Monday, January 31, 2011

My Dilemma, or Why I'm Basing Marines, Rather Than Blowing Up the World

When I build terrain pieces that have any character, I usually develop a bit of a storyline for them, as I build them.  Generally it is something that never really relates to a game, but helps me visualize the evolution of the piece, as it came to be the way that it appears on the table.  It is kind of like having the evil twin of Bob Ross, the painter, talking in my head as I build, but instead of "... and a little bunny lives here, and nearby is his friend Mr. Tree...", it is more like "... and a psycho with claymore mines lived here, but he was cut in half by his cannibal friend with a minigun on a acid trip...". 

Anyway, a story develops, a pictures appears in my mind, and I create the terrain piece.  In the case of my little house, the story that developed involved the house being caught is a crossfire between the National Guard and group of thugs that occupied the police station, which is located across the street (as is the real house and police station on which my terrain is based). 

The house gets shot up by riflemen, a 20mm gatling, and grenades, scavenged and stripped, left to decay, and sometime later caught on fire by transient survivers taking refuge in its remains.  Then comes the time of my games with the shot up, blown out, cut down, burned out, pillaged little house.

While I was painting the foundation, I was considering whether to build the wrecked house out of styrene or bass wood.  I like styrene, as it is very fast to work with and gives a very clean finished product.  The bass wood is nice, as it is strong, has a fine grain, and lovely texture.  The down side of the styrene is that it does not have the earthy texture, and produces an almost too clean product for what I want in this messed up little house.  Meanwhile, the bass wood is much slower and tedious to work with (requiring super glue, rather than solvent with the styrene), can be damaged by dampness in my basement, and is a little trickier to paint as water based paints can cause the wood to warp.

In the end I was leaning toward the bass wood, thinking that the texture would lend more character to the final product.  So I went through my stash of wood, and found that I am way short of what I need to complete the house.  And looking at my plastic, I have enough textured plastic sheet and strips on hand to build it right away.  I know that in the end though, that I will not get the same splintered wood effect with the styrene, and my paint job won't be as good.

So my foundation sets...

... without a house, while I base 15mm Peter Pig US Marines and ponder what to do.

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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Quick Roadway Markings

While obsessing on my post-apocalypse terrain, I got to the point of putting markings on the roadways; lane strips, stop-bars, and crosswalks.  I had done this some years before by masking with tape and brushing on the markings, a relatively slow and somewhat tedious process. 

This time around, I had intended to use paint markers and a straight-edge.  I figured that it would be easier, but hadn't realized how much time it would save.

The process was very simple, first I located the markings with white or yellow colored pencils.  Just a couple of small marks at the beginning and end of each roadway marking.  Then I lined up a straight-edge with the marks, and simply draw on the marking with an acrylic paint marker.  It took about 35 minutes to do all 36 feet of roadway.    You can see the result in the following photos:

Despite the rough surface of the pavement, the markings came out very bold without much effort.

The Elmers Painter paint markers and the colored pencils used are pictured below:

The markers are available from Dick Blick art supplies in the US:

I probably wouldn't have thought to mention these, but happened to come across another gamer's post this weekend talking about the work invested in masking his roadways to locate the painted markings.

In my case, I am creating post-apoc terrain, so want the markings to be end up very faded and sometimes totally obscured.  Had this been new or maintained  roadway, the markings would have been applied to a smoother surface, and would have been even cleaner and more distinct.  After applying the markings, I then began to apply washes and brybrush to "age" the markings.  The work isn't done, but the photos below show the beginnings of the process.

A single yellow and single white marker were more than enough to complete my terrain, and probably could have done twice as much.  Anyway, just thought that I'd mention them, as they were easy to use and took about a quarter of the time that I had expected.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Perils of the Post Apocalypse Terrain Maker

When I venture into a new historical gaming period or conflict, I usually spend the better part of a year researching the subject before spending the first dollar on it.  I like to learn about the peoples involved in the conflict; culture, religion, ways of daily life, perspective about life, motivations, what are they fighting for, etc.  I usually learn a lot, probably misunderstand more than I learn, and then get to the game.  The beauty of sci-fi/fantasy games is that I don't have to spend a year researching to get to the game.

