Thursday, January 17, 2019

Scenery Base - Goopin' it up!

While ruminating about how wide to make Fernwood Street, I decided I could at least start filling-in and leveling out the terrain in the scene. Here's how things looked when I started:

Note a few things: I use pretty standard techniques for building my scenery base - cardboard strip lattice, hot-glued to the plywood subroadbed and the fascia, covered with a layer of plaster cloth. I think this method makes it a lot easier to have scenery below the tracks/roadbed and it also creates natural, random undulations in the terrain without having to scrape at foam making lots of static dust. Or worse - have to cut away plywood.

For areas which you want to be pretty flat, you can use plywood, foamboard or - as I did above for the Fernwood Street scene - a piece of foamcore. Note also that I've covered the track with blue painter's tape (sticky enough, but not difficult to remove without residue).

Now, I don't know if you can tell in the photos above (click on them for a larger view), but the plaster cloth/foamcore scenery base if a fair amount lower than the track and the top of the fascia. I did that on purpose since I figured it'd be easier to build up the terrain rather than have to cut it down later.

But I think that may have been a mistake . . .

On top of the scenery base, I use a variation of the "Ground Goop" that Lou Sassi popularized in his scenery books. My formula consists of:

  • 1 part Celluclay or Sculptamold
  • 1/2 part brown (dirt color) latex paint
  • 1/3 part white glue
Lou's recipe adds vermiculite and Lysol (to prevent mold in storage), but I tried vermiculite once and didn't like the big, shiny flecks it had (maybe I got the wrong type), and I seldom keep my Goop around long enough to worry about long-term storage.

You mix this all together with a little water to make a "batter" that you trowel and spread on the scenery base. If you want to make the surface smoother after you apply it, use a little water brushed/smoothed over the top. You can add base scenery materials while it's wet - including ground foam, static grass, trees, and even structures pressed-in - but here it's evening out the scenery base and saving having to paint the scenery base a dirt color.

The plan was to fill-in on top of the scenery base and bring the ground level up to where I wanted it. In this case, just below the level of the track. Lou typically uses about 1/8" thick layer on top of his base. Let's just say, I used quite a bit more . . .

Here's the scene all "gooped" in from Jordan Lane (white in the distance, just short of the painter's tape) south to the Wethersfield station site. Compare this photo to the first photo above. The good news is that I was able to level the terrain up nicely.

The bad news is that I used Two Full Batches of ground goop to do it! (Bill will tell you that's "two cookie bins of goop" - or about a full gallon!)

Or, to put it in another perspective - the goop layer on top of the foamcore in the Fernwood Street area above is about 1" thick. 8 times what Lou uses!

At least I won't have to worry about the scenery being too thin to hold trees. But I may have to worry about the foamcore and plastercloth holding almost 5 pounds of ground goop.

If one of the many things this hobby is about is learning from one's mistakes, I think I'll take this little project as a learning experience. Time will tell if it actually turns out to be a mistake (it's been 3 days and it's still not thoroughly dried...), but I think I'll build future base scenery support closer to the final level I have planned for the scene.

I hope y'all with more experience will weigh in with what you do - and whether you have any tips, suggestions, or thoughts about what I've done here so far.


  1. Good morning Chris,

    Really like how this scene is developing!

    I had to build a new module due on a last minute track plan change. The module was completed the night before the event and "goop" was applied to minimize the "flat earth" look. Since "goop" is water based, I thought the use of fans would help settle the material overnight. This scenery had ground foam and static grass applied while the skin of the "goop" was still tacky. The next morning, the "goop" scenery was firm enough to touch. The module was loaded (on it's side) into the vehicle and hauled to the event. When the module was unloaded, the "goop" had slid down in the direction of gravity and loading position. For the next 4 days (the length of the show), we would poke and prod at the scenery to reshape and adjust the landscape. Adjusting the scenery while talking to the public was fun and entertaining. The "goop" was finally solid enough to hold it's shape after 5 days when the modules were separated.
    Sorry for the long winded reply.

    1. What a great - though frustrating - story! And not at all a long reply. Sounds like I have to wait a bit longer before this thickness of goop is thoroughly dry. Always great to hear from you and glad you're enjoying the play-by-play with this scene :^)

  2. Hi Chris;

    You would have been okay if you built it up in thinner layers. The two worries would be never fully drying and cracking as it drys. Also, I’d be concerned about the stability of foam core with all that wet mass above.

    1. Hey Pete and thanks for weighing in :^) I've been keeping a eye (hand) on the foam core and so far so good. Heh - I even added *yet another* thin layer to build up the terrain some more(!) and it seems to be doing fine. Just taking a while to dry. But - thankfully - it hasn't cracked at all, and I actually don't expect it to since 1/3 of the concoction is white glue - keeps it a bit flexible, even when dry. But yeah - in the future I think I'll build up terrain with some method OTHER than troweling on a huge layer of goop!