When Life Hands You Lemons
It all started with me learning the hard way that, if a deal on the internet for a model kit seems too good to be true, IT LIKELY IS.
I got what I thought were two Tervigon kits for a STEAL of a price...only to find out it was the seller who'd stolen from me when what I received in the mail were two shitty, chinacast recast of a Games Workshop Tervigon kit.
The resin was horrible, brittle stuff that'd crack if you even looked at it funny. And when it did crack, it let out a powerful chemical stench that made it clear that the core of the model hadn't fully set.
So I did what any sensible person would do and cast the vile creations into the deepest reaches of my Tyranid model box and forgot about them.
...only to come across them in the spring of 2020, when the pandemic inspired me to take a full inventory of my models to see what quarantine projects I could start based on models I already had. When I came across the shitty recasts again, the old anger rose in me, but I felt differently about it now. Better to light a candle than to curse the dark, so I used that anger as a spark to ignite a hobby blaze!
The shitty recaster would not win. I would have my revenge, and I would have it in the form of an awesome conversion, created out of this waste product of a kit!
Making Lemonade - Saving a hobby disaster
So I got to cutting. I knew that I wanted to create Tyrannofex out of the kit, and I also knew that I'd never been thrilled with the Tyrannofex's guns, or the way it wielded them so close to the ground. So, taking some direction from my other Tyranid gunbeasts (and the Biovore / Pyrovore kits, I guess!), I elected to mount the Tyrannofex's cannons on its back, and to make original ones out of sheet styrene / plasticard.
This is one large, circular tube that I pinched at the top and bottom to
make it more oval-shaped, and two lengths of rectangular channel for
the lower barrels. When making your own Tyranid bioweapons or biocannons from materials like these, it's important to pay attention to how you cut the ends of the barrels. I knew I'd be sculpting a lot of the shape in with greenstuff, but I still wanted to have an interesting shape to start with on this armature for the biocannon. I further refined the shape of them later by carving them down more, but here's what I started with:
And in this photo, you can not only see the barrels but also a better view of the first main changes I made to the Tyrannofex's body.
I took the...dorsal (?) piece of the kit, which is meant to be where I'd positioned the guns, and shifted it back and down, so that the spore chimneys along it were pointing backwards. I liked this positioning for the largest chimneys as it looked more like they were functioning as exhausts for the large cannon, or bio jets that could be fired at the same time as the cannon to offset the weapon's recoil.
Once I was happy with the position of the bio cannon, I used some more plasticard and some Apoxie Clay (like Apoxie Sculpt, but sets harder and is more carveable/sandable) to secure the barrels and blend them into the torso.
Then I roughed in the general shape I was hoping for on the cannons using more Apoxie Clay. This also served to reinforce the plasticard substructure/armature.
As noted above, this resin was utter crap, which I quickly discovered as the toxic miasma spore chimneys quickly started snapping off.
I tried gluing a couple of them back on, only to have them snap off again, so I decided to drill and pin each and every chimney to save my own sanity!
If I were to preserve this setup, my Tyrannofex's biocannons would be pointing into the ground. Can't have that. So I elected to pivot the whole body at the hips, also squeezing that C-shape that the tail and torso make a little tighter.
In that pic, you can also see my next inspiration for the Tyrannofex: the start of its Stockade-pattern bioshields.
A Mobile Fortress - Stockade bioshields
When it comes to massive Tyranid artillery beasts, I've always thought of them as slow-moving siege engines that are not only a mobile weapons platform, but also a living bunker or fortification in their own right. I always loved the idea of them adapting their forward limbs to support massive armour plates that could be arranged into a kind of forward shield wall as they hunker down to fire their main cannon.
I thought that this was a concept I stole from a Games Workshop concept sketch, but Hydra and Moloch have since disabused me of that notion as the closest GW has ever come to doing this was the old old Exocrine model for Epic, which was rendered in 40k scale by Armorcast.
My earliest proof of concept for this was the Tyranid Dactylis I created for Moloch:
You can see how the creature's back carapace and carapace plates on its forearms can pretty much link up to protect it from the front. And I felt that made sense since if you're a Tyranid biotank that is rolling around with a massive clutch of highly volatile spore mines, you should probably protect them from incoming fire!
I replicated this design on my current Exocrine-scaled recreation of the classic Dactylis, though I went with a plate design chosen by my client, which I wasn't nearly as thrilled with as what I'd initially proposed:
When designing the Stockade-pattern bioshields for my Tyrannofex, I looked to the other bits of the Tyrannofex kit for inspiration, and it didn't disappoint!
I opted for the Spine Banks Carnifex plates driven by the idea that, should an enemy get too close to the Tyrannofex, it needed a last line of defence. In such a situation, the beast could fire off its spine banks, or—in particularly hairy situations—detonate the central, spore mine-looking structure in the centre of each plate.
I was ridiculously pleased with the look of them, particularly with two of them lined up alongside each other:
Next, I reinforced the back side of the bioshields using Apoxie Clay, which is very similar to Apoxie Putty, except it cures harder.
...and then made sure to add some detailing that no one would ever see to the inside of the shields, once again using Apoxie Clay.
Though the Stockade shields were pretty big, the Tyrannofex itself would be even bigger, so I needed to extend them by adding an armour plate to the top of each shield. Fortunately, as I've pretty much made a hobby of cutting up Forgeworld Heirodules to make Tyranid Dominatrix models at this point, I've got plenty of spare Heirodule armour plates kicking around :P
Then all that was needed was to fill in that gap with some putty and generally blend the upper plate into the rest of the shield.