So I decide to finally build my PA terrain, and what am I spending the most time on...researching.  Kind of a funny idea really, researching what hasn't happened. Most of it involves looking at abandoned and destroyed places, and noting damage and decay.  Mostly it involves collecting info about those things that would populate the PA landscape, but it also involves the perils of gathering that information. 

The funny thing about abandoned places is that they are never abandoned.  You find all sorts of interesting people, some of them just curious, a photographer, an artist spraying the side of a building, a homeless person,  people exchanging a package, people looking funny at you and your camera..time to leave.  Interestingly, I've not been directly threatened by anyone in these situations, though I did have to make some effort to avoid an unhappy dog one time.  As far as people go,  a menacing glance maybe, but no real threats.  Can't say the same for people in the "civilized" places.

One day, I was walking around town, taking photos of detail items; street signs, storm drains, roadway markings, etc.  While taking photos of the highway overpass near my home (and featured in my PA terrain), a car veers over towards me, honks its horn, somebody inside screams an obscenity. I'm on a sidewalk,  I turn, see whats happening, (taking photos the whole time) jump back as the car jumps the curb, loses part of a now shattered wheelcover, and blows its tire.  They miss me by 18 inches, veer off of the curb, and continue down the street on the fresh flat.  What are they thinking?  They just screwed up Dad's new Toyota, could have seriously hurt or killed me, and we are only like 40 feet from a police station.  

Another day, I figure I'll take a couple of pics of the vending machines by Walmart.  As I'm walking over to them, I notice a car parking in the handicap spot with no handicap plackard (the driver, a young, athletic and affluent looking woman (at Walmart??) had no obvious disability), another car was parked in the fire lane in front of the store, and kids on skateboards where running over people on the covered walk outside the stores in the plaza (skateboarding there is a violation of local ordinance, and is posted). 

I take a side view pic of the end vending machine, a couple of shots of the fronts.  A couple people are looking at me, as I do this.  Funny how when you take photos of things, people look at you like your murdering a bus-load of orphans.  I stood there for a moment , just about ready to leave, noting some details of the bottons/hardware on the front of the machine, when I hear, " Sir, I need to ask you to step away from that pop machine".  I turn, and there is a security guard standing there with his hand on his can a mace.  You have got to be kidding me.  The 14 year olds on the skateboards have just run into someone coming out of a store, the empty car is still parked in front of two "No Parking, Fire Lane" signs and on the giant "NO PARKING" letters painted on the ground. Handicapped people are walking from Mongolia to get to the store.  And I have to step away from the machine? 

"Sir, what are you doing?"

"I was taking photos of the vending machines"

"Sir, why are you taking photos of the vending machines?"

I think quickly, knowing that explaining that I'm building the end of the world in my basement for little people to fight and die over is not a good answer, and say, "To build miniatures for a model railroad."

"Well sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave."

Really surprised, I blurt out, "You're kidding."

I then mention the illegally parked cars, the kids on the skateboards, and question why he stops a guy from photographing a vending machine, an act not in violation of state or local law. He then threatens to call authorities and have me forcibly removed. So I willingly go home, without pepper-spray eyes, where I will build a model of a blown-up, burned down, looted Walmart with the remnants of an over-zealous security guard being munched on by turkey vultures.

Let this be a warning for you post apocalypse terrain makers,  the post apocalyptic wasteland is a dangerous place.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Fresh Coat of Paint on the Old Apocalypse

Over the last couple of weeks, I finally managed to get a base coat of paint on the roadway portions of my post-apocalypse terrain.  obviously, it still needs a lot of work to get that wasteland feel. Eventually there will be more debris, areas where dirt has collected and built up, and I still need to decide how I want to handle manhole covers, storm drains, grates, etc.

Having the paint on it helps me visualize things a little better, and will hopefully speed up the detailing process.

