After working together for over 15 years, Nate Baertsch has recently joined Four Horsemen Studios as the company’s full time Illustrator. We decided to connect with Nate to hear more about this new role and some of the projects he has been working on since our last interview with him.
First off, congratulations on the new role! How has working with the studio changed since those early days?
I would say simply volume of work, and number of people I get to work with. In the earlier days, I’d get a phone call from Eric or CB, they’d give me a quick description of what they needed, and I was off Illustrating on my own, tossing out ideas, showing updates as I went. It was smooth and simple for the most part. I’ve appreciated a lot of the process being more or less the same, I just have way more to do, and the team of who I report to has been built up in a meaningful and wonderful way. Now there are a few more very capable cooks that are adding to the banquet.
How has the Legions community embraced you and your work?
I love the Legions community! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time to be able to be on the FB pages as much as I’d like, but I make new friends weekly I would say. Going to LegionsCon this last year in many ways was simply humbling and wonderful, because I felt very much appreciated by everyone that stopped by to say "hi" and buy some prints, and more importantly, just geek out about all the amazing work, both from the Four Horsemen, as well as from the customizers in the community. Very similarly to how the work has changed with the Horsemen, it’s the same in the community, it just keeps growing! But I would also say, we seem to be attracting some of the most talented and incredible human beings in any fan community!
Recently the new packaging art for Cosmic Legions was revealed. Tell us about creating those new pieces.
Oh wow, I could spend hours on this... But for the sake of this article, I’ll focus on the highlights... I believe I’ve heard Jeremy mention that we’ve taken what we’ve learned on Mythic Legions packaging, and we’re improving all of it moving forward with Cosmic Legions packaging. I would say as well that we are deliberately making some creative choices to further show off the larger team’s work on the packaging. Mythic was very much Eric and I doing the best we could with our collective schedules. I love what we do for Mythic, as the boxes are very much wrapped with my murals as it were. That will more or less stay the same, 1. because that’s what’s been established, and 2. it totally works for a high fantasy, Swords and Sandals line.
For Cosmic packaging, we want to be more deliberate with each of the books (waves) and let them be what they are, kind of like books on a shelf that support the world of the figures in your hands. Therefore, we get more text that is specific to the character, and a world bio that is specific to that book. All the exterior art on the box is more of an environmental texture to support that. The graphics of the figure are actual renders directly from Eric as he sculpted them, the bios feature photos from Trevor Williams, but in a more “in world” environment, and we allow large bodies of text from Jeremy that fleshes out these worlds, this galaxy, a bit more. The interiors will be the place where I can explore individual character environments even more than what we could do for Mythic. The inserts will be where I focus the majority of my time and abilities (Editor's Note: the final image in this article shows the interior for the Slogg figure from Cosmic Legions: Hvalkatar, Book One).
Lastly, the back! We are going to showcase every figure fully from each book on the backs of the packaging, that harkens back to the old Kenner Star Wars days or Hasbro’s G.I. Joe days. It will remain an easy “go to” for fans to be able to see who all the characters are and get to know these awesome alien names a little better.
One of the biggest things you’ve worked on in the past year is the Figura Obscura line. How has that been?
Figura Obscura is the dream line I’ve always wanted to work on, but I never knew that until now. My previous work in children’s educational software in many ways prepared me for the work I get to do on Figura Obscura. Because in my previous career, I did many, many children’s books, where I would receive a story and have to illustrate it in a way that supported the texts that needed to be learned. I did that for over 20 years. These Figura Obscura pieces are very much my way to explore that narrative illustration style for action figures. Each figure is unique and has a very rich and often narrative history, and I get to explore my interpretation on all of that and hopefully express, and build on the iconic nature of these characters. I throw away the vast majority of the boxes I collect. But my intent on these packages is to give the consumer something very special, and something that frames and protects these very, very special figures. Something that they do not want to throw away, but continue to cherish along with the figures.
Are there any specific pieces you’ve worked on recently that stand out as favorites?
Headless Horseman very much comes to mind. It sits firmly in my top 3 projects I’ve ever gotten to be a part of. My design and illustration work for the Masters of the Universe Classics Castle Grayskull is still up there at the top for me as a lifelong achievement. Another recent favorite is my work on the Deluxe Legion Builders wave for Mythic Legions (seen at the top of this article). That box is very much what was in my mind regarding what Mythic Legions is all about. I think that art is what was floating around in my head back in 2013-2014 when Eric and I were discussing the overall packaging style for Mythic Legions. It just took me a few years to catch up to the visions in my head. The piece I’m working on RIGHT NOW is something that I hope will stand out over time as well.
In addition to packaging art, you’ve also lent some design work to the figures. Talk about “the Noble Baertsch” ogre set.
Wow! I’ve talked on and off about this set in numerous interviews, so for here I’ll simply say, this has scratched an itch for me for a very long time. So to see it come to pass and be in fans' hands, and to have fans come up to me or message me to tell me it’s one of their all-time favorite things in Mythic Legions? That is a massive honor, something I do not take lightly. It’s proof positive that if you love what you’re working on, it will show, and others will respond to that love, with love.
It’s no secret I love all things Norse Mythology related. So when Eric asked me to draw up some possible accessories for the newly released Ogres and Half Giant back in early 2020, I couldn’t help but think of a God-like Norse influenced set of armor that would work for the Half-Giant body. Eric had established some very Norse-centric cities called Vikenfell and Sjelgard on the Mythoss Map, and with releases like Illgar and Freyja of Deadhall, I was all set to help build that world up a little more. And then to see Eric’s very faithful sculpture work to my scribbly drawings, this was an absolute dream come true. Also something to note...I actually did multiple sketches at that time for Ogre Accessories. Time will tell if any of those other secret sketches become plastic in the years to come! (Editor's Note: Nate's sketch for this set can be seen below, including some sword designs that did not make it into the final release - BUT one of them became the basis for the Aracagorr sword from the Poxxus wave).
As a company employee who is also a fan, what are you most excited for, release-wise, in this new year?
All of the Figura Obscura releases that I’m aware of are very high on my list of things I’m excited for. Of course, to finally have Cosmic Legions figures in hand, I’m very excited for that line to really take off! I had the honor to handle and play with some of the test shots in the studio with Jeremy and Eric, I’m still very excited for Kraggnar, Vorgga, and Zeeri. Some sleepers for myself would absolutely be Thygar in the Hvalkatar suit, and both of the Sphexxians! These figures are the perfect definition of “hand candy”. I won’t be able to put them down for a while when I get them in hand. So I’m putting in for that vacation day right now with my new bosses, that day I get my shipment of Wave 1 Cosmic...I’ll need that day off. Also SUPER excited for the Poxxus wave to ship! Aracagorr is still blowing my mind away! I got two so I could make a 4 armed Dragonborn. Lastly, Poxxus himself is an incredible figure, there’s so much going on with him, I also think he’s one that will pose beautifully on the shelf and have some serious presence.
Congrats once again! Anything else you’d like to say?
Just how very thankful I am for this opportunity to be even more fully invested on the art chores for these amazing lines. It’s a dream job for all of the right reasons, personally and creatively. This is an environment that will push and challenge me and my abilities, and it’s all for the properties, and people I love dearly. Both in the studio, and the fans that support us, and most importantly, the friends we’ve all become along the way. I will try not to suck, or be a jerk, or disappoint.
Published on 01.19.23