall a doorway is… even if you couldn’t tell somebody its actual height.

As we know roughly how big a doorway is we can use that “known” to judge the height of other objects near it.

When somebody stands in that doorway our mind can easily work out an approximate height of a person; if they are taller than the doorway they are “big”, if they are a lot shorter than the doorway they are “small”.

In fact our mind is a far better judge than that and can gauge somebodies height to within a few centimeters or inches at first glance and without conscious calculations taking place. What we don’t do, when we glance at people, is have our conscious mind say “Well that doorway is 6 foot 6 inches tall, the person is X-height below that therefore he is probably 6 foot 6 minus x inches” – that’s all done for us, almost instantaneously, by our subconscious, usually without us even realising it has taken place. Indeed so common is it that we often only notice we have done it when the subconscious sees something unusual, like a really tall or really short person.

This is how witnesses can help  to describe people and say “he was around this height” even though they probably did not sit down and calculate that height. They get the impression of height “Instinctively”…and indeed this is why Police often get told “he was about average height”; because we simply didn’t take any conscious notice and our subconscious didnt notice anything unusual. Indeed “average” people appear rather a lot on witness statements and often when asked to clarify with an actual height, they will say that they don’t know. In fact what they mean, when they say “He was average height” is actually: “I didnt notice anything unusual about how tall he was”. ..and the two things are quite certainly not the same!

Its all a natural part of how we get through the day without having to constantly make conscious decisions about every single thing we see or do; our subconscious handles a heck of a lot of that for us, just as we don’t (usually) have to think how to walk.

In fact we don’t just use doorways to approximate the height of people, we use all manner of common items that we have an idea of their common, or likely, size:  bins, lampposts, cars, anything that we know the approximate height of that is familiar to us. The system works very well, after all you have probably never stopped to think about how you judge how tall somebody is, how near something is, how far away somebody is.. our subconscious does a lot of work “on the hush-hush”. We can use your subconscious to trick you though, particularly in pictures: we could put a 5-foot tall man standing in a 5 foot tall doorway; most people would instinctively think that person is “tall” because he is the same height as a doorway “Look, he is the same height as that doorway!”. It is not until our conscious mind turns around and asks “Yes, but what if that doorway isn’t a ‘normal’ size?” that we question the initial impression.

(How tall was the man in the image higher up? Did you notice anything unusual about him? probably not, but the door is only 3-foot tall so…)

So the system is vulnerable because it is based on our subconscious making a judgement based on an assumption: that the comparative object (the doorway) is “normal” and therefore the person in it is “so tall” based upon that assumption.

Now this method of judgment doesn’t just work downwards, it also works upwards. By that I mean that we can compare somebody with an object that is smaller than them, not just against a doorway that is (often) taller than them.
A good example is a car where we would expect a person to appear to be taller than the vehicle for “most” cars. This system can work just as well as doorways but rests upon the same foundation: you have to know roughly how big that car is.

This is where our first impressions can start to go very wrong, if we are not familiar with the vehicle in question then our estimation of the person standing by it can vary tremendously, entirely dependent on our assumption of the height of the car (or visa-versa, the car is small, the person tall).  Another factor is that our subconscious tends to look at a minimal set of references: it looks to see how much taller than the car you are, how far your head and shoulders are above the car roof. It doesn’t look to see if you are also wearing high-heels, boots, flatties or thongs, it does what it needs to do as quickly and simply as possible otherwise we would be stopping every few moments to actively and consciously take in every object around us, work out its exact size and placement, and only then move forward (which is part of the reason robots have trouble doing just that!). Humans “fudge it!”

Again, going back to our witnesses, this is why police are trained to ask questions when taking witness statements and to avoid prompting witnesses for answers. The “average height” person from earlier “Did he have to stoop down to pick up the knife?”(he had to crouch to done thing, or stretch up to do another, both can help pin-down heights), “He stood next to Bob, was he taller or shorter? “How tall is Bob?”  – these things being designed to jog our subconscious into remembering things our conscious may not have even realised we had seen, comparisons that our subconscious may have made, noted and we’d not realised.

