Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Structure Modeling and Finishing Modelling, Painting and Placing Urban Structures in Realistic Diorama Settings (Part 1)

When I was first approached about writing an article for I thought about it for about 10 seconds and said YES!!! I never wrote a How-To article before but I figured if I explained it in laymen's terms and added some pictures it would be easily understandable. So here goes.

the good, the bad and the busted
At first glance when opening one of those factory packed plaster prefab buildings you can be pretty disappointed and intimidated. The parts are often warped, cracked, broken, have air bubble holes and sometimes totally smashed. I have not seen any plaster kit without at least one of these afflictions, and frequently with two or all of them. Not to worry though, its not that bad. The one good thing about working with plaster is it is easy to repair with some white glue, modeling putty (I like the Tamiya gray) and patience.

Once past the general condition of the pieces, the first thing I always notice is that the parts rarely fit properly, have tons of flash, and the buildings never have interior details (man I miss those Synergy days).

preparation and construction

Construction begins with first sanding the parts with a heavy grit sandpaper. Don't worry about sanding marks, they will be corrected later with putty or covered in white glue. During this process ALWAYS wear a mask. The dust from sanding is horrible on the nasal cavities.

After dry fitting the parts it's time to use some heavy-duty amounts of white glue (as thick as you can get it) to affix the parts together. The main thing to remember is that this takes patience because white glue does not dry right away but when it bonds with plaster the join is like concrete. When trying to get the parts to adhere to one another it's a very good idea to use a home made type of jig, clothes pins, rubber bands, wood blocks, and whatever to hold the pieces in alignment while the glue sets.

The reason why I like using thick amounts of white glue is because it helps when I fill the open joints with putty and, although white glue is not sandable, Tamiya putty, my preferred blending medium for plaster buildings, is. You can use Tamiya putty very liberally as this is a very forgiving material. You can also hide your errors pretty easily with battle damage or accessories later.

After the putty stage has dried (at least one day after it has been applied) you are ready to sand and feather the joints. Again, wear a mask as this part is also messy. As far as construction goes on the basic shell you are pretty much done at this stage. If you desire to add interior detail it can easily be scribed into the soft plaster. [Editors note: Issue Number 9 of AFV Modeller has a great article describing how to add interior details to buildings - very highly recommended reading!

battle damage
If you intend to add any battle damage such as chips, holes (from large caliber shells) or small caliber pock marks to your building you must do so at this stage before painting. You can easily accomplish this by gouging the surface with a sharp X-Acto knife or a Dremel tool. One IMPORTANT note as far as realism goes. If you are going to chip away at stucco type finishes on buildings or concrete finishes remember that under stucco or concrete veneer there are bricks which you must scribe with a scribing tool or an X-Acto knife (these types of buildings are very common in WWII Europe). After scribing the bricks it would also be a good idea to lightly sand the scribed area with FINE sandpaper before painting.

One final useful tip concerning battle damage. If you break off a part of your building, like if you are making a large caliber hole right through or just removing a piece like a wall end for battle damage, the break in the plaster always looks unnatural; it's usually pointy, sharp edged and the break is too smooth.

There are basically two ways to approach this, each depending on the type of structure you are working with. First, for brick or brick and stucco structures, you can gouge out little pieces with your trusty X-Acto knife to make it look really beat up. If it's a brick section you must remember to rescribe the brick on the ends to reveal the stairstepping of the remaining exposed bricks.

If it's not brick, the most effective way I have found is to make the edge very jagged and then smear on some white glue followed by some fine grit sand. Once that has dried it looks very random and rough, exactly the effect we're after. This would be very common in middle eastern or Asian scenes. The buildings there are, for the most part, composed of concrete and wood.

Also note that concrete structures usually require concrete reinforcements imbedded in the concrete slabs. I use soldering wire to replicate this detail. Just drill holes where you want them to be, insert your solder wire, and then bend the and twist them up and voila!, you have a very detailed and destroyed looking concrete wall with steel reinforcements sticking out everywhere. (I love that look ). Now we are ready for the fun part. PAINT!!!

let the painting begin
Painting urban structures (buildings) is much the same as painting armor. Think about it. They are both in the same environments and are exposed to the effects of heat, cold, rain, snow, dirt, and other influences so why not paint them the same way?

I start with a basecoat of acrylic black spray paint right from the can. It doesn't matter what brand you use just paint it all black. After that has dried for the normal drying time you can now start laying in your base colors.

