Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Art of Warren Beattie

The concept series is my schizophrenic attempt to shine light on the art that inspires me. I always do some of my best work when working from concept sketches. I find the hard lines and white space conducive to creation as they give you just enough definition to get you going, while still leaving space to do your own thing. Here's hoping you find these sketches as helpful and inspiring as I do.
This is the second installment in the Concept Series: a recurring feature here meant to showcase the concept sketches of both professional and amateur Tyranid artists. When it comes to converting and creating new Tyranid organisms, I have yet to find a better source of inspiration than the concept sketch. The goal of this series is to make sure this work is visible, allowing converters and kitbashers to get new ideas for diversifying their swarms.

We started the series off with an artist as professional as they come: Mr. Jes Goodwin--a man who has been defining the Tyranid aesthetic since Andy Chambers was called The Great Devourer. This week, we switch tracks to an amateur artist (in that he is not employed by GW), and as the series progresses, it will feature many more amateur artists. However, the decision to start with Warren Beattie was a conscious one as he was the first to ever pop up on my radar, and he may be one of the finest amateur, 40k-related artists I have ever run into.

"Warren Beattie" is probably a name you've never heard, and it's only marginally more likely that you've heard the forum handle "Vermis." It's more likely that you may have run across this sketch somewhere along the way:

Or, perhaps, this version that he coloured up for Hive Fleet Moloch:

It was Vermis' concept for a modernized Tyranid Dominatrix in 3rd Edition, and it was quite possibly the first time anyone tried to bring the critter in line with the new, Goodwin-defined Tyranid aesthetic--long before anyone had thought to try converting the beast from a Forgeworld Hierodule or anything else.
The concept made a huge splash in the budding Tyranid online community, and to this day I still see it referenced in forums from time to time when someone expresses interest in making a Dominatrix from scratch.

Vermis' sketch that had the strongest impact on me, however, was another one he whipped up in 3rd Edition:
It was for a Tyranid Warrior-based Hive Tyrant Guard. This was back at the time when Tyrant Guard had only just been added to the codex, and the models were striding around with two-handed spineshields and funny armoured hats. Their asymmetrical bioweapon load-out (a two-handed spineshield on the left with a single rending claw and a single lash whip on the right) made little sense in the new era of symmetrical bioweapon arms, so Vermis redistributed the creature's weapons, while at the same time tying them in more closely with the new plastic Warriors and Gaunts.

Vermis also redistributed the Tyrant Guard's large shields, breaking them up into sets of carapace plates along the creature's limbs. The idea was that the Guard could bring these plates together when it needed to protect the Tyrant from incoming fire.

Those of us on the Tyranid boards at that time thought it was a brilliant idea, and I think most of us took a crack at converting it up. The concept what so strong that when Roberto Cirillo's concepts for the redesigned Tyrant Guard surfaced in 4th Edition, some members joked that GW must have provided Roberto with Vermis' sketches to work from. We were having a laugh, but the truth in it was that Vermis had nailed what a Tyrant Guard should look like even before GW had settled on an acceptable design. I think that--to this day--I am not fully satisfied with the existing GW Tyrant Guard models because, as illogical as it may seem, they have yet to get the concept right: that is to say, they had yet to get Vermis' concept right.

Another huge contribution that Vermis' made to the online Tyranid community a couple of years back was his support of a mad idea that Moloch, Hive Trygon (now better known as Ed Fortae of Troll Forged Miniatures), and I had come up with. Jes Goodwin had just resculpted the Tyranid Genestealer plastics for their inclusion in the "Battle for Macragge" 4th Edition starter set, and our little group set out to use those plastics as the base material to further explore Genestealer genetics. We wanted to convert models to represent what might happen if a Genestealer infestation took hold on a planet inhabited by a race other than humans (ex: Orks, Eldar, Kroot, Tau, etc.).

To this day there is a chicken-and-egg-like fog in my mind, whereby I can no longer remember if it was a sketch of Vermis' that gave us the idea for the project, or the project that gave Vermis the idea for the sketch. All I do remember is that Moloch was pestering Vermis to sketch him up a Ork-Genestealer hybrid, and when Vermis finally did, here's what it looked like:
From that sketch, we succeeded in convincing Vermis to join our merry band and to contribute his artistic talents by whipping up some concept sketches for the various race-x/stealer hybrids.
We invited Pedro Navarro to join the project (and I wonder if it was that invitation that sent him down the mad path to Biodiversity), and we gave the group a name: Genoproject. There used to be a nice feature on it up on Hive Fleet, but Moloch has been having some difficulties with the site of late, and the link is currently dead (meaning that I no longer have access to photos of my own Eldar and Ork stealer hybrids :( ). We got out a couple of stealer hybrids, but then we all got distracted by our various Real Lives, and the project was put on hold