OK, so why is that relevant for wargamers?

With models our first-impression, our gut-reaction, our subconscious evaluation, is often one of the most important ones. It provides the foundation for our conscious thoughts that follows on from it. This is why people can look at a figure, model or diorama and say “Something is odd there!”…. it may then take them  while to spot, consciously, what is wrong, but their subconscious has already spotted the problem.

Conversely they can look at something and if they don’t immediately spot the oddity, they have extreme difficulty spotting it afterwards. How many times has somebody else spotted something and you have then said “Oh yeah! I didn’t notice that. Now you’ve said that it DOES look really odd!”. Thats the subconcious mind at work: Theirs spotted it, yours didnt: “Anything odd?No, move on. Anything odd?no, move on…” you come back to it and your subconscious says “We already did this dude! move on already…” and we miss the oddity yet again!

Imagine a diorama of 1/48 figures and vehicles into which you add a 1/72nd figure, odds are that you’re subconscious will spot the oddity almost instantly because the one figure is going to be noticeably shorter than the others. But what would happen if it were just the 1/72 figure and the 1/48 vehicle? Is that now a definitely, or just a probably…? The odds did just change, even if only a little bit. What if it were 1/56 figures and a 1/48 vehicle?

Familiarity with the subject matter is very important. A wargamer who has only ever played 28mm may look at a game in progress and ask “Is that 6mm or 10mm?”, the 10mm wargamer playing the game will look aghast and say “10 of course! Isn’t it obvious? Are you a fool!?”

The truth is that, for the unfamiliar, it isn’t at all obvious. Familiarity with things, such as doorways, allows us to stop noticing them, we know we can walk through the doorway so we really dont take much notice of it: Ask yourself when did you last stop at a doorway and work out if you could fit through it?

So, at this stage, whether or not you spot the scale disparity on that diorama comes down to what you know about the vehicle in question and your familiarity with it.

You might never have owned, or even seen in person, a Lamborghini, but you would probably know that it is a low-slung sports car. You wouldn’t expect people to be lower than its roof height even without knowing how high the car actually is. If you saw somebody standing by a Lamborghini, and they were shorter/lower than its roof, you would assume they were rather small.. you couldn’t say how small, but you would be confident they were small.

If you had absolutely no knowledge about a Lamborghini, and no other reference, you simply wouldn’t be able to judge.

If you own a Humvee, or are ex-army (or current army!) then you might be very familiar with how big a person is standing next to a Humvee, or at least that type of vehicle, in which case you can fiarly easily judge a persons height when standing next to one.

But if you don’t know, or if you have got the size wrong, then any impression you make, regarding that persons height, will almost certainly be wrong: if you think that a Lamborghini is the same size as a family car, the person standing just a little higher than its roof will appear to you to be of normal height, because your subconscious mind says “Car! Person taller than roof! Only bit taller = “normalish height”. You subconscious just gave the wrong answer because the object it used to make its comparison, the Lamborghini, was actually a different size to its assumption. Similarly if you see somebody next to a Humvee who is taller than the rooftop, you might think “So what, he looks about average”, even though he could be well over 2meters tall and the top of that Humvee is a 1.94meters!

Our familiarity with the object we are using for comparison is therefore an essential part of judging how big something is.

But what does that actually mean?

The less familiar a person is with the vehicle, the harder it is for them to judge the height of the figures standing around it. At the same time the less familiar they are with the vehicle, the less likely they will note that the vehicle may be the wrong size (scaled up or down).

This plays out commonly in wargames where people will not know exactly how big a vehicles is, let us imagine a Sherman tank from WW2: it’s  tank, its probably big, or big-ish, but we dont know exactly “how” big. We may all have seen them on TV, in films or books, but many of us will never have actually been near one in person to really know, and subconsciously grasp, exactly how big it is.

