stairs

Dear wife saw the guard tower, and asked “how does the guard get down there?”

So, I had to make some stairs down to it.

stairs

stairs

I cut two “stringers” which are the side supports just like real stairs are cut. Then I placed tiny treads in place with glue. I had to place a few, let them dry, then place some more.

None of this is necessary of course, but when you have the skills and tools, why not add it.

ready for install

ready for install

I had to cut part of the cliff face back to install the stairs. I tried to imagine a tiny dwarf rock cutter out there with his tiny hammer. Everything in your tiny world has to make sense.

in place

in place

Once they were in place, I needed some supports under neath.

supports

supports

Once this was all in, I noticed a nice place for a deck, to the left of the tower. So I constructed the supports and bracing like a real deck would have. I made this first off to the side.

deck support

deck support

That image above shows the support, upside down, with the legs sticking upwards. It had to dry flat before I installed it.

deck framing

deck framing

There is the deck framing in place on the mountain. The stairs can barely be seen on the right side.

decking

decking

Once the frame was in place, I added tiny little decking boards. Try to keep everything in the correct scale. Keep referring back to your miniature figure. The boards are extra long here. They will be cut to proper length later after the glue dries, with a dremel tool.

steps

steps

At the bottom of the stairs, some steps needed to be cut into the rocks so the guard could reach the actual tower. They are cut into the rock, and then a wood slat added on top. All that white will be painted. Most of that white is painter’s caulking to patch holes.

another tip

another tip

Another tip for you is use a little bit of the gravel material directly in your paint. Put a blob of paint on your palette, and sprinkle some gravel medium in it. Stir well. Then dab this mixture on your set where you need small rocks or texture. The paint colors the gravel, but also will glue it in place.

Go ahead, start having fun with your set.

miniature castle part 8 I think

I added another tower on the side of the cliff.

tower

tower

It is just wood pieces. It was installed then patched with caulking where it joined the cliff face.

Let’s take a little side trip here for a moment. Here is a little tip for you. You can make natural rock textures in styrofoam with a heat source, either torch or heat gun. Here is the brand new piece.

new foam

new foam

Now watch as I carefully wave over the surface with a micro butane torch.

torch

torch

The foam melts and leaves a pretty rough rock like texture. Go slow because the foam is very quick to react. Don’t breathe in these fumes because they are bad, not the smell, but probably not good to breathe in.

final texture

final texture

The above image is what it looks with just the torch. It really takes away the flat styrofoam feel and look. This a great technique, just go slow, and be safe. Don’t catch things on fire, and beware the fumes.

Here is another little note for you. Things don’t have to be perfect for you to create. You don’t need the perfect tools, or perfect parts, or perfect work station. The image below is my paint palette. It is a piece of scrap plasticard. The paint is some craft paint that I found on sale for less than a dollar each.

perfect

perfect

I have met artists before that require everything to be perfect for them to create. I think to this day they are still waiting.

Anyway, back to the project. Did I ever mention that I have a sun? Yes, I place tape on the wall so I know where the sun is in relation to my set. That way, I always know where to paint the highlights and shadows.

the sun

the sun

highlights

highlights

That is another round of lighter gray paint on the highlight areas.

Go ahead, be perfect, and wait forever, or just get messy and get some art created.

Miniature landscaping

At the hobby store they sell different bits of terrain. The stuff below is used for fields, or wild flowers, or tree canopies.

foliage

foliage

It is long and stringy like cotton. Dab your glue and water mixture on the landscape and press a small tuft of this stuff in place. Shape and manipulate with a toothpick or sculpting tool.

small tuft

small tuft

It can be pulled really thin and sparse or left in heavy clumps.

sparse

sparse

That is how it can look very sparsely placed.

several patches

several patches

The color breaks up the patches of green. You can find lots of different colors. The more you use the more realistic it can look if you do it correctly.

patterns

patterns

In your mind, figure out what kind of plant you want this to simulate. Decide what kind of growing conditions it would need. For instance, let’s assume this is a yellow plant that needs full sun and some water to survive. Now you can look around your set for places that these conditions exist and place your plants there.

imagine

imagine

As you plant your landscape, imagine where water would collect, where runoff would come down the mountain, where seeds would collect, etc. It doesn’t matter what rules you follow, just be consistent throughout your project.

The whole goal here is to convince the brain that this is real somewhere and not painted styrofoam. The mind starts off filled with disbelief that it is real. We are trying to “suspend the disbelief”. We are trying to convince the viewer’s brain to let go of some of that disbelief.

We can see a whole scene and we can believe it is real. But if we notice something that is not right, or doesn’t follow the rules, then we immediately fill our brains with disbelief, and the illusion is ruined. For example, if the entire set is filled with yellow plants that live in the sunny areas, then in one spot we find them in dark shade, that might be enough to cause us to not believe any more.

You won’t ever get it perfect, but if you make some rules, and stick with them you will have a much better chance to fool your viewers.

Go ahead, plant some sunny yellow flowers, make a mess, have some fun.

miniature castle set part 7

Let’s take another look at realistic planting of the grass.

wow magic

wow magic

See that image? Cool huh? I decided to plant the grass on the flat areas. The steep rock areas won’t hold dirt. Without dirt the grass won’t catch. You can see a few areas down the cliff face that some lucky patches of grass grabbed hold. This is already probably film ready for a quick fly by locator shot. It is just some foam, painted black, drybrushed gray, and red. Then a few sprinkles of green grass. I still have multiple layers left to go but already the magic is showing through.

another angle

another angle

With practical models like this, the shadows and highlights are always perfect. There is no way to screw them up. Real light hits it and you get real shadows and highlights with no work.

cliff face

cliff face

A few flat areas down the cliff face collected some dirt, and some grass began to grow.

wide shot

wide shot

Keep taking some photos to see how things look in your camera. See how the cliffs look great but the bridge is one block of color? We will have to work on that.

entrance

entrance

Next we will add some other plants.

