Saturday, July 14, 2012

Scratch-building Trees pt. II: the Foliage

So now you have an awesome tree trunk. What now? You could just leave it at that, especially if you are modeling a winter scene. But really the key to a convincing tree, the part that will make or break your original, lovingly scratch-built terrain piece, is the foliage.

This is also the part that provides the most problems for budget modelers, since the products out there for modeling foliage tend to be pricy, and to make your own tends to require special equipment (like a blender) and materials that are tricky to find (like cushion foam.) Foliage also presents problems in terms of durability, since delicately made trees will not stand up well to transportation, and will often scatter material all over the place if handled roughly.

I won't pretend that I've solved all of these problems. But my method does produce a tree that looks awesome, is reasonably sturdy (I mean, don't go, like, throwing it or anything...) and is extremely inexpensive. That way, even if somebody does grab it around the trunk and shake it vigorously until it falls apart, at least it didn't cost you 25 bucks to make.

Here's What You Need: 

  • Polyfiber (Less than $5 at a Joan Fabrics or Michael's, and enough for 5-10 *ucking FORESTS. I got lucky when my boss gave me some for free. He gave me less than a quarter of his giant bag-- a whole shopping bag full!)

  • Black Acryllic Paint

  • PVA Glue

  •  An old paintbrush

  • Cheapo Hairspray (Mine was $1.25, cheapest on the shelf, works great)

  • Magic Wash in a pump action spray bottle (A.K.A. 1 part Pledge Floor Polish With Future Shine: 4 parts water). The Spray Bottle will cost you around 3 or 4 dollars, but it's worth it, since spraying magic wash on things is a simple yet durable clear coat. Plus, you can put acrylic paint diluted with isopropyl  alcohol in there and you have a poor man's non-toxic spray paint-- great for terrain, especially for large areas of sand which soak up paint and destroy brushes. Also, it is illegal to sell spray paint in Chicago, so...

  • Newspaper, or other surface on which you can smear paint

  • Some colored flock or ground foam. The tea-leaf flock I made is designed specifically for this purpose, and is super-cheap to make.


     What to do with all this crap: 

    Step 1: Preparing the Polyfiber

    First off, pull of a small lump of polyfiber, maybe about twice the size of a ping-pong ball.

    Got that? Good. Now here's a picture of what you're not going to do:

    DO NOT just go sticking on giant clumps of polyfiber in the hopes of making a gloriously verdant tree. And for the love of god do not continue to do so as pictured below:

    This was my first experiment in foliage making, and it turned out horribly. Pictured is just the dry-fitting stage (not necessary in the correct procedure I outline here). I had to then try and color these giant puffballs all the way through--which proved impossible; then I had to try and glue them to the tree in a secure way-- which also proved impossible; and finally I had to try and adhere the foliage to the puffs without weighing them down so much that they would fall off-- which proved the most impossible. I eventually had to cut these guys off, leaving a residue of white fuzz covering the branches and nearly ruining my tree.

    INSTEAD what you want to do is take that little lump of polyfiber and tease it into a thin sheet. I actually divided my lump into three and made three different sheets, as it made coloring them easier.

    Once that's done, put a squidge of black paint on your newspaper. add a squirt of water or Isopropyl alcohol to thin it a little. Then take one of your poly-sheets and smear it around in the paint. You're trying to get it entirely coated in pigment, while avoiding clumps where possible. Repeat until all of your sheets are colored. Note that this is messy, and if you don't like having paint on your hands, you should wear gloves. Also note that you may have to rearrange your fiber into sheet form, as the smearing process can cause them to ball up.

    Set these aside to dry. Maybe make some flock while you're waiting.

    Polyfiber sheets drying.

    A close up of the same. Notice how the paint causes the fibers to stiffen and gather together, making them appear twig-like. We will use this to represent the difficult-to-model fine twigs which typically support foliage. This will also strengthen the polyfiber so it can accept the foliage.

