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Easy backdrops, skin recipes, and a hammer-filled short story

This is going to be one of those posts which is really four separate posts too small to exist on their own:
  1. How to quickly add a background image to your mini photos without having to have a physical background. Hint: it's technically similar to how they shot The Mandalorian but infinitely cheaper and with almost no skill.
  2. Things I learned while kitbashing regular Intercessors with Assault Intercessors.
  3. Some notes on my latest attempt at a middle eastern skin tone.
  4. A short story about how Sergeant Oreas Cassander earned his thunder hammer.

Adding background images to your photos

This is comically simple: load a suitable image on your PC's monitor, put some scenery and your dudes in front of your PC monitor, and take a photo. Bonus points if you do a better job than me of matching the lighting levels of the minis versus the monitor.

This essentially gives you infinite backgrounds, and in retrospect I've no idea why I didn't think of this sooner. Particularly given that it's now been months since I saw a video on how they shot The Mandalorian by filming the actors in front of a giant screen playing footage of the background.

Obviously this won't work for big wide army shots unless your monitor is huge. I guess if you have a giant TV with good enough resolution, or make sure the background goes slightly out of focus to conceal the pixels, then that could work.

Here's a shot where I've done less cropping so you can see more clearly what's going on:

This being 40K, trying a darker, moooodier ambience was obligatory. Sadly in the photos that came out best, the background is little more than a blur... but even then, having some tonal variation rather than black immediately helps sell the effect:

Moooody. It amuses me how the different lighting angles somehow allow Sergeant Cassander to look angry as hell in one picture and adorably concerned in the next.

Kitbashing Assault Intercessors with Regular Intercessors

It will come as no surprise to anyone that these kits are very compatible with each other. I personally did this because I wanted additional visual differences between this unit of auto bolters and my bolt rifle squads. These guys are there to charge up the board spraying and praying; I wanted them to look like they were getting after it. The option of swinging a thunder hammer is also cool, I guess.

The only thing to be aware of is that the tassets on the assault intercessors preclude the ergonomic placement of the intercessors' pistol holsters and pouches. I managed to get a few on there, but in less than ideal positions. Obviously this is the most minor of issues; it's not like you have to stick those bits on at all, and where it didn't work on a specific mini, I skipped it. Other than that, everything worked without any trouble.

Another thing to note is that the Assault Intercessors kit goes together extremely easily; the legs don't have those separate shin plates on the regular Intercessors sprue, and unlike the Hellblaster sprue, seem to sacrifice no sharpness in doing so. It's a beautiful kit, and gets extra points for having something like fifteen heads on the frame, which was clearly done so that you won't have to repeat a single bare head in your army (unless all the dudes in your force have a chronic helmet allergy).

Middle Eastern skin tones: attempt #2

I've got decent colour recipes for tanned and pale Caucasians, as well as very dark skin. It's the tones in the middle that I haven't quite gotten down, so that's what I decided to experiment with for Brother-Sergeant Oreas Cassander here.

A lore reminder: these guys are Ultramarines successors, which means their original recruits were drawn from across the realm of Ultramar, and are therefore quite ethnically diverse. In keeping with the theme of Romans in Spaaaaace, I've tried to have a mix of skin tones that would be consistent with some of the many ethnicities encompassed by the original Roman Empire.

I started with a basecoat of Vallejo Burnt Umber, but you can only see that in the deepest recesses; I layered up by mixing in increasing amounts of Vallejo Beige Brown, mixing in Citadel Cadian Fleshtone and finally Kislev Flesh on the highest points.

A thin glaze of Army Painter Deep Blue was added around the eyes. A glaze of Army Painter Matte Black was added for stubble, although it's thin enough that it's not all that obvious! Finally I added a very thin glaze of ye olde Citadel Red Gore to the nose, lower lip, and ears.

I had earlier tried to make a similar skin tone with Citadel's Gorthor Brown and it just ended up looing flat and lifeless, I think partially because there's just not enough yellow in it. It's crazy what a difference a tiny shift in hue makes when you're dealing with skin. Attempt #1 originally appeared in the step-by-step on how I paint the blue armour.

For reference: Middle Eastern skin tone attempt #1. Meh.

Spot of fiction, vicar?

Thunder is cool. Hammers, also cool. Thunder hammers: yes. Thunder hammers in an army of Space Romans? Not obviously thematic. Here, then, is the story of how Oreas Cassander first discovered the joy of hammer time. Brace yourself for maximum shooty-death-kill-in-space.

