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Aztec Gateway

by Jeffe Koppe

Aztec gateway by Jeffe KoppSo, what project did Jeffe Koppe decide to launch his terrain making career with? Why, Tenochtitlan, an entire Aztec city, of course!

One of the best pieces of advice given on TerraGenesis is to make terrain pieces that you will use over and over in as many games as possible. Though I recognize and commend the wisdom of this, it seems I just can't follow it. I've never built a hill in my life! So, what project do I decide to launch my terrain making career with? Why, Tenochtitlan, an entire Aztec city, of course!

This project does have some advantages, though. Since none of my friends have any Aztec figures they certainly can't complain that the scale of my buildings doesn't match their figures. Furthermore, it's a real boost to my fragile ego to know that I'm setting the standard in the soon to be overcrowded field of Meso-American gaming. (Let's just bypass any comments about my tenuous grasp on reality, shall we?) In actuality, Tenochtitlan is a good beginner's project. Aztec architecture is relatively easy, if you have a need for such things. As far as I can tell the Mexica never used round arches and rarely departed from square or rectangular building plans.

The first project I started was a large 22 x 24 inch great temple.

It's not quite finished yet. Then, just to hit the other extreme, I constructed a slew of thatched huts and small adobe buildings to house the lower and middle classes of my Mexica population. Looking for something different, I decided the next project would be a gateway to the sacred precinct. I had found an interesting picture in one of my books and decided to base my gateway on that. In general, I do not pay a great deal of attention to the actual scale of the buildings that

I'm reconstructing. I base the size of the models on the gaming area available and whether or not the building looks right with my figures. Since I like to game with 25mm figures I usually end up representing the buildings much smaller than they would be if I went strictly by scale.

Method

Gate construction 1The gate to the holy precinct is made up of three structural elements: two simple cubes and one squared u-shaped arch.

All three elements were constructed from foam-core. One of the most important tools to have when working with foam-core is a nice, sharp hobby knife. I habitually don't have one handy. Consequently, when I cut the stuff I really mangle the softer foam in the core. One way to overcome this problem is to use brown packing tape to reinforce the corners of the buildings and hide the edges of the foam-core. An added benefit of this method is that this adds a considerable amount of strength to the model. Picture one is a shot of the gateway in this stage of construction.

(Gary: I use the sticky tape over the corners of buildings when I want extra strength, for example for club terrain. We have called these 'Daz Brackets', ever since a club member, Daz, over-zealously picked up a foamcore building too soon and it fell to bits).

Aztec GatewayPicture number 2 shows the arch with the architectural details added. I used mat-board (a heavy, non-corrugated cardboard used in picture framing) and balsa-wood stringers to add raised panels and ledges.

Once again, since Aztec architecture is so linear this process was easy...no curves to deal with. Notice that the structural components are still separate. I decided not to glue the pieces together at this point to facilitate texturing and painting. More on that later. Three layers of mat-board were sandwiched together to make the low stairs that the arch would cover. This allows the entire structure to sit on a base. Even though the building is relatively strong, since it is long and narrow I wanted to add even more strength by attaching it permanently to its own base.

The next step was texturing the structure. I used some latex (emulsion) house paint to cover the surface and then covered it with some grout filler which was left over from refinishing my bathroom. The key to doing this successfully is to use a color of paint different than that of the foam-core so you can see if you've missed any spots. I have a gallon of reddish-brown paint that works quite well. Another tip is to paint one surface at a time and then cover it with whatever texture material you're using. Keep the surface you're working on horizontal, otherwise less of the sand will adhere to the wet paint. It helps to texture several structures at once. That way, you can give one surface a minute or two to dry while you work on the other structure. All it takes is a short while and then you can go back, shake off the excess sand, and paint/texture another surface on the first structure. Be careful not to let the paint run or build up on the edges. This can cause some unsightly ridges on your finished building. Try to avoid brush-marks, though this is difficult with a thick latex house paint.

After texturing, I coated the entire building with white latex house paint (again leftover from house projects). This sealed much of the texture and spread around any loose sand. If you use a black primer you could just as easily use a black paint for this step.

However, I do suggest that you use a fairly thick paint and a brush because the main purpose of this coat is to seal the texture rather than provide a painting base.

The downfall of recreating Aztec architecture is that the Mexica were really into murals. That made detailing the gateway a real challenge. At first I thought that I would scan the appropriate art or download it from the Internet, print it out on a color printer, cut it out and glue it to the building . . . Viola! Well, it was a good idea, but I lost my access to a scanner, and what I could find on the Internet just didn't print out to my satisfaction. I ended up painting the details by hand.

Depending on your own skill, you may or may not wish to tackle this approach. While painting the details, I also glued thin cardboard flagstones to the base and painted it a tan/gray color. I can not tell you how much flavor the flagstones added to the overall project. The base not only added structural integrity but really pulled the whole thing together visually! After the murals were done, the whole structure was coated with a watered down tan/gray wash to dirty it up a bit. This toned the whole thing down and made the colors a bit more believable. The building just looked too darn clean beforehand. The flagstones were given a wash of dark brown and then dry-brushed with the original color to hi-light some of the details.

The final step was to glue all three structural elements and six 3/8 inch balsa columns to the base. Then the whole thing was sprayed with a protective finish. I used a clear satin varnish to protect the murals from greasy fingers and add depth to the colors. If this building was not covered with murals, I probably would have used a flat finish.

The final picture shows the latest addition to my growing collection of Aztec buildings.

Aztec Gateway

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