    Step 2: Dressing the Tree

     Once your fiber is dry, use a pair of scissors to cut out a 1-2 inch square section. Tease this tiny portion of fiber out as much as you can without causing it to fall apart. I am talking SUPER wispy. The wispier the fiber, the more convincing it will be as small branches.

    Take your junk paint brush and apply some PVA glue to the first branch you want to dress. Make sure to apply it all around the branch, but in a thin coat that won't drip on your base.

    Carefully place your teased-out polyfiber onto/around the branch. It won't take much to get it to hold, but just in case I like to give the fiber a quick pinch into the glue. You can also wait about 5 minutes for the glue to get tacky before applying the fiber. Both work.

    Repeat these steps until your entire tree is satisfactorily covered in fiber. I cannot emphasize enough  that less is more here. It looks more realistic to have small bunches of twigs around the branches than huge masses, and it makes the flocking process much smoother.

     Step 3: Adding the flock

    Make sure to let the PVA glue dry THOROUGHLY. If you do not, you risk having your polyfiber fall right off the tree under the weight of the flock.

    Once the glue is dry, gather your flock and your hairspray.

    Autumnal red, my favorite.

    Now, turn your tree upside down by the base. Spray the under-side of your polyfiber branches liberally with hairspray. I'm talking enough to cause the sprat to bead slightly. Then, making sure to hold the tree over some kind of container, sprinkle your flock generously over the fiber. Gently shake off excess.

    Turn the tree over and repeat the process with the tops of the branches. Between each layer, make sure to brush off any leaves that are sticking to the trunk with a soft paint brush. Be careful not to touch the trunk with your fingers as the hairspray will stick to them and they will pull the paint right off. 

    Work gradually. Rather than risk a surplus of flock at one time, allow a layer to dry before adding more. This will let you build up a good volume of foliage without deforming the polyfiber too much. Here too, less is more. Actual trees are not solid masses of leaves, but have lots of empty space. Make sure to leave some fiber exposed as it will add to this impression.

    You may notice that some of your foliage flock has stuck to the base due to overspray from the hairspray. Allright! Automatic natural leaf-scatter!

    Now for the most crucial step in making your tree as sturdy as possible. Fill your spray-bottle with magic wash, set it on the finest mist setting it can manage, and give your tree a good spray down, all over. This will help fix down your foliage as well as seal and protect your paint and your basing material. When that dries, spray it again. And when that dries, spray it one more time. Continue doing this until no noticeable foliage falls from the tree when you shake it gently. And then spray it again.

    This will make the tree slightly shiny. I don't mind this since I coat all of my figures and terrain in magic wash, since it's one of the most durable clear-coats available. However, some people don't like the shine. If your one of those, just go over the top with testor's dull-cote. I hear that does the trick.

    Once it's sealed and dry, it might be a good idea to go back with a pair of scissors and trip any wayward wisps. I haven't yet, since I'm still basking in the glow of my tree, but these things can detract from the realism (see last picture. Case in point.)

    And that's it. Not so bad, right? And crazy good looking, too. I have yet to see the commercial product to rival it. Here are some pics of the finished product with my color test Bloodbowl orcs for scale reference:

    ----"Blimey... wot's dis prufoud feelin' uv peece warshin' over me?"                     ----"...'Arvy? Oi fink its dis tree.... dis byoooootiful tree..."

    I swear one of these days I'll make a backdrop.

    Sites that were helpful/inspiring in designing this tutorial: 

Waste Not, Want Not: Making Foliage Flock

While I take a break from the monster post that is my tree-making tutorial, I figure I might as well post a quick how-to for super-cheap foliage flock. The best part about this stuff is it is made entirely from reclaimed waste material.

At least, so long as you happen to drink super-cheap tea in bags.

Even if you don't drink crappy tea, this method is still probably cheaper than any other coarse flock option, since the box of 100 tea bags cost me under 4 bucks, and will provide me with at least a year's worth of flock in any variety of colors I choose. And anyway, you just need to brew the stuff, not drink it.

