First up – I’m sure most people won’t bother to read the lengthy waffle below, so I’ll put this right at the top in the hope that it deflects a few questions: please don’t bother asking me for the STLs of my Fuegan sculpt. It’s Games Workshop IP and I won’t be distributing it, sorry.
The eldar were featured in the very first white dwarf that I owned (issue 138, June 1991) and they made a huge impression on my young mind. The sublime elliptical curves and the riot of bright colours across the various aspects epitomised the aesthetic that has appealed to me ever since.
In second edition warhammer 40k I owned a very small amount of eldar alongside my slightly larger blood angels force. I don’t recall exactly what miniatures I had but there was definitely a squad of fire dragons with exarch. The phoenix lords were added to the game around this time and I have painful memories of the original Jain Zar – a massively top heavy chunk of metal connected to her base by only the point of the toes on one foot! For some reason I never got hold of Fuegan, the phoenix lord of the fire dragon aspect but I always admired the miniature.
Back then I didn’t give much thought to how these miniatures were designed and I had no idea that one towering colossus of the citadel miniatures studio was responsible for so much of what I loved. I speak of course of the mighty Jes Goodwin, who among other things was responsible for creating the entirety of the eldar range! During my all too brief period working as a citadel miniatures designer I was fortunate enough to work alongside Jes for a short while and it only increased my sense of awe for his work.
It’s a testament to Jes that most of the original phoenix lord miniatures, released in the early 90s are still for sale in 2021, more than 25 years later! I doubt that many of the miniatures sculpted today will prove to have such longevity. Jain Zar has now been replaced with a superb plastic version sculpted by Neil Langdown in collaboration with Jes, but there’s no telling how long we will have to wait for the other lords to receive this treatment. After all, we wouldn’t want to slow the production of variant number 14,538 of primaris space marines in order to update a few filthy xenos now, would we? 😉
Some time in mid 2020 I decided I wanted to paint Fuegan, so I took a good long look at the miniature on the GW store and I just couldn’t bring myself to click buy. It’s not clear whether the current incarnation is metal or finecast, but I’m not a fan of either material. And undoubted classic though it is, that dude is old and you can clearly see the limitations of the casting technology of the time in how it has been designed. I’m guessing he’s probably quite small by today’s standards too.
Unfortunately, while Fuegan may be immortal, I am not. So if I was going to get to paint him before completely succumbing to the ravages of age waiting for a plastic version it seemed to me that I’d better think about sculpting my own. And so, armed with a copy of Jes’ eldar sketchbook and various google images like the one above I embarked on my latest project.
I started sculpting Fuegan by constructing a dolly so that I could get the size and proportions right before I started thinking about the pose and the details. I based this on current eldar miniatures but then made him a little larger, as befits his status (he ended up measuring approx 35 mm to the eyes). At this stage I was working with low poly, just getting the main forms sketched out. As always I used blender for my sculpting, together with my trusty old Wacom Intuos small tablet.
When I had something that felt about right I started thinking about the pose. I knew I wanted to retain the classic huge pike and axe and I found that the pike limited the options for posing. (Or maybe I just wasn’t imaginative enough!) It really only looks good in an upright position and it has a tendency to interfere with both the left shoulder pad, upper arm and thigh. I was focusing on trying to get a strong composition for the miniature when viewed from the front and after some experimentation I ended up with a pose that is reminiscent of Prince Yriel and very similar to a 90s sketch of a ‘fire dragon exarch’ in Jes’ book.
I made the decision to add the cape and the banner quite early on. The original miniature doesn’t have these elements of course, but I thought they were befitting of Fuegan’s status and would provide me with some area for a little freehand painting. Although I didn’t settle on the final form of the base until after I’d started painting the miniature, I knew that I wanted the large curved element on the right for the composition.
