Thursday, July 1, 2010

Worse than drums - Games Workshop Balrog Painting Guide

When dwarves hear drums in the deep, believe it or not, they're not actually scared of the drums themselves. Sure the goblins never took music lessons and have all the rhythm of a drunken goat whose left legs are longer than it's right legs trying to play the drums while swinging in a hammock. Nevertheless, it's the heralding of something far, far worse...

What happened to being done painting for a while? Well, it's been a few weeks, but really: e-Bay. Someone was selling an out of production metal balrog, it had been barely started on and I got it for a quarter of the price it would cost me over here (including postage!)

I've never painted anything so daunting before, sure it's bigger than a normal mini, but you don't realise just how much bigger until you paint for an hour and realise you've barely started. And it's not like the game board, because it's got details.

Anyway, here's how I went about the task. I got it in the mail last week (woken up by the delivery guy) and have worked on it pretty much constantly since I want to surprise my brother in our next game.

It took 6 days of 6-8 hours of painting a day. Of course, that's with my usual DVD in the background, interrupted style, but it was still a LOT.

Here are the bits. The torso and head were already glued together by the previous owner. It was a tiny bit askew, but well enough done for me. There were dents on the neck and legs in particular from the vice that it'd been held in while the glue set, but I was reasonably sure they'd be un-noticeable once painted.

With such significant gaps in the model, it was time to greenstuff fill. I don't have sculpting tools, the paperclip you can see was what I ended up using.

Gluing it together was quite a challenge. I used a whole tube of superglue (not the one you see in the picture - but good stuff). The wings were easy, plastic sets quickly. The arms took a while. It was really hard to be patient and there were a few times that I went too eagerly before the glue had set. I also used greenstuff in the torso, attached sausages of greenstuff to the ends of the arms, then smeared it out inside the torso for some extra holding power.

Remember that the weaker points are the top of the arm, not the bottom, so I used two or three layers of glue there, making sure that it was well sealed from the inside out. If I held it in my hands for a few minutes it would set enough for me to put it down, I then used blu-tac to prop it into position and waited for probably 6 hours before moving on.

This is 6-8 hours later. You can see the blu-tac there propping it up still. I've switched bases from the thin one it came with to one of the same radius, but much thicker. It's got a couple of small bits of gravel on it, a skull and ribcage and a dwarven axe (I'm glad I save all the little bits I clip from other conversions!) then it's just some aquarium sand sprinkled over the rest. Oh, and lots and LOTS of glue around the feet. That was it for the day, I then let it set overnight.

Well, originally I didn't let it set for long enough, then it came loose from the base, and then I got grumpy, so then I put it aside overnight after gluing it back on.

Okay, now it's time to greenstuff the other joints, now that the glue has set. I rolled the greenstuff out into really long, thin snakes. I got them as thin as I could and then used the paperclip to shove it into the gaps and carve it, following the lines that were already in the model.

And underneath. I learned a lot during this project. Firstly that I'm not very good at patience and gluing. Secondly that I'm not good with greenstuff. I thought I'd done an okay job, but I didn't really. I'm a bit disappointed with how it worked out. The smallest bumps and ridges show up so much on the final model. I'm sure most people won't notice it, but I do.

So my advice, take some time here and make sure that you really smooth off the edges of any joins. You can see in this picture down in the groinal area in particular I didn't smooth the greenstuff off. It's really noticeable when you start painting. Less is definitely the way to go here.

To paint the balrog I decided to go with what I already knew, lava. If you remember from doing the gaming board it's fairly straight-forward. Prime white, then golden yellow, then blood red, then scorched brown and black. So step one was outside with the spraycan to make it white. I've mounted it on an old salsa jar filled with my medium sized rock gravel. I used a LOT of blutac to make sure it'd stay put. I found it an endless source of amusement to read the salsa lid: 99% fat free. He works out a lot I guess. (It's also just "mild" salsa, so maybe I should dim the flames down a bit.)

The advantage of the metal model is that I like painting the metal minis more, there's just something about the weight and texture or something. The disadvantage is the weight, quite heavy, especially while painting underneath. So lots of blu-tac to hold it to the lid!

Starting with the yellow. I used a big brush for this! This is the first time I realised just what I was getting into. It's a big model! I started hoping that I would actually have enough paint to get through it!

With a yellow balrog I had a momentary panic that my method would suck. So I ducked upstairs and grabbed a skink. As you all know, I don't play Warhammer, but I had some dwarves, skinks and undead just because I think they're cool. Just for the hobby/cool value and some fun, I'd only painted a few of the skinks, so I grabbed an unpainted one.

As you can see, it's a rough job, but I thought it looked cool, so was confident once more about Mr. Balrog.

And then moved on to red. I used the same technique as the lava - a sponge. I cut a bit off an old sponge, dipped it in the red, then dragged and padded across the mini. This left the yellow underneath, with occasional stippling.

It looked horrid. But I just looked at my skink again, breathed deeply, and kept going.

