Sunday, November 27, 2016

More Christmas Module Progress

What could be more fun to work on during the Thanksgiving Holiday than a Christmas scene, complete with railroad station, church, Christmas tree salesman and a little town, complete with gazebo and town Christmas tree? For a taste of what I mean, check out my last post. That was the former layout that had to be scrapped. But I'm salvaging all that stuff for this new module.

I started with rudimentary benchwork - just a simple open-grid, with a masonite top, covered with 2" foam - and then got out the buildings from the old layout to see how everything would fit. I even built an overpass to carry the main road over the tracks. That's where I left off last weekend.

With some available time around Thanksgiving, I decided to continue progress using foam for scenic forms. My first experience with using foam this way was last Christmas - and it didn't go well, not at first. But being a little older and wiser, I gave it another go and things moved so fast that I was already well along before I took the next progress photo, showing an overview with the bridge temporarily in place and the town roughly laid out...

Since pictures are worth a thousand words - and you'd probably rather see photos than read a lot of text - I'll let them bear the burden of showing my progress over the last few days. I'll chime in in the captions as needed.
Closer view of the overpass in place. Note the pins temporarily holding things together. Foam takes me a bit longer and is more fussy than my usual cardboard strips & plaster cloth method, but it's much cleaner and gives me a LOT more control.
Overview of the pond area with some structure outlines. I decided to use foamcore board for the road rather than try and rasp a ramp/road from layers of foam. I find it much easier to get a good, quick grade.

Outline of the pond, section where the trestle will be, and a larger lake outline. Structures temporarily in place. 

I used a hot knife to cut out the water areas and a serrated knife to cut the roadbed. The initial plan was to have the water be right on the masonite. I used 2" foam to give me enough height - but quickly discovered that it was too thick - the water area looks more like a canyon than a nice, bucolic pond.

The solution was to "backfill" with another layer of foam. If I had it to do over again, I would've just used thinner foam to begin with.

Even with the "less canyon-y" look, the pond on the far side of the tracks still looked a little contrived for my taste. But, like the Grinch, I got a wonderful. awful idea.... I found an old tunnel portal in my scrap box and decided it'd make a fine underpass/culvert for a creek to feed the pond....

Here's the portal and my markings for the new edge of the pond, and where I'll be recessing the portal. You can see I already carved out the area for the creek.

Since I didn't want folks to see bare foam inside the tunnel, I decided to line it. At first, I was going to use crumpled aluminum foil and paint it black to represent blasted rock. But this module is  supposed to be a quick job, and cardboard was just as effective and easier to do. Paint, bend, and fit into slots. You can see here that I backfilled the creek bottom with more foam to be even with the level of the pond.
Overview shot of the pond with the culvert - and wingwalls! - in place. I got the wingwalls - and the little retaining wall you see between the house and the track - out of the scrapbox. 

I didn't want the tunnel to just be a literal black hole - it's supposed to be an overpass that continues out the other side of the fill the road is built on. So I used an old mirror to "double" the length of the tunnel and brighten it up. Couple of quick points: I was able to get the round mirror cut in half for free at a local glass place; I had to angle the mirror to be parallel to the portal (otherwise, there'd be an unrealistic angle "inside" the tunnel); and I used hot glue to affix it, held in place with pins while the glue cooled.

I think the mirror make a HUGE difference! You can see my ear "on the other side" of the road.
I also robbed my scrap box for some old rock castings (bonus! they were already colored). Here you can see where I've marked the foam for cutting to accommodate the casting.
After looking over the scene, I still wasn't happy with the shoreline. It was just too vertical and didn't look very realistic to my eye. The solution was to "soften" the shore a bit, even if that would make the pond area narrower. No worries though - since the "pond area" is now a creek, the narrower waterway looks fine. Here's how I did it:

I could've used more foam, carved to fit, but that would have taken too long and been too messy. So I just took some wadded-up newspapers, added them to the shoreline to make a more gradual slope, and used masking tape to hold it down. Easy!

Another view of everything before starting the plaster cloth.
Once the scenic contours were all done, it was time to smooth things out further with a layer of plaster cloth - especially over the newspaper & tape. That step is the messiest of the process, but goes quickly. So quickly that I didn't get any photos other than this one:

Over on the right, you see a pan of water, roll of plaster cloth, rag, and clean tub of water to clean castings if I got any plaster on them.
Once the plaster cloth was draped all over the forms, smoothing out all the rough edges, I mixed up a batch of "snow goop" - which is basically ground goop, but without the brown paint. Unlike my first Christmas layout where I used Sculptamold, I decided this time to try Celluclay as the base, Mix that with white glue, white latex paint, and enough water for a peanut-butter-like consistency. Spread like you're icing a cake.

And here's where things stand as of this evening. The plaster cloth had "violated" the water surface a bit, so I spread a thin layer of my goop over it to smooth things out. I "drifted" goop along the road to look like it had been plowed (and had the added bonus of clearly marking the road's boundaries), and used some goop around the rock, wall, and portal castings to put them "into" the scenery.

So far so good - but I'm leery of how the Celluclay is going to work out. It seems to be MUCH more lumpy than the Sculptamold, so the surface isn't nearly as smooth as it probably should be. I tried to take a wet brush to it to smooth it out, but the lumps didn't take kindly to that. I'll see what it looks like when it dries, but I may have to do some sanding....

But all in all, I've made a LOT of progress over the past week so am on-target to having this done - if not in time for the next Photo Library get together - at least in time for Christmas!

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