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FORUM CLINIC: Building realistic model railroad scenery
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joef
Sun Oct 02 2005, 06:32PM


Registered Member #3
Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:01PM
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112

NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.


Let's do a FORUM CLINIC about building realistic model railroad scenery. I have a specific philosophy I use when building model train scenery so it is more realistic, and I'll share some of that here. Plus, I have lots of techniques I use for the scenery I do.

But let's start off with an example scene from my HO scale Siskiyou Line. I'm modeling the prototype SP in sourthern Oregon, so I am aiming for a specific look for that locale that's correct. Here's the scene:



If you know southern Oregon, then this scene will ring true to you as looking "right". Plus, I'm using some tricks that are not used by many in the hobby to make the scene "pop" and seem more real than most model scenes. We'll start with some important philosophical points first, and then move into specific techniques with this clinic.

NOTE: This same layout location was featured on the cover of Model Railroader's special Realistic Layouts issue (May 2006). To see more, click here.


NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.


NEXT TOPIC: Philosophical point 1 - Proper model train scenery COLOR

[ Edited Sat Aug 23 2008, 04:50PM ]

Joe Fugate
http://siskiyou-railfan.net - 200,000 hits and counting!


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joef
Sun Oct 02 2005, 06:49PM


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Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:01PM
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112
TOPIC THIS POST: Philosophical point 1 - Proper scenery COLOR

A rather obvious key to realistic scenery is getting the proper color of the scenic elements.

For this, you need to do some careful observation. Grass is not always green, rocks are not always gray, dirt is not always brown, and water is not always blue.

Photographs of the region you are modeling can be a great help here. Take a close look at the kinds of scenic elements (rocks, trees, bushes, grass) and their color.

For example, conifer trees generally exhibit a much darker green vegetation color, so to make sure they stand out properly on the model, they should be several shades darker green than deciduous trees. Check out this photo, taken on the old SP Tillamook branch in May:


In May, decidious tree foliage is a shade lighter than it will become in June, so the difference in color between conifer and decidious tree foliage is dramatic this time of the year. By June, the decidious tree foliage will be darker, so the difference will be less distinct, but the difference will still be there, just the same. Learn to notice this sort of thing with regard to scenery color.

One common mistake on model scenery is to make the colors too intense. Muted colors, and subtle color variations go a long ways torward making your scenery look more realistic. Ironically, the best thing that can happen to some model scenery is a year's layer of dust! The dust will blend and subdue the colors, actually making the scenery look better!

One clever way to check the coloration on your scenery is to take some black and white photos of your scenery and also some color photos of your scenery. Then show the photos to your non-modeling friends and ask them which photos look more like the real thing to them.

If they pick the black and white photos, that's a strong clue your coloration may be off.


NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.


NEXT TOPIC: Philosophical point 2 - Proper scenery TEXTURE

[ Edited Wed Mar 12 2008, 02:41AM ]

Joe Fugate
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joef
Mon Oct 03 2005, 12:57AM


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Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:01PM
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112
A few more comments on proper color ...

When we get into discussing the how-to side of doing model scenery, you will notice I use techniques that introduce subtle color variations into the scenery.

For example, indoor lighting is far dimmer than outdoor sunlight, so I use coloring tricks to make the indoor lighting look more like sunlight. When I do a decidous tree, once it is all done, I take a can of pale yellow spray paint and lightly mist the tree from above. This causes the parts of the tree that face UP to have a hint of yellow green as compared to a darker green on the parts of the tree that face DOWN.

This trick simulates sunlight and makes the model tree that's under dim indoor lighting look a lot more like it's outside under sunlight. It's subtle tricks like this that really make your scenery "pop" and look real.

Joe Fugate
http://siskiyou-railfan.net - 200,000 hits and counting!


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Kristian
Mon Oct 03 2005, 12:30PM
Registered Member #201
Joined: Thu Sep 15 2005, 11:19AM
Location: Hassleholm, Sweden
Posts: 28
Thanks for sharing this with us here. In a few moments, I will race down the basement and try the "yellow paint" trick.


