When it comes to assisting the mighty Space marines of the Imperium at finding and killing their designated targets, few tools are more indispensable than the humble servo skull. Likewise for when Rogue Traders have to load their pistols, hive scum have to take their medicine, or when inquisitors must make a journal entry in some massive tome. Truly, these small floating skulls stuffed with technology are the unsung heroes of the 41st millennium.
As far as I can tell, the first official Servo Skull minis were either introduced by Forge World or as part of the Daemonhunters release over 20 years ago and while the skullies are lot more common in kits nowadays it’s a shame that the little guys don’t get more the tabletop representation. Luckily, there’s an Instagram hashtag/community which posts every second Sunday of the month looking to change that – #ServoSkullSaturday. I find it to be a great little motivator to build and paint more of the floating brain buckets and so I set out to spread the word by talking to the originator of the hashtag.
Mathias Leahy (@mathiasleahy) is an art instructor based out of the US and was kind enough to talk to me about #ServoSkullSaturday in mid-December.
Mike H (Exokan): So, why servo skulls? What’s their appeal to you, either from a modeling or aesthetic perspective?
DrMathias: I’ve been interested in skulls as an art subject for many years, ranging from Memento Mori symbolism to skulls shown in indigenous art. In the 40k context, they are one of the things that I think is uniquely 40k, in the sense that they don’t seem to be derivative of some preexisting trope. Quite a lot of concepts in 40k are straight up lifted from sources like Nemesis the Warlock, Dune, Judge Dredd etc. If floating skull drones are in some other fandom or franchise, I’d love to know!
Mike H (Exokan): Yeah, I never thought about that! I don’t think I’ve seen floating skulls in anything else. Now, with your minis, you focus a lot on what I would consider “Non-Dramatis Personae”… Imperial citizens, bureaucrats, nobility, etc. People not directly associated with the Warhammer 40k wargame. Servo Skulls sort of fit into that category to a degree. What draws you to that aspect of 40k?
DrMathias: I’m sure the interest in the background characters of the setting comes from admiring the advertisement for the “40k Adventurers” range in White Dwarf 99. It was a blend of unarmed techs, astropaths, bandits, and pirates and these miniatures really got me wondering about the setting. At that time the game was still trying to figure out what it was, and hadn’t settled on the huge sweeping battles and devastated cityscapes that seem to be the default now.
Mike H (Exokan): Was it just a looks thing? I personally love the black comedy baked into the lore especially in relation to the poor “normies” of the 40k universe.
DrMathias: The stories played a role in my interest as well. Quite a few of them in the early days were small scenes, like Inquisitor Kryptmann and an acolyte trying to investigate something, Imperial Guard settling old scores with each other, or an iconic scene describing terminators getting ready for a teleport. Those little fluff pieces tended to resonate more than the descriptions of the large battles. There was definitely a lot more comedy baked in too, now it’s mostly just relegated to the Orks and Nurglings. A fair share of my creations are on the jokey side of things.
Mike H (Exokan): I suppose you could say that Servo Skulls are the comedic “little guy” of the imperial factions… It’s funny to think that someone would toil away for a lifetime only to be turned into a floating candle holder or a note-taker after “death”. It’s bleak, but funny in it’s bleakness.
Now you posted the first #ServoSkullSaturday on your Instagram back in January 2021. I’m a fan of “scheduled” posting/sharing dates like #Inq28th because it kind of motivates me to do a little bit of hobbying. And skulls are sometimes a lot less daunting than a full-size mini. What was your goal with the hashtag?
DrMathias: I’ve been a fan of monthly goals as well. I’d set myself a challenge to finish the Adventurers in one year, with monthly installments. At the same time I started an Inquisition project- painting all the released 28mm Inquisitors that GW has made to date, producing one Inquisitor each #Inq28th, and finishing the various acolytes too. I estimated that would be about a two year project. Funny enough during this project, GW has dropped two new plastic Inquisitors! I also had forgotten about one or two hard to acquire figures, and it turned out I had never bought Karamazov at all.
#servoskullsaturday came out of my Inquisition project, because there were eight metal ‘familiar’ skulls in the old Daemonhunter/Witchhunters ranges. I didn’t want to knock them all out at the same time- so they became a sub-project.
I created the hashtag just to have a little fun, keep me on task, and potentially create an Inq28 micro community.
Mike H (Exokan): It’s certainly a micro community that I’d love to see grow! There are plenty of premade skulls (you mentioned the old DH/WH range). Mechanicus kits especially come to mind, but do you have any recommendations for kit bashing skulls?
DrMathias: I’ve made several using the “Citadel Skulls” box. Adding bionic eyes is pretty easy- use a little greenstuff to create a small sphere, then push a 7mm mechanical pencil tip into it. That creates a little rim with a lens. After that, you can add greenstuff, guitar wire, other small bits as needed to create a unique servo skull.
There are quite a few kits that have the little devils floating around- the Blackstone Fortress Rogue Trader that has a servo skull loading her pistol is coming up in my queue.
Mike H (Exokan): Oh wow, I never thought to make bionic eyes that way! I generally source the eyes from Skitarii backpacks, Grey Knight/Marine helmets, and weapon targeters. Most recently I got some .020 Diameter rivets to sink into the sockets of Citadel Skulls which is a nice (and low effort) change. I got my hands on some of the Imperium kits featuring more esoteric characters (like Blackstone, Necromunda’s Lady Credo) but making custom skulls keeps calling me back.
Anyways, we’ve got one more #ServoSkullSaturday left in the year… I’m guessing you’ve got one last skullie in the pipe?
DrMathias: I’m going to try your rivet suggestion- making them with greenstuff is tedious.
I do indeed have a plan for the December #servoskullsaturday… something to do with the 12 Days of Saint Christophorus perhaps!
Mike H (Exokan): Hell yeah! Looking forward to it!
ServoSkullSaturday is the second Saturday of each Month. Post a pic of your skull and join in!
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