2005 Scale Model Project: "Wizard's Retreat": Part 2 of 4 - Painting and Refining the Base


In 2005, while I was busy attending the University of Southern California to pursue a degree in the Cinematic Arts: Production, I took a class for Art Direction. As our final project (which was worth 50% of our grade), I had to create a quarter-scale miniature model. I was more than a bit ambitious with my model, and I put a ton of work into it, which I enjoyed sharing with my friends over on LiveJournal at the time.  Here's a quick peek at the exterior of the end result!

In 2006 I created a series of three detailed posts which went through each step of the project. Unfortunately, since I was so busy, I never actually posted a final blog sharing the final stage and finished results, so I thought it would be great to post everything over here on my blog for posterity, and to finally create that final blog after ten long years!

As such, I hope you enjoy this flashback onto an early project of mine. While it's not sculpture in a traditional sense, it's projects like this which ignited my imagination and fed my desire to learn and improve, and this project is


close to my heart.

I tended to be even more verbose back in my LiveJournal days, so I've shortened and edited some of the original text below from LiveJournal. This is the second of four blogs about this project, and you can access all available parts at the links below. These are the original images I posted in 2006, so they're also a bit on the small and blurry side, but there will be some nicer ones in the final blog: promise. :)


Scale Model Project: "Wizard's Retreat": Part 2 of 4 - Painting and Refining the Base

At this point during the project, I ended up seeking advice from train model-builders, but unfortunately they didn't really have answers to the specific questions I was asking. This led me to looking up whatever YouTube videos and DVD I could find (which wasn't many at the time, considering it was 2005). Amid all my research, I did get information on what sorts of paints I should be using to make the terrain look as realistic as possible, and from what I gathered, it involved a lot of layers of build-up.

I started by coating my rock faces with a sort of gray and black medium, letting it run and "be natural," while I coated the tree's bark with a sort of red and burnt umber. Of course I hadn't thought ahead that papermache, even when dry, is still affected by water so... that was a bit of a fight. :-/ Live and learn!

At this stage I was wondering if all the countless hours I'd spent on this thing was going to be ruined outright by the paint but I kept on going and painting in loose washes as a video had suggested! At this stage I really disliked that everything appeared so "sloppy," but I was told it was the only way to get all the rocks and such to look "realistic" from a miniatures perspective. I tend to be someone who is very perfectionistic and detail-oriented, so I was struggling to let gravity fill in the nooks and crannies rather than trying to go in and go every minutiae individually.

I ended up adding a bit of brown into the mix because it seemed more realistic on the rock faces. Anywhere where I imagined there might be exposed rock, I used the same treatment. Considering the scale of this miniature, these cliff faces would also be huge!

The lumps were pleasant, but at this stage I was having a lot of trouble imagining it "completed" with grass and all. Somewhere around this point I'd also realized I should pick out what season it was for the diorama, and eventually settled on late Spring.

I really don't know why I wasn't using a tripod for these shots, but my apologies for the blurriness as well.

Next was the topsoil! At this point I had to define where there was rock, earth, or grass, so that I could properly treat each area. At least the tone made it look a little more cohesive, and I could really start to see the rock vs. soil better! Also, I added a second layer of darker stain over top of the tree/roots to make them "pop." 

Those dabbles of gray on the far right are where there are rocks in the riverbed. :)

During this detailing stage was when, for the first time, I started to see everything come together. I'd seen SO many horrible miniatures and models in my time, and I was insistent to use a variety of ground cover so that it would read as earthy and "real" rather than just one shade of artificially bright green. So, with the aid of some scenic cement and sealant, I went to work sprinkling and mixing the base layer of ground cover.

I made a "path" of "darker "dirt" where I planned the bridge to cross the river, and then I also went and put some thicker textured material down to sort of serve as underbrush. With the topsoil and rock faces peeking through, for the first time, I could finally see the vision in my head becoming a physical reality, and it was exhilarating! 

You can see all the hues of green and browns I was using, as well as the various textures of the materials to try to simulate different environments surrounding the roots and rocks and such. I recall this being a very, very fun stage. :)

Above is a view looking over the future river/waterfalls. Those powders got everywhere, too! I remember having fun trying to figure out how earth might crumble around the rock faces.

I was trying not to focus too much attention in any one area, rather: I tried the world the piece as a whole and add different colors and textures all around the piece as I looked at it from different angles rather than just its "hero angle." That is one thing I've slowly been growing used-to as an artist: things usually turn out much better if you work the piece as a whole rather than focusing too much love and attention in a tiny area at the cost of the bigger picture.

In any case, at this point I started to work some of the riverbed as well so it was appropriately colored and textured to fit in with the surrounding areas.

During this next stage I put in lots of bushes and foliage, as well as some trees (including a weeping willow!) as well as some "flowers."

"Happy" landscape. :) Isn't it crazy seeing how far it's come since being a pile of foam?

Above is a clearer shot of the root-archway. I loved the variation in tone, color, and texture that was starting to come together.

At this point I also first started thinking about debris, so I started gluing that down too. That small tree in the background would be about 30-40 feet tall, so that central one would be simply huge in comparison.

The tone of these old photos is much too red, but I think you get the idea. I remember really liking how broken up and natural the landscape was turning out. In the last photo I was pretending to look out across where the future bridge would be, that would lead down a path under the archway and up stairs encircling the tree. but oh: I was still a ways off from there! :)

And here is where things started to get even more interesting, because this project wasn't simply to be a nature diorama: there had to be a Wizard's Retreat built up atop that large tree!

The white shape on the left is the central base of the second tree which would one day support the outdoor patio area of the home. Inside the secondary supporting tree was a dowel that had been cut and textured. The large platform lying atop it was to be the floor of the tree house which was cut with a band saw and then sanded and stained to try to age it a bit so it would look like it fit in, scale-wise, with what would be the future house. There is actually a miniature man standing by the archway for scale, but he's a bit too large to be truly to scale. He'd be about 7 1/2-8 feet high, but he worked well to give myself a general sense of scale for how the project was progressing.

The floor of the treehouse is pretty high up there. It was to keep it out of the reach of critters and unexpected (and unwelcome) guests. The scenic views probably didn't hurt either. ;)

This view is is looking down from the top waterfall. I started to lacquer in the base colors of it (and it just so happened to be reflective at this point). The back side of this model was never meant to be actively shot, but that din't mean I was going to leave them bare!

The oversized miniature figure under the archway would probably say "I'm really tall for this scale, but I still wouldn't hit my head!" You can see where I added the yellow flowers growing off the rocks, as well as some fallen logs. I was constantly adding more colors/textures to try and liven things up and diversify the setting.

And we're just getting started! :) Stay tuned for Part 3 of 4!