Note that it IS important to brew the tea first-- otherwise the tea might change the color of the paint when you paint your flock.

Fortunately I DO drink it, so it's a win-win. Since it's been a record-breakingly hot summer in Chicago, I've taken to brewing a couple bottles of iced tea every morning. Each one takes two tea bags. So that's four tea-bags that I can leave to dry during the day and then add to my stash that evening. Just squeeze any liquid out when you are done using it and place it in a dish in a sunny spot.

Note that it is not necessary to dry the tea first if you want to color it right away. In fact, it actually saves time since you only need to let it dry once.

To color your tea-leaf flock, simply empty your tea-bags into a jar. Add a squirt or two of acrylic paint--crappy paints are perfect for this- and stir it in with some kind of pokey device (I used a bamboo skewer.) Make sure to mix it until the color is evenly coated and try to break up clumps. If the color is not intense enough, Simply add a little more.

Here you can see that I am coloring my flock red for some nice autumn foliage.

One thing about using tea is that it might not take the paint very well, depending on how dark the tea is to start with. If you find that your tea does not seem to take color very well, just color the tea once, set it aside to dry, and then color it again. The accumulation of pigment should make it more vibrant.

Once you are satisfied with the color, spread the wet flock onto some wax paper and let it dry. I store mine in a zip-lock until I'm ready to use it.

Below you can see two different colors of autumn foliage that I mixed up. I then combined these to make a custom blend for a foliage that appears to vary naturally from leaf to leaf.

So there you have it. Super easy. Super cheap. And this can be used to make coarse flock for any application. I plan to have all kinds of colors around for a wide variety of trees and bushes.

Let me know what you think, or if you have any of your own methods of reclaiming waste for modelling purposes.

P.S. The brand of tea I use is 'Royal World Teas: Ceylon's Finest Black Tea.' If this box says true, then Ceylon must be a sad, sad place tea-wise. 

Scratch-building Trees: A Tutorial (pt. I)

Even though I don't yet have a gaming mat or a warband to use for playing Skulldred, I decided on a whim a couple weeks ago to try building a tree for my anticipated Rangers of Quickthorn warband. I immediately started looking up material on how to scratch-build model trees for as little money as possible. The process I came up with was the result of a lot of different sources (listed at the bottom of the post) as well as a lot of experimentation, but I am pretty happy with the result:

Sorry if the pictures aren't very clear. I swear I will set up a totally blank background soon.

(Note that the tree I made is pretty large scale, standing approx. 1 foot tall. I wanted it to be  a more realistic height compared to 28mm figs than most store-bought trees tend to be. However, my method can be adjusted to any scale.)

 For this first part of the tutorial, I will just cover making the trunk, branches, and base of the tree. I will cover the foliage in the next post.

What You'll Need:

  • Some branchy looking twigs (washed and dried).

  • Paperclips and clippers to cut them with.

  • 1 Pin vise with a drill bit that's the same diameter as your paperclips. (I think this is the most expensive part of the project, but it's worth it if you plan on making several trees/ if you like converting minis.)

  • Superglue

  • White glue

  • 1 Steel fender washer

  • 1 old CD that you don't mind sacrificing for awesome scenery.

  • Epoxy or some other form of filling putty (I used Kneadatite Blue/Yellow: perhaps the second most expensive part of the project, but it has many uses and you only need a small piece for the tree-- also there are a number of cheap alternative materials such as modeling paste or woodfiller. I sculpt though, so I have a bunch around.)

  • Used coffee grounds or sand (a couple of spoonfuls, no more)

  • Natural Fiber Gardening twine (about 2 USD per spool)

The Procedure:

Step 1: Assemble the Trunk Section.

First arrange your twigs. You should make sure to have one thicker twig for your trank and several smaller, branchier twigs for... well, your branches.

The twig in the center is my trunk. Note that I actually had to find more branches than this. Make sure to have plenty.