I decided to have a go at the flames first. Why? Well, I've not really done flames before. I started with Skull White along the ridge between back and flames. Then I used a golden yellow/skull white mixture for the next bit further away. I'm not really good at blending and stuff, but I think it came out okay. I also black washed the base. I had to black wash multiple times to try and get all those little bits of white that were showing through.

Here we have more flames done, A bit of orange further up, followed by some more red, then a scorched brown/red mix just on the tips of the flames. Overall I think it looks pretty good. I may re-do the flames at some point, I think they're just a little too orange for my taste. It does change a lot depending on the lighting though. I know that part of why I didn't like them at this stage was just the whole rest of the red balrog kind of washes out the effect or something.

The first of the scorched brown starts going on the scaly bits. I started with three layers. Scorched brown mixed with red, scorched brown, then scorched brown mixed with black. Then I got lazy and just skipped to the last step after realising that it didn't seem to make any difference!

Here you can see the difference between the two sides, even with just a little darkening on the scales it makes the whole effect stand out. Thank goodness.

Here we have some more skin being done. This was done in several layers. Firstly a scorched brown/red mix, then a watered down scorched brown, then a scorched brown/black, followed by a highlighting drybrush of the brown again. Later on I stopped using the scorched brown/red as I found that Dark Flesh was almost the exact same colour and meant I didn't have to mix paints!

I should say at this point also, that I worked in small sections. I get a sore shoulder after a while of painting, driving, playing games etc. so I have to take regular breaks. I think it's also just good practice to get up and move once in a while. So the above picture I did the shoulder and upper arm in one segment, then came back and did the rest of the arm later.

The ridges on the arm were carefully traced out with the darker mix just along the tips of the "V" shapes, leaving the brighter red showing through underneath. Here you can see the torso and head have been browned up a bit. It was interesting, at this stage I was running out of scorched brown so I just tipped some water and black into the pot and shook it up, giving myself a pot of the brown/black mix. From then on I pretty much just used Dark Flesh / red/brown / brown/black. It turned out that the red/brown mix that I'd made was slightly darker than the dark flesh, so I mixed a pot of that using the last of my blood red.

The brown/black never seemed to mix properly, no matter how hard I tried. In the end, though, it worked out really well, it added streaks of the two colors, giving a little texture to even the flattest parts of the model.

The leg was done, and the claws undercoated in grey. I wasn't sure what I was going to do with them (and didn't until just about the final step). I didn't want to do them grey because the base is grey. I didn't want them black because I sort of wanted them to stand out a little. I toyed with metallics, but decided against them too.

You can also see that I put a white edge along the very bottom of the sword to try and define it a little better.

Well, left side done, moving on to the right side. I'll skip steps this time to save you looking at forty times as many pictures as you need to (you're already looking at about 20 times as many as is necessary).

Here's a front on shot of the Balrog with a mostly finished body. You can also spy an unpainted Gandalf that came as part of the package. (I know - the Gandalf himself brand new is worth more than I payed for the whole set... bargain!)

Body all done now. I left jagged lines of the dark flesh showing through on the legs and torso. Not as much as some people have done, but more than others. Everybody has their own personal preference =)

First coat of the wings. Wow, I really didn't like painting the wings. I was really disappointed with how they turned out at this stage. The membraney bits are too light. I tried drybrushing when I started, but it was just too streaky, I'm sure it's my lack of skill rather than a bad method of doing them. I spent two days just working on the wings.

Part of the problem was the lighting, I work under a bright desklamp with a compact fluorescent bulb, so it can be a bit stark sometimes. Here's another shot from a higher angle. When I get around to matt-spraying it hopefully it won't be quite so shiny.

And the underside. I should also mention that I started with the underside, figuring that if I stuffed up there it wouldn't be so noticeable and would give me some practice for the top. Of course, it's also harder doing underneath due to the logistics of holding the metal mini upside down without knocking things over with the wings and tail! You may be able to see that the wings are streaky brown and black, that's due to the paint not mixing as mentioned earlier. I still thought the red was too bright on the wings at this point.

Oh, and I've done a codex grey drybrush on the base too. I also had to do even more black washing on the base to try and get rid of those annoying white bits that kept being visible from different angles.

I took a break from the wings and worked on the base for a bit. This has had a Codex Grey / Fortress Grey / Skull white drybrushing. Keeping each layer smaller than the one before, and the white just on the very edges. The bones were heavily drybrushed with Bleached Bone, then given a Devlan Mud wash, then re-drybrushed with Bleached Bone. Then a tiny bit of highlighting Bleached Bone on the teeth, eyesockets and shoulder blades. An even smaller touch of Skull White on the very tips of the highlighted bones for a finishing touch.

It was so nice to work on something so small. It made me want to go paint more skeletons, given how quick it seemed after all the balrog work!

