Allow me to present “Burn traitor!”, my Imperial Fist vs Sons of Horus mini diorama and entry to the ‘Duel’ category at Golden Demon 2023. This is my second entry for this year’s contest along with the Ultramarines Veteran Sergeant.
The idea for this miniature diorama came to me shortly before Golden Demon 2022, although sadly too late to build in time for last year’s contest. Long time readers of this blog may recall me talking about my Flesh Eaters Ancient and how I had experimented with filament LEDs to create an “energy beam” effect. I was trying to use the LEDs to give the impression of the energy beams glancing off the armour, but I couldn’t get it to look how I wanted, mainly because the ends of the LEDs with the connecting terminals on them did not glow. That set me to thinking though, what if I could find a use for the LEDs where both ends were hidden, perhaps with the energy beam leaving a gun and entering a target? And so the idea for this duel was born!
I’ve always been a big fan of volkite heat rays ever since we heard about them in the first Horus Heresy books from Forgeworld. You can see my previous attempts to tackle them with LED effects here. I’ve taken a lot of influence from the cover art of the Tallarn: Executioner, which I believe is one of the most iconic representations of volkite weaponry in official GW art.
As a big fan of Imperial Fists and their successors, I knew from the start that the Marine wielding the volkite would be from the VII Legion. As to who they would be shooting, I considered Iron Warriors and Night Lords, both iconic enemies of the Imperial Fists. But in the end, I settled on the Sons of Horus since they are essentially the main antagonists of the Heresy setting. It also helps to make the duel a microcosm of the Horus Heresy as a whole.
Painting & Modelling
The majority of components in this diorama come from the Legion MkVI Tactical Squad kit and the Citadel Skulls set. The volkite charger is the old resin version from Forgeworld, now discontinued in favour of the plastic version, which had been hanging around in my bits box for a while.
The main point of technical interest in the construction is of course the filament LED. These types of LEDs are often used in lightbulbs or similar applications and are available in a variety of colours and voltages, although 240V is the most common. I picked up mine from a seller on eBay who was UK-based and selling many different varieties in small lots. The type used here was 12V. The higher the voltage, the brighter the LEDs tend to be, but there will always be a compromise between brightness and the number of batteries you are willing or able to conceal in a model. In this case I used four 3V coin cell batteries in series to create a 12V source. I did experiment with a 12V ‘A23’ size battery, however I discovered my normal CR2032 coin cells have a much higher milliampere hour (mAh) rating and would therefore last longer. Battery life is obviously a concern for display miniatures, particularly if they must sit in the Golden Demon cabinets for a day or two. The underside of the base is shown below (I’ll talk about the extra battery in a little later).
The circuit used in this model is incredibly basic. A wire runs up from the batteries in the base, through the Imperial Fist’s leg, body and arm, and connects to the terminal at the end of the filament LED which is hidden inside the hollowed volkite. Another wire connects to the other end of the filament LED inside the Sons of Horus’ torso and runs down through his leg and back to the single resistor, switch and batteries in the base. It really is that simple!
A word of caution if you are attempting this yourself – filament LEDs are extremely fragile! They are built around a thin strip of plastic that holds an array of sub-millimetre LEDs. This strip of plastic can not take any real amount of bending or pressure and will snap at the least provocation. If you are using them in a project, I’d strongly recommend buying twice as many as you need, just in case of accidents.
The LED array is surrounded by a coloured ‘gel’ as an outer sheath. This is even softer than the plastic strip and does not provide any protection to the LEDs. Its only purpose seems to be to evenly diffuse the light from the individual LEDs, which it does very well. As a matter of interest, I attempted to peel away the gel from a couple of spare filament LED to see if it was possible to run the LED array without it. I thought it might be useful for future projects if I could insert LED arrays into very thin spaces. However, removing the gel seems to destroy the LEDs, or otherwise prevent them from functioning. I’m not entirely certain why this would be the case, but I thought it was worth mentioning in case anyone else had the same idea.