Select your trunk twig. Using plenty of super glue, glue your fender washer down to the thicker end of the trunk. This will serve as a base weight while you glue the tree to the CD, and will also cover the hole.

Leave this to set for at least a half an hour. A mug or teacup can be helpful to keep the base elevated at this stage. Since the trunk is unlikely to have a flat base, the join probably won't be very strong, but that's okay. We'll be reinforcing it later.

Good thing I was drinking tea.

While your waiting for the washer to dry, begin drilling pin holes in your branches. One at a time, drill a paper-clip-sized hole into the branch where you want it to meet the trunk. Then apply a dab of superglue and insert a length of paperclip. Set aside to dry.

Note: Be careful not to drill too deeply into some of the smaller branches, or you may split the twig. But also don't worry too much if this happens, since you can just super glue it together and fill it with putty later. It just won't be quite as sturdy.

Once the superglue is dry on the washer, it is time to glue the trunk down to the base. Run a bead of super glue around the hole in the CD (make sure to use the shiny side. Also, it wouldn't hurt to rough up the surface a little with sand paper.)

When that glue has set, reinforce it with a healthy coating of elmer's PVA glue. While you're waiting for that to dry, start attaching the branches to the trunk. Simply drill holes in the trunk wherever you want to put a branch. You can then dry-fit the different branches until you find one you like for that spot on the tree. Once you have a spot for each branch, glue the pins in place with some more super glue. Don't worry if the joins don't look 100% natural-- we'll be going back and filling them later. You now have an assembled trunk!

Here the tree is about half way through getting 'branched.'

Step 2: The Roots

This next bit was probably my favorite part of the whole project, in terms of what I learned-- making the roots.

I had read some vague accounts of using twine and PVA to make realistic roots, so I gave it a shot.

Here's what NOT to do:

To achieve this lovely effect, I simply chopped off a few pieces of twine and glued them down. It looked awful.

What you ACTUALLY want to do is cut a few pieces of twine in varying lengths, from maybe a half an inch to two and a half. Then, unbraid the twine so that you have individual bundles of fiber which can easily be spread.

Next, arrange your twine in a varied and twisty fashion around the base of your tree, such that one end is spread flat against the base (so it can be covered with basing material,) and the other end is twisted into the trunk of the tree in a natural manner. I did this one at a time using undiluted PVA to get the strands to stick down. It was also helpful to use the wooden end of an old paintbrush to help shape the roots, since the twine tended to stick to my fingers.

Have patience, and stick with it. The results of this simple technique are stunning.

Should come out something like this. Sweet, right?

Step 3: Sculpting details

 This part might discourage people from this method, as it involves some basic sculpting. But I insist that it is extremely simple. Whether you use green stuff or some other material, the necessary sculpting can be achieved with toothpick.

First, make a ring of putty around the gap, as shown below.

Next, smooth out the putty with your fingers. Make sure to keep them lubricated. Water works well. I simply use a stick of lip-balm from my portable sculpting studio.

Finally, scratch some lines into the putty to imitate the grain of the bark. That's it! Your tree will now look smooth and organic when its painted.

If your feeling inspired (I was) then you can also use the putty to add further details. I made some shelf mushrooms (above.) These are really simple. I just took a ball of green stuff, cut it in half, and then stretched it into place on the trunk so it would have the proper contour. I then removed the mushroom and reattached it with a drop of superglue. 4-5 of these little guys really add some character to the finished product.

Step 4: The Base and the Paint

After your done with the putty, coat the base in a mixture of 1:1 PVA to water, and sprinkle on either finely ground (used) coffee, or else some basing sand. Be careful not to disturb your carefully shaped root systems. Now set the whole mess aside to dry/ cure over night.

When you wake up in the morning, everything should have dried solid. Now slap a coat of black paint on there.

To paint the tree, mix up a cool greenish grey and dry-brush progressively lighter and dryer coats onto the bark and the roots.

For the ground, do the same thing with a warm, earthy brown.

