Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Genesis of a Space Marine: Unboxing Vulkan and musings on a conversion

Another Primarch, as impressive as the last!

By now it is probably not a surprise to anyone that I am a huge fan of Forge World's primarch models ( I have written about them at length on numerous occasions, and eagerly await each new release.  Despite my inherent urge to collect all of them just for the sake of having a complete collection, it is not very practical.  For single models, they are very costly, and often require a  significant time investment to assemble and fix their casting issues. Furthermore, inherent in their nature, they are all from different Legions.  And no matter how fanatical about the models, I simply cannot collect a small army for every Legion such that each Primarch has a place.  To get around this to some capacity, I considered trying to use some of the models for conversions, but their cyclopean scale made me hesitant and I shelved the idea, waiting for some inspiration to push me past those initial musings.  That inspiration came when Migsula of Legion of Plastic, unveiled his newest project, the Vlka Fenryka.  Taking what he learned from his Legion project (creating a true-scale Alpha Legion army), he set his sights on the Sons of Russ, and set out to create a band of warrior-gods from the 13th company.  Unlike his Legion project, which he restricted to only plastic, he has fully embraced Forge World and has begun to create warriors using some of the Primarch models.  And while a talented modeler like Migsula dabbling with some of the finest miniatures in the world is exciting by itself, it was the stream of posts that followed (along with the accompanying discussions in the comments section) talking about his artistic vision, that set my imagination racing and rekindled my desire to use some of the Primarch figures as a basis for conversions.

What truly excited me about Migsula’s new project was that he was not simply trying create true-scale Space Marines at a technical level, instead he was reaching for something far grander in scope, but also inherently more nebulous at the same time; he was trying to capture the essence of what makes a Space Marine.  The mythical warrior-god status of a Space Marine is something that we all have in the back of our minds; it is something that most of us have nurtured through artwork and stories since we began this hobby, yet it is surprisingly diluted by the sea of Space Marine armies and rules that depict them as average foot soldiers (which everything is measured against).  I feel most of the current Space Marine models, while excellent, serve to maintain a status quo of being pedestrian and ordinary.  They rarely strike the primal vein that runs through some of Kopinski’s illustrations or Abnett’s writing, where their disparities with humankind are emphasized, strengthening the reverent mystery that surrounds them.  Seeing Migsula’s first conversions got Adam and I talking passionately about these ideas, and we realized that we needed to distil these concepts into a figure of our own.  We decided that we wanted to convert a Space Marine from the enigmatic Alpha Legion.  He should to easily fit alongside our Inq28 models, as well as the small Horus Heresy Alpha Legion force we are working on.  Importantly, the project would allow us to explore the Legion’s inherent mystery and moral ambiguity. When discussing the different Primarch figures available that might serve as a base for the conversion, Vulkan the Promethean Fire, quickly became the focal point of our ideas.  Of all the current Primarch models, Vulkan most clearly adheres to the classic tenets of the Space Marine, notably he wears broad, bulky power armor (rather than the lithe form-fitting plate that Angron or Fulgrim wear), all run by a power pack.  It did not take long before we ordered the Primarch, and after about a week he arrived stateside.  I thought before we got too deep into any conversions, we could unbox the model and show its components and use it as an opportunity to talk about our thoughts on the model and conversion ideas.

Karl Kopinski's vision of space marines is probably one of the closest to my own, emphasizing their mythical status, but still grounding them in reality.

Like all the other Primarchs and models in Forge World’s character series, Vulkan came in a sharp looking black cardboard box, containing two plastic trays with all of the components.  The only difference this time, however, is that they finally started to include pieces of foam to hold down the smaller more delicate pieces.  This is a huge step forward for Forge World’s packaging, one that should dramatically minimize broken parts during shipping, which was an aspect that I came to expect with each Primarch that I purchased (Angron, Fulgrim, and Ferrus Manus all needed pieces replaced).  I am pleased to report that Vulkan came in excellent condition, with no broken parts.  Admittedly, Vulkan does not have as many tiny pieces as some of the other Primarchs (looking at you Ferrus Manus…), so there was less that could be easily damaged, but I think it went a long way towards ensuring the model’s safely during shipping.  The model’s casting is very good, without any catastrophic mold shifts.  There are some minor bubbles, flashing, and moldlines, but that is to be expected with resin as a material.