Before I even assembled the models, I built the circuit using only the bare components, and then allowed it to run for 48 hours, which is about the maximum time I expect this entry to sit in the Golden Demon cabinets. There was a significant drop in brightness after the first 12 hours, but the batteries did struggle through for the entire time. I’ll be taking spare batteries with me, and if the filament LED is looking too sorry for itself on Sunday morning, I will perhaps ask if I can change the batteries. I’m not sure if it will be allowed, but I don’t see the harm in asking!
The circular muzzle flare near the volkite barrel is intended to mimic the concentric rings shown in the Tallarn:Executioner artwork shown above. These rings were slowly and carefully built up by applying tiny layers of acrylic gel around the filament LED, using a fine wire as a sculpting tool.
My original plan for the skull was for it to be entirely lit from below by the end of the filament LED which penetrated the Sons of Horus’ torso. But after testing the circuit, I began to worry that this would not be very effective as the batteries started to run down. This could be a big issue for the diorama as the skull and flames are very reliant on the LED to get the full effect. So I decided to include an extra 1.8mm red LED inside the Marine’s torso to provide some additional underlighting. This is supplied by its own separate 3V battery, making the total hidden in this base five. This separate LED should remain brighter for longer than the filament LED.
The skull is from the Citadel Skulls kit, recast in resin and partially hollowed out to allow for better light penetration. The lower jaw is a plastic component directly from the same kit – I judged it too flimsy to cast separately, and it needed to be separate to achieve the open-mouthed “silent scream” look that I was going for. The skull and jaw are supported on transparent flames built from successive layers of acrylic gel. I was trying to give the impression that the volkite beam had penetrated the Sons of Horus’ power armour and was burning up all the organic matter from the inside. Hopefully that comes across well.
The individual Imperial Fist and Sons of Horus Marines that I’ve posted previously were both painting test models for this project. The painting recipes I used discussed in these posts were reused for this project. The only change I made was switching the ‘under suit’ on both models (i.e. the joints between the armour plates and visible power cables) to the recipe below.
- Black Under Suit
- Corvus Black basecoat
- Mechanicus Standard Grey highlight
- Dawnstone fine highlight
I used this recipe on the Ultramarines Veteran Sergeant and was pleased with the look. Also, by standardising the colours of small details like the under suits, leather pouches and weapon casing, I’m hinting that really all Marines are the same underneath. That’s just another part of the tragedy of the Horus Heresy!
I knew from the start of this project that I wanted to use a bare head on the Imperial Fist. It felt important to be able to see his expression to add some emotion to the duel. I wanted it to look like it was personal. The Sons of Horus marine has a skull trophy taken from a Loyalist, so maybe it is…?
I didn’t just want to use a generic “off the sprue” head, so I decided to sculpt some hair onto a bald Space Marine head to give it a unique look. I went with the generic 80s/90s action hero haircut to tie-in with the vibe of the MkVI Marines. I painted his skin tones using my standard go-to recipe for pale Space Marine flesh, which I’ve detailed below. This is the recipe that I’ve also used on my most recent Flesh Eaters Marines. In this case it was painted over a white undercoat, although I normally paint it over a black undercoat.
- Pale Space Marine Flesh
- Bugman’s Glow basecoat
- Reikland Fleshshade shade
- Bugman’s Glow layer on all but deepest areas
- 50:50 Bugman’s Glow:Cadian Fleshtone on all raised areas
- Rhinox Hide layer on eyes
- 25:25:50 Alaitoc Blue:Bugman’s Glow:Lahmia Medium glaze on lower jaw, lower cheeks, and around mouth (ensure glaze has fully dried before proceeding)
- 25:25:50 Evil Sunz Scarlet:Bugman’s Glow:Lahmia Medium glaze on cheeks, nose and around eyes (ensure glaze has fully dried before proceeding)
- 25:25:50 Yriel Yellow:Bugman’s Glow:Lahmia Medium glaze on forehead and eyebrows (ensure glaze has fully dried before proceeding)
- Screamer Pink layer on tongue
- Corax White layer on eyes and teeth
- Rhinox Hide dot in centre of eyes
- Corax White dot in centre of Rhinox Hide dot from previous step
- Cadian Fleshtone highlight on all raised edges, such as nose, cheeks, expression lines, scars, etc.