Once I had roughed in the mail shapes of the Tyrannofex, I wanted to make sure it was still heading in the direction I was hoping by doing a blutack mock up of the full beast. This was also the first full photo I shared with the community on my Instagram, and it got a HUGE response! I was a bit blown away as my excitement over a WIP always seems to be far greater than that of others until the final greenstuff layers go in. Not for this beastie, however, as people really loved it, even in this rough state.
Artillery You Can Respect - The rupture cannon
To make this Tyrannofex really fit its role as a walking artillery battery, I definitely wanted to make its ranged weapon one of the main focuses of the model, and make it look like something that could really lay down a withering hail of fire.
With the rough substructure laid in for the cannons using plasticard and apoxie clay, I set to work adding detail using my standard blend of Apoxie Putty and greenstuff.
When it came to the ends of the barrels, I was playing with the idea of leaving them open, but after checking in with a few folks, there seemed to be a consensus that I should sculpt some kind of sphincter into the barrels to make it look like they'd open when the beast was ready to fire. I wasn't exactly sure how to accomplish this, but I gave it a go and wound up being really pleased with what I managed!
A Face Only a Mother Could Love - Enhanced Senses
The other detail you can see in the photo above is the custom Enhanced Senses head I sculpted for the Tyrannofex. Though the Enhanced Senses heads on the Carnifex sprue are pretty great, I feel like a weird alien creature like a Tyranid could take this idea still further than a bunch of eyes and some antennae.
Moloch was one of the Tyranid modellers who pioneered the idea of having additional eyes and secondary heads to act as "spotters" for his gunbeasts, and I always liked that idea of having MORE sensory organs to give the creature a full package for targeting its prey.
So I made this, starting from the Enhanced Senses head with its multiple eyes, and adding exposed brain matter, as well as a forest of eyes and scent pits on the inside of its fold-open cranium, and even a big, lolling tongue for tasting signals on the air.
This was another part of the model that really spoke to people, and it's the confluence of a lot of creepy inspirations like the Clickers, the aliens from Quiet Place, and even a bit of the Demigorgon from Stranger Things. The concept here is that this bio satellite dish of fragile sensory organs is normally closed up inside a tough armoured outer shell...
...and it is able to fold open when the creature needs to deploy its spotter array.
I played with the idea of making two heads for the beast, one open and one closed, but I wound up settling on just the open one.
Steady As She Goes - Recoil absorption
The other thing that I'm into when it comes to designing Tyranid gunbeasts is the idea of them repurposing their tails and fleshhooks to act as anchors to hold the beast in place while its massive cannons are firing. I did this for the first time on my Tyranid Exocrine conversion back in 2006...
Repeated it on the Dactylis' tail in 2009:
...and even trotted it out as recently as for my enlarged Dactylis in 2017:
So I definitely wanted to equip this Tyrannofex similarly. I already mentioned the repositioning of the dorsal spore chimneys to offset the recoil of the cannons, and I was putting some big honking claws on its forelimbs that could be used to grab onto the ground when bracing to fire. But I also wanted to use the openings in the Stockade bioshields to fire out thick, ropey flesh harpoons:
This were made simply with brass rod and some spikes from the Tyrannofex kit, which I then covered with a layer of greenstuff muscle. I wanted the muscle to have a wavy pattern to it, as if the flesh was folded and not yet taut. I hoped this would communicate that the harpoons were in the process of firing into the ground.
The other anchor I added to the beast was to the end of its tail, which was curving under its torso. This was one more grasping claw that it could drive down into the ground beneath it to anchor itself as it set up to fire. You can see it in the middle of the following photo. It was pretty easy to whip up using the end of a venom cannon and some Genestealer scything talons.
Dancing Shoes - Building big, stompy feet
When Tyranids get bigger than about Carnifex size, for me it's a bit hard to believe that they're able to stomp around on just a single pair of rear hooves. The solution for the larger constructs has seemed to be to just give them larger hooves, but I much prefer the idea of a multi-hoof to better distribute their considerable weight. This is partially inspired by the design of an elephant's foot, as well as buy the awesome fore and rear hooves that the classic Screamer Killer Carnifexes used to have.
Here's what I started with on the rear legs, and you can see that I was really determined to repurpose as much of the shitty recast kit as possible as I elected to sculpt my own thighs from the original kit's scything talons (a hack I will DEFINITELY be reusing on other Tyranids!). Oh, and pardon the finger print! Went in a fixed that after!
I wasn't crazy about my initial multi hoof sculpt, so I covered the hooves in connective tissue, then added larger, separate hooves.
Now THAT looks like a foot that can not only bare the weight of this beast, but also stomp some marines while it's at it!
The forelimbs were a bit of a challenge, but I eventually settled on a combination of an upper arm from the Tyrannofex kit, and that awesome forearm from the Carnifex's Crushing Claw arms.
All Together Now! - The finished Tyrannofex
I think that covers the majority of the major changed I made to the beast, so here's the shots of the final Tyrannofex all assembled:
And, for fun: here's a 360 video of the Tyrannofex:
I realize this isn't an exhaustive account of all the changes I made to the Tyrannofex and how I accomplished them, so if you're the kind of person who would LIKE TO KNOW MORE, I've also pulled together a playlist of all my livestreams where I was working on various parts of the best. Again, not exhaustive, but there are some good ones in there where I show how to sculpt the biocannons or the enhanced senses head...around a bunch of other blathering, of course! Also, a warning that I really had very little idea what I was doing for the earlier streams, so they might be a little...rough.
if there's something I didn't exactly cover here about which you'd like
more info, you can always comment below or reach out to me by PM on Instagram.