This week I have been in the workshop making a start on the build of the bridge. It has turned out to be quite a slow and exploratory process of how to work with the materials. Although I have done small practice pieces using the blue Styrofoam using formers and sandpaper mostly, I found it a very different material to work with on something on a larger scale.
To begin with I made one stack of layers of the foam. From this I worked out how to cut diagonally through to create two equal parts both with bases of a width of 500mm and 220mm deep. To cut through the stack I used a hotwire, which involved making formers to run the length of the wire along to crate a smooth and accurate cut. You can see this in the photograph below:
The next process was experimenting with how I was going to make the rock forms. Because there is very little written information on working with Styrofoam I have collected my information from film documentaries like Sense of Scale and the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, David Neat’s book and blog, and YouTube clips. One such YouTube video is the one below, which is a visual reference of just one persons’ method of working with the material for use in model railway landscapes:
I soon realised that the styrofoam was very difficult to work with for this particular purpose; the density of the foam made it difficult to cut into especially since I am trying to achieve natural looking random formations for the rock.
Polystyrene was suggested to me as an option, but in the end I went for a less dense insulation foam which will hopefully be easier to work with. Below you can see my test pieces with the styrofoam, and how difficult it was to achieve a rock texture.
While I am still doing test pieces to work out which material to use for the rock faces, I decided to start work on the actual bridge. For this I am going to be using the Kapa Foam which I can emboss with the stone block tool that I have made in the workshop. With a bit of forward planning I have already used the laser cutter to accurately cut formers for the main bridge shapes. From here it was a simple task to cut along the edges of the formers and smooth the edges with sandpaper:
I also used the laser cutter to make the formers for the mouldings. I had to layer up the Kapa Foam to get the right thicknesses for each “layer” in a strip which meant they were all identical, and then cut it into pieces of the right size.
Today I have made the padding in between the two outer walls of the bridge, which is simply layers of light polystyrene to give it some shape. I cut the padding so it doesn’t support the whole of the bridge outer walls because I want to keep the top “corridor” hollow incase anything can be seen through the windows when photographing and filming the model. This way I can paint and texture the inside of the Kapa-foam incase of this possibility.
Previously, when I had time in the workshop, I had cut the insulation foam into vaguely the right sized pieces to build up around the bridge shape. This is what it looks like as the basic shapes to work from:
Today I also tried out a test piece of the Kapa-Foam with the texture, the block stamp and colour. From one of David Neat’s blog posts I picked up the tip of using a wire brush to create the texture of cut stone.
I hope to use two types of wire brush, the first being a little softer bristled and looser clumped. The second is much denser and the bristles are much harder. By combining the two you get the texture on the foam that you can see above.
Then I added the stone blocks by pressing with different pressures into the foam the robust metal tool I made.
On top of this I used basic wall emulsion to stipple colour over the texture. Starting with a flat base colour of grey, I have added a brown, yellow, brick red/orange and a pale grey over the top which all combine to create the final colouring. Even though yellow and orange might seem too bright and even not applicable to rock, the way the colours all work together looks realistic. Rock is not just shades of grey or brown when you look closely.
This morning I decided to do a test piece for the rock using the less dense insulation foam which is really easy to get hold of (unlike the blue styrofoam) I got mine from the local builders merchants. I used the same slashing method from the youtube video I found which seems to have worked just as well with my foam as it does with the styrofoam used in the video.
It doesn’t look very impressive at this stage, but once I skimmed off the loose bits with sandpaper and painted it up with the base grey and then dry-brushed on the other colours and highlights on the raised areas this is what you get:
I’m pretty pleased with how it looks, with it even standing up to close inspection despite how quickly I managed to pull this together. Once I spend a bit more time with the painting and the details I think this method is going to work well with my model.
After doing the test pieces, I started in earnest the carving of the rock face. The visual references from my past research into rock types came from these few images:
Figure 1. Greywacke reference with hand for scale (Closeup Greywacke, Wikipedia, 2008.)
The outcome of the day is this:
Although it has taken me a while to get to this stage with the carving, now I know the techniques that produce the right look for the rock I can work faster for the other side of the gorge.
One comment on the material; you would need to work with the foam in a well ventilated area as it makes a lot of dust and debris!
Today I have started painting elements of the model, starting with a dark grey base coat. Then, because I have spent time adding the texture to both the bridge and the rock, I have started layering up dry brushed layers of color. The dry brushed method works well because it catches and highlights the texture without having complete coverage. In the end it gives more depth to the look of the rock.
I’ve started working on my exhibition space for the end of year Expo so the model had gone on the back burner for the moment, but I have loosely pieced it all together to check how it looks on camera. I followed the planned shots from my story board:
The next tasks are to carry on dry brushing on a wide variety of colours that combine to make realistic rock, and then finally to glue all the pieces together including the mouldings with the 3D printed stars, and the laser cut window trellis.
The model is complete! Below are some images of the process of piecing it all together:
I made sure to paint the inner walls of the corridor and make a floor with the texture added just incase the camera catches a view through the window trellis. It doesn’t look much when you see the inner workings and how it keeps it’s shape etc, but the final look I am very pleased with:
Throughout this year of research I have taken inspiration from various practitioners on how to achieve the building of my miniature bridge. A lot of these points have a bearing on whether miniatures can still problem solve and act as a realistic option for visual effects.
In order to compete with CGI miniatures need to work with a limited budget. For myself, my raw materials included generic insulation foam from the local builders merchants, carved and textured using a kitchen knife. I used Kapa-foam, a specialist model makers material, for the bridge facade. To texture the Kapa-foam I used a combination of various wire brushes, and a hand-made tool made specifically for the role of embossing the stone blocks of the bridge. Alongside all of this I used tester pots of basic emulsion to paint the model using a dry brush technique. My practical project has physically proved what many model makers claim, that building miniatures doesn’t have to cost a lot. The use of found objects with various properties, through the experimental and tactile nature of making a physical model, can achieve something that a software developer could spend hours programming, and yet still not achieve the spontaneous and happy accidents that you get with actually working with the materials.
The next stage:
If my model was really to be photographed for a visual effects shot it would need to be filmed against a green screen if a digital set extension was to be used for the background and composited into the shot. For my purposes, and also because I have been studying traditional techniques, I decided to make a matte painting for the background. Below are a series of photos of the development of the painting, which took a full day to produce: