Beyond the Bare Bones with Tom Gilliland: Creating Xiall the Great Osteomancer

This series may be called “Beyond the Bare Bones,” but sometimes the bones are quite stunning on their own.

While the creative vision of Tom Gilliland, creator of Court of the Dead and Chief Creative Officer of Sideshow, is the light guiding the creation of every Court of the Dead piece, Tom had quite a hand – literally – in the creation of Xiall: The Great Osteomancer Premium Format Figure.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes interview with Tom about painting this incredible piece…

Xiall’s figure is composed entirely of bone material. Every inch of her surface boasts intricate biological detail. How do you accentuate all those cracks and fissures with paint without it becoming muddy?

The Xiall sculpture is covered in fine detail, as the surface sought to mimic the layered bone look her body has. It’s a construction that’s part architecture; part wonderous osteomancy-infused living bone. This makes painting a joy as one can focus on the overall piece rather than different sections, or one that’s broken up with a number of color or surface breaks. Even the metallic plates that her bone body has woven itself into to add protection, and harness the infused magic within, blend with the darker and more aged aspects of her bone coloring.

The level of detail on the sculpture offers a painter an excellent opportunity to use flooding washes to punch up the various suture lines and pitted surface detailing so one can appreciate the work invested by the designer and sculptor. I found it easier to manage losing the details or muddying up the piece by keeping track of the contrast that I developed. Adding a whiter, calcified wash to the darker fossil brown sections helped create a reversed effect than the dark lines on the very pale vanilla bone sections. This resulted in not losing the dark areas while also giving the deeper portions of her bone form a sense of her venerable age and power.

Xiall’s base is unique – more environmental – compared with other early Court of the Dead collectibles. What inspired this?

Xiall’s Premium Format figure design was done in concert with the first ‘big batch’ of statue development that was showcased in our initial display at SDCC in 2013. While the work was being done on about six pieces at once, I was looking for ways to create a harmony between pieces while also giving us some range in each figure, showcasing their individual character.

In Xiall’s case, her base reflects her very nature. Its bone-formed architecture compliments the traditional stone of the Underworld, but also shows that within the Bone Faction, more faith is placed in the osteomancy of the faction’s magic. It offered some great paint options as well, breaking from the purple- and blue-enhanced grays of the stone to instead push at a more skeletal-colored palette. The revealed inset crypt in the base provided a hot color contrast to the rest of the natural looks being employed. I was also a fan of a base that said its piece directly, which suits the character and keeps the focus on the figure.

Do you ever have to “erase” some of your layers when painting intricate details? How do you go about doing that?

I do indeed. It usually happens in the earlier stages of painting, when you are blocking out the color placement and the potential patterning that a figure like Xiall gets. If you catch a flub or are conscious of where your decisions are leading, you can avoid harder-to-fix issues later.

So, really, the early planning where I slowly build from light colors to the darks allows me both the ease of making organic designs on the go while also being watchful for things that won’t offer as many results in the later phase. Occasionally, you see an opportunity to get a better result later, and in those cases, the hardest part is convincing yourself that re-base coating a section to get a better result is worth the effort. The act of doing it is far less challenging.

What was your favorite element of this project?

My favorite part of the Xiall PF is the overall result. Xiall is a complex character that reflects both a graceful and a monstrous appearance. A good deal of the design aesthetic behind COTD is to  balance the horrific with the beatific, and Xiall offered a tremendous opportunity to do both at once to a gonzo standard. When we added the flowing capes and sashes to her, the whole design intent of bringing out an almost Elizabethan-styled regality was achieved. I felt it gave Xiall the presence that her crisp and determined outlook demanded.  

Now, if we’re talking features, I think the floating scroll that showcases her ongoing rivalry with her sister Gethsemoni, the Queen of the Dead, would have to be my fav. It told a story and was a neat levitation gag that worked well in the sculpt. It was a lotta fun to oversee the paint (Kat Sapene took care of this portion), and proved to be a doable production challenge. Everything about that detail spoke to the strange sorcery of the Underworld, and the overall stature of the scion of the Bone Faction – Xiall.

Xiall: The Great Osteomancer Premium Format Figure and the Xiall: Resolve of Bone Legendary Scale Bust are currently both waitlisted. Sign up for your last chance to get one! The new $89 Xiall: Osteomancer’s Vision Figure is available for pre-order now, and is expected to ship in December 2018. Remember, nothing is more pure and noble than bone.

Rise. Conquer. Paint!