+ + +

The Spur of the Moment

Verdras Tertia, Southern Continent.
Nine years into the Indomitus Crusade.

It was the first time Battle Brother Oreas Cassander had seen an operation go disastrously wrong. Ackermann's Canyon was supposed to conceal the Imperium's midnight flanking manoeuvre from the orks. Instead, it was trapping it. The Valhallan 103rd, supported by Astartes units from the Crimson Fists and Cobalt Scions Chapters, started taking fire from the clifftops. Moments later, a major ork force entered from the northern end of the canyon.  The cliffs lit up with the staccato flare of muzzle flashes. Sheltered from the easterly wind, the smoke of weapons discharge lingered, mingling with the dust and creating an acrid haze.

With ork jump infantry plunging into the valley from all sides, the fighting soon devolved into isolated Imperial units fighting for survival. There was something profoundly humiliating about the enemy successfully employing the same divide-and-conquer strategy the Imperium had been using up to that point.

Cassander's squad, including his sergeant, died in the first seven minutes of the engagement. He found himself fighting alongside half a platoon of the Valhallans. There was no time to dwell on the loss of his brothers; their last gift to him was a surfeit of tragically un-spent ammunition, now carried behind him by a trio of terrified guardsmen. Oreas had yet to learn their names. The auto-bolters' box magazines seemed huge in the Valhallans' muddy little hands.

Further up the canyon, through the haze, Cassander saw a small squad of Crimson Fists holding out against the enemy's elite: hulking brutes with mechanical claws and oversized guns. Discipline met aggression. Within fifteen seconds, none of the combatants were standing. The Fists' sergeant, bleeding from multiple puncture wounds and dragging a crushed leg, wrestled in the mud with the last of the orks. It was clear the brute's strength would triumph.

"Lieutenant, hold this position. I will return," Cassander told the Valhallans' officer. "You three, with me." He switched on his vox transmitter. "Command, I am moving to assist downed Crimson Fist squad at grid ref 431-892; gene seed extraction required; support required."

Cassander didn't wait for acknowledgement. He broke from cover, firing from the hip, his helmet's vox grille amplifying his battle cry. He tossed one grenade, then another, blasting a path to the stricken Fists. Orks dived for cover at his sudden reckless charge. His magazine clicked empty. He dropped his auto-bolter and drew his combat knife as he reached the stricken sergeant, using his momentum to drive the point through the ork brute's neck. The beast began to thrash wildly. Cassander heaved it off the Crimson Fists sergeant and finished it.

"Are you mad?" the injured Fists sergeant asked.

Looking behind him, Cassander saw that two of his Valhallans had made it, and had even dragged his discarded bolter into cover. They were trying, despite the weight, to load a fresh clip into it.

In every direction, lesser orks began to eye each other and weigh their chances against this lone marine; the surprise of his charge was spent, and their courage was returning.

Cassander looked down at the sergeant. "I am given to understand the Crimson Fists treasure their gene seed even more than most. A full squad of you linger here; the loss is unacceptable," Cassander said, as if this explained his rashness. He had no idea what he'd been thinking. In point of fact, he hadn't been thinking. He'd seen brothers that might yet be saved, and he'd reacted. But now he was just as cut off as they were; no way to get them back to the platoon he'd left behind; no way to save them. He'd just thrown his own life away on an errand that no one had asked him to perform.

"At this point the loss is a given," the sergeant said. "Heraclio Borjez," he added. He seemed bemused by this lone Cobalt Scion standing before him.

"Oreas Cassander."

"My hammer," Borjez said, weakly gesturing at a thunder hammer lying in the mud, "may be of use to you."

"The technique is unknown to me," Cassander confessed.

Borjez coughed wetly. "It's simple enough."

Cassander nodded his thanks, and took it up from the ground. Even inactive, the weight of it promised finality.

A metallic click came from the Valhallans, along with a cry of triumph in their native tongue. Cassander moved over to them, carefully placed the hammer in the crater alongside them, and took up his gun. "Gather more ammunition from the fallen," he told them. When dismay spread across their faces, he offered reassurance. "I will cover you." This didn't seem to improve their mood, but they obeyed nonetheless.

