Monday, January 26, 2015

Unicron, Herald of the Sentinels Eternal

Ages back I was in my then-local hobby shop when I saw a very well sculpted unicorn miniature from Reaper. It was part of their new Bones line, and thus was extremely well priced. So I picked it up, with one simple plan: to use it to make the stupidest Space Marine ever. The project snowballed and eventually I ended up with this guy.

I tried to make him as over-the-top as possible, giving him massive shoulder-pads, a customised helmet, oversized light-up "crystal" sword, light-up scenic base, little belt gubbins, a banner... and a stupid name. Hey, first thing that comes to my head, that's the rule.

I had been working on light-up bases at the time and this model's larger base gave me an opportunity to experiment. As I have mentioned in the past, he was in fact my first true success, predating my light-up Cortana, I just put off painting him because I didn't have confidence in my ability to paint a horse. Plus, you know, I've been busy.

There was a lot of work involved in this model. I started by creating a flat surface inside the base using milliput, to make it easier to try to build a battery holder into. I fabricated a battery holding system from plasticard and metals bits from various button battery holders that I cut and bent into the desired shape. Before I could solder everything together I had to figure out where everything was going to go.

The biggest limitation would be the wires going to up the Space Marine. The unicorn is made of a rather soft and rubbery plastic, so I decided to reinforce it's legs with pins that would serve double duty by carrying the current. So I carefully drilled a couple of very small holes up through it's legs. I had to drill a second pair of holes that intersected the first in order to create a channel for wires to get to the "saddle" area where they could pass up to the Marine's torso.

I then soldered a pair of wires to some 0.8mm tailoring pins (which are the strongest pins I have, especially relative to their diameter) and smoothed the join with sandpaper so I could push them up the legs, and carefully worked them into place.

I then drilled holes in the clear resin base and plastic base for the pins. Finally I filled the extra holes in the body and smoothed over them, taking the opportunity to do some clean up of mold lines and the like (which I found were hard to fully get rid of without some liquid greenstuff and sandpaper).

The resin base was not as quite as blue as I had expected.

The top of the base was painted and holes were drilled for the LEDs, then everything was soldered up, glued down, and covered with milliput. I used white LEDs for the base and blue for the sword, although I don't think it made much difference in the end.

Probably the hardest part of the build was the sword. I used a blue LED that's roughly 1mm by 1.5mm, and let me tell you, those can be tricky to solder. I generally destroy two LEDs for every one that I get wired up and glued in place. To give you an idea of what I'm talking about, here's a picture of the wired LED (bottom right), and unwired LED (center), a 1mm drill bit (top left), the wires I was using (middle left), the soldering iron (top right), and the solder (bottom left). So yeah, tricky work. I eventually hit on the idea of holding the LED with a pin vice while working, which helped a lot.

I used a Black Templar sword arm with the iconography sanded off the hilt. I cut out the sword and drilled into the hand, then joined that hole with one drilled in from the shoulder. Despite how tiny the LED was, I still had trouble fitting it in the sword hilt, and ended up doing enough damage to need greenstuff repair work later. Part of the problem is that the wires I was using were kinda stiff, and hard to position the way I wanted. The sword blade was made from a tooth from a clear plastic comb. Unfortunately as I couldn't sit the LED as deeply as I wanted there wasn't going to be enough material to support the blade, so I had to attach it with two .6mm pins drilled through the sides, which ruin the look a little. Still, when glued up and plugged in it looked very impressive.

Connecting the arm to the body was trickier than I'd expected, and I made things worse for myself by being stupid and cutting out plastic that I should have used for support, but it came together in the end.

In addition to the electrical bits, there was some other work needed. The icon on top of the banner was made from two Black Templars vehicle decoration bits that I glued and blended together. I think the banner was another Black Templars bit. The shoulder pads and torso were Sanguinary Guard bits. The left arm was actually from a Warrior of Chaos that was in the right pose and had the kind of baroque styling that I was after. A lot of iconography had to be sanded off and/or covered up with the hourglass and shield icons of my custom chapter. I added some decoration in the form of symbols on his knees and random bits chained to his belt. I also had to fix the unicorn's feet where I had screwed up when cutting it off it's base, and also the mane where I'd cut it to make room for the rider. Of course I had to repose the legs to make them look halfway decent.

After all that I decided that I couldn't stand how bent the Unicorn's horn was after all. It had resisted all efforts to straighten using hot water, so in the end I cut it off, drilled a hole through the center (while carefully holding it in alignment) and inserted a 0.6mm tailoring pin to keep it straight, then glued it back on. I also took the opportunity to fix a problem area on the horn while merging the two back together.