When first opening the box, the one thing that stands out over the rest is Vulkan’s armour, the Draken Scales.  His entire torso and legs are cast in a single magnificent piece of resin.  The armour is broad and bulky, exactly like one imagines a Space Marine’s power armour.  The front facing portions are large single plates, that gives way to a layered segments on the back, reminiscent to MK III Iron armour.  Each plate is etched with scrollwork or has bas-relief designs of flames, hammers, and lightening bolts.  All of this is done very delicately, as not to detract from the sense of movement in the model, and does not appear tacked on or gaudy.  His breastplate is covered in broad wings, but rather than an eagle head in the center, it is a grim reptilian skull, that has a wreath of stylized flame coming from its nostrils. On top rests a low collar, which, impressively, hides the rubberized locking mechanism in which Vulkan’s helmet would fasen.  It is the first model (in power armour) that I am aware of that has this sculpted, and is just one more little detail that makes the model stand apart from others in it execution and thoughtfulness.  Additionally, behind the model’s head sits an iron halo that is ablaze with fire fueled from tanks on his powerpack.

Vulkan's armour is the most striking element of the model, and possibly the best looking power armour I have ever seen.

Both of Vulkan’s arms are separate pieces but, as I am sure you can guess, both are thick and substantial, fitting with the rest of his armour.  Both have the hands removed, one to add his hammer Dawnbringer, the other to add an outstretched palm.  The splayed fingers on his left hand are fitting because he has a compact flamethrower recessed into his wrist that looks to be bursting forth in a sheet of flame.  From this snake two small segmented cables supplying promethium to burn.  Dawnbringer is an impressively brutal looking hammer, its head a titanic slab of adamantium on top of a short haft.  These two elements come together to make a warhammer that would look ridiculous in anyone else's hands, but looks right at home with Vulkan.  His shoulder pads are not the traditional domed ones, but rather a layered variety that closely resembles those of Cataphracti terminators.  Only one of them is visible, however, as the other is completely covered in the bestial reptilian skull of the Firedrake Kesare, whom Vulkan slew.  His cape also comes from this beast, and was fashioned from its scaly hide.  It is truly an impressive piece, each scale painstakingly sculpted.  Interestingly, almost as if they knew the model would be a great starting point for conversions, the cloak slots into the lower portion of his back, behind his powerpack (which is the only traditional looking powerpacks to come with a Primarch, aside from perhaps for Lorgar), making it very easy to leave it off if it does not fit the theme of the model you are trying to create.

Like the rest of his armour, Vulkan's arms are impressively thick and imposing. 

Furnace Heart and Dawnbringer, respectively. Two frightening weapons.

The last major element of the model is Vulkan’s face, and after hearing all the praise I have heaped upon the model thus far, you might be thinking it would be difficult for it to hold a candle to the rest of the model.  Amazingly, it is just the opposite; his face is perhaps the strongest part of the model.  Again Simon Egan rises to the occasion and sculpts one of the most impressive faces that I have ever seen, and one that completely encapsulates the Primarch.  With Vulkan, Egan crafted a dignified, noble soul that has been pushed to his breaking point.  He grits his teeth, stifling a bestial cry borne from the anguish of betrayal from his brothers in arms.  But behind this passion, behind the rage, is an infinite sadness, and a weariness that was likely alien to his countenance until the very instance of the treachery.  The power of the faces that Egan sculpts is that with even just a quick glance, you can glean so much of their character.  

