Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick and Dirty Photo Backdrop for Dunes Junction

The quick and dirty photo backdrop in place and permanently mounted.
Before any more scenery building can take place on the Dunes Junction layout, something had to be done about that empty expanse of sky backdrop.  My earlier experiments with a mocked-up treeline made from color photo prints showed that I could fill that sky void with something that would fill the space with some visual 'noise' cheaply and quickly.
The treeline takes shape in Adobe Photoshop, but any old photo editing
tool will do the trick.
The first step in making my quick and dirty photo backdrop was to take some photos of an actual treeline and configure them into a usable treeline for the backdrop.  I took my treeline photos near Ocean Pines, Maryland and then used Adobe Photoshop to combine them into a single panoramic image.  Some newer digital cameras have a 'panorama' or 'photo-stitch' feature that will do this automagically, and there are plenty of cheaper alternatives to Photoshop out there.

The techniques I used to fashion my photos into the backdrop could be the subject of a whole new blog, and there are plenty of resources available online, in print, and elsewhere (such as continuing education classes in your community, and if you are serious enough and want to pause your layout building for a few years, post-graduate degree programs in digital graphics). But what I did was select, move, and scale sections of my panoramic treeline photos to match measurements from my layout, and then used various stamping and healing tools to fill any rough or mismatched spots.  It's not a perfect image, but it is a reasonably convincing 'woods' image.

The next step is to make a correctly sized print.  Based on my previous treeline experiments, the overall height of the treeline needed to be 5" to 5 1/2". I used the scaling and ruler features of PhotoShop to ensure that my treeline conformed to this dimension, and then I switched over to the free Google Picasa program to print the backdrop, because I am too stupid to figure out how to control printing in PhotoShop.
Half of being smart is knowing what your dumb at: Using Picasa
for printing the backdrop cuz I suck at PhotoShop.
Mark Twain reportedly said, "Half of being smart is knowing what your dumb at," and decades later Dirty Harry said, "A man's gotta know his limitations." So I go with what works for me, thus my printing via Picasa. By the way, Picasa has an editor feature that would probably make this whole project do-able with just the one program, but I know my limitations and made things work the way I know how.

I do all my color printing on my trusty Canon IP1600 inkjet printer. Any photo-capable color printer will do, but I picked up this printer on one of those 'free after rebate' deals' that came up at a local electronics or office supply store.  Such deals seem to turn up every week or so here in Washington, and I suspect that if you have a Best Buy, Office Depot, Fry's, or Micro Center within driving distance, it shouldn't be too hard to lay your hands on a Canon, HP, Epson, or whatever brand photo printer for cheap. Of course, this is all a ploy to get you to buy inkjet printing cartridges, which tend to be fairly expensive. But it sure beats a darkroom or waiting for a lab to print photos that may not even work out, because there is a little trial and error involved in getting the photo backdrop right.

A section of the backdrop,
not yet cut or mounted,
I printed my backdrop in sections, on Canon-brand 8 1/2" x 11" matte photo paper. Rubber cement joined the prints, which I set up to overlap by 1/2" or so.  The rubber cement allows a little bit of adjustment (peel the sheets apart and reset them--don't try to slide them), so once they were aligned to my satisfaction, I used a scissors and an X-Acto knife to carefully trim away any sky or excess, leaving a cut-out of the treeline.  A grey-green watercolor art marker subdued the starkly white edges of the cut photo paper, and also filled in flaws.

Using drafting tape (a somewhat less aggressively gummed masking tape), I hung and adjusted the tree line print on the existing sky-colored backdrop, removing and replacing the layout from its brackets several times in the process.  Once it was in a suitable position, I made some discrete pencil marks to note its position.
Drafting tape holds the treeline in place for adjustment. The joints between prints are hard to see in the tree images.
Then I took the tree line print down and gave the back of it a thorough application of rubber cement.  I also applied rubber cement to the areas of the sky backdrop that would be covered by the treeline for some additional tack.  (Spray cement would work great here, but I had some rubber cement handy and didn't feel like making a run back out to the art store.) I used  the pencil marks to carefully align the treeline, and then smoothed out the treeline print to ensure that adhered evenly to the sky backdrop. In a few spots that didn't want to stick, I gently peeled the graphic back and applied an additional dab of rubber cement.

