Saturday, January 29, 2011

Foundation of a Dying World

As my roadway terrain sections are nearer to completion, I started working more on the design of buildings and city blocks for my post apocalypse terrain in recent days.  When I started this project, I had left a lot of loose ends dangling with respect to how the city blocks would accommodate buildings, and how the terrain tiles would interface. 

My original plan was to make 2'x2' foam squares that could stand alone, or have buildings set on them.  I wrestled with myself about the types of details and features that this method would not permit, such as basements and foundations of buildings, streams and ditches, etc. 

While lamenting that I would lose the use of basements and streams and whatnot, I also began considering the waste of the bottom 1" layer of foam that resulted from this.  Essentially, the entire base layer of 54 square feet of terrain accommodated three shell craters, and nothing else.  My intent in doing the terrain this way, was to create and vertically dynamic rolling layout, hopefully more realistic, and somewhat more pleasing to the eye than some of my previous , more flat, near-future and sci-fi terrain.

In what I call a light-bulb moment, I saw the obvious.  Instead of relying on 2'x2' squares, why not just make 1' square tiles like I do for my historical terrain, and detail them with all of the below grade level detail that I want.  With 2'x2' tiles, I was restricting my vision to simply creating 2'x2' gaming matts with terrain set on them.  The difference may not seem like a big deal in concept, but will result in a dramatic difference in the finished product.

Considering the various buildings that I wanted to make individually, I found that placing them into 1' square terrain panels seemed to rapidly tie up many of the lose ends, that I had left hanging.  After  firming up most of the buildings that I had decided to build, I looked at my basic terrain layout and reconsidered some features.  I decided to take out a one foot width of "city blocks" immediately west of the highway, and shifting the remaining terrain one foot east.  The result is that I can fit a row of buildings along the west edge of the table, completing the neighborhood.  It requires me to temporarily discard a 1'x2' section of road, and to build three new 1'x1' roadway sections.

Okay,  done with the background, here is what I've got done.  I've completed assembly of the first "city block' tile with a foundation of a small house, driveway, walkway, etc.  My basic sketch and the plan view transferred to the foam is shown below.

The foam is the grey/green colored foam marketed by Lowes.  It behaves like the blue and pink foam that you've seen elsewhere on my blog, though this sheet contained a surprise for me.  The entrance to the house in on the right, a driveway raps around the rear (to the left).  The house consists of the original house with basement, and an addition with crawlspace to the rear with side porch.

I started out by cutting out the basement area, with a hobby knife and straight edge.  Then cleaned up a little bevel in the cut with a True-grit file.

This is the point where I realized that the sheet of foam that I picked up did not have a uniform thickness, generally ranging from 1/16 to 1/8 inch thinner than 1 inch thick.  This means it does not mate evenly with my other terrain panels.  So, I laminated a 1/8 inch thick layer of foam to build it up to the right height.  Consumed with the frustration of my discovery, I again missed the obvious, and glued the layer to the top of the tile, rather than the bottom, which would have reduced two steps of later work.  I wouldn't have had to layout the plan again, and by adding it to the bottom, I would have had a basement floor in place.

Note that I've rotated the tile 90 degrees in this view, and had added in the driveway with ballast glued with matt medium.  Prior to gluing the ballast in place, I also added some cracks in the driveway with a hotwire stylus. Another view below.

I then began adding the foundation walls.  The walls are made of  3/16 inch thick blue (Dow/Corning) foam sheet that I cut down to size on a band saw.  I split the foam into small sheets, usually 7" x24" by whatever thicknesses that I need.  Each wall section was cut to fit with a hobby knife, and then scribed with a black ball point pen to represent concrete block inside and out.  I'm working on some plates that will allow me to press this into the foam in the future, but those aren't ready yet, and I wanted to get started.

The walls were glued into place with artist's matte medium, and then pinned with straight pins until dry.  I still have some end detailing to add to the walls, but will do that later.  Here are a couple more views with figs for a better sense of scale.

This back view above shows the rear porch and steps.  Also note the stack of foam slabs that I use for making the walls and whatnot behind the terrain piece. 

The next view shows where I added some foam to build up the grade around the foundation.  it will be smoothed out better and puttied, once everything is dry.

And lastly, a view showing the tile fit in with the other terrain.  I will eventually glue a 1/4 inch thick layer of foam to the bottom of this tile to create the floor of the basement, and bring it up to the proper height to mate to the sidewalks.  In this view, a piece of foam has been placed under the tile to raise it appropriately. The road section to the front of the house is one of the new 1'x1' roadway sections.

I'll give it an hour or so to dry, and then continue working. 

Originally, I expected the 2'x2' city block panels to be just under 1/8 inch lower than the sidewalks, which would have allowed for buildings on styrene sheet bases to be set on them and be about even with the sidewalks.  But I actually cut the sidewalks thicker than I had intended, and didn't catch it until I well into the construction phase.  The result is that the sidewalks are a little higher than originally intended, so even if the Lowes foam was a full 1" thick, I would still have to add a thin layer to the bottom, or place shims under it.  In any event, it will all work out in the end, so all is well.

I'll probably have the next update tomorrow evening.


  1. Excellent stuff. I was thinking of doing something very similar, but ran out of gumption! I'll watch your project closely and shamelessly steal ideas and lessons from you. ;)

    - Shawn.

  2. Looks great Irishserb. I hadn't even thought about basements for my buildings - I'll have to reconsider that now!

  3. Bloody brilliant. Now I will have to ramp up my game even more ;-)