Saturday, 2 July 2022

AK47 Republic - Objective Markers Part 4: How To Make Vaguely Realistic Acacia Trees

The Acacia tree is a common site in pictures of the African savannah, that thick central trunk with the wide, flat umbrella of vegetation at the top.

Picture stolen from elsewhere on the internet.

 I wanted some of these for my objective markers, but the question was how to make them?  I tried once before with a dried Sedum stalk and a layer of coir (coconut fibre) across the top for the tree canopy, with fine foam flock added for leaves.  The results of this experiment were so miserable that I won't share them here!

As mentioned in an earlier part of this series, I had some pieces of privet from a dead piece of our hedge.  Being dead, these were already dry and ready to use and looked like they might form a decent shape for the basic trunk.

Bits of privet.

The bottom of the cuttings were sawn straight with a razor saw and the "branches" snapped or clipped off to keep them reasonably compact.

Privet with hand for scale.

 Once the trees were hot glued into position and the ground cover and grass glued on, I started thinking about the tree canopies.  I had some dry bamboo roots that looked quite interesting.

Bamboo roots.

The roots are pretty strong and have a great, branch and twig-like form.

Bamboo roots.

I also had some "forest floor" bark chippings to add round the base of the trees, made from compressed wood chip cat litter which had been soaked in dilute brown paint and crumbled into small fragments.

Reconstituted cat litter forest floor.

A first test showed that the bamboo roots were just too bulky and 3-dimensional.  I needed something flatter and after a rummage in the scenery making box I found some pan scourers, plus superglue (cyanoacrylate) and accelerator spray to help fix them quickly in place on the privet tree armatures.  Some of the bamboo roots did still get used for bushes on a couple of the bases.

Pan scourers, superglue and activator spray.

I tore up some bits of pan scourer as a test and they looked OK.

Test tree canopies.

Test tree canopy.

Satisfied with the test pieces, I set up my production line outside.  The activator spray smelled pretty foul so I wouldn't want to do it in a confined space!

Production line.

The shadows looked better hat the trees themselves did!

Tree shadow.

 The process I followed was fairly simple.  First, a rough and uneven shape was cut out of the pan scourer.

Cutting out the basic shapes.

The scourer was peeled into 2 separate layers.

Peeling into 2 separate layers.

Each layer was teased out or torn away around the edges to give a tapered edge and hide the sharp line where it had been cut.

Teased out around the edges.

The pan scourer layers were superglued in place on each of the branches to try and create a multi-layered top to the tree.

Glued in place.

Where necessary, gaps were torn to fit them around tree trunks/other branches.

Superglue ensures a fast and strong join.

The overall result looked pretty promising but the flocking would be the key for the final appearance.

Nice layering of the canopy.

The pan scourers all came out very well, some could have been a bit wider/longer to enhance the umbrella-topped Acacia appearance but overall I was pleased how the experiment was going so far.
Pan scourers all in place.

 Flocking was the next stage, using some very fine foam flock.  This was home-made from the batches I worked on in 2020, free upholstery foam off-cuts and cheap emulsion tester pots and craft acrylics.  I got a cheap coffee grinder for £15 in Morrison's and this is fantastic for reducing my existing foam flock down to an even finer texture.

I sprayed the scourers with dilute PVA and sprinkled on flock, making sure I sprinkled on top and underneath.  A spray of isopropanol, more PVA and a second coat of flock was added immediately. This was sealed with a final spray of isopropanol and PVA.  The isopropanol acts as a surfactant, drawing the PVA into the foam and pan scourers to bond it all into one firm sheet.  A quick wipe with a damp paintbrush afterwards removes any flock that has stuck to the tree trunks.

Some additional items were added to the bases such as green dyed tea-leaves and the bamboo root bushes, which were brush painted with PVA and foam flocked.

The "forest floor" cat litter pellet wood shavings were sprinkled around the bottom of the trees, sprayed with isopropanol, then had PVA/matt varnish mix pipetted on to fix everything in place.

I was very satisfied with the completed trees.  One or two of the canopies had drooped at the edges because of the weight of wet PVA infused flock, but it wasn't too bad.  If I make some more of these trees, I'll probably put a bit of wire under the canopy to keep it straighter.

With the trees finished, the objective markers are ready to be dressed with their scene-specific items. I'll have a more in-depth look at some of these next time.