My two roads still head of into a blue void, so I still need to take some photos to fill those two gaps in the backdrop.  But in the meantime, this treeline will create the illusion that a forest lies beyond the trees I will plant in the layout and the dark, textured hues will subdue any shadows that my trees and vegetation might cast.

Onward to to trees!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The OMG Moment of Making Things in Miniature

I'm making trees using the Scenic Express SuperSage starter kit. Sage trunks (gnarly hunks of mini trees) and some kind of dried Scandinavian miracle weed are the main ingredients, along with various foliage and leaf flocking materials.
Unfinished SuperSage tree. No paint or foliage yet-hut look at that detail!
OMG--these things look incredible before they are even finished!  Build-up is somewhat painstaking--but worth it for a foreground-ready tree

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Verdant Green Texture Comes to Dunes Junction

Looking west, we find South Shore GP38-2 2002 contemplating the lush green-ness of it all. That's about half of the earlier mocked-up photo backdrop wedged between the scenery and the back drop.
Layers of stolen baseball dirt and Scenic Express ground foam textures have radically altered the look of Dunes Junction. I was having so much fun--and making such a mess--that I didn't photograph my progress.

I followed Pelle Soeborg's technique of earth colored latex paint, followed by a layer of real dirt (baseball diamond dirt in my case, and then foliage texture. Most of the layout got a green turf blend, but the tree line area next to the backdrop got the forest floor blend with is darker with some coarser texture thrown in for good measure.

I soaked the textures with wet water from a pump sprayer, and the applied three coats or doses of Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement over the course of three days. I tried both a pipette and a pump sprayer to apply the Scenic Cement, and determined that the sprayer put the cement down quickly, as well as evenly and heavily enough to make it my preferred application method.

To get an idea of how the tree line will look, I wedged the old photo backdrop mockups between the scenery and the backdrop. In the coming weeks I will use some Photoshop magic to make a new custom
backdrop that wlll be tailored to he terrain contours.

Next scenery steps will focus on the next layers of vegetation, such as tall weeds and trees.
Looking northeast. The tree line photo backdrop makes a huge difference, and the contrast really shows here.

Monday, December 5, 2011

De-clodifiying Stolen Dirt and More Scenery Progress

Dirt from a baseball diamond, a day or so after its theft
from a local park. Visible are my de-clodifying roller
(a dried-up old bottle of Plastruct Bondene cement) and
manual drying and aeration agitation device (dollar store
rubber spatula, useful for countless scenery chores) 
Scenery building took a short hiatus for the Thanksgiving holiday, but we're getting back on track.

Readers of this blog know I like to mock stuff up and conceptualize. I especially like to do this when my layout looks more like the surface of Tatooine or Arrakis than the Calumet Region of Indiana summertime I am aiming for.

So I painted in Mineral Springs Road and the Dunes Junction parking lot with some cheap acrylic craft paint.  Still looks like a Bantha or a Sandworm might come cruising by, but now with a road and a parking lot.

But seriously, the paint has helped me validate the placement of these key features.

Meanwhile, turns out the one scenery building material I didn't have lying around was dirt. Dave Frary says in his book, and Pelle Soeborg says in his book, to use real dirt as a textural foundation. Dave even suggests that baseball diamond dirt works best.

The painted road and parking lot of Dunes Juction, plus a mocked-up
flagstop shelter for good measure.
So I stole about a half a coffee can's worth of baseball diamond dirt from a local park. It's been drying on top of some newspapers for a day or so.  I used an old round glue bottle to roll out the big clods ('de-clodification' shall be my contribution to the body of scenery building knowledge) and rubber spatula to spread the dirt into an even layer and 'turn' it a couple of times a day to encourage it to dry.  Some folks put there treasured dirt into the oven to dry it out and kill any critters that are in there.  I'll have to figure out a stealthy way to do that when I'm (ahem) alone in the house.