The appearance of two eminently killable targets stoked the orks into trying a few shots, and thus revealed, made for easy sport. Cassander made himself the most visible target while the Valhallans scurried from body to body, ducking behind cover where they could. Slowly, the orks closed in. "Return to cover," Cassander ordered his assistants, then retreated back to the stockpile they'd gathered.

During this time, those Crimson Fists still conscious propped themselves up against crater lips and the hulks of ruined tanks, taking occasional shots. Most were slipping in and out of true awareness.

The battle rumbled on further down the canyon. Here, the greenskin looters and thieves began to gather like carrion around this lone island of unclaimed Astartes armour. Cassander had seen the helmets on banner poles; he knew the orks would take great pride from any trophies they could loot. As he continued to fire short bursts at any trying to approach, he wondered if his own helmet would soon adorn some chieftain's banner. The thought shamed him.

After a time, the orks had gathered in enough numbers to make a concerted charge. Cassander switched to full auto, emptying the clip, ejecting it, then reaching his hand out. One of the Valhallans passed him a new one.

Three full box mags put a stop to that first charge, and he killed yet more with placed shots as the enemy fled.

"My thanks," Cassander said to the Valhallans at last. "Your names?"



"Your service humbles me."

Petrov was clearly moved, but Sepkova seemed less impressed. Perhaps she was afraid, though her face seemed angry. Perhaps she didn't feel so honoured to die in the service of the Emperor. Or in the service of a lone, rash Astartes. Once again he felt a pang of guilt. He didn't know what to say to her, and besides, there was no more time; the enemy were closing in again.

He repulsed the charge once more, but at the cost of much of the remaining ammunition. He picked up the hammer and made a few experimental swings. Slow, clumsy.

"Lock your core," Borjez grunted. "The strength of the blow comes as much from your hips as your arm."

Cassander nodded his acknowledgement, but had no more time to get the way of it. He expended his last few rounds, and the surviving Fists took what few shots they could, then it came down to close quarters.

Cassander activated the hammer. Its thrumming power cells sent barely perceptible vibrations into his arm and through his body. He felt a tingling in his gums. Bullets richocheted off his pauldron as he rose from the lip of the crater and charged out to meet them, hoping to keep them away from Borjez, Sepkova and Petrov.

He brought the hammer down on the lead ork. The bang of discharging energy echoed off the canyon walls.

The ork had exploded from the waist up.

Those behind seemed both awed and exhilarated by their compatriot's spectacular demise; they came on, their eyes fixed on the hammer and filled with avarice. At least, he thought, he might keep them away from the wounded and vulnerable.

The press was brutal. Cleavers and axes hacked and clanged against his armour. His right pauldron was torn off. The hammer lashed out again and again, each discharge yielding a bloody detonation. Green hands grabbed at its shaft, trying to pry it from his grip. He lashed out with his combat knife, carving through knuckles and stabbing up through jutting jaws, trying to gouge out their repulsive alien minds without having to blunt his blade on their thick skulls.

They pressed in all around, their stink and their weight almost giving him a drowning feeling as he lashed out. Rusty blades dug into the rubberised seals of his armour, seeking weak points, giving him countless flesh wounds. He never yielded the hammer even as he sank to the ground, a machete hacking at his vambrace, trying to cut off his hand. The orks closed in over him, grabbing, biting, howling in triumph.

Then, a rippling blast and a shockwave. Red concussion runes joined the many warning sigils on Cassander's HUD. The orks howled in pain, and thrashed. Some were flung off him. Many stopped moving. He pushed up on faltering arms, and pulled himself clear.

Through the clearing smoke and dust, Sepkova stood at the lip of the crater, laughing maniacally and making a crude gesture with her hands, seemingly at the canyon as a whole. Cassander stood, and his legs immediately buckled. "What did you do?" he asked her.

"You kept asking for bullets, so we pass you bullets," she replied in her thick Valhallan accent. "You never asked for grenade. I threw bandolier." She grinned triumphantly. Then her eyes widened, and she dove back into the crater.

In Cassander's battered helmet, the vox link activated. "Squad Five, support incoming. Seek cover," came Captain Lucullus' voice. A squadron of marauder bombers came thundering down the canyon. Cassander suspected they had been requested as soon as the ambush had started, and felt a brief pang of gratitude before realising that the only reason they were deploying their ordnance at his end of the canyon was because there were too many Imperial personnel at the other end to risk indiscriminate bombing. He scrambled back to the crater and held himself over the two Valhallans in the hopes of sheltering them from shrapnel.

