Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Backdrop

I originally cut the plywood backdrop to be in the shape of mountains, but soon realized that it would be difficult and unrealistic to finish it this way. Instead, I decided to paint the mountains on one large backdrop, this way allowing myself to include the sky and have the backdrop extend further up to the ceiling.

The first act of business was to build the rock bluffs that are extensions of the large and small mountains and extend to the bridge. I only had about a 3/4 of an inch between the track and the wood backdrop, so I had to make these rock bluffs pretty thin.

I first traced directly on the backdrop the basic outline that I wanted each of these bluffs to be. I then traced paper templates, and used these templates to start building my molds. I used aluminum foil to create the molds to the desired shape and depth.

I gently crinkled the foil and manipulated it with my fingers, ensuring that the grooves didn’t undercut into the plaster once I poured it. Before pouring the plaster, I coated the foil mold with 70% isopropyl alcohol to help the plaster settle. As soon as the plaster set, I removed the plaster castings. This had to be done very carefully, and as you can see, the castings broke as they were quite thin. Not a issue however as they could be glued back together.

As you can see above, I traced the template directly onto the foil whit a blue sharpie for my first mold, which then ran into the plaster, so I didn’t use this method going forward. Once these were completely dry, I glued the cracked sections together and verified how they fit on my layout.

For the backdrop, I used large sheets of foam board, which had white cardstock glued to each side. This provided a sturdy and workable surface. I made a large template out of scrap newsprint to get the shape I needed my backdrop to be, then traced it onto the foam board and cut it to shape.

I made a small sketch on paper of how I wanted the backdrop to look to make sure I had the correct look and feel (see Design & Planning page). I then drew the basic locations of the mountains, tree lines, rock bluffs, etc. and got right to work painting. I used acrylic paints from the dollar store, which worked great for this application.

I started with the sky colour, then the mountains, and last was the trees. I kept things as simple as possible for 2 reasons. First, I am not professional when it comes to painting, and second, I did a lot of research on backdrops online, and found the more simple backdrops were most effective, as they did not distract from the detailed layout scenery.

Once the backdrop was dry, I fastened it to the original backdrop with double-sided tape. I then glued the previously casted rock bluffs directly to the backdrop, and used Poly-Filler to blend them into the rest of the layout.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Mountain Tunnels - Part II

I started building the basic mountain structure by bunching up news print into various sized balls, held together with masking tape. I then started placing the crumpled paper balls over and beside the tunnel structure.

Crumpled paper for hard shell sceneryCrumpled paper for hard shell scenery

I started with the largest pieces first, and worked my way up with the smaller pieces. I crumpled paper into specific shapes in certain areas, and re-arranged the paper until my mountain was the basic shape I was looking for. Once everything was in place, I used long pieces of masking tape to hold the paper structure in place.

Crumpled paper balls for mountain structureMasking tape to hold crumpled paper in place

Using plaster cloth that I cut into 3 – 4 inch strips, I started to cover the crumpled paper, overlapping each strip by 1 – 2 inches. I started at the top, and worked my way down, ensuring there were no gaps and used my finger to smooth out any rough edges. I kept my tunnel portals in at this time so I could ensure the plaster cloth and portals fit together correctly. Once the first layer of plaster cloth was dry, I put on a second layer to make a sturdy, hard shell.

First layer of plaster clothFirst layer of plaster cloth
While the large mountain was drying, I built a second small mountain at the opposite end of my layout. I used the same method as before, arranging crumpled paper to get the desired shape, then covered it with plaster. I also added a rock casting that I previously made using a Woodland Scenics rubber mold and plaster of peris. I held the rock casting in place temporarily with tooth-picks until I was ready to use the plaster cloth.

Paper base for small embankment and mountainPlaster cloth on small corner mountain

Once the plaster cloth was dry, I used a soupy mixture of plaster of paris to cover the entire mountain structure to give it its final shape. Now I must admit, using plaster of any type is probably my least favorite thing to do. Plaster of paris is difficult to use as it sets extremely quickly, so there is only a small window to work with it, and you must use small batches at a time. I would have loved to use sculptamold, but the one hobby store in Lethbridge that sells it is closed for a month as they relocate.

Existing backdrop between mountainsCompleted plaster cloth on hard shell mountain

I attempted to carve rock faces out of the set plaster, and found this to be very difficult, and not the right affect I was looking for. The carving worked in some areas, but not all as the plaster was either too soft or too hard, and just chipped away from the plaster cloth. In the problem areas, I used shallow molds that I made out of aluminum foil. This was also problematic as they need to be placed on the mountain at just the right time, or else they would crack and crumble, or just ooze out of the bottom of the mold.

Completed plaster cloth on hard shell mountainFirst layer of plaster on mountain

First layer of plaster on mountain