 For the mushrooms, I began with a base-coat of yellow ochre mixed with a tiny bit of brown and a tinier bit of red. I then highlighted up to 1:1 yellow ochre and white, before hitting it with a black wash. I then gave it a final highlight of pure white just along the edge.

For the final step, apply your grass flock. Do so liberally if your tree is to be standing alone in a field, more sparsely if it is in a forest or bog. Here's a tip: don't bother applying leaf scatter at this stage. I did, and it came out looking kind of silly, as though s miniature gardener had raked the leaves into piles. The leaf scatter will happen naturally when you put foliage on your tree, which I will cover in detail in part II.

So until then,

Friday, July 13, 2012

Chaos Cup Fever!

So the Chaos Cup is coming right up, and I am getting super-excited to attend my first ever Blood Bowl tournament.

Of course money's a little tight right now, so we'll see about fielding that perfect High Elf team... and there's no good way to get from Chicago to Palatine in time for the first round every morning. But these are all quibbles, and for now I am pretending with all my heart that I am definitely going to Chaos Cup. After all, I have until August 31st to preregister.

Since I'm still pretty new to the game, I've decided to put in some serious training in preparation for the tournament. To this end, I have decided that from now until the opening of the Chaos Cup on September 15th, I will be playing at least 3 games of Bloodbowl a week on FUMBBL, and posting the results here.

My Team:

 Gorefindle's Gutters

1GorefindleThrower6348Pass, Safe Throw, Dodge, Strong Arm 81010011890k (90+50k) 
2Kill-GaladBlitzer7348Block, Dodge 80103114100k (100+20k) 
3Fellrond Half-ClovenBlitzer8338Block, +MA-ag70101110100k (100+30k) 
4ShmegolasLineman6347Wrestle-av701001870k (70+20k) 
5Smellendil IILineman6348Block 400011770k (70+20k) 
6TearendilLineman6347 -av700000070k (70+0k) 
7ArsilLineman6348  800000070k (70+0k) 
8EnsnarionCatcher8347Catch 201000390k (90+0k) 
9GabadrielLineman6348  700001570k (70+0k) 
10Scarowen EvenscarLineman6348  800020470k (70+0k) 
11Elderdeath KinslayerLineman6348Block 8010021370k (70+20k) 
12EnglarionCatcher8347Catch 000000090k (90+0k) 
Team Name:Gorefindle's Gutters Re-Rolls (100k):3  
Race:High Elf Fan Factor:3  
Team Value:1350k Assistant Coaches:0  
Treasury:0 Cheerleaders:0  
Coach:Dieselhorst Apothecary:Yes  
Tournament Weight:1350k Team Wizard:No  

Game 1:

My first game was against a Khemri team, They Die! Now, before playing this game, I had only played 7 games with my elves, and my record wasn't good-- 1/1/5 in fact. But I was determined to take the result, whatever it was, and learn from it.

First Half:

I chose to receive the ball in the first half, since I feared having to defend against four mummies for the whole half. This plan looked good at first. I managed to sneak a catcher, blitzer and lineman around his defense in the early turns, and nailed a pass deep into the Khemri zone. Not deep enough though, and my catcher was left unsupported against one throw-ra who managed a one-dice blitz on two GFIs to knock my catcher down and take the ball. All was not lost, though, as I still had a blitzer deep. However, in the next turn I jumped the gun and immediately blitzed the ball carrier and foolishly re-rolled the push result, getting instead.............................................

A defender down. With that turn lost, it wasn't hard for the skellies to waltz in and score.

I did manage to equalize with a quick sprint down the side-line in the last two turns of the half-- but it was a close thing. My ball carrier was once again open to a last-second blitz, only this time it went my way.

Second Half:

 This was where I was nervous. Now I had to kick off and try and prevent the Khemri team from caging up and holding on to the ball for the whole half. We each had one player out, so no advantage there. I was sweating-- probably because I was kicking myself so hard over the blunder with my blitzer and how many players I had left lying on their faces who were then not there to defend the previous Khemri point.

