Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Tyranid Archive - Armorcast Tyranids and Other Big Dreams

In honour of 40k's 25th Birthday this year, I'm working at an ongoing series called "The Tyranid Archive," which is meant to be a historical look back on where Tyranids came from and how far they've come. Here's our next, rather large installment. Note: this post has been edited thanks to some feedback from Tim DuPertuis himself. Thanks Tim!

Back in Second Edition 40K days, a couple of companies started dreaming big dreams out in the western United States. They took the designs of the miniaturized super heavy tanks and titans of Epic and made the creative leap of introducing these massive weapons to games of Warhammer a scale that was more or less accurate. Their creations dwarfed the models that 28mm wargammers had become accustomed to, and the company that seemed to be selling the majority of these huge engines of destruction was called Armorcast.

Armorcast started in June of 1995 as the brainchild of Tim DuPertuis and Dave Garton.
They allied their finances and technical skills in the realms of sculpting and mold making with the artist Mike Biasi. Biasi already produced a number of Epic-inspired sculpts through his company, Mike Biasi Studios, creating and replicating large-scale Warhammer 40,000 models of the type we see from Forgeworld today. A fact that may have been forgotten somewhere in the sands of time is that all of these companies who were producing 40k-scale replicas of Epic pieces were actually licensed to do so by Games Workshop. Individuals like Tim and Mike had approached Games Workshop, showing their work and asking for permission to make some massive models from GW's IP. The hilarious bit is that GW never thought there'd be that much demand for such massive, expensive models, so, impressed by Biasi's work, they were happy to grant the licenses.

Jump to a few years later when demand for large scale models has been created out of a vacuum by the hard work of companies like Mike Biasi Studios and Armorcast, and Games Workshop decides they might like to get into the game as well. The licenses are ended, the third party companies are asked to destroy their moulds, and shortly thereafter a GW subsidiary by the name of Forgeworld is born.

To their credit, GW's Forgeword did all of their own work and never recast any of the moulds that the other companies had created. What's more, the models that started coming out of Games Workshop through Forgeworld were far more detailed than anything Armorcast had ever produced (perhaps with the exception of the Armorcast Superdetailed Baneblade. They were then, as they still are today, amazing.

Still, we as modelers owe a lot to Mike Biasi and Tim DuPertuis and the others who decided to dream bigger. Were it not for these companies blazing trails early on in the realm of massive models, I don't believe that the Games Workshop incarnation of Forgeworld would have been as quick to get off the ground, and--who knows--perhaps, without Armorcast, Games Workshop would have never conceived of going big at all. It could be these pioneers that we all have to thank for Forgeworld Titans with zillions of parts and super-heavy plastics like the Baneblade.

For more information on the Large-Scale-40k Saga, consider reading the following two articles:
Collecting Citadel Miniatures

Though Armorcast put out a number of tanks and titans for all the races, the Tyranids were not forgotten. As this Tyranid Archive series is meant to focus on the history of Tyranid models, what follows will be a tour of the large scale Tyranids that were created during the Biasi/Armorcast era of Warhammer 40K.

What follows are the original images of the painted Tyranid models that Tim DuPertuis over at Armorcast took himself. I still remember drooling over these things on the old Armorcast site, wishing that I had the exorbitantly large sum of something like $69 US to get an Exocrine of my own (not sure where I got that number; I've since been informed that the kits were priced as follows: Exocrine was $28, Malefactor was $33 and the Haruspex was $35). I remember pining away, imagining the looks that would cross my gaming buddy's faces when I plunked down one of these bad boys to go toe-to-toe with all of their annoying space marine tanks. I'm not sure where I thought I was going to find rules for them (I believe they may have been published in the old Inquisitor magazine that GW put out for Specialist Games), but that didn't seem to matter. I can remember clearly that all that mattered in my mind was having the model; that everything else would fall into place so long as I had the model.

Exocrine Gunbeast

Haruspex Assault Spawn

Malefactor Tyranid Transport

The late Accommodator/Ross Nickle had a complete collection of the Armorcast bugs, so he let me take a brief photographic tour of them before he had started painting them. Hopefully these photos give a decent idea of what a pristine Exocrine, Haruspex, and Malefactor should look like (well, pristine with the exception of the spikes he'd started apoxie sculpting onto the Exocrine's armoured ridge).




Now, though the Armorcast creations were the more known, more widely distributed of the large-scale resin Tyranid creations, there were other companies in the game. One, for example, was called Forge World Models. No, not THAT Forge world...though it does beg the question of how Games Workshop came up with the name for their subsidiary. Forge World attempted to further fill out the Tyranid Tank bracket with the 'Ol Tomato Chucker: the Dactylis:

..though I've heard it told that far fewer of these were produced than the Armorcast ones.

There was also Epiccast, which I know nothing about, but they saw fit to produce an Alien Spore. The Epicast spore was not a licensed 40K piece: it was an organic generic alien drop pod and was never advertised as a 40K model:

...and then there were the legends of large-scale Tyranid modeling. Mike Biasi (originator of Mike Biasi Studios, and, it could be argued, the one individual who was key to the large-scale-resin explosion of the mid-late 90s) took a run at a Trygon, but it would seem that this was pretty late in the game, and Games Workshop was already attempting to terminate their contract with the company, so the Trygon never got mass-produced:
Pity, that.

Finally, there was the following, which I only ever saw on the back of a White Dwarf, and I was hard-pressed to track down this image of it. I'd heard somewhere that it wasn't so much sculpted as it was carved out of wood, which I'm even more impressed by:

When it comes to who created it and where it is currently residing, I have no information, and I'd love it if anyone was be able to shine a little light on the creature's fate.


  1. Great post, thank you.

  2. I have gained several of each of these Armorcast pcs. for Tyranid army. My question is what are they worth unpainted and how do I find the stats /codex to play them?

    1. If you want to know how much money they're worth, I'd say check ebay.

      As for rules, the most recent codex has entries for the Exocrine and Haruspex. I'd say you could field the dactylis as another exocrine, and I'm not sure what to suggest about the malefactor. Maybe a Tervigon?

    2. Each of the Armor Cast bio-vehicles came with a z40K Second Edition datafax.

    3. Just posted the second edition datafaxes for them in the 40K Second Edition Facebook group.

  3. I realise a bit of a necro comment but, judging by the scale, I'm 99% certain that the final bio-titan is a Dominatrix- the psychic equivalent of a Hierophant.

    It has the signature tusked head with hidden eyes then, atop its back, you can see its dire warp blast cannon along with the fabled Norn Queen, curled up into a ball.

  4. Still my favorite Tyranid stuff to this day!

    Great stuff,

  5. If you can get the chapter approved from GW (3rd edition) you will find the published stats and rules. I have 1 Dactylis and 5 malefactors. I used them in Apocalypse games here in NC. Aways a blast

  6. The Tyranid Dominatrix and Heirophant Bio-Titan were on the back two pages of Citadel Journal 24. I still have a copy of it somewhere, and both models. The Dominatrix body and gun barrel were made of ordinary wood (with the side boils made from rivets), while the front upper arms, other limbs, tail, neck/head and upper symbiote were made from jelutong (a wood with a very small grain, great for carving details). Front forearms/claws and sharp or flat bits were metal. Large scales over the neck, back and hips, plus the symbiote claws and gun tendrils were moulded from Das, and the veins were solid-core insulated electrical wire.