Secrets to Realistic Scenery - a proud SDA&E modeler

Wings & Strings Oct 10, 2010

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  1. Wings & Strings

    Wings & Strings TrainBoard Member

    I don't think I'm the Pelle Soeborg of N scale as far as realistic scenery, but Mark Watson wants to know how I do it. Using my N scale layout and in-progress diorama as examples, here are visuals which I will refer to:

    My SD&AE Jacumba layout.

    My SD&AE Campo diorama. (under construction)

    Here is my advice:

    1. Have lots of printed color photos with you when making scenery.

    Refer to photos often while you work. Our minds, even if photographic, are terrible at remembering specific details, hence too many modelers end up with impossible landforms or too-vivid colors (like "martian green" in a desert). Furthermore, most of us will forget necessary things like cuts, fills, culverts, fences, shrubs, weeds, dirt roads, drainage, dry washes, etc. Also, recreate real landforms ACCURATELY; this will enhance realism and make the location recognizeable.

    2. Color match and use materials from actual locations when you can.

    Color matching is key to realistic scenery. Too vivid, and it looks fake. I lean towards neutral colors and avoid bright green except in limited use in fields. Lean towards dark gold, olive greens, browns, and tans and greys. Also, use prototype materials when you can. The rocks and sand/ballast on both the layout and diorama are from the actual Campo Depot parking lot! Get as much as you can and sift it into fine and coarse gradients (and get as much as possible; I ran out and need to make another trip to Campo!) Mix in a bit of lighter woodland scenics fine ballast to lighten the color a bit. Ballast will always darken when cemented to roadbed with diluted glue. HOWEVER, If you use tacky glue as a scenery base and sprinkle sand and other materials onto it, it will retain it's original color.

    3. Use a variety of scenery products in many grades and colors.

    I use woodland scenics coarse & fine earth ground foam, coarse green foam, fine yellow foam, field grass in clusters to represent desert plants (scenic express prairie tufts would actually be better) olive clump foliage, fine tan ballast (mixed with campo sand), harvest gold static grass--for my campo fields-- and dead fine-leaf foliage. I prefer JTT trees (Mostly modified oaks and a couple phoenix palms) and use them where the few trees actually would be along the SD&AE.

    4. Detail, variety, and size.

    Model EVERYTHING. grass, dirt, weeds, bushes, shrubs, rock outcroppings, and vary the color, grade, and texture of materials (you'll notice the campo field is mostly harvest static grass, but I added green, olive, and earth ground foam accordingly. Be sure to add extra brown and olive foam along fences. Remember, N scale is TINY. Break up clump foliage into tiny bits; a person is only 1/2-inch tall, so bushes and weeds should mostly be much smaller. also, one-lane dirt roads should only be about 5/8-inch wide, with fine/coarse foam between the wheel tracks. Wooden fences should be 4x4 scale inches, so I use HO scale 2x2's. These are very delicate, but oversized fenceposts (or oversized ANYTHING) will kill a scene. Furthermore, model telegraph lines on your line poles, wire on your fences, and ANY sign, pipe, pole, or other detail you see. Even if you don't know what it is, model it. I saw a pipe in a picture of Jacumba and added it. I found out later it was part of standard oil facilities in the area.

    5.Aim for realism, not magnificence, and say "no" to compression.

    Keep it simple. Most of the right of ways are just stretches of land. Don't cram your layout full of cliffs, waterfalls, chasms, etc. and BLEND one scene into the next. Also, spread things out. Model close to scale if you can, and leave plenty of open space. Have all you need but want to fill the inside of that curve with more spurs and industries? DON'T. Leave it open so you can take shots like this:
    And this is on a 2x4! Imagine what you can do with more space!

    6. Have good lighting.

    Not really scenery, but your layout will be much more visually appearing if you bring it out of the dark. Have good incandescent lighting, or use the big floodlight in the sky when you can. Lean to warm colors for lighting unless you model winter or an overcast setting.

    If you have anymore questions about realistic scenery, ask me and I'll gladly answer.
    This is a cooperative hobby. We must share our knowledge!
  2. Flash Blackman

    Flash Blackman TrainBoard Member

    Secrets to Realistoc Scenery - a proud SDA&E modeler

    This is a very good thread on scenery tips. It is not about the basics, but it describes how to get the most out of your scenes for both photography and your layout.

    Additional Search Terms:

    paint foam photo scene
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