Thursday, 30 October 2014

Trees - terrain making

After a too-long hiatus from my blog, I'm jumping back in with some terrain making. Regular updates will now a be a thing I promise :)

I thought I’d take you through the process I went through in making some trees for my table.

The materials I used were:

4Ground Terrain tree bases
Woodland Scenics deciduous tree armatures – 5” to 7”
Woodland Scenics clump foliage, light, medium and dark green
Woodland Scenics Hob-e tack
Static grass (I use Noch Spring Meadow) 
 PVA glue
Hot glue gun 
Sand and gravel 

The 4Ground bases are dirt cheap and very easy to simply put together. I forgot to take a picture of them before I started, but you can see them here:
The large base is £1.30, the small base is £1. Bargain – even with shipping to Australia. All of the bases with shipping came to about £16, or around $30 Australian.

They consist of two main pieces, a base and a top plate that has the holes cut into it for the tree bases. The tree bases are nice sized discs that allow for lots of room for you to add additional modeling if you desire.
With the bases constructed I then painted them black, put polyfiller around the edge to give it a smooth, non-stepped look, and put filler in random spots to make the ground a little more contoured. I then glued some larger pieces of gravel in random spots to simulate some rocks and boulders, and then finally flocked the whole base with sand.

When everything was dry I painted the bases brown and drybrushed them successive lighter shades. I painted the boulders grey. I have no idea if this is actually geologically correct – grey rocks on brown earth, but it looks very visually appealing to my eye.

I stuck the bases of the tree armatures onto the 4ground bases and modeled these in the same way – filler, rocks, sand, paint.

When this was all dry I put on the static grass.

Okay, so the trees themselves. I watched a few youtube videos on how to construct a tree using armatures and clump foliage, and as I’d never done it before, I followed these. Trevor from Woodland Scenics (what else would a Train guy be named) makes it look easy.

So I twisted the branches around and got the armatures into a shape I was happy with. It’s worth noting something here. The branches are positioned on the trunk on two sides only, so you need to twist them around to get full coverage over the whole tree. Even then, they tend to gravitate back towards one side. This actually worked to my advantage in putting the trees on the terrain bases, because it meant I could align the two flatter sides and branches weren’t getting in the way. However, if you were looking at creating individual tree stands, I would even go so far to clip off branches from the trunk and glue them on the faces that don’t have any branches.

With the armatures done, I lightly airbrushed the trunks a brown colour to give them a less plastic look. I then painted the branches with hob-e tack and waited the required time to let it set. When dry, it’s a tack substance that lets you put clump foliage directly on the area that has been painted with the tack.

So I did this, and they looked good. I left them to dry overnight. In the morning, I would say half of the foliage had shed and fallen off the branches. I could easily pick off large parts of other foliage as well. So I turned the trees upside down and shook them, and most of the foliage came off. I reapplied the hob-e tack, and waited longer this time for it to set, a good hour. I went through the application of foliage process again, and then put them to one side overnight.

Next morning, a similar but less disastrous result. Less shedding, but still large clumps had come away. I got out my hot glue gun and used that instead. Worked a treat. My single biggest piece of advice here is that hob-e tack, as well as being appallingly spelled, is junk. It might be okay for a fixed layout, but it just doesn’t have the staying power for terrain that is being continually picked up. The hot glue gun is a little messier, but gives a much better bond. Also, don’t “dip” the tree into a bowl of foliage like our man Trevor does – this gives terrible coverage. Take the individual clumps and pinch them into the branches – it’s a much firmer contact between the foliage and the branch surface areas.

With this done I sprayed everything vigorously with matte sealer. This hardens the foliage and makes the whole tree sturdier. Note that they are still a bit fragile. They are fine if you store them well and get them out to put on a table, but I wouldn’t want to be stacking them in a box at a club or something similar. 

Final word on the foliage. I bought the three colours that Woodland scenic sell: Light Green, Medium Green and Dark Green. There is almost no colour difference between medium and dark green. IN direct sunlight you can just tell the difference. I’d go with light and medium, you don’t need all three. Also, make sure you only use one colour on one tree. Trees don’t have big colour variances in their leaves, so a mixture of foliage on the one tree will look strange. I have seen examples of this online and they look weird. Use one colour for each tree, but you can then vary the trees on the bases.

Hope this gives you some ideas if you’re thinking of going down this path with your trees.