Egan seems to get better with each face he sculpts, imbuing so much life into each.

So, I have talked at length about the components in the Vulkan kit, but where does that leave us in terms of a conversion, and why this model in the first place?  It all lies with his armour; I feel I continue to bring it up, but I simply cannot stress how massive Vulkan’s armour is, and it is not just the shin guards or the breastplate, every aspect of the armour is massive, while still maintaining the proper proportions throughout.  Ultimately, this aspect of the model was what drew me to using it as the base for a conversion to convey the essence of a Space Marine.  Afterall, power armour is almost synonymous with Space Marines; therefore I believe getting the armour correct is the single most critical element to tackle when representing an Astarte.  Vulkan’s armour maintains the traditional power armour aesthetic, even containing a recognizable powerpack.  All of these elements are important, considering no other space marine components are available at the same scale.  Case in point, there are no space marine helmets that are large enough to fit his armour (to my knowledge).  If using an unhelmeted head, it is not as much of a problem, but simply using a plastic space marine helmet would look awkward and undersized.  This is one of the primary hurdles that needs to surmounted with the conversion, because the armoured helmet is a critical feature of any space marine, its glowing armour-glass and grim rebreather grill are as iconic as any aspect of the marine.  One idea that occurred to me was using that head of a Contemptor dreadnought as the foundation of a helmet.  They are much larger than a plastic space marine helmet, and also in the same styling.  One glaring problem with this, however, is that the bottom half of them are cut off, allowing them to attach to the Contemptor’s torso  This would necessitate sculpting the entire lower half from scratch, which is not a trivial endeavor.

As important as an Astarte’s armour is, it is not the only thing that defines them.  Their wargear is equally important.  First and foremost, he will need a Boltgun.  You really cannot talk about Space Marines without mentioning their favored assault rifle.  The bolter is a very interesting weapon, one that I am not entirely sure Games Workshop ever decided what they wanted it to be.  It is designed like a sub-machinegun, without proper optics or a stock, and therefore is fired from the hip.  Unlike a sub-machinegun. it fires caseless (this is rarely adhered to) mass-reactive rockets.  I plan to convert a bolter for him that has a stock, and possibly an offset/angled scope.  The size of the gun may be an issue, however, due to how massive the Vulkan model is.  I find that GW tends to makes most of their weapons comically oversized (the bolter is not a terrible offender though), so I many not have to do as much work as I anticipate; a stock will likely help.

I have always found it odd that most space marine models seem to go to war with only a bolter in hand.  Where are their ammunition pouches, grenades, knives, and secondary weapons?  When a space marine goes on an operation, they should be equipped for just about anything, and should not need to resupply an hour later.  Therefore, accompanying his bolter, he will also need a sidearm, which will come in the form of a bolt pistol and its holster.

I believe all of these elements (armour and wargear) will go a long way towards creating a rank and file Astarte that captures the crux of a space marine.  Ironically, and a driving factor behind initiating the conversion in the first place, a space marine like I described would be extremely suitable for representing the Primarch of the Alpha Legion, Alpharius.  A very secretive legion, each member styles himself after their Primarch, to mislead and confuse all outsiders (friend and foe).  They go to great lengths to maintain this, mimicking his appearance, mannerisms, and even all use his name, Alpharius.  This uniformity that runs through the Alpha Legion, makes a conversion to represent one of its members uniquely suited to represent anyone from the legion, including their Primarch (and/or Omegon?!).

The first thing Adam began doing for the conversion was cleaning off mold lines and removing the Salamanders iconography. With the majority of Salamander detail removed from the model’s body, he smoothed out any of the defects or blemishes with greenstuff.  To achieve smooth transitions, the use of color shapers was essential, as well as adding a little more yellow putty than blue to the greenstuff mix (this makes it a little softer and easier to spread).  Next he modified the collar of Vulkan’s armour removing the Iron Halo wreathed in flames, making the armour more in line with a traditional marine. Now that most of the Salamanders iconography is removed, decisions need to be made on what other external armour details should be added.  One thing that comes to mind is including some Alpha Legion iconography. The etched brass produced by Forge World would work perfect for this however they currently have not released any for the Alpha Legion. It might be possible to get away with using roman numerals and other Greek characters (alpha, omega, etc) that are available in some of Forge World’s offerings and from other companies like Secret Weapon miniatures.