I did, however, manage to find some shots of Vermis' own conversion/sculpting work to bring his Ork Stealer concept to life, and he did a far better job than I ever did:

A great deal of Vermis' Tyranid work was done in 3rd Edition, and a lot of it was still inspired by the 2nd Edition Tyranids and trying to marry 2nd Edition creatures with the new 3rd Edition Tyranid Aesthetic. One particular example of that can be seen in these sketches he did trying to bring the broad, flat head of the 2nd Edition Tyranid Zoanthrope to the 3rd Edition floating Zoanthrope body:
He also seemed to be taken with the idea of updating other Tyranid creatures from the Epic range, like he had with the Dominatrix. The following was a concept for a scorpion-based Haruspex:

...and this cute-looking, armoured brute was his answer to the Tyranid Malefactor transport:

Here's a bad-assification of the 3rd Edition Grinfex, and it should be noted that Vermis was so sold on this concept that he actually started a model for it (a rare thing!).
Now for some laughs. The following sketch was inspired by an actual game event where a Ratling Sniper infiltrated into a tiny belfry in a piece of area terrain, but the Tyranid player had already noted that structure for the secret deployment location of his Lictor. Poor, poor Ratling.
And, finally, we had a drawing competition on Warpshadow a couple of years back to try and drum up some more Tyranid concepts. Vermis entered the following and absolutely blew the rest of the entrants out of the water:
 Though I haven't been in contact with Vermis for a while, if anyone likes what they see here and would be interested in trying to commission Warren Beattie to do some artwork for them, drop me an email, and I'll likely be able to track him down.

Tune in again next week for the next installment in the Concept Series, and if you know of any skilled Tyranid artists who should be featured here, let me know at modernsynthesist_at_gmail_dot_com.


  1. I Guess I shall contunie my witten support!

    I rember Vermis and perticularly his Dominatrix sketch, it's one of the major reasons I started scultping nids(and I know I'm not the only one). those secketches, I've some of them, but wow, most if not all are up to GW sketch standards, and are all very well imagined. You need to find that man!

    You've manged to pull up a lot more pictures in just this one artical then I knew was online.

  2. I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only one who was greatly inspired by Vermis' work, Tyler. I'm also glad that I was able to show some things you'd never seen. Vermis worked within the Warpshadow community for a good long time, so that is why I have so many of his sketches.

    Coincidentally, he just popped up on WS the other day, so maybe it's time to ask him to put pen to paper again ;)

  3. First off, I'd like to say how awesome it is that you are taking the time to spotlight some of the many fantastic tyranid enthusiasts. The sketches shown in this article as well as others you have shown have done exactly what they are supposed to do. Inspire others to get off their asses and step up their own converting game. So to speak. I myself have been long absent from warpshadow posts but now, thanks to you and these articles. I'll be changing that. Veryuch looking forward to future articles along these line. Keep up the good work

  4. I've heard of a Warren *Beatty*, though...

    Wow! It sounds like I'm up for a canonisation. I'm grinning like a kid at Christmas with all the praise (and grateful for it), but at the same time not entirely sure that I'm entitled to most or all of it. Especially looking back at my old sketches with a few years hindsight (The second lot of orky stealers and the stormfex make me cringe now. And are elite babyfexes allowed anymore?); and *especially* being sandwiched between Jes Goodwin and Roberto Cirillo - two people who are infinitely more talented than myself, and also big influences on my drawing style as a whole, not just my tyranid sketches.

    They're not the only influences, though. I was spurred on a lot by the folks at Warpshadow, in particular one guy who'd converted up a fex from an old Inquis Exterminatus sketch and was desluggifying a few assault spawn. ;)

    I'd wandered away from nids for a number of reasons, but I've been quietly popping up every now and then. Those zoanthrope sketches are a little more recent than others. ;) And a few days ago I had reason to drag out my nid models and realise how much I missed the aesthetic and character of the gribbly monsters, to say nothing of the community and rampant inventiveness of
    So I'm back. :) And seeing my back-catalogue on display prompts me to go through it all and post better sketches. Maybe even sort a couple of conversions based on 'em, too...

  5. Welcome back Warren, and colour me excited!

  6. Ta Tyler!

    Nick: When I said 'I've heard of Warren Beatty', I meant the actor. :D Often the first thing people say to me when they meet me. But mine's Beattie. Sorry about the confusion. ;)

  7. -_-'

    What can I say? I'm not much of one for subtlety.

    That being said, if you come back and tell me that there's only one "r", I'm officially changing the name of this thing to "Art of Raymond Luxury Yacht"...

    ...or is it spelled Throat Warbler Mangrove?