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Rocky Terrain

Rocky TerrainAs far as Brian O'Leary is concerned: the bumpier the battlefield, the better. Brian likes his Styrofoam terrain to have some height to it and he carves it without the aid of a hot wire cutter, or a safety net!

The subject piece is a rocky mountain for my Pacific Island jungle. The idea was to create a significant break separating a native village from a town and port on the opposite side of the island. I wanted to create a rocky jungle trail, caves, stone arches, pillars, waterfalls, a rope/vine bridge, and lots of outcroppings and crevices for figures to hike and hide on.

Rocky TerrainThe first step was to sketch out a rough, semi-scale drawing of the piece. Generally I include fairly detailed topographical contour lines, roads, streams, etc., but this piece has a lot of vertical rise with very few slopes, so I did not add as much detail to the sketch as I normally would, just a few notes about features.

Rocky TerrainThis terrain also had to fit in my car and at roughly 4' by 3' by 9" the finished piece would be too large to travel as a single unit. I therefore laid it out in blocks of Styrofoam to calculate the best arrangement of sections. This also allowed me to better visualize details that would be added, trouble shoot early problems, and determine the order of gluing.

Rocky TerrainThe nature of this terrain dictated that I should glue sections together that roughly represent the rock strata, allowing me to cut them such that there would be a great many outcroppings.

A rough outline of each layer's shape was drawn on with a marker or pen before cutting it out with a loose hacksaw blade. The layers were glued together by spraying 3M Super 77 spray adhesive onto both surfaces, letting them set up enough to become 'aggressively tacky' and then carefully aligning them and pressing them together.

I use three main tools to shape foam: a loose hacksaw blade, a surform tool and a mini sander made by Minicraft (formerly produced by Black and Decker). A piece of sand paper or foam sanding block will work in place of the sander, they're just not as fast. A craft knife also comes in handy.

Rocky TerrainMost of the shaping can be done with the hacksaw blade. Even depressions can be cut by forcing the blade to bend while cutting. Dramatic depressions can be rasped out with the surform; this tool is also used to shape ridges, roads, pathways, etc., but is especially useful when shaping smooth flowing terrain, such as fields or dunes.

The channel in the foam (in the upper left portion of the photo above), was created using a Dremel with a router attachment and a barrel cutter. These tools are also useful for cutting constant depth channels for streams, ditches, etc.

Smoothing the rough foam is done with the mini sander, or by hand sanding. The degree of smoothness needed is somewhat dictated by the scale for which the terrain is being made. The larger the scale, the coarser the terrain can be.

Once the basic cutting and shaping is done, modular pieces need to be assembled to check alignment.

Rocky TerrainWhen all of the shaping is complete, the foam needs to be sanded all over to eliminate any remaining smooth surfaces (created during the foam's manufacture) as these tend to repell paint and can result in an unrealistic, semi-gloss finish after painting.

Errors and blemishes can filled with light weight spackle by pressing it into any divots or gouges in the foam. Rather than waiting for the spackle to dry and then sanding, I wipe the surface of the spackle with a damp cloth to smooth and blend it into the foam. This also avoids the problem of having to sand hard spackle that is surrounded by the much softer foam.

I also tend to do initial texturing of streams and other waterways at this point.

Rocky TerrainWhen the sanding and filling is done, I apply a layer of acrylic paste to the entire surface of the piece. This helps to hide seams in the layers of foam, seals the edges, adds a protective layer, and functions as a priming coat for paint. Acrylic texture gels, an artists' medium for texturing paintings, can also be useful at this stage.

Textures such as wheel ruts, tire tracks, footprints, etc. are also added at this stage, plus a final texturing and smoothing of any water features.

Rocky TerrainIt's now time for the paint, and I prefer to use artists acrylic paints, generally Golden, Liquitex, or Dick Blick brands. My preference is to paint an earth tan or brown and use green flocking over it. For this project, a rock grey was applied and then shaded to bring out the highlights. Dirt covered areas, most of which would eventually be flocked, were painted in a yellow-tan.

Should the paint end up with too much of a glossy finish, dull it down at this stage with a spraying of Testor's Dullcoat or similar matt varnish.

Streams, once painted, shaded, and allowed to dry, should be given three coats of artists' gloss medium applied to them prior to the flocking stage.

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Flock is applied using artists' matte medium to fix it down. I prefer Liquitex matte medium. You must be sure to work quickly with the matte medium and to apply it evenly. Extremely thin coats will result in dry areas where flock does not stick, and will create obvious brushstrokes in the finish. After sprinking on the flock, pat it down gently to insure that it sticks.

The flock should be allowed to dry for about 20 minutes, before the excess is poured off. After another 40-60 minutes, the remaining excess can be gently brushed off with a soft brush.

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(Click images to see larger versions)

These views show the contrast in the textures in the piece. In retrospect I feel that the flocking job is a little crude; I was in too much of a hurry, trying to get done for a convention.

The waterfall in the second picture is a piece of blue foam, sanded into shape, coated with acrylic paste and painted.

The third view shows the stream on the opposite side of the mountain. The basic stream bed was cut using the Dremel/router combo with a barrel cutter. The waterfall channel was cut free-hand with the Dremel and barrel cutter, and smoothed with acrylic paste prior to painting.

The final picture (below) shows this piece complete with trees, buildings and other details, in use with other terrain at Advance the Colors, 2001.

Rocky Terrain

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