Removing the Salamander iconography has been challenging, requiring a fair amount of greenstuff work.

As mentioned earlier Vulkan actually has a reasonably normal powerpack. For this the only critical modification needed was the removal of the promethium tanks. These were relatively easy to remove and only required a little greenstuff work to fix some of the rough edges.  Some additional venting from a marine backpack was added to fill out the areas hidden by the promethium cables.

The marine's powerpack is well underway now that the promethium tanks were removed.

Work on the marine’s bolt pistol is also well underway.  The body of the pistol was created from one of the Forge World Phobos pattern bolters. The main modifications were simply shortening the front of the weapon and the magazine. He also added iron sights to the pistol  and replaced the pistols grip with the grip form Vulkan’s laser weapon Furnace Heart. At this point the pistol could find its way on his thigh in a holster or maybe in one of his hands, both I feel would be fitting. .

A Phobos pattern bolter modified into a pistol, complete with iron sights!

Although the conversion is progressing nicely, it is still in its early stages, and a lot of decisions need to be made.  For example, we are not sure what should be done with his shoulder pads, and if we should retain his layered pads, or try to create some that mimic the domed ones of most of the other power armour variants.  Similarly, his helmet is still giving us pause; whether we want to try to repurpose a contemptor helmet or look elsewhere is still up in the air.  Therefore, any suggestions, or ideas would be greatly appreciated!  Hopefully within the next few weeks, a space marine that taps into the evocative imagery and mythology that has been cultivated over the last two decades will arise!

-Eric Wier


  1. Ambitious (and pricey) project lads - but another one of those true (art) scale ones I'm sure to enjoy following along too.

    I can't believe how different the armour looks already with the GS work you have already done - are you going to smooth over the detail on the top of the left thigh like you did on the right?

    Similarly - the slight changes to the backpack instantly look the part which helps sell the change so well.

    The shortened pistol certainly looks the business - still instantly recognisable as a Bolt weapon - very cool. Have you considered a cut-down Cataphractii Storm Bolter in place of the Boltgun - I think from memory they are slightly larger in all dimensions than the FW Bolters.

    The plastic Catachan Command set comes with a large blade (part number 54) which would be perfect as a combat knife.

    For the helmet - the plastic Venerable Dreadnaught comes with a few different types which again from memory may be slightly larger than a standard Marine helmet - they are either bigger - or have detail in larger spec than standard which gives the impression of being larger.

    1. Thanks for the comment and all of the suggestions! There is still a fair amount of work to be done on the armour. I am planning to smooth over the detailing on his right thigh like the other. I am trying to decide if I want to remove the armour plates at his waist. By doing so I would have much more room to put equipment on his belt. Thoughts?

      I will look into the Cataphractii stormbolters. They very well might be slightly larger than the Phobos pattern standard bolters.

      Those Catachanblades are really neat. I purchased a whole bunch of them a year or so ago. I will certainly play around with them a little and see what I think!

      Great though on the venerable dreadnaught heads. I just ordered some off ebay to see how they work. Hopefully at the very least they can serve as a foundation. :)

      Thanks again for all the ideas!

    2. I like the look of the side plates but agree they do limit your available hip space.

      While maglocking may sound good in the books - visually its hard to sell in miniature without it looking like you simply stuck something to the side of a leg - especially when the leg plates are curved - if you built up a magnetic strip/pad/anchor point it might visually aid the 'mag lock' idea.