So if a figure standing next to a Sherman tank comes up to the height of its turret ring we cannot make an accurate judgement on the height of that figure. Is the figure tall? Is the tank small?  We don’t know, we need more information. So at this point we need to start making conscious decisions to try to work out if the figure and vehicle “fit” together and often we just dont bother.

Yup, really; often our subconscious effectively says “whatever, it looks about right, get on with it” without even bothering to tell our conscious that the items might be miss-matched. (There are solid evolutionary reasons why we do this too!)

As wargamers you probably know what this is: “scale-fudge”, the ability to get away with mixed-scale items because they are “close enough”.
That determination of “close enough” almost always comes down to just one part of us: our subconscious. If we fool the subconscious into thinking “that looks about right” then we rarely ever spot anything out of place subsequently: we have already accepted “that looks about right!” and we just don’t come back to that decision.

So, the less familiar we are with a vehicle, the greater the degree of “fudge” that we will be OK with.

So how can I use this?

Using this information is relatively straightforward and I hope to show how, using some images from a 3D design program called Sketchup.

In this program I have placed some cars which are full size, its actually a Ford Ka and it is the actual, “real” size of the vehicle. It isn’t scaled down, it is drawn fill-size.
I’ve then taken a human figure that is 5 foot 8 inches tall.  I have labelled that figure “28”. The 5’8 person and the Ford Ka are ‘the same scale’ as both are full size.
I have then made two other figures which are proportionally taller and labelled them “30” and “32”. I’m sure you can tell what the labels relate to, but because they full size you can take them to be either taller people, or the same 5’8″ person in a slightly larger scale – it doesn’t actually make any difference for the purposes of this example.

The following images show these figures with the car, the first 3 images giving an idea of overall sizes and the fourth one, possibly the most useful, with the figures actually standing in the vehicle. (The reason that the final image is so important is that there is no perspective issue with the car being behind the person, the figure is, literally, right in it, so distance/perspective is not a factor.)

As we can see all of the figures are taller than the car. We can also see that the person on the left is “taller” than the person on the right. Most people would probably agree that none of the figures look out of place with the car, they all “fit”.

Of course, at this point, if you’re paying attention you will realise that this means that the Ford Ka, which is the same scale, as the “28” figure on the right, fits in fine with the other two figures “30” and “32” who are, in actuality, the same 5’8″ person in slightly larger scales. (see later).

So, yes, the 28mm-sized Ford Ka works fine with 28, 30 and 32mm figures and you will only spot the difference in heights, for any single one of those figures at a time (hiding the other two) if you intimately know the height of a Ford Ka…which will probably be those of you who own one, but not many other people.

So far, so good.

But what happens if I base my figures?

This is the point where it starts to become a little trickier. Basing your figures will raise the height of those figures. We know that this will make the figure taller than previously. We also know that this will mean that the height of the figure above the car will now be greater. Wont that mean that the figures will look a lot taller? Lets take a look?

OK, the above shows the exact same people bu standing on “5mm bases”, like a plastic slotta-base. There’s a substantial difference in how big the Ford Ka now appears to be isn’t there? (scroll up and take a quick look)

Lets take a look at a side-by-side comparison now:

Now apart from adding the bases to the figures everything else is identical, nothing has been changed.
You should be getting the impression that the Ford Ka on the left is pretty dinky, because the height of the figures above that car is so much greater than on the right. Indeed some of you might be getting an optical-illusion effect that the car on the left actual IS smaller than the car on the right. It isn’t though, they are the same car, an identical electronic 3D copy in every way.

How then do we make the Ka on the left appear to be the same size as the car on the right?

Well, that’s easy, all we have to do is raise the height of the Ka and we have two ways  of doing this:

1) Put the Ka on a base

2) make the Ka bigger.

Here it is on a base:

So, we can see, by looking at the figure standing inside the car itself, that the vehicles are the same size (heights) relative to the figures heights above the car (the amount of body above the car is the same). Thus basing your figures and basing your vehicles sorts out the issue with the vehicle looking smaller than it is in terms of how we judge the heights of the figures around it.

However, many people do not want to base their vehicles, for all sorts of reasons many cosmetic, they just dont like vehicles on bases.
So how do we fix it for them? Well we have to use the second method of making the Ka bigger.

I’m going to cheat though, I’m not going to tell you which is which, you decide, but one of these Ka’s is considerably bigger than the other one:

Its impossible isnt it? Having gotten rid of the other reference, the base, you can’t tell.Remember what we said about the subconcious using the least amount of references it can get away with? Well this is just that instance, you cant look down to see if they are on bases, or wearing high-heels, so your mind just says whatever” and makes an assumption so you can get on with life!

Lets play fair though, here is the larger Ka:

The Ka car looks just fine, it doesn’t look “massive”, indeed as the upper-body shots showed, it makes everything appear just fine, the figures don’t look big, the car doesn’t look too big, but importantly it no longer looks too small.

here’s the comparison image:

Now we can clearly see the difference in size , and here another image to reinforce that, with the same sizes Ka inside the new large-size Ka on the left:

There’s a substantial difference in the actual size of the two Ka’s isnt there?

Yet we’ve seen already that the bigger Ka looks the OK “for the figures” on the left, and that the original sized Ka looked really rather diddy. Indeed it is only where we put the two different sizes of Ka together that the size disparity is immediately, and strongly, clear. (see later about mixing-scales)

And there is the answer to your questions of what size, or scale, of vehicles do you need to go with based 28mm figures… the answer is “that much bigger”.

At this point you may be thinking “Is that it?”, the answer is: “yes”: If your figures, on their bases, are roughly the same proportion taller than the vehicle “as in actuality”, then most people will not even notice that they are different scales. (Remember you can try this at home or down the club, play fair and set up a practical experiment with a range of different vehicles against the same size, based figures. I’ve done this myself and, without fail, the majority of people cannot spot the larger scale vehicle, the less familiar they are with the vehicles, the higher the majority, the more familiar they are with the vehicles, the lower the majority).

Now before I tell you the actual difference in size/scale between the two Ka’s above I want to reiterate the point about “If it looks right to you, then it is right”. There is no wrong OK? If you use a different size/scale you don’t have to rush out and commit seppuku or hire a hit-man to assassinate me! That is because we all operate different brains, we all have different experiences and impressions, different interpretations, so our subconscious minds will all be different and judge slightly different on many, many occasions.

We will also all have slightly different personal preferences, those who base their vehicles dont even have the problem, they just use the same size/scale vehicles as their figures, for them the issue does not even arise.

If you dont base your vehicles though, or base them at different heights to your figures, then you might want to know the answer to the above question.

Well the larger sized Ka, the one that matches the upper-body heights so that it appears to be the same height of car against the person.. that is a 1/48 Ka and the original Ka was 1/56.

So that’s the answer? Use 1/48 vehicles?

Sadly, it isnt quite that simple.

Unfortunately scale is applied extremely loosely by many manufacturers: Just because its says 1/48 on the box doesn’t mean it actually will be and it is very common for two different manufacturers to produce the same vehicle in 1/48 but for them to be different sizes. That obviously shouldnt happen if they were both “scale accurate”, something half the size should be, exactly, half the size, but that often just isnt the case, sometimes dramatically so.

The second issue is our own wargame figures: We dont know how tall the figure is supposed to be, 5’8″ or 6’6″ and we dont know that the manufacturers label “28mm”, “30mm” “whatever” is accurate. Also we do not know if their measurement is to the eye, or to the top of the head. So even if we find a “accurate scale 1/48” vehicle, we may find that our figures are smaller, or larger, than the “average” sizes used in the images above. Even having done all the above, we might find our figures are odd!

The third thing to remember is that people of very different heights can get into the same vehicle. Vehicles are not made to fit just one size. You dont have to buy a Ford Ka to fit a 5’6″ person and a different model to fit a 6’2″ inch person, both of them can get into the car. If this were not so then Jeremy Clarkson would have had a rather short carrier as a car journalist, and whilst some cars are a tight fit for him even his 6’5″ can get into a Ford Ka. We therefore also need to be careful to avoid assuming that a vehicle is “too small” for somebody, one-size cars fit a very wide range of heights of people. I have seen somebody laugh and say something much like “If they were 6’6″ you’d have to design a brand new car for them”. Well, clearly, Mr Clarkson (and Ford, Dodge, BMW, Mercedes, Seat, Citroen and lots of other car companies) would tell you differently. Skoda don’t make a 5-foot version of the Octavia for my wife and a 5’10 version for me and not for the 6’6″ mechanic at the local garage: we all can drive the same car, comfortably.
So, if somebody starts making fun of your choices, just point a finger at reality and sit back until they engage their concious mind on the subject.

The fourth thing to remember, or to bear in mind, is that scale is not 1-dimensional. The best way to explain this is to show you; our Ka did not just get taller, it also became wider and longer:

There is very great significance in this because whilst we may be sorting out the issue of relative-size in terms of height, we may have created an issue for you in terms of width and length. The single greatest factor in this issue is that of the figures themselves and whether or not they are proportional. What that means is whether their physical size is accurate in all dimensions. Not just “are they right height” but also girth, there is a tendency for wargames figures to be “fatter” than they would be if done true-to-scale, that change in girth can considerably affect whether or not a vehicle looks right for you.

Now some vehicle (model) manufacturers will compensate for this by ‘making a vehicle in different scales’, the height may be 1/48, but the width and length may be 1/50 or 1/58, indeed “fudging” the vehicle to have different dimensions in each axis is actually a good way of cheating because we usually only deduce height based upon height (that does make sense, honest! Try it again “We deduce height based upon height!”, its that doorway thing again. Remember?)… So a wider figure may not make the car look smaller, a taller figure ‘always does‘.

And, finally, the last thing to remember is that the disparity in size/scale, between those two Ka’s on the left, was only obvious when both were placed together. In other words if you don’t mix the scales of your vehicles, then an awful lot of people wont notice if they are a different size/scale to your figures. Only when you mix different scales of vehicles will the oddities start to show up and become readily apparent, so pick a size/scale that  you are happy with and stick with it.

Indeed that is true not only of vehicles but also of scenery and terrain, keeping to a single size/scale is a key factor in producing a compatible look on your gaming table and that is, after all, what we are all aiming for: something that looks good when put together, a table where everything on it looks as though “it fits”. If it is up a scale, down a scale, metric or imperial is neither here nor there, so long as it looks good and you like it!

Deep breath…

So, bearing all of that in mind what I will say is that if you can get yourself vehicles around the 1/48 scale then they should fit in with your 5mm-based 28mm figures so long as you agree with the foundations upon which this article is written. If you don’t then you should just ignore it, not because it is wrong, but simply because the foundations for your system, your set of conditions and preferences, are different.

The last thing I will say is to remember back to what that witness said when asked how tall the man was : “the man was average height”.  We don’t really need to find the precise, exactingly-correct , nanometer perfect scale of vehicles to go with out figures. What we want to find is one where the witness (the gamer) fails to notice anything unusual about them. As with the “man of average height” the two things are not the same.

Fudging it, “good enough” really is good enough.

What the 3D software allows me to do just gives me a chance to provide images to help explain the way that people judge whether your vehicles fit your figures, or your figures fit their vehicles. It is something to bear in mind when making your decisions, it isn’t a stone-tablet carried down from a mountainside.

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Addendum for vehicle builders:

As a small addition I’d like to quickly go over a very simple process for designing vehicles for wargames figures, using a program called Sketchup to help you get design fundamentals correct.

Regardless of what the vehicle is, be it a fantasy carriage to a grav-tank, there is a simple method for making sure that your vehicle is “the right size” for your figures. When I say “the right size” i am not talking about some abstract idea of “true scale”, I’m talking about ensuring that your figures can get in it, on it, under it or whatever they are supposed to do with the vehicle, without it being ergonomically impossible. After all, if four people are supposed to get in it, make sure it is big enough for four of them to get in it!