I'm still debating whether to glue down the Jersey barriers or base the sections on styrene,so that they can be moved around.  I want to maintain as much flexibility as possible, but I'm not sure how much use there would be for that.  Loose barrier sections will be tedious to handle, so I'm leaning toward gluing them in place.

The last couple photos show some 28mm Copplestone  figs and a 1/43 scale Toyota RAV4 that I picked up a few years back.

The road texture is a little coarse, but will lend itself well to dry brushing during the weathering phase of painting.

I've started drawing up scale sketches of the first generation of buildings, and am in the process of making textured plates for pressing patterns into foam sheet.  Various masonry patterns can be pressing into the foam using patterns made from styrene sheets and strips and a rolling pin.  Making the patterns is tedious, but makes for fast building construction.  Wood frame structures will be made from a combination of basswood and styrene patterned sheets and strips.

Anyway, it has been a little while since my last update, so I thought I'd post pics of the current progress.  I hope to have pics of the finished roadways up in about a week.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Update on the Apocalypse

I finally got some time to work on the end of the world this weekend and completed a major step forward, though it doesn't really look like I made much progress.

I got the roadbed glued down and all of the road tiles coated with acrylic paste. This was a fairly time consuming process that involves gluing fine ballast o the roadbeds with artist's acrylic matte medium, allowing it to dry, and then "painting" a coat of acrylic paste over the roadbed and on all of the non-road surfaces of the road tiles. The primary materials are shown below.

A coat of acrylic matte medium was painted onto the roadbed, the ballast sprinkled over it, and the excess poured off.  Once the matte medium was dry, the terrain looked like this:

I also added more detailing , such as missing retaining walls, more decay to the concrete, etc:

After the matte medium was dry, any loose ballast was brushed/dumped off, cracks in the roadbed where cleared of ballast with a dental pick, and the terrain tiles were coated with acrylic paste. This gives the terrain a milky finish and, locks the ballast in, softens the texture of the ballast, and acts as a primer for the paint.

Next I will add more cracks into the roadbed surface with a Dremel tool, and then begin painting.

Sorry the progress isn't more dynamic, but this is a major step with respect to time before getting on to some of the more interesting work.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 in Review, Plans for 2011, Therapy for the Irishserb

No, no, I'm not starting treatment as a result of my hobby failures. This is the stuff that keeps me from getting goofier.

2010 was my least active year since getting involved in the hobby in the late 1970s. I played a total of only three games, bought fewer figs (actually only purchased around 30, probably about 700 less than the average year), and painted fewer figs than any year since 1979, and just generally got very little accomplished.

At the start of the year, I had high hopes, and figured I'd focus mostly on completing projects that had been on the back burner for some time. I did a little of that, but not nearly as much as I had hoped. My list of accomplishments and failures is as follows:

20mm Vietnam

Riverine Terrain - Completed a modular section of river with a canal, a significant accomplishment, but failed to build the old church, bunkers, or village inspired mostly by the book "Riverine". Of a targeted 78 square feet of modular foam terrain, I realized that I needed more like 40 square feet and completed 27 of it. Enough to get the game on the table, but also discovered that I need to make a range of smaller palm trees to better suit by 20mm stuff (as opposed to my 28mm colonials).

Village - Have two Britannia hooches primed and ready for paint.

PBRs - Completed Britannia PBRs and sampans. These took a lot more work than anticipated, as the PBRs were not accurately sculpted, and required a lot of modification.

Complete M113 and M48 kits - Completed the kits of 4x M113 and 1x M48, but need to re-weather four of the models as they got "frosted" during spray sealing.

Vietnam Civilians - Haven't even started on them yet.

15mm World War Two

US vehicles - Finally made castings of US vehicles that I mastered in the early 1990's. Around 70 vehicles are partially painted and awaiting decals and weathering.

15mm Modern Africa

Airport - Still need to Build airport/airbase for scenarios in my fictional campaign. Completed a design sketch, but got no further.