For brick I like Model Master rust darkened just a bit. For concrete I mix light gray with some brown and yellow until the color I want is just right. If you choose to use different shades for you bricks that's FINE there are certainly no guidelines for what color is correct for brick (your taste is just fine). This is not a conversation about the correct shade of German Dunkelgelb: one of the dumbest topics I have ever heard — how do you know what exact shade of dark yellow was on German armor 60 years ago?? — let me stop I'm getting upset ). 

paint application & drybrushing
When I lay my base colors down I do it in a cloud pattern using an airbrush. I just try to accentuate the highlights while still leaving most of the black in the crevices. After this is done DO NOT do any weathering yet, It's time for a shot of lacquer flat coat to protect that base coat from the vigorous weathering process. After the flat coat I usually do a light black wash (acrylic) just to dirty it up a bit followed by another coat of flat lacquer. Now we are ready for some serious drybrushing.

Just a note about drybrushing; some people seem to think drybrushing is a thing of the past NOT SO!!! Look at some of the works of Sheperd Paine, bar-none the greatest miniature artist and diorama builder of all time, in my humble opinion if you doubt the effectiveness of drybrushing.

I like to start dark and then drybrush in successively lighter shades. But remember, you must allow ample drying time between drybrushings otherwise the paint will just mix together. I often do a coat of flat lacquer in between every drybrush coat so this does NOT happen. The final drybrush color will be straight white. This really brings out all the highlights and raised details whether it be brick color, concrete color, brown, tan etc. After this step you will be doing your final coat of flat lacquer finish. By the way I prefer to spray the flat coat from an airbrush thinned with 40% lacquer thinner and 60% flat finish.

pastels to the rescue
Now comes the single most important part to weathering your buildings, and I cannot stress this enough PASTELS!!!!! These things are the greatest, I swear by them. I usually work with the earth tones only.

My first step is to use a dark brown color ground into a fine powder with a emery board. I take a 000 brush and brush the powder into every crevice on the structure. After that I do the same thing with black right over the brown — this is a great effect, it looks very rustic.

Now use a thicker brush to apply pastel powder in brown and rust colored tones on areas of the building where such weathering may appear. Effects like rain streaks, rust running down from metal window gates and light fixtures are very well executed using pastels. If practiced adequately this can really turn out great.

Now, lets switch gears a bit here. Normally, the space between bricks is filled with concrete or mortar. Whatever you do, DO NOT use pure white for this as it never looks real. You want to use a light gray or concrete color to accomplish reproduce this detail. Here's how I do it. After the white highlight drybrush I airbrush the protective flat lacquer coat. After the lacquer has dried I thin a suitable shade of gray acrylic paint to a consistency a little thicker than a wash and I apply it with a thick brush onto the protected surface where the bricks are. Next, I dip a paper towel into acrylic thinner and wipe it on the brick surface, removing the gray paint from the brick surface but leaving it in the mortar lines. This effect looks really good and the lacquer coat that preceded this step protects the brick color.

One thing I should have mentioned earlier; if you are going to do this step to your brick finish you must do it before the application of pastels as water/acrylic thinner/paint and pastels DO NOT like each other when mixed together. Pastels are always your last step. If you want to do a flat coat right before the application of pastels that's OK too. Also, If you can do your pastel process just as the lacquer flat coat is drying they will adhere better and further dull the finish resulting in a flatter surface and better adhesion of subsequent pastel treatments. If you are thinking about sealing your pastels after the pastel process with a flat coat — bad idea. The flat coat negates the pastel effect and gobbles it right up. That's pretty much it for the painting phase.

interior and external fixtures
As far as building interiors and add-ons such as light fixtures, signs, rain drains, electrical boxes and the like go, I think they are a must to enhance your diorama. People just love them. When people not familiar with the modeling industry see such things as wood floors, pictures, drapes, and etched windows they flip out and the details becomes a conversation piece and in a sense that's what a diorama really is.

For most of my interiors I use what's commercially available with most coming from the Custom Dioramics line, Alexander The Great and some Plus Model Stuff. Other areas worth exploring are Hallmark stores or any stores that sell doll houses and accessories. However, the single most important resource for building interiors is balsa wood. This stuff is cheap as hell and can be cut and broken to resemble floors, roofs, window frames, etc.. Another good resource is THE HOBBY SHOP. The Plastruct and brass rod section are a must as there is a wealth of stuff to be used there.

Well that's it for Part 1. I hope this helps out some modelers out there even experienced ones just looking to experiment with techniques they have not tried before. Part 2 will be about rubble, debris and other common street accessories that would normally accompany urban structures.

By Dan "Dano" Capuano

1 comment:

  1. can a person use this on the Mini-Art buildings at all ?