As a designer you will be held to exceptionally high standards; you will be an expert in armour penetration, automotive design, weapons parameters, metallurgy, chemistry, physics, biology, ecology and every other “ology” out there. You will be held up to study and task by every “expert” in their chosen field and expected to know as much, if not more, in every department. If you don’t, then the one thing you can guarantee is that people will jump at the opportunity to tell you everything you have done wrong.

So how do you avoid really basic errors in the design, the core size and functionality of your vehicle for its given task/job/role/use?

Well the answer is very, very simple: Use an actual vehicle and copy its characteristics.

What do I mean?

So let us say that we want to create a “futuristic” jeep, how do we do that?
Firstly define what you want your vehicle to be and to do, if it is as simple as “I want a futuristic looking Humvee” then we know immediately where we need to start designing things: a Humvee!

Lets just take a quick look at a couple of my own vehicles at “full size”.. in other words this is how big they would be in real life. How do I know they would be that big? Because I designed them against an existing vehicle of known size, in this case a Humvee, which is in the program at its full, real size aka 1:1 scale:

Now I know the dimensions of the Humvee from the manufacturers’ web page and their statistics documents…so I can very accurately set up the Humvee so that it is 100% accurate…i copy the actual size.

( I understand that some people have difficulty grasping this aspect, but CAD allows you make something whatever size you want to, so you don’t need to take a measurement from reality and scale it down, you just do it full size, the program doesn’t care. So the Humvee in the iamge is 1.94m tall as thats what the manufacturer’s says is its height is, check length, width and  a few other thing and Bingo! one full-size Humvee.. )

Why is it being “full-size” important? Well, it means that you know a person can fit in it… be they 5 foot tall or 6 foot tall, you know, without any doubt, that they can fit in it.  So if your figures are accurate, so will they. Chose the scale of your figures and re-scale the Humvee to match – ALL the hard work is then done for you by the program, leaving you with an accurate, viable set of new dimensions for your model. Job done.

As well as giving me an overall size for my own vehicles though, it also gives me some invaluable information such as ride height, wheel size, road clearance, width, height, door size, window sizes: there is a huge amount of vehicle information that i can ‘copy’, without copying the Humvee design itself. Look at the above image and you can see two of my models and how they size-up to a Humvee, both take core characteristics directly from the Humvee, neither look anything like it though. What they do have , either from the Humvee or other real vehicles, are key elements such as axle-height, tyre size, ride height, cabin and seat size; the key things that allow us to put figures in it or near it and  have them “look right”.

Let’s quickly take an example: the drivers seat.
What I don’t need to do is take my metal figure and work out how long its thigh is, ankle-to-knee, where its bum goes, where the headrest is, because I’ve got all of that information already: I’ve got an actual full size seat already. So if I shrink it, to match my figure scale, it stays perfectly suitable and the right size.

“Look Ma! No hands!”

So this method allows you to take a vehicle, that may be completely unknown to you (and others) and ensure that your own vehicles, based upon it, have been created using valid, workable dimensions: If the ride-height of your vehicle is the same as the Humvee, then regardless of its shape/design style, you know that it is valid: its the same as Humvee so it must be. Humvee’s work (mostly) so so would your design for that element of it. If you designed it for off-road capability, and the wheels and axle height are the same as a real vehicle, then nobody can tell you “That wouldn’t work?”. (Well, they can, but they’ll be wrong!).

You can use this “reality check” to apply to any dimensions or aspects that you like, and it is important that you do do so for unusual vehicles in particular.

Vehicles such as the OSHKOSH MRAP M-ATV which are quite unusual. Looking at the image below you might be asking “So what? Its just a jeep!”

Well its an unusual vehicle in that it does look like a jeep, if you didn’t know better, and without those core visuals aids discussed at the start of this article, then from the image above you really cant tell what is unusual about it and how it differs from a jeep or 4×4.

Its unusual in that they are REALLY big, deceptively so.