Regards,

Kristian Alf

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joef
Mon Oct 03 2005, 10:25PM


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Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:01PM
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112
TOPIC THIS POST: Philosophical point 2 - Proper scenery TEXTURE

Proper scenery texture is a concept that's not as obvious as proper scenery color -- yet if you get this concept down, you will understand where you can cut corners with your scenery detail and your scenery will look more real than ever.

Again, make careful observation of the area you are modeling, this time for the textures that are common. Photos can be a big help here since you can study them at your leisure.

Many modelers overlook proper texture and as a result you can look at a photograph of their layout scenery and it instantly screams "MODEL!"

The transition in the 1970s from lichen to ground foam was a big step in the right direction with regard to texture, because the lumpy TEXTURE of ground foam is more like leaves than the filament texture of lichen.

However, many modelers get one grind of ground foam and use it everywhere for everything ... grass, bushes, deciduous trees, conifer trees, dirt. If you pay attention to texture, of course this results in the wrong texture for some of these things. And some things, like grass, have a texture more akin to filaments rather than lumps, which means NO KIND OF GROUND FOAM will do for the texture of grass. Only a very short trimmed and manicured lawn can be simulated with ground foam, all other kinds of grass need to use something else if you want the proper texture.

The other thing with texture is to understand that you can take shortcuts in your scenery, especially in the back half of a scene toward the backdrop. As things recede into the distance, texture fades away and mostly color applies. You can use very simple low-texture methods in the back of your scene and as long as the color is good, the scene will look great.

Here is a scene from my HO Siskiyou Line that takes advantage of this front-to-back texture transition:


Yahoo photo link: http://siskiyou-railfan.net/assets/images/post_photos/Texture.jpg

In this photo you can see yellow fuzzy grass texture in the front of the scene, transitioning to simply yellow hills in the background against the backdrop.

As a further practical example of understanding texture, consider the difference between modeling a deciduous tree and modeling a conifer. Deciduous trees tend to have broad, flat leaves, while conifers tend to have small, pointy needles. In terms of texture and modeling at the typical modeling scales of O, HO, and N scale, this means we use a coarse ground foam for representing deciduous tree foliage, but use fine ground foam to represent conifer tree foliage.

As we get into the specifics of how to model various things in your scenery, keep in mind these two guiding philosophies of color and texture. If you can get your arms around these two concepts, your model scenery will imediately improve, and you'll be on the road to getting a layout that looks more realistic than ever.


NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.


NEXT TOPIC: Back to the beginning - Building terrain (Or, Filling the holes in the benchwork)

[ Edited Wed Mar 12 2008, 02:42AM ]

Joe Fugate
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J.E. Keith
Tue Oct 04 2005, 12:50PM

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Joined: Thu Dec 09 2004, 01:18PM
Location: Stuttgart/Germany
Posts: 153
A few more comments on proper color ...

This trick simulates sunlight and makes the model tree that's under dim indoor lighting look a lot more like it's outside under sunlight. It's subtle tricks like this that really make your scenery "pop" and look real.


For the same reason I do do some drybrushing on my structures.
J.E. Keith Stuttgart/Germany
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JeffShultz
Tue Oct 04 2005, 01:59PM

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Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:30PM
Location: Stayton, OR
Posts: 582
Joe,

One topic that I'm hoping that you'll cover is "transitioning between scenes." I've got several places on my layout that I'll be jumping a significant distance in reality that will be compressed down to near nothing... I've noticed on your layout that you've basically been doing a full-up scenery job in spots, with large areas still unscenicked in between.

So I'm very interested in seeing how you handle major scenery transitions, like between Cottage Grove and Rice Hill and between the bridge to the north of Roseburg and Roseburg yard itself.

Jeff Shultz
Willamette & Pacific - Oregon Electric Branch
W&P RR Photo Gallery
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KnuT
Tue Oct 04 2005, 04:04PM
Registered Member #27
Joined: Thu Dec 09 2004, 11:00AM
Location: Halden, Norway
Posts: 208
Great topic and clinic; Joe!
Thank you.