Explosions tore up the northern half of Ackermann's Canyon. Hundreds of orks died. Sections of canyon wall collapsed. Rocks and shrapnel rained down, pinging off Cassander's armour. The Valhallans cried out in pain.

He checked them for injuries. Both had various small wounds on their unarmoured legs and arms. Sepkova looked down and swore as she took in the large scrap of metal protruding from her thigh. She reached down to remove it, but Cassander stopped her, his massive gauntlet wrapping around her wrist. She yelped at the sensation.

"If you pull it out, you will bleed more," he explained.

Visibility had been reduced to zero, but that mattered little to Astartes. A Crimson Fists gunship landed nearby, the downwash of its engines sending yet more dust spiralling about them. The Valhallans closed their eyes and covered their mouths.

As an apothecary and his attendants came running from the gunship, Cassander addressed them over the dying whine of the turbines. "Possible arterial bleed," he shouted, pointing at Sepkova. Several of the apothecary's attendants peeled off to see to her.

Borjez weakly beckoned to Cassander. He limped over, reaching the injured sergeant at the same time as the apothecary. "Keep it," Borjez wheezed, gesturing at his thunder hammer. "You're a mad, stubborn bastard, and you've saved at least three of my brothers, maybe more."

Before Cassander could answer, the apothecary interjected. "It's not like you'll be needing it any more, Heraclio."

Borjez raised a tired, quizzical eyebrow.

"Fear not, old friend. Even in death, you shall serve Him."

Cassander felt a pang of pity for Borjez. Interrment in a sarcophagus was a great honour, but a nightmarish prospect. He removed his helm to look Borjez in the eye and show his respect.

Seeing Cassander's expression, Borjez laughed. "He's always telling people he'll put them in a dreadnought," Borjez explained. Cassander tried to conceal the emotional whiplash with an unconvincing laugh. They both looked at him for a moment, then at each other, then their faces folded in mirth. Their injoke made Cassander think of the brothers he'd lost only an hour ago, and a wave of grief rose up to crash over him. He could tell his composure wouldn't last.

"You do me a great honour, Brother-Sergeant, one that I cannot possibly accept. This is a relic of your chapter."

"Dorn's teeth, you sound like an Ultramarine. Shut up and take it, I insist. I'll feel guilty if you don't."

Cassander pursed his lips in mute thanks, and placed his hand on Borjez' shoulder. Borjez nodded, and smiled. Cassander stood, leaving the apothecary to his work, and staggered over to the Valhallans. He tried to apologise, for leading them into danger and for getting one of them killed and the other severely wounded, but with the fighting over and their injuries severe, both of them were in shock. He thanked them, but wasn't sure if he'd made himself understood. He wandered off to one side, slumped down on the ground, and allowed the grief of his lost squad to run dark wet lines through the dust on his face. He decided he would take the hammer back to the captain and offer it to the Chapter armoury in penance for acting so rashly. Besides, it was a weapon unsuitable for his rank and experience.

Perhaps, in time, he would earn the right to lift it from its plinth and bear it to war.

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Closing Thoughts

Hopefully at least one of the four bits of that post was entertaining! In particular I hope the story was amusing; I basically wrote it this afternoon and gave it the quickest of editorial passes. Normally I'd let things sit for a few days and re-edit, but sometimes you want to blast something out. That... sounds more digestion-related than intended.

I'm getting to the end of the Cobalt Scions project. Just an Impulsor, a lieutenant, and possibly a squad of Bladeguard Veterans left to do, then that'll be all she wrote. I'm extremely over highlighting blue armour at this point, but still very happy with how the army's turning out and dreaming of the day we can play games again.


  1. Great bit of fiction. I'll have to try the monitor background too!

    1. Thanks, glad you enjoyed it! Have fun with the monitor trick :)

  2. I'll be sad to see the end of your Cobalt Scions project Charlie, following your progress and seeing their stories come together has been absolutely inspiring! Every time you post a Scions update I get the urge to work on more of my own Theta Companies :D I can't wait to see what catches your fancy next though!

    1. Aww thanks Tim! I suspect I'll zip between a few projects that don't involve quite as much repetitive edge highlighting :P

      I'm glad the Scions have been giving you hobby fuel though; you've been having much the same effect on me with the stuff you've been uploading to your Instagram :)


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