With the pose set I gradually worked my way around the miniature defining the details. The axe was one of the first elements I worked on – I kept a similar shape to the original but also looked at the version in the sketchbook to make some modifications. I decided to put a recessed rune into the blade with the intention of painting it with a glowing flame effect and at this point I ran into a little conundrum – the paint job on the old miniature and Jes’ sketches feature a rune with a curvy tail but the modern fire dragon rune is straight lines. In the end I decided to retain both on my miniature. I decided the curvy version could be Fuegan’s personal rune, but he also bears the rune of the fire dragon aspect that he established.
I kept the helmet very close to the original but added some more curvature to the big wings to make them a little less flat, and made some changes to the face plate just because the original isn’t completely to my taste. I kept the armour design more or less the same, but changed the greaves to be something closer to the modern designs. I’ve been working on a lot of small scale stuff recently and I really enjoyed the opportunity to lavish attention on some lovely large curved surfaces (yes, I really am that strange)!
One of the details I ended up spending a surprising amount of time on was the little dragon head clasp that sits on the right of his chest. I wanted to make that element more understated than the original but I really struggled to find a shape that simultaneously conveyed fierce dragon and eldar, and fitted neatly in the available space! I’m still not happy I really got this right but in the end I had to just accept what I had and move on.
I didn’t make big changes to the pike weapon, although I did redesign the stock to feature the curvy tail of what I had decided is Fuegan’s personal rune. I wanted to keep the concept that his left vambrace is connected to the weapon, but I changed the way this is integrated. After looking at all my sources, I wasn’t sure if the element that sits below the main barrel is intended to project a secondary blast but I decided it made more sense to have this as a power node for the weapon and would provide me with another opportunity to paint some glowing effect on the other side of the miniature for balance. I did strip out many of the power cables that original miniature has all over it. While I certainly appreciate the elegant s-shape that they create when viewed from the rear, I just felt that there were too many to read as a sleek eldar design so I only kept one of the main ones for the pike.
Originally I had intended to leave the cape with the classic sleek eldar look, but with the rest of the miniature sculpted I thought that it would benefit from being more organic. In the sketchbook, Jes makes a note that the 90s exarch should have ‘craggier’ detailing and I felt this was an opportunity to capture a little more of that intent. The design I ended up with borrows heavily from Steve Buddle’s superb Adrax Agatone salamanders space marine.
As previously mentioned, the base was sculpted a while after the rest of the miniature, mostly because as usual I lacked good inspiration for what it should look like! I considered various designs for steps but in the end went for something similar to one of the elements on the webway gate kit and then went to town carving eldar runes and craftworld symbols into it. And obviously it’s broken, because 40k.
One of the joys of sculpting for 3D printing rather than injection moulding is that I no longer have to spend hours worrying about how to split a miniature up, whether it will fit on the frame and a myriad other engineering concerns. But I still elected to split this miniature into a few pieces purely to make painting easier. And with that, it was off to the printer!
Overall it was a slightly odd experience working on this sculpt. I was trying to use my experience of working in the studio to anticipate what I thought Jes would do if he were making Fuegan today, while simultaneously trying to satisfy my own artistic taste. It was also a little weird not being able to ask any of my ex-colleagues for feedback. I’ve always been very happy working in isolation but I did find giving and receiving feedback one of the most valuable aspects of working in the studio and it’s definitely something I miss! If the great man himself ever sees this fan art, all I can hope is that he won’t find it too much of an insult to his vision.
6 thoughts on “Fuegan part 1: sculpting”
Hi! Beautiful work! But I didn’t understand one thing (I’m not English and I don’t speak/understand your language very well): did you do it for yourself, or is it a job for GW?
It’s a personal project.
Absolutely stunning work! Sure wish I could get my hands on this model. I hope GW do Jess’ original model as much justice as you have. Thanks for sharing.
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Thank you! Jes is still there as far as I know, so I have every confidence!
Yeah, I am speechless. You managed it to keep the original style of the pheonix lord while bringing it in line with the new releases.
It’s a shame that I cant get the stl file to print it myself.
Since I need it not only for my collection, but for my tournament army.
Is there and way to get a printed version.
This is amazing, you should contact GW and ask them if the wanna buy your sculpt it’s awesome it’s buy it well done!