This is the first large project I have finished since I started learning Blender earlier in the year. Admittedly there have been other ones of similar sizes but I put those on hold indefinitely for different reasons, though mostly procrastination or loss of motivation.

Since this is the first full character piece I have completed since starting with the hobby, I wanted to write up the process and my thoughts on the outcome. This should help identify any weak points of the project as a whole and also give me something to refer back to in future should I want to.

Initial Ideas

The idea for the project came about while talking about a friend’s Warhammer 40,000 army. For those that don’t know anything about it, in short Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop game which involves each player having an army they control consisting of numerous miniatures to represent the different units that make up said army. The different armies have fairly unique aesthetics and playing up this uniqueness can really make an army stand out.

The army in question for this design is Chaos Space Marines (CSM for short). Among their unit choices is one called a Heldrake, effectively a large mechanical looking dragon

Heldrake Miniature – Games Workshop

The main issue with this unit however is it represents a more bestial and organic aesthetic when compared to the majority of the CSM roster. While personally I think it looks really good, though me liking a large mechanical animal is a given, for potential users of the model this difference in aesthetic can be off-putting if it clashes with the rest of the player’s army. This was an issue in this case and as such a replacement for the dragon was needed.

In regards to designing a unit that could take the place of the Heldrake there were a few possible solutions:

  • Take one of the many Space Marine flyers and just convert it to be somewhat close to the shape of the Heldrake and add the relevant weapons replicated where necessary. This would certainly be the easiest with the least amount of design work being needed to get to a suitable end result.
  • Design a new flyer from scratch to represent the Heldrake which could lead to something far more interesting than the first option.
  • Come up with a completely unique design to fill the place of the Heldrake.

Now each of these came with problems. The first would require the purchase of one or perhaps more Games Workshop kits to be used in making something new which would cost a fair amount and also require an awful lot of modifying with hobby tools and such. Which this would be achievable given that I have done customising previously, it is a massive amount of work to just end up with something similar to pre-existing models.

The issue with the second point is that between Space Marines and their Chaos counterparts there is already a huge variety of flyers already represented, from dragons to drones, jet fighters to gunships. Coming up with something that wouldn’t be mistaken for any of those other units would be extremely tricky while also making the new design match the army aesthetically.

The last of the options would by far be the most work but represented the most freedom out of the three and as such was the route decided on. Obviously ‘something else’ is an extremely nebulous suggestion so narrowing it down from there was necessary.

While going through possible ideas for this replacement, the idea of a flying dreadnought (large humanoid mech) came up. While it was somewhat of a joke to start with, after giving the idea some thought it certainly seemed feasible. It would offer a basis for something entirely unique to the Heldrake but also would not be able to be mistaken for a different unit due to there not being anything like it in the current unit selection.

Contemptor Dreadnought – Games Workshop

Design Goals

With the basic idea decided upon, there were a number of things I had to bear in mind to get a suitable final design. These were:

  • Coming up with a somewhat realistic looking design to explain the dreadnought’s ability to fly. There are numerous ways to represent flight, be it wings, rotor blades or just large jet engines, so this would need to be narrowed down.
  • Correctly representing the Heldrake’s weaponry so that the model would be useable in place of it without too much confusion to any players.
  • Decorating the model with relevant pieces to make it match up with the army aesthetic. Given that this would be a one off design, I would be able to lean heavily into the specific aesthetic.

Initial Draft

At this point I had a decent framework to go off of. The general shape of the dreadnought would be the base and I needed to include some form of flight into the model. The specific faction that this model would be representing is the Word Bearers. In short, deeply religious space marines that worship dark gods. Some of their major design points are scripture adorning most surfaces, the inclusion of books and scrolls and daemonic faces as decoration for their armour. Within the Word Bearers as a whole, is a much smaller group called the Ashen Circle.

Ashen Circle Marine & Axe Rake – Games Workshop

The design is rather distinct from most other Space Marine designs. Points of note being the helmet and the large cylindrical jump pack and their unique melee weapon. With this being such a unique design, it seemed fitting to base the dreadnought’s design upon them, marking it very clearly as Word Bearer but also moving away from previously done dreadnought designs.

Basing it upon this art also solved the issue of how to represent flight capabilities on the new design. The following is a really rough sketch I did to get the general idea forming. Given it is just a super rough draft, none of this was concrete but gave me a basis to work from moving forwards.

Rough Sketch

As you’ll see I deviated heavily from these initial ideas but I still feel they are an important part of the process. It allows for a quick test to see if the overall idea would work out rather than spending hours and hours modelling an idea only to find out it looks bad. It also allows me to share ideas with others to get opinions and criticism to help evolve the design into something better than it could be if I just worked on it by myself.

That is pretty much all of the initial work I did on the project before moving into modelling the piece. I’ll wrap this post up here and in the next one mention some points in the design process and include pictures of the finished piece.