UPDATE: I’ve managed to grab some screenshot from the program – I’ve added them towards the bottom…
I’m very lucky with the people I know. I know a lot of creative people who make fantastic things that you’ll have seen on TV and film (Harry Potter, Batman, Gladiator, …) and I’m in awe of the things they make. It’s the career I’d have got into had I not had a knack for the more lucrative software development. I scratch that itch with the builds you see here on my blog.
I’ve always wondered “What if I’d taken the other career path?”… and thanks to a nod to the right person from one of those talented friends I got a chance.
I was put in touch with a production company who were putting the finishing touches on a documentary for Channel 4 and needed a table full of terrain for the presenter to use as a prop.
The brief was a pencil sketch and an email of bits they thought they might need needed for this segment (unscripted at this time).
I talked the requirements through with the director and realising what they needed to do with it and what I had in stock (not much time to order and build stuff!) it I recommended wargaming scale (looks much better close up on camera). The time frame was short (3 weeks – and I work full time!) we settled on a workable compromise:
A 6×8 foot (48 square feet) Peak District / Welsh mountains and farmland with a river, buildings, fences, walls and hundreds of trees and farm animals…
Oh and we had to transport it down to Oxford and set it up for them, and then come back a few weeks later and take it away. So it had to pack down into something transportable in the back on my mates estate car (His logistics skills were invaluable).
Thankfully, I’d been stocking up on the bits (MDF, screws, filler, polystyrene etc) ready to build my own table for a while or I don’t think there’d have been time for a build of this size.
With the clock ticking and the budget set I hit the internet and ordered everything I thought I needed that I didn’t have (I didn’t – I needed more!) and then hit the crafting table running.
For inspiration, I turned to the photos I took doing the UK Coast to Coast in 2018. It starts in the Lake District – perfect!
As you can see, very green and very wet (usually). So that was the look I was after.
I began with a rough sketch of the 6 x 8 board broken up into 2 x 4 mini boards and sketched out a rough idea of where everything would go and what work each board would need doing.
When tackling a terrain project I like to go rocks out! That is, I start with the hard stuff and work up to the soft. No wait, that doesn’t sound right either.
Lets start with those rocks!
After making a bunch of 2×4 frames from MDF and 1×2″ inch lumber I glued in a rough shape of a mountain hillside using expanded polystyrene insulation. I used 2 thicknesses: 1/2 inch and 1 inch and stuck it all together with builders insulation cement.
I broke everything up by hand and played Tetris till it looked right. I wasn’t going to go as high as the original sketch as the presenter wouldn’t be able to reach over/around it, but I did still want to capture the idea of mountains and upland / lowland hills.
While that was drying. I made some rock moulds from 3 or 4 thicknesses of tin foil, PVA’d together. You need a bit of rigidity to the foil otherwise the weight of the plaster flattens it and softens up the rocky hard edges we’re after. The largest here is about 8 inches by 12 inches.
This is my goto rock plaster. Just mix with water and it dried as hard as … a rock.
I made a fairly thick batch and poured it into the moulds. I tapped the boards to try and force any air bubbles to the surface.
Once it was dry, I tipped them out and set another batch to set.
Once I had a good stock of rocks. I broke them up into pieces and started attaching them to the polystyrene with the same cement I glued the foam together with. It comes in those big caulking syringes so it’s easy to put lots on
It gets messy…
Once the rocks had dried in place, I went around filling the gaps with Sculptamold. It dried really quick so make it in small batches and move quick!
And keep working it as it dries. Wet fingers to smooth it out and I used toothpicks to scratch out any details.
In between batch of rock faces I used a heat gun to carve a river and road board.
A few days later, some of the building kits started ariving so I started a production line going. Walls were either covered in brick wallpaper or ready mixed filler.
There was no way I could give these the attention I usually give my buildings but I didn’t wan’t want them to look like MDF kits.
The ‘thatch’ is cut up coconut matting, superglued to the roofs.
Starting to look like a farm…
Now, about all that grass…
My previous experiments with large scale flocking had given poor results. But I’d seen some fantastic war game boards done with teddy bear fur and knew that was realistically the only way I’d get that much grass done in time.
Fortunately (I got a lot of lucky breaks during this build). The weather was fantastic, so taking advantage of my first weekend. I dashed outside with sheets of brown fun fur and good quality acrylic spray paints and made a quick test piece…
And it looked OK!
I started with a pale brown and used a dark green, light green and earthy brown.
I made a lot…
It looks very pale and patchy hung up with the sun shining through it. I sprayed it laying flat so it looks a lot darker in it’s proper orientation.
While that was drying, it sculpted the roads and river bed with sculptamold.
Now the rocks were dry, I dropped talus around the foot of the rocks and any areas that needed a bit more interest. It’s made from cat litter (fresh! Fresh out of the bag, not freshly used!), sand, and any random bits of grit and rocks I had in my flock stash…
A quick test with some grass…
Now to start putting some colour on the rocks.