Friday, 1 July 2022

AK47 Republic - Objective Markers part 3: Texturing and basic ground cover

With the basic shapes of the bases created, I added some extra texture.  Adding the casting plaster to the brown paper pulp had made it lighter in colour than I intended, and I also wanted to make sure the edges of the CDs were covered.  I used my texture paint (brown acrylic, ready-mixed filler, fine sand, PVA) to daub a good coating on all the bases.

Once this had dried, I hot glued my privet stem trees in place.  I added a splash of water to thin some PVA slightly and then my 3-year old assistant painted it all over the bases.  I tidied up round the edges and made sure the hot glue around the trees was completely covered.

Applying the PVA.

Small rocks (sieved out from sharp sand) were sprinkled in a few areas for rougher terrain, especially around the trees.

Adding the small stones.

A mix of tile grout and finely sieved sharp sand/soil was sifted over each base, using a tea strainer for extra control over these small areas.  This is done over a sheet of paper so that the loose soil can be tipped back into the tub afterwards and not just wasted.  Be careful with this stage, the tile grout is very powdery and it's not good to inhale it!  We did this in the garage with plenty of ventilation and I made sure the young 'un wasn't crouched over the scenery breathing all the dust.

Sifting on the ground covering.

Once the "soil" had been sifted on to all the bases, they were sprayed with a 50/50 isopropyl alcohol and water mix until nicely damp, then watered down PVA/matt varnish mix (about the consistency/appearance of milk) was dripped on with a pipette to help seal everything in place.

A base well-soaked in PVA.

The bases were left to dry thoroughly in the sunshine for a few hours.

Archaeological dig taking shape.

The beginnings of a rough track.

Generic flat base with tree 1.

Generic flat base with tree 2.

Generic flat base with small stone marker.

Once dry, PVA was dabbed acros the bases and some 2mm "Autumn grass" static grass sprinkled on.  I sprinkled, shook off the excess, then sprinkled again.  This seemed to give pretty good coverage, the second sprinkling often filled quite a few of the gaps left after the first.  I made sure I left various patches of bare soil and rocks so the grass didn't cover the whole of each base.

Base with ditch.

Base with rough track.

Base with stone marker.

Stone marker detail.

Generic flat base with tree 2.

Generic flat base with tree 1.

Archaeological dig.

With the basic ground cover complete, the next stage would be attempting the trees, the thing I was most nervous about!

Monday, 27 June 2022

AK47 Republic - Objective Markers part 2: Materials

With some initial ideas planned, the next stage was to gather my materials.  Blender, toilet paper, water, jug (here shown containing loo roll soaking in warm water), mortar dye, paint, CDs, twigs, cardboard, hot glue gun. Casting plaster also used, though I missed it off the picture below.

Lots of useful things for making scenery.

The first thing to make was the bases.  I found my box of old computer magazine CDs, saved because they contained useful programs.  Being 20+ years old, they probably won't run on Windows 4 generations removed from the original version, so it's safe to recycle them for a new purpose.

Old CDs ready for re-use.

I tore some cereal packet card into small pieces to stick over the holes in the middle of the CDs to stop my texturing mixture from oozing through and gluing them to the work surface.  I used UHU glue to ensure a quick grip and waterproof join.

Holes covered.

Next task was to mix up some sculptamold/modelling compound type mix from pulped toilet paper.  I tore off about 1/3 of a toilet roll (cheapest ones purchased for use in model-making) and left it in a jug of warm water for about 5 minutes while I gathered the rest of the materials.  Using a hand blender, I pureed it into a fine pulp.

Well-blended toilet paper.

I added some of the mortar dye.  If possible, I prefer to work with pre-coloured materials so that if the terrain piece should get damaged, you don't have glaring white patches of the material showing through.

Adding the mortar dye.

The mortar dye wasn't really strong enough, so I also added a good squirt of brown acrylic craft paint too.  The end result was just what I was after, despite looking rather unpleasant.  Having a flatulent child nearby added an unnervingly realistic aroma to the proceedings...

Make up your own caption.

I half filled a yoghurt pot with casting plaster, added an equal amount of the coloured pulp and then mixed well.  The resulting mixture was smeared onto the first few CDs, I had enough for 3. It was sculpted into the rough landforms I wanted and left to dry quickly in the sunshine.

Ingredients for the ground sculpting.

I wanted trees on some of the the objective markers.  These would be made from privet hedge clippings, in this instance carefully selected from a dead bit of privet hedge to guarantee they were already dried out.

Privet hedge clippings.

The bits of privet were cut straight at the base with a fine saw, then poked into the basing material to leave neat sockets.  When the material had dried, the trees were hot glued into position.

In the third part, I'll cover the next stages of the texturing process.