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Foam Rocks


Possibly a bit of an odd post to start with after a while away, but the likelyhood is that anyone reading knows what to expect here anyway 🙂

What follows is a description of the rather haphazard creative process that went into making some quick scenic pieces for my pulp sci-fi and post apocalyptic miniature games.  I approached writing this as a description of why I made the decisions that I did regarding it.  That’s how I ended up with the finished article as it is.  I did it like this because I enjoy reading about those processes from other hobbyists, but if it isn’t your cup of tea then feel free to ignore the text and take a quick glance at the hastily taken pictures if you like 🙂  (the post is a bit long…)

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When I got one of my rare bouts of motivation regarding model scenery making recently I decided to strike while the iron was hot and churn some stuff out, fast before the mood left me.  My post apocalyptic/pulp sci-fi terrain (AKA Planet Heck) looks quite consistent these days but it was still short some large pieces of “impassable” terrain.  I happened upon an article on the very enjoyable “the Unnamed Gorkamorka Site” which got my creative juices flowing and I started thinking about possibilities.

Over on tUGS they made their rocky outcrops from seating foam.  I worked with that material in college a few times in the mid-nineties and I have a reasonable idea as to what can and cannot be done with it.  So using the ideas at tUGS as a starting point I had plans to take my rocks in a slightly different direction.

First stop was to find out if there was an upholstery shop in the small town near where I live.  Moving to live in a rural environment from an urban one was one of the best decisions that I ever had semi-made for me, but one of the down sides is that locating materials for this sort of project can be difficult.

Not this time however.  I found a very pleasant guy working in his upholstery shop/garage on a back street on last Saturday morning.

I wanted to get a dark coloured, preferably grey foam so that I could skip some of the re-colouring steps used over at tUGS, but that didn’t work out.  The only foam that the guy had in a decent thickness was the familiar vaguely creamy-yellow stuff that likely fills the very thing that you are sitting on right now (as pictured above).  Its polyurethane foam I think.  I was charged €2 for the second hand couch cushion that he gave me, which was well within budget.

I have experience in dying that sort of foam and I really didn’t want to get into that: its far too messy and time consuming for my unfocused and easily distracted brain.

With many scenery items (and a lot of miniatures) I start with a black spray coat and work up.  That wasn’t going to work here.  As I was unsure as to how well the finished foam hills would take paint I needed to spray the foam something approximating the finished colour that I wanted them to turn out, rather than the colour of shadow on the pieces.

Therefore the next step when I went home was to cut two chunks of foam from the cushion, impale them on wooden barbeque skewers and spray paint them to test: one primer grey and the other red oxide primer.

I chose those two colours mainly because I had those two spray cans handy.  A grey set of rocks would have been fine, but maybe a little dull.  The red could easily be very gaudy but would also quite in keeping with a Martian desert or even with some of the very red soil that Max rolls his V8 Interceptor in The Road Warrior (to use a post-apocalyptic example).  More sci-fi looking in other words, which is just fine with me.  At this point I did pine a little for an airbrush, but as don’t have one and don’t plan to get one, I put those thoughts to one side.

I wanted to ascertain whether or not the spray paint would give enough coverage on the foam.  I didn’t want a patchy finish but I didn’t want to have to go through the very messy and time consuming step of sealing the foam with a PVA/water mix to aid painting later.  While sealing the foam would make it rigid enough to drybrush, I was trying to minimise the effort involved, unlike for example the industrious tUGS folk who chose to do the job properly.

While the skewered pieces dried I started cutting out the foam shapes.  Again, I differed from the tUGS approach here too.  Rather than pick at the foam, pulling pieces off to provide a texture, I wanted to cut the shape out in such a way that the cutting process itself would leave an adequate texture.  This would save time if it worked but this stage I really didn’t know what (if anything) was going to be adequate.  I also still didn’t know how I was going to paint the finished pieces or anything, so I was just playing around with the foam to see what I could get away with.

So I cut the stuff up leaving vertical lines on the sides from the cutting process ending up with something that looked reminiscent of the mashed potato in Close Encounters.  I was hoping that after spraying the foam it would make those ridges stiff enough to accept paint from drybrushing.  That wasn’t to be however, as demonstrated by testing on the skewered test pieces: drybrushing them had very little effect due to their spongy nature.

Also demonstrated by the skewered test pieces was that the red spray gave better coverage over the yellow foam colour than the grey did (although you wouldn’t know that from the photo above which was taken with the flash too close).  The yellow showing through the grey looked awful whereas any inconsistencies in coverage from the red oxide spray added visual texture rather than looking like the whole thing needed a second coat.  This determined for the first time the colour that the “rocks” were going to turn out: a big vulgar red colour.

Once the four shapes were cut out I