Then a stroke of luck-- I got a Blitz result on the Kick-off table! I was able to shoot a catcher, a blitzer and several lineman right into his half, immediately pressuring the ball. After a little scuffling, I came out with it and managed to stall until turn six before scoring the game winning point! It was a long shot for my opponent to score in the last two turns, and when I got another Blitz result, his fate was pretty much sealed. Back to the vaults with ye!

Learning Points:

 Mostly, stick to the basics. In the first half I ignored some of the most basic principles of beginner play-- namely stand your players up first. Even when I think it would be better to leave them down until after a high-risk play then dodge them away down field, it is much sounder coaching to stand them up in case of the worst. My playing in the first half was sloppy and desperate, and as a result my opponent had the entire field to work with when he got the ball.

I am excited, though, as it is only my second win with High Elves, and the proceeds let me hire another catcher (which I am really starting to value). I also got to skill up two linemen with block, one with wrestle, and one of my blitzers with MA+. And now that my team is finally up to 12 players, I can start retiring some of my injuries. We'll see what that does for me next time.

Until then,

Putting the 'Inspiration' back in 'Vacation': 'Vacinspiration'

So I haven't gotten around to posting in a while. I had a week of vacation at the end of June, and after that was a couple of weeks of apartment hunting that left me too drained to compose. But not to worry-- I've been working away on my little projects.

Even better, I've returned with a head-full of inspiration! My vacation took the form of a week-long group camping trip to the southwest U.S. I had never been there before and the scenery blew me away. I says to myself 'now this, THIS must be what another planet looks like...' and that got me thinking...

I briefly discussed the idea of a Stardred Martian setting in my grass flock tutorial. Now I'm starting to take it seriously as a narrative setting for Stardred/ Necromunda/ Rogue Trader/ Red Sand Black Moon/ Red Sand Brown Sky. It would be a primitive Martian Colony abandoned for a century after Earth plunges into civil war. Since the planet is only partially terraformed, life is pretty hard for those left to eke out a living, let alone those security forces cut off from authority, attempting to seize military resources, gangs jockeying for power, Squat miners attempting to horde resources in the absence of government tithes, and perhaps ancient alien natives seeking to regain their land... and eventually, those forces from Earth have to show up, right? Will they be rebels or the forces of Hegemony?

Anyway, I picture it something like this:

What is a desert wasteland without a rusted-out windmill or 2?

There may not be any forests in the desert, but what about cities of rocks?

Reminds me of this.

I think 3-5 CD's with this style of rock sculpted on would make excellent terrain for skirmish wargaming.

I wasn't just looking at terrain. Saw this guy at the Sonoran Desert Museum. Now imagine him with 2 or 3 martial warriors mounted on his back. Now THAT's a monstrous mount.

Stands of Saguaro Cactii for some flavor.

Giant martian condors for random encounters? Hell Yeah.

These rock formations from Bryce canyon were my absolute favorites. They are actually called 'Hoodoos'. How kick-ass is that?

 So that's what I want the general flavor of the terrain set to look like. Except that it's on Mars, so the sand and grass must be read, the tree foliage purple, and the scrub-brush a nice bright orange.

I also have some great ideas for the martian derelict structures I want to build. There must be a spaceport and a small town, an observatory with a high-powered telescope, a mining site (for the Squats), a hill capped with a water tower, etc.

But I was also thinking that instead of trying to build a modular river, which wouldn't work with the kind of portable layout I intend to use, why not make a post-apocalypse style aqueduct? It could run over trestle spans and hills thus remaining modular, but also solving the problem of realism by literally placing the river above the playing surface!

Anyway. As exciting as this stuff is, I probably won't be able to work on it for a while. I don't even have a single Skulldred warband yet, let alone all of the Bloodbowl figures I need to convert/paint/sculpt. Oh yeah, can't forget finding an apartment. Still, don't be surprised if I come up with some fluff over the next couple of weeks.