Saturday, April 28, 2012

Making Trees - My First Forest

With the first section of my layout’s ground cover well under way, it was finally time to start putting some trees together. Since my layout is set in a mountainous terrain somewhere in the Canadian Rockies, it will feature forests comprised of pine trees, most of which will be in the back-half of my layout. The front half will feature more deciduous type trees around the residential, commercial, and industrial areas.

I decided to use Woodland Scenics plastic tree armatures for my pine trees, and for the majority of my deciduous trees. Using the tree armatures does of course require assembly, but are a lot less expensive and look far more realistic then most pre-made trees. Making trees completely from scratch however is probably the most economical option, but I like the look and ease-of-use of the tree armatures, so this was the method I chose.

Woodland Scenics pine and deciduous tree armaturesWoodland Scenics pine and deciduous tree armatures

The first step was to prep the armatures by bending the branches and limbs into a 3-dimentional shape. Once all the armatures were properly shaped, I mounted them by their bases to a sheet of foam board. I will not use the bases of the trees on my layout as they look very unrealistic, however the bases work well for holding the armatures upright while I work on them. I airbrushed the armatures with a mixture of chocolate brown and gray paint to get a more realistic colour. I then applied a coat of dull-coat to get rid of any gloss left on the trees.

Tree armature covered with Hob-e-Tac adhesiveTree armature covered with Hob-e-Tac adhesive

The next step was to apply an adhesive onto the armatures. Woodland Scenics recommends their own tacky adhesive, Hob-e-Tac, so this is what I used. I applied it to the armatures using the supplied brush, doing about 6 trees at a time. I was careful to not apply too much glue to the trunk of the tree, as most trees don’t have a large amount of foliage growing out in that area. I let the Hob-e-Tac set for about 15 minutes until it became clear and very tacky.

Dipping and rolling tree armature in scenic ground foamWoodland Scenics pine tree armature with conifer green foliage

I then dipped and rolled the armatures in Woodland Scenics foam products. For the pine trees, I used Conifer Green Coarse Turf, and for the deciduous trees I used a combination of Medium Green Clump Foliage and Underbrush. I had a couple deciduous armatures from Life-Like, which I covered with Light Green Coarse Turf. I found that the pine trees looked a little empty, so I used Conifer Green Foliage to fill them in a bit. By using different sized pieces of foliage which I stretched out and placed randomly between the branches, the pine trees lost their generic, pipe-cleaner look.

Woodland Scenics deciduous tree armatures with medium green clump foliageFirst batch of pine trees ready for my layout

After applying the foliage to all the trees, I noticed the next day that large amounts of the clump foliage had fallen off of my deciduous trees. I realized that unlike the very light coarse turf I used on my pine trees, the heavier clump foliage did not get a good enough grip on the Hob-e-Tac adhesive from simply rolling the armature around in the material. Instead, I had to hand press all of the clump foliage onto the armature to ensure that it was properly secured. I then shook each tree to remove any loose pieces and to see where I needed to apply more.

First batch of pine trees ready for my layoutLife-Like deciduous tree armatures with light green foliage

The final step was to highlight the trees with blended turf, which gave the trees a more realistic look. I sprinkled a little bit of Earth Blend on the pine trees, and used Green Blend on the deciduous trees. I then gave all of the trees a spray of thinned white glue to seal everything in. Be careful to not get the clump foliage too wet, as the added weight is actually enough to cause the clumps to drop off of the armatures.

The trees are now ready to be added to my layout. I should have my fist post on the first stage of my scenery within the next couple weeks, as long as everything goes as planned.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Home-Made Track Camera

While I’m currently working on the first stages of my scenery, I completed a little side project that I’ve had on my mind for the last few months. A hobby store I had visited had rolling stock fitted with wireless cameras for an engineer’s-eye-view of your track layout, however these turned out to be quite expensive, even for the basic starter kit. I immediately began to look for a more cost-effective option, and figured that I might even be able to make my own camera car for little-to-no cost.
I have a junk drawer in my office with a bunch of old, obsolete cell phones that are serving absolutely no useful purpose, but all still function fine. Each cell phone however, has a camera that shoots and records video, all of which can be transferred to a computer via USB. And that got me thinking. Would I actually be able to somehow use one of these old cell phone’s cameras as a travelling cab-view camera? You bet I could.
Track camera using an old cell phone and engine components

The biggest challenge of using a cell phone for this task was making the cell’s camera face forward. This is because a cell phone’s camera is usually located on the back of the phone, and since the phone would need to travel on its side to properly fit through tunnels and under bridges, the camera always naturally faced off to either side of the track. This meant that the camera would need to be physically removed and repositioned to a forward-facing location, while still staying connected to the phone interface.
I played around with a couple different phones and had no luck, as their cameras were directly attached and soldered to the phone’s mother board. However when I took my old Samsung Instinct apart, I noticed that its camera was only attached via a flexible data cable, which allowed the camera itself to move independently of the phone. I cut a hole in the back of the phone’s case so once re-assembled the camera could pass through and be accessible and positioned from the outside. I built an external support structure out of styrene to hold the camera in a forward-facing position, making sure that the camera was positioned at a correct angle so it would have an accurate and realistic recording.
Front view of my homemade model railroad track cameraHomemade cab view track camera

I sacrificed an old Bachmann GP35 engine to carry the cell-phone camera. I removed the engine and cab structure, only keeping the motorized base. To allow the cell phone to pass through tunnels and under my trestle, it would need to be located as close to the track as possible, so I positioned it inside the engines fuel-tank structure, between the trucks. This of course was not long enough to house the phone, so I needed to cut the tank in half and extend it with rigid styrene extensions. The cell phone needs to sit at an angle to clear the bottom of the trestle, and the camera was adjusted and installed to compensate for this angle. I used styrene pieces to support and securely hold the phone to the engine structure.
Model railroad scratch built track camera Homemade cab view track camera

The final product isn’t pretty at all, but it does its intended job very well. To use the camera, all I do is activate the camera and set it on camcorder mode. I then place the phone into position on the engine base. When ready, I press record on the top edge of the phone, energize the track, and let the engine travel around my layout. Once I’m done recording, I simply remove the phone, tether it to my computer via USB, and download the footage (as seen below). I know the quality isn’t as high as the expensive commercial products available, but this didn’t cost me anything, and the effect is equally as amusing.
The following video is of the very first test run of my entire layout with my new track-camera. Please don’t mind the speed of the camera and my under-construction layout - this was just a test!