Sadly this is a very quick process and one where I couldn’t stop and take pictures. But it’s embarrassingly simple:
Leave the rocks their raw white colour and make up a beaker of raw umbra acrylic wash (paint + water + IPA). It’s the same tone I used on the dark brown areas of grass.the same earth tone as was used on the grass), A beaker of yellow okra wash and a beaker of watery black wash (you want it thin enough to look grey on the rock faces).
Splodge, yes splodge, the okra wash on randomly over about 1/4 of the rock faces with a one inch paint brush. It’ll dribble everywhere. Be at peace with the dribbles.
Splodge, yes splodge, the umbra wash over about 1/3 of it – the splodges can overlap and run together.
Splodge, yes splodge the black over what’s left and fill in the gaps with it. Leave it to dry
Looks like this:
And another test with the grass…
I left that drying in the sun and went back inside and started texturing up and leak proofing the river board. I used sculptamould again to form the banks and river bed, you just need to cover it enough to be resin leak proof.
The road section was given the same treament and then sprinkled with sand. I dragged a bit of wood through along the road a few times to simulate rut tracks.
The trees started arriving…
With another sunny day. I got the boards outside and started cutting the grass mats to shape. I started with the river board.
After a couple of false starts, I found super gluing along the edges and then cutting the edge of the sheet worked best for me.
I filled in the join between the grass and earth with ready mixed polyfilla mixed with the same bunt umbra acrylic paint.
I like to get down to eye level a lot to check how things look.
Some of the boards were easier than others…
I made *no* attempt at this stage to match patterns on boards. As it happens, I didn’t need to bother, the patches were random enough so the joins become none obvious when properly butted up together.
Note, the river section is the same base umbra colour, but darkened with black as it’ll be wet…
Next up, the mountain boards. This was fiddly and I ended up with Grinch fingers after doing both boards…
Starting to look like a thing!
After much scrubbing, my fingers were back to normal and I could lay the boards out for the first time!
The large white area is to be the farmyard. I also supplied a spare bit of grass to cover it over should they need more fields…
About that farmyard. I cut a piece of my brickwork wall paper to size, glued it down with PVA, weighed it down and let it set.
Then, using those same 3 base colours of black, okra and umbra applied as thick washes over a cheapo poundland grey car primer base coat.
I pictured the farm buildings around the outside 2 sides and dragged ‘mud’ over the cobbles where the road section joined the farm. Then, a quick light drybrush of light grey was all it needed.
With all the base textures and colours down I opened up a bunch of bags from ebay and amazon (I have a lot of flocks in my store, but not in the quantities this needed!)
And started decorating…
The last major hurdle was the water. Possibly the most nerve wracking part of any build.
I prepped the river bed by sprinkling more talus along the bottom.
I was as confident as I could be (about 80%) I’d waterproofed all the water channels, and damned up the edges (hotglue and PVA) so I made up a *lot* of 2 part resin with a smidge of brown acrylic paint mixed in , and did the pour…
It was quite a deep pour (about an inch at it’s deepest I think), and the problem with deep pours is shrinkage. The resin pulled away at the edges in a few places.
No problem – I just covered the gap with some clumping flock as river weed.
The table was looking very bare and time was running out!
First up, fences. I cut out loads of 12 inch strips of balsa and cut some bases from foamex and superglued them together. The pattern is pretty simple and I livened up a few sections with breaks, gates, and styles.
My Ender 3, 3D printer had been busy printing a Thorium reactor so once it once done, I undercoated it in poundland primer and gave it a quick overspray with concrete grey.
I mixed up another batch of resin and poured the hillside rivers and used what was left to fill any remaining gaps on the river board.
The farm buildings got a dirty brown/black wash to bring out the woodwork and age them a little.
And the printer faithfully printed yards of dry stone walls. These were base coated in poundland primer, oversprayed with Vallejo off white and then dirtied up with black and brown washes.
I scuttled around picking details out on the buildings and generally tidying things up, and then, I was out of time.
All the boards are built on wooden frames. So we sized up the space in the back of the car, slid the boards in vertically and screwed a frame of wood around them to hold them all together. I wish I had a photo but it was about 5am and I was keen to get on the road…
It was a long, but thankfully uneventful journey down the motorway on a blisteringly hot day. The setup was in the attic of an old English house, a maze of windy stairs which proved a challenge to navigate with heavy 4 foot by 2 foot boards but we got there in the end.
The presenter, George Monbiot, wasn’t there for the setup, but I was sent this photo of him playing around with the setup later…
I’ve managed to grab a few screenshots from the program too!
I’m very happy how it came out given the time constrained. Another week and I would have been able to fine tune the buildings a lot more.
I got all the boards and terrain back after filming too! So, to finish up, here some of the boards with some of my previous builds that I did have some time to spend on…