KnuT

regards
KnuT
see my blog on The Peavine and Santa Fe:
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joef
Wed Oct 05 2005, 03:24AM


Registered Member #3
Joined: Wed Dec 08 2004, 09:01PM
Location: Portland, OR
Posts: 2112

NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.


TOPIC THIS POST: Back to the beginning - Building terrain (Or,Filling the holes in the benchwork)

First, the disclaimer:
This series is not intended to be an extensive survey of different ways to build model scenery, but is how I build scenery for the Siskiyou Line. I've been building model railroad scenery for nearly 40 years, and I've tried lots of different methods. The methods I'm going to cover work for me because I've found them to be both easy and fast, yet produce "great" looking scenery. These are not necessarily the best methods for everyone, but they work for me!

Okay, on to forming rough terrain.

I prefer to use cardboard strips and hot glue to form a basketweave of the terrain I'm building. (I am not a big fan of foam board for my scenery base -- I don't like the problem of holes for wiring, etc, and I am leery of the flamable nature of foam -- again, this is my opinion, and yours may differ, which is fine.)

I cut 3/4" wide strips from old corrugated cardboard boxes, and hot glue them to the layout in a crosshatch, basketweave sort of pattern, with 4-6" between strips.

The hot glue makes the work go fast, and I use sprung clothes pins to clamp the hot glued overlap joints between the strips so I can keep moving. You'll need 20 or 30 clothes pins to keep this process going. Once you run out of clothes pins, the hot glue on the first of the clothes pins will be cool enough you can remove the pins and reuse them.

Hot glue can give you some nasty burns if you are not careful, so I like to use a rubber dishwashing glove on one hand (I'm left handed, so I wear the glove on my left hand) to protect me from the hot glue.

Here's a quick snapshot I took of the under-construction cardboard strip terrain around the North Umpqua Bridge area on my Siskiyou Line:


Building basic terrain contours using basket-weave cardboard strips glued together with hot glue
Yahoo image link: http://siskiyou-railfan.net/assets/images/post_photos/scenery/Scenery.jpg

Once I have the basketweave terrain with the cardboard strips done, I put 2" wide masking tape over the cardboard strips. This provides a solid scenery base upon which to paint the plaster mix (discussed in the next post).

The masking tape application goes fast, and you can immediately get an idea how your scenery is going to look from it. Now is the time to alter things if you don't like how they look. The farther along you go in the process, the harder it gets to change your mind.

That's the other thing I really like about this method of building scenery. It's easy for me to change my mind after I see how things look. In the best case, I can just cut and twist here and there, maybe using a bit more carboard and masking tape, to alter a terrain contour.

Or the worst case is I have to rip out some cardboard strips and masking tape, and try again. In either case, alterations are easy to do at this stage. (Try that with foam board.)

In a pinch, you can also paint this masking tape scenery with some light brown latex paint and have some quick stand-in scenery until such time as you have a chance to do the "plastering" step.

For comparison, here's the finished North Umpqua scene, detailed using the techniques we'll be covering later in this clinic:


The same North Umpqua River bridge location as a finished scene
Yahoo image link: http://siskiyou-railfan.net/assets/images/post_photos/scenery/Scenery2.jpg

NEW! Model Trains Video.com has downloadable videos ($1.99 and up) that show me demonstrating these techniques.

NEXT TOPIC: Applying the scenery "plaster" mixture

[ Edited Wed Mar 12 2008, 02:42AM ]

Joe Fugate
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Denny
Wed Oct 05 2005, 09:37AM
Registered Member #21
Joined: Thu Dec 09 2004, 07:20AM
Posts: 404
I prefer to use cardboard strips and hot glue to form a basketweave of the terrain I'm building.


Joe, this clinic is simply GREAT. very useful information.
where do you get cardboard strips? do you make it on your own from cardboard boxes, or what?

thank you!
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