A terrain workflow for scifi buildings

In preparing to teach an introductory class on terrain building, it was necessary to break it down into repeatable steps. This is something I typically do when I am creating an experimental prototype for a larger piece. However, for this, I had to make it more general yet specific to scifi terrain buildings.

Here are the steps for my “Get it Done” terrain workflow:

  1. Vision
    Begin with inspiration, whether it’s from Forge World dioramas, Instagram, or concept artists on ArtStation. Collect imagery on a moodboard, using platforms like Pinterest or a whiteboard in Canva. Real-life examples, like exploring street view in Google Maps around the world, can make the piece more grounded in reality; especially when it might contain otherworldly elements.
  2. Footprint
    Choose a footprint to focus your efforts; such as a 4″x4″ or no taller than 6″. Consider storage when the piece is not being used. This provides a clear creative constraint.
  3. Sketch
    Translate your vision into a sketch, extending the footprint upwards. Add pipes, wires, windows, and doors. Experiment with graffiti and signage to enhance the aesthetic.
    Pay attention to how models might interact with the terrain; such as light cover, heavy cover, difficult terrain or dangerous terrain.
  4. Walls
    Construct walls using dollar store foamboard. Opt for a 45-degree angle cut for joining edges, ensuring a neat finish. Some walls can be made of medium weight chipboard but pay attention to avoiding possible warping issues.
  5. Windows/Door(s)
    At this stage, you should be taping or laying things out for composition of the piece. Think in rule of thirds for layout placement. Consider composition and how colors might distract or help with visual interest and aesthetic balance.
    Decide whether to stick doors and windows or cut them out. For a clean look, create doors and windows separately (3D printed or from scratch) and cut corresponding holes in the foamboard. Consider hot gluing or just taping them in for flexibility if you can’t decide.
  6. Roof
    Ensure the roof is larger than the building for removability. Support beams can be made from plastic strips, chopsticks, or craft wood. A slightly angled roof enhances realism, and corrugated craft paper serves as an excellent material.
  7. Details
    Add details using straws and wire for pipes and wires. 3D printed greeble parts or leftover sprue bits are essential to grounding it in reality.
    It is at this point that you might want to imagine the relationship between objects. Perhaps they tell a story.
  8. Ground Texture
    Create ground texture with a mix of acrylic caulking, PVA glue, sand, and optional tea or coffee grounds. Note that materials that absord moisure, like coffee grounds, will make the ground take longer to dry.
    The ground texture should go on wet, so it dries solid. Leave the flock sprinkling till after priming.
  9. Seal/Prime and Dry
    Seal and prime using a modpodge+black paint+water mix. Speed up drying with a hairdryer and/or heatgun.
    Be careful of foam and plastic that might melt; unless, you want to melt them on purpose!
  10. Zenithal Grey Primer
    Apply a Zenthial Grey primer using a rattlecan. Use textured spraypaint for fine texture. This is an essential step that I never skip.
  11. Paint
    Drybrushing white/ivory is optional and more preferable when using Constrast paint or an airbrushed ink workflow. However, craft paints are a bit transparent regardless, so this might be a good idea. Paint using your preferred technique, considering starting dark, progressing to light, and adding washes and highlights as needed. Knock down overdone highlights with a wash, kick up textures with an overbrush of a lighter color. Repeat as needed or until you are tired of painting it. 
  12. Additional Effects
    Enhance realism with ground cover like Woodland Scenics foam flocking, grass tufts, and premixed cover. Sprinkle on dry, mist with isoproyl alcohol, and added watery PVA or modpodge with a dropper.
    Add graffiti with fine markers or a small detail brush.
    Once dry, use pastels for rain kick-up on the base. Apply watercolor pencils and/or inks for rust and grime streaks.
  13. (Optional): Oil Wash
    Consider an oil wash for added depth, allowing 48 hours to dry. A foil-lined cardboard box with a desk lamp can expedite the drying process.
  14. Final Step: Matte spray
    Seal your model with a matte rattle-can spray to eliminate odors, lock in pastel or pen marks, and ensure a finished look.

A Scifi Wasteland Repair Shop; My prototype example piece

Vision

I have noticed that when I make a sketch, it is an idealized version of what I want to make. It never is exactly the same. Here I wanted two stories but I realized it would take too long. So, instead, I simply skipped the second story.

Walls/Windows/Door(s)

Laying out the walls, I decided what bits would go where. I used rules of composition to decide this. I roughly divided the space of each wall into thirds and placed things so there might be a visual balance.

Roof

After hot gluing the walls together, I created a roof that could sit on top of the walls.

Details

Details were attached with hot glue, gel superglue or acrylic caulking.

Seal

I sealed the roof and walls with modpodge+black paint+water. I also added some more ground texture at this step, using the modpodge to seal it on.

Zenithal Grey Primer

After drying overnight, I primed it with textured spray paint and then grey primer.

Paint

I drybrushed with ivory white paint using a makeup brush. This was just a subtle undercoat texture because I painted starting in dark and going lighter highlights. I did not use inks or Contrast/Speedaint.

Sometimes, I water down my paint a lot so it is almost a wash. This allows for subtle lazy glazing.

Additional Effects

On this build, I did an experimental step that is definitely optional but really worked out. Before the previous step, before I starting drybrushing and adding colors, I used a fine concrete mix and a little matt-medium and painted the concrete walls with.. concrete. My goal was to get the color of concrete correct. Indeed, it looked like wet concrete. After it dried, it looked like fresh dry concrete. However, I had to add some drying brushing and a wash to get the color more like aged concrete. The effect was a nice texture. I did have to seal with matt varnish before painting too. So, not a complete success.

After painting was complete, I painted on a some homemade rust; steel wool I had let sit in vinegar open for a week. The effect is subtle and pungent; so still a work in progress.

The roof has some sand deposits I added using a plaster wash.

The last thing I did was draw chalk pastels over specific places on the piece. I feathered and blended the pastels with a brush.

Note that I did not use an oil wash on this piece but I might still do it in the future. A few grass tufts and some dead grass flocking would look nice too. Also, graffiti. posters and a proper sign.

Gallery

Resources

Websites

Forums

RIP Websites – (Wayback Machine links)

Youtube 

Sorry to say, but the vast majority of terrain knowledge is dominated on one platform right now.

Facebook/Instagram

Though there is a lot of hobby content on these platforms, the in-your-face format of Social Media makes it nearly impossible to find them again.

Can we just bring back blogs please? There are a ton of great tutorials on Blogger if you know where to look; though they will not come up on Google search even though Google owns the platform. A good tip is to use “Blogger” in your Google searches, in case Google decides to show you what you are looking for.

Summary

I hope this a helpful overview of a terrain building workflow you can adopt, use and modify.

We need more people in your hobby to make hobby blogs. Make one on Blogger or WordPress and share your posts to social media. That way, people can find it but it won’t disappear!