They ride a long, long way above the road surface (anti-IED/mine blast) and have a correspondingly high step up into the cab, a cab that is big, boxy and very prominent, flat-sided, upright.
They also have darn big wheels, the whole design combining into something that you have to climb up to get into the cab. If you didn’t know better, you might even say that its in too big a scale! If you re-created the next image as a model, I’d put money on a lot of people saying that the (figures) people were a different scale to the vehicle!

Is this man a Hobbit?


Now, when designing a similar vehicle, let us say a sci-fi anti-mine scout vehicle, you can copy key characteristics, such as wheel base, ride height and wheel size, the height of the axle above the road, the step up into the cab, the height of the cab over the ground, and whilst adding in as many sci-fi features as you like, and radically changing the external appearance, you can maintain a very firm grip on reality because your vehicle dimensions and key characteristics match that of a modern vehicle, currently in use in today’s world.

Your vehicle will be, by design, “workable” or “feasible” and “practical”, people are using it right now after all.

Now then, this will not, of course, stop some whit or expert telling you that your vehicle is “silly”, that it is “too big”, that it is “far too far off the ground”, “Nobody would have a step that high” or that the “wheels are too big”. However, you can then point them at the relevant REAL-LIFE vehicle and proceed to be  as smug as you like.  Just remember though that everybody is running on their subconscious “auto-pilot” and if the object, the vehicle, is unfamiliar to them, then they are almost inevitably going to get the wrong impression… because they’ve not stopped to consciously consider things such as “What is this based on?”

So, whenever you design something totally new, even when it is based on a real vehicle, expect people to make some assumptions, some of which might be “a little off”.. Such as…

“Hey, you’ve got 20mm figures and a 28mm Jeep!”

Odd vehicles, particularly way-out fantasy and sci-fi vehicles are often in the “unfamiliar” area of operations, it can really help, in keeping them “believable”, the “suspension of disbelief”, by using factual, actual, vehicle dimensions, be those the OSKKOSH or the Lord Mayor of London’s carriage. This is particularly true of military vehicles as many will have no experience with just how big, or small, that those may be, yet those same people will expect (demand!) of you, that you are an expert. So be one and copy something real (for size!!!!!!)

So, designing your vehicle at full size and to match existing dimensions is therefore a very powerful method for creating believable/workable vehicles, something that is especially true for sci-fi and fantasy wargames where the unbelievable can be made real, yet kept within the boundaries of believability in terms of usable-functionality.

Having completed your basic design at full size you can then very simply adjust it to the dimensions you need for turning it into a model by clicking on a scale-tool and choosing and picking a scale – it does the rest for you. You don’t have to then make a 3D model of it, you can use the program to provide you with all the dimensions of your parts (once re-sized/scaled), and craft those by hand.

What this does is allow you, the designer, to make anything from a fantasy undead carriage to a sci-fi tank, knowing that the vehicle components and elements are both in-scale with one another and, most importantly, proportional to the figures you are using… slipping a few full-size figures in, on or off their “bases” just to make sure visually often being the only “proof” that you need, to then know that your design will “look right”:

And if your design is supposed to work for Orcs, taller, bigger, bulkier than humans, then use a proportionately larger figure to work out the relative difference in size: if the Orc is half as wide again as a human, consider making the doors wider, if the Orc is shorter than a human consider lowering the ride-height or adding a step. All of these changes should flow logically from the starting point of reality…but your foundation, your base line, should always be in some practical known element, a foundation of reality.

And whilst this wont stop somebody from telling you your vehicle is “wrong” at least you will know that that is not the case and have a small thing called reality to back you up.

2 thoughts on “If I base my figures, how big should my vehicles be?

  1. […] 4, 2012Posted in: Modelling Techniques Following on from my previous article on the changes that basing your figures does to the relative “look” of vehicles, here is another article on the same effect on your […]

  2. […] to be vehicle, and Antenociti’s Workshop covers the subject in such excellent design in If I base my figures how big should my vehicles be, that why would I try to do it […]

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