Presidential Palace - Build a presidential palace for the Mugabian (one of my fictional African countries) president. Designed.

Houses - Add at least 7 more houses and small shops to my collection of African buildings. Researched and designed.

T34/85 - Complete master and cast a company for the Mugabian army. Have plans.

BTR152 - Completed a company of BTR152s for my fictional African Army of Mugabia.

M2A2 - Completed and in the process of casting.

Uwanda Helicopters - Procured models for the Uwandan commandos (fictional Africa country again). Awaiting assembly.

Barricades - Make a bunch of "Mog" type barricades. Researched and designed.

15mm Afghanistan

Gaz66 - Complete master and cast a bunch of trucks for Soviet convoys and various duties in Afghanistan and Africa. Barely started.

28mm Science Fiction

Ayers' Farm - House still awaiting paint, farm buildings on the drawing board, the alien intruders will just have to be patient.

Ayers Family - Still need to pick up and paint figs for the rest of the family defending the farm.

Post Apocalypse Terrain - This project is well under way, but only maybe 20 percent complete. Below is a pic of all three of the dumpsters that hope to cast as bits of the debris in my PA world.

"Out West Town" - Complete the buildings that I have had half done in the basement for the last two years. Think route 66. Essentially no progress.

"The Hood" - Based on part of my childhood stomping-grounds, will provide the core of an inner city for contemporary/near future/ post apoc games. Involves completing several buildings already started and adding a few more. No progress.

Birdman Museum - Complete the birdman museum for the "Out West Town". The museum is inspired by those many roadside tourist trap museums that I saw as a child and will feature artifacts of the ancient "birdmen". Much to the surprise of the towns people, the birdmen will be coming for their holy relics. No progress. The pic below is of the "Birdman fossil" hopefully resembling a GW Kroot, who will serve as the collectors of the holy relics. This will serve as the center-piece item in the museum.

Scavenger Village Expansion - Additions to my post apocalypse scavenger village will include a couple ruined buildings/hovels, debris/junk heaps, and other various detail items for the village. No progress.

Contemporary Police Station - Build a police station for "The Hood". It may or may not double as a station for the "Out West" town. No progress.

Near Future Police station - Build either a new structure or more probably a futuristic addition to the contemporary police station for various near future scenarios. No progress.

Zombies - Buy and paint the Cold War Zombies. No progress.

Wasp CS Aircraft - Build the "Wasp" close support craft that I designed a couple of years back. It was literally inspired by watching a couple of wasps that were hanging around the back porch a couple of years ago. No progress.

Beetle Utility Transport - Build the "Beetle" transport aircraft , a companion to the Wasp, for my Imperial troops. Sort of a sci-fi "Huey". No progress other than tweaking the design a little.

Imperial APCs - Still need to scratch-build APCs for my "Imperials".

I had a couple of accomplishments that weren't on the list, which included completion of a couple of HAL-3 Seawolves UH-1 gunships to support my PBRs. Only had the kits setting on the shelf for 4 years, though they originally weren't going to be Seawolves. As it turned out, it was destiny, as the kits came with the proper decals.

Completed additional Mujahadeen to round out figs for the Soviet-Afghan War, a mix of Old Glory and QRF figs to add to my previous OG and Dragon's Hoard figs.

Summarizing 2010, I completed or made significant progress on 6 of 28 planned projects. Also, I completed 2 additional projects.

And now for the new projects for 2011:

20mm Vietnam

GunTruck, Troop Trucks, and Jeeps - Add about 7-8 vehicles of the various types to my Vietnam collection.

15mm Fictional Africa

US Marines - Paint the Peter Pig figs that I got for X-mas.

AAV7 Master - Complete and cast rides for my Marines.

ERC90 Master - Complete and cast so that my FFL have some firepower.

 As every sports fan must have said at some point; "Just wait 'till next year." 2011 fields 29 hobby projects for me, some silly, some nostalgic, some artistic, every one a passionate adventure in some way. It's going to be a great year, I can't wait to get started.