I also used Bleached bone on the teeth, fingernails, toenails and claw bits. You can see a Games Workshop bag there in the background. I had to re-stock my red/brown/black paints =) I'm like most of you out there, I shop wherever I can find what I need. ebay for fluke sales, maelstrom games for cheapness, but not so much range, milsims for less range, but local so quick and Games Workshop (usually Chadstone) for the range and ability to choose particular poses for Khazad Guard, Vault Wardens etc.

The claws etc. were given a liberal washing of Devlan Mud. Then they were drybrushed with the bleached bone again, then washed again a little, then the edges and highlights were painted lightly with bleached bone and a tip of white on the very edges.

The wings were then finished up with two more layers of drybrushing. A very light black/brown was drybrushed over the whole wing (and to highlight some joints and muscles etc). Then a brown/red was drybrushed just in the central part of the membrane. The end effect is quite subtle, but the wings are darker nearer to the bony bits and lighter in the middle.

The axe near the dead dwarf skeleton is dark flesh / bestial brown / vermin brown on the handle with a devlan mud wash. The blade is boltgun metal / chainmail / tin bitz and badab black wash. By the way, the skeleton's name was Yorick.

Finally, it's time for some anti-dwarf shots...

The camera flash over-exaggerates the brown colour and the reds, it's not quite so vibrant IRL, but not so dark that all you see is black, you can definitely see the contrasting shades. Oh, the head! The tongue was painted like the flames, with the "hottest" part at the back of the throat and in a line under the tongue. The edges were done in reds and dark flesh. The teeth were done like the fingernails etc.

The eyes are Skull White and the nostrils are slightly yellower. I put a gloss coat on the eyes, nostrils and tongue. After I matt the model I'll probably gloss the lava on his back too. Not sure about the flames.

Here's a view from above. You can see the wings have dulled down a lot, and can sort of make out the "V" patterns in the membranes with the darker edges and lighter middle. It also shows that using the mini in a game might be kinda tricky if there are tall bits of scenery. Fortunately the wings should be high enough to not get in the way of most other miniatures.

Not sure what happened in this shot to the background, but I think it looks cool! I think I may have had the flash off. With strength 9, even Vault Wardens will suffer some casualties I think, though they're a good chance to wound it if I use all 5 teams, 10 dice plus rerolls with the banner =) I really don't know who I'd want to win!

And finally another flash-less shot. The goblin (Gorlab) was a short time later picked up by the Balrog's hand (you can see it grasping there) and thrown at Etako, who used his Ironfist Gauntlet to knock the hapless shorty into the lava. Just thought you'd like to know.

Can't wait to surprise my brother in our next game with this guy. I was gonna call him Barry, but that might be a little too obvious. Boy what a project. My back and shoulder are sore from the strain, but I got him finished in time for our game this week!

That was an exercise in patience, it just seemed to take forever and I kept wanting to just do it all black or something to get it over with faster. Still, I am mostly happy with the results. I mean, I am really happy, but there are some bits I wish I could do better!

Things to work on: Greenstuff, flames, highlighting dark colours.
Well, more than those, but those three were the major things.

Hopefully you'll see some shots taken with the better camera when we play =)


  1. Looking good! I haven't yet attempted my Balrog, so seeing how you did yours was useful!

    I do have a suggestion about your painting. Actually, that's not exactly correct, I have a suggestion for your painting environment. You need a better lightbulb. Actually you need a couple of better lightbulbs. Ideally I would suggest two of the $100 natural light lamps from a hobby store. Granting that's not actually feasible, You should pick up some daylight/full spectrum bulbs, and a second lamp. Even a cheap clip on lamp with a daylight bulb would help.

    3 lamps total would be idea, especially for photos. But 2 for painting would probably help a lot.


  2. That is one excellent Balrog!

  3. Wow. I love it! Flames intimidate me so my Balrog has sat primed for a year. Yours is the best I've seen

  4. Thanks very much =)
    Flames intimidated me too, and they still do if you look at them too closely!
    The main trick I found is to keep looking at them from a bit of a distance!
    Hope the ideas here help you finish your balrog, it's a big job, but really worth it when you're done!

  5. nice i am building this model in minecraft and you had pictures from all sides making the build much easier i am placing it inside the mines of moria i created =P i felt it was a bit empty so i decided to have a balrog at the end

  6. i am thinking off getting one of these... how heavy is it?

    if i do get one I'll use defo use this guide... he looks superb!

    1. Thanks =)
      Just weighed him - 240gm.
      Good luck with it!
      I should point out that this is the metal version, I don't know if there's a newer plastic or resin version that would be much lighter.

    2. Here's how he turned out:

      Fantastic model, thanks for all the help =).

    3. Awesome job =)
      Now I want to go back and redo mine - your fire is so... firey! Really first class!

  7. Great job on this beastie. You have done a good job on the flames, and believe me I should know. Plenty of people get the colour scheme of fire all backwards, but you've cracked it.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate that a lit, took me a while and still not 100% happy with it from close up, but it did look not quite right on the GW one to have "backwards" coloured flames!