- 50:50 Cadian Fleshtone:Kislev Flesh fine highlight on extreme edges to accentuate expression
- Additional optional steps
- If the Marine has a shaved head, a 50:25:25 Hoeth Blue:Bugman’s Glow Lahmia Medium glaze on the scalp
- If the Marine has facial bionics, service studs, or raised scars, a Carroburg Crimson shade around the edges of the feature
I should probably explain about the colour glazes on different areas of the face. From the steps above, you’ll notice that the lower part of the face is glazed blue, the middle glazed red and the top glazed yellow. The glazing is intended to be subtle, but it does add a slight tint to different areas. This is to add a little realism, as different areas of the human face tend to have subtly different shades. When painting male faces, the jaw area tends to have a slight blue-grey tint from stubble, the centre of the face around the cheeks and nose are often red due to high blood flow, and the thinner skin of the forehead can sometimes have a yellow tint. This is one of the many useful tips and techniques for painting that I’ve picked-up over the years from my good friend and fellow Golden Demon competitor, Apologist. If you don’t already follow his blog or Instagram, then I highly recommend checking them out.
I decided on white hair for the Imperial Fist primarily as a homage to Rogal Dorn, but also, I felt it suited the style and vibe of the miniature. My simple recipe for white hair is reproduced below for reference.
- White Hair
- Corax White basecoat
- Apothecary White shade
- Corax White highlight on raised areas
- Skull White fine highlight on fringe and around temples
The dusty wasteland base is achieved mostly with the Martian Ironearth technical paint, the use of which I’ve discussed previously here. One of the main reasons for choosing this basing scheme was to really emphasise the point that this was not some carefully stage, honourable duel. It’s a down-and-dirty, life-or-death battle in the middle of a hellish battlefield. I’m imaging this taking place in the closing days of the Siege of Terra. The death toll is already unimaginable, Terra has been laid waste, and the Imperials are on back foot, as indicated by the scattering of skulls and abandoned Imperial Fist helmet. The duel itself isn’t a grand triumph for the Imperial Fists and is unlikely to affect the outcome of the battle. It is simply a small victory and moment of personal catharsis for the Imperial Fist amongst an unending tide of horror. But sometimes you have to grab those little moments where you can.
I did experiment with small ruins and other battlefield detritus behind and around the combatants during the build process, but in the end, I felt that too much extra stage dressing detracted from the duel itself. The base used with the final model is a Citadel 90mm oval, but I did start the build with a 90mm circular base. However, once I had the combatants in place, I realised there was just too much “dead space” on either side of the duel. The two Marines need to be very close together due to the length of the filament LED, making the moment captured almost intimate. So again, any set dressing used to fill the 90mm circular space would have detracted from the duel, hence I decided to switch to the oval base. The plinth was purchased from Taro Modelmaker and sprayed Halfords Satin Black.
I hope you’ve enjoyed that summary of my design and build process. If you’re at Warhammer Fest over the weekend, then maybe you’ll spot it in the Golden Demon cabinets. I’ll be sure to post again soon to let you all know how the two entries get on. As always, thanks very much for reading, and please don’t forget you can also follow my work on social media at Twitter, Mastodon and Instagram.
5 thoughts on ““Burn traitor!”, Golden Demon 2023”
Looks amazing! Hope it places well!
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Thanks very much! 🙂 No trophy for “Burn traitor” in the end I’m afraid, but I did get a Finalist pin, so I’m very pleased with that!
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Well, it is a great effect for your repertoire! And you have places to go… and place! I can almost imagine what a masterpiece it would come out of all of them coming together…
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