      The hips are the obvious place to therefore look for free space. Depending how much kit you can viably add to the mini without making it look odd (20 odd years of imagery that doesn't have Marines carting loads of kit on load bearing vests etc is going to be hard to shake), could you maybe remove one sides hip plate and leave the other.

      I liked in a piece of obscure fluff which reference I cannot bring to mind the idea that the Marine advances with his left shoulder pad to the foe, with his Chapter badge on that pad to show the foe who is bringing down the destruction - if you follow that reference through it makes sense that the left side is always slightly more up armoured than the right - hence why you see lots of sculpts where the left pad is the studded pad, or the pad with the high rimmed edge etc. This is a long winded way of suggesting if you were to take only one hip plate off, make it the right one and leave the left as the model has a leftwards tendency already. I'd then replace the right with the holster/pistol which should rebalance the miniature.

    3. The hip plates help balance out the look of the model. Without them I think the model would look a little slender at the waist. This could very well be solved by giving him a holster and other equipment on his belt.

      In terms of other equipment I am not planning to go overboard. I would like him to have something to mount his pistol, a grenade or two, a combat dagger, and a few pouches (all likely on his belt). I remember years ago reading Nightbringer that Uriel Ventris had some form of a grenade dispenser on his belt allowing him to select from a range of grenades depending on his situation. For whatever reason that little detail has stuck with me today (even though I remember like nothing else...). It got me thinking that marines probably do carry enough equipment with them to fight a battle ranging a week or two. It also suggested the grenades they carried were probably actually pretty small, ha ha.

      I think you are right about the maglocking too. It could very easily come across that I was simply being lazy about attaching the pistol. Adding a little platform or anchor for it is a reasonable solution. I could also try and design a really minimal quick-draw holster like some competition shooters use today. They largely just include something to hold the triggerguard.

  2. A centurion head might also work as a substitute. If I remember, they are quite a bit larger then the standard marine helmets.

    I don't know if you have decided as to the exact placement, and allotment of weapons/poses yet, but something to keep in mind is how marines can mag lock their weapons to their thigh and such. So you could use all manner of setup with how you want them to be engaging the viewer. The bolter need not be held, and could be mag locked.

    Really cool idea and already the progress looks great.

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      I have considered trying to use a centurion head. I believe I have one or two somewhere. It is worth investigating. :)

      Neat idea about mag locking the weapons. That does come put a fair amount in many of the novels. If I end up having the pistol on his thigh it would be a good way to not cover up all the detail work I put into the pistol. Once I figure out how to convert his bolter I imagine I will have a better idea of how to pose him.

  3. Very ambitious project, to parrot what's been said and personally I don't see myself converting a Primarch anytime soon, so it will be very interesting to see how this will spin out.

    On the other hand the box review is excellent, just like the other ones you've held and makes me itch to get one on display.

    Very tempting stuff... are you sure you're not Chaos aligned?

    1. Thanks for the response! It was not lightly that I made the decision to try and convert on of Forge World's Primarch models... I still am worried I am not quite up for the task. But how else do you grow as a hobbyist without pushing yourself!

      While I do love Chaos, I will always be Loyalist at heart!

  4. I have been looking at the Vulkan model and musing on the idea of using it as a basis for an Alpharius conversion too, then I stumbled across this project. Have there been any updates? The idea of using another Primarch model as the basis of Alpharius is VERY Alpha Legion-esque. ;)

    1. The Vulkan model is a fantastic starting point for an Alpharius conversion (maybe a little big, ha ha). You are quite right that using another Primarch model as a foundation to build Alpharius is very fitting of the Alpha Legion. :)

  5. Any update on the Primarch project?

    1. Thanks for the continued interest in the project! Sadly I have not had much time to work on the Alpharius conversion over the past few months due to other conversions. I am in the midst of painting a model now, but after that I may just start working on the marine conversion again. The next step in the conversion will likely be to create a heavily modified bolter.