Go ahead, build your own set, have some fun

miniature castle set part 6

So by now most of the drybrushing paint has been applied. Now for some fun stuff.

The hobby store/train store sells terrain elements from a company called Woodland Scenics. They are jars of grass, bushes, trees, gravel, etc.

This is a fine grass medium.

fine grass

fine grass

Grab some white glue, throw a blob in a dish and add some water. Stir until the glue dissolves.

tacky glue

tacky glue

I have used tacky glue, and also Elmer’s glue. You need something that dries clear and will dissolve in water.

Elmer's

Elmer’s

You can make it thick or make it thin depending on where you are going to apply it.

glue water mix

glue water mix

I use a brush to dab it on.

dabbing glue

dabbing glue

Then I sprinkle some green grass particles.

sprinkle

sprinkle

The particles will stick to the glue. Any excess glue will dry clear. You can always go back and add more later.

magic

magic

See ? magic grass patch. They sell different colors and textures. Remember to only add glue where you want grass to be. Grass grows on pretty horizontal areas. If you have a rock that is super steep, grass or plants are not as likely to land there and grow. In the steep areas, you can leave bare rock showing through.

example

example

If you don’t have access to the Woodland Scenics products you can make your own. The above photo is sawdust that was thrown in a bucket with some green paint. Stir it all around, then set it out to dry. You can even microwave it in small time chunks to help dry it out, or place in a shallow pan in the sun. Once dry, store in an airtight container.

black gravel

black gravel

They also sell black and white gravel. I will add some black gravel in the same manner. A little tip for you: if you add a few drops of dishwashing detergent to the glue/water mix it will cut the surface tension and allow the glue mixture to sink quicker into the grass. You can also put your watery glue mixture in a spray bottle and spray it on. You can even spray lightly over existing grass to help seal in any loose bits later.

growing vegetation

growing vegetation

See the magic yet? Take it slowly and be precise with your vegetation planting. Make sure it makes sense where you place it. If you decide your vegetation needs water then place it where the landscape would receive water if it was real.

grass

grass

Now this looks good enough already to start filming. But the more layers you add the more realistic it will be. It is up to you to determine how many layers of different vegetation you desire.

Go ahead, play landscaper, have some fun.

miniature castle part 5

Once your styrofoam is in place and you have shaped it, then paint the whole thing black.

black paint

black paint

I did most of it with a brush and it works fine. But I remembered that I had an air sprayer. Now, you can not use spray paint to paint bare foam. The propellant in the can will melt the styrofoam. But you can pour some regular paint into a paint gun and spray it on like that.

paint sprayer

paint sprayer

This sprayer was like $20 years ago at Harbor Freight hardware. It is designed to paint cars. It hooks up to my air compressor. An airbrush would have worked the same way.

my compressor

my compressor

It helped to spray paint into the cracks and crevices.

all black

all black

Once it is all black, I mixed up a bit of dark gray paint. I grabbed a stiff bristle brush and drybrushed some gray onto the rocks.

stiff brush

stiff brush

Brush lightly, hitting the highlights, leaving the dark shadow areas black. Slowly bring up the highlights.

a little more like rock

a little more like rock

It will suddenly look more like rock. But don’t worry, you won’t really see the magic until the very last minute. Through out the entire project all you will see is styrofoam and paint. Eventually enough layers will go on and your mind will stop seeing bits of the project and will finally see the landscape. Don’t give up yet.

Next I added some red paint into the gray mixture. Rocks are different colors, not just one shade of gray.

dash of red

dash of red

I added the red right into the paint bucket of gray paint. Drybrush it lightly on.

red

red

Leave the blackest shadows intact. Once the basic rock is painted, I added some green where moss/grass would grow. Imagine dropping grass seeds from the sky. Pick out flat horizontal spaces and dab some green.

green

green

Dab on some small spots of grass color. This is a little more precise than the other colors. Only add it where plants would grow.

grass

grass

We will add grass later, but the paint will help the illusion.

grass illusion

grass illusion

Go ahead, make a castle, have some fun.

miniature castle part 4

Add some more styrofoam to bulk up your basic rock shapes.

more foam

more foam

Add to fill in holes, and to create shapes.

cliffs

cliffs

Keep building. The more you can add at this stage, the easier it will be later. It is easier to have too much foam and cut some off than it is to have too little and have to add later.

big rough shapes first

big rough shapes first

Once it is bulked out, you can begin to shape the foam with knives, cutters or abrasives.

saw marks

saw marks

These marks are made with a drywall saw. Remove any flat factory surfaces.

caulking

caulking

I fill some small cracks with painter’s caulking.

scale

scale

I built a tiny man to remind me of my scale. I can move him around as I work on different areas.

Great Stuff

Great Stuff

Expanding foam gap filler called Great Stuff can be used a great glue to hold pieces of foam together and also to fill cracks and holes.

main hall

main hall

I built the main hall out of cardboard and paper.

expanding foam

expanding foam

This is what the expanding foam looks like on the styrofoam. It is fun to play with, but can be very messy, like super-incredibly messy.

Great Stuff

Great Stuff

I filled the cracks and holes. I used two cans of the foam.

small bridge

small bridge

I had a small bridge from another project so I added it down by the water’s edge.

blobs

blobs

The Great Stuff expands and leaves blobs when it dries. The edges are rounded so you have to cut it and shape it so it looks more like your rough rocks.

Go ahead, make a huge mess, have some fun.