Finished and primed, it looked pretty good. I covered the sword and base with PVA before priming, but in this picture I'd removed it from the sword:

And there it sat for something close to a year before I finally got it painted. Eventually I picked up an identical unicorn model to test painting techniques with, and finally decided upon a dry-brushed colour scheme that I decided looked good enough. I was originally hoping to use Quickshade, but I had my heart set on a white unicorn and I didn't want to introduce brown tones, and I couldn't get it to look good using the black quickshade, and I quickly gave up on the idea of proper blending (that requires actual skill), so drybrushing it was.

There was no question that the Marine's armour had to be gold. Anything less would just be silly. I picked silver for the decoration because, well, I couldn't think of anything better. I decided to use a purple wash to shade them both to try to tie them together and match the cooler tones I was trying to use (turns out using purple to shade gold can give it a really rich colour, it just didn't quite work out for me here). I'm not really happy with how the armour turned out; it just doesn't look as bright as I'd expected it to. Oh well.

I decided early on that the unicorn's hair had to be MADE OF FIRE. And of course a unicorn with FIRE FOR HAIR would obviously have a golden horn and hooves. Obviously. This was the trickiest part of the paint job, and while I think it looks pleasing overall, it's not as dramatic as I would have liked since the "hottest" parts of the fire are not noticeably brighter than the rest of the unicorn. Still I think it looks nice enough.

Purity seals were done with my standard recipe of bleached bone with white edge-highlights and brown lettering washed with Gryphone Sepia. I didn't give the red seals the usual final orange highlight as I didn't want them to be too bright. I went for a marble effect for the "parchment"on the standard. I settled on purple as the last colour, which I used for the banner and the barely-visible gems on the chest. The base was washed with watered-down Asurmen Blue then drybrushed white to try to give it more of an ice look, and also to try to better disperse the light from the LEDs and make it look slightly less like two spotlights.

I wanted to try to work rainbows into the model somehow, just to make it more ridiculous, but couldn't think of a good way to do it. I considered trying to do something on the flag, but couldn't figure out how to make it look good (and I was getting sick of the project), so I just went for a golden Sentinels Eternal logo instead, which I drew on using a metallic gold ballpoint pen. Saves a lot of effort for this kinda thing. I found it much easier to get a bright gold with it, so I used it for some highlights too. Next time I work with gold I think I'll do more edge highlighting with it.

The teeth were based with bleached bone, and the tongue with a mix of Fulgrim Pink and Elf Flesh, then both were washed with... either Ogryn Flesh or Gryphon Sepia, I forget. The sword was glazed blue over the varnish (to serve as a primer) then varnished again. A little more gloss varnish was used for the gems and mouth. I originally planned to give him an overly-long windswept cloak. Because, you know, MORE RIDICULOUS! But I couldn't seem to make it look good, so in the end I left it out. I suppose I could always add one later, but that's highly unlikely as I'm just glad to be done with him.

Overall I think he looks pretty good, though there's elements that didn't work out as I had hoped. There's a few things I might do differently if I were to do it over; I would try to use smaller wires to seat the LED lower in the hand, make the sword blade smaller and give it a longer handle, try to get a brighter gold on the armour, and perhaps use darker greys for the shadows on the unicorn. Also, I was thinking of painting the hair as fire, but in ALL THE COLOURS OF THE RAINBOW! I'm not sure I could pull it off with my current level of skill (and selection of paints), but I think it could look pretty cool with a fiery transition through the spectrum along the mane (as in, red near the head transitioning through the colours to purple at the shoulders).

The thing that's confusing me a little right now is that the LEDs seem much brighter in the earlier photos than in the finished article. This is probably because of the washes and glazes, though I'm hoping that it will look better with a fresh battery. Next up: a handful of smaller and less complex models.


  1. A few questions, how do you turn it on and off? Where did you find the sword shaped LED? Where do you find such small LEDs for the bases?

    1. If you look at the WIP pictures of the base you will see a very small sliding switch. You can see that even after I filled the base with milliput I left that switch accessible.

      The LEDs are 0805s, just look for 0805 LED on ebay. You can even find prewired ones (which I did not know at the time, would have saved me a lot of work!). If you need something smaller there's 0603s, and I think there's even smaller ones too, although the smaller they are they harder they are to use.

      As mentioned in the post the sword blade was made from a tooth from a clear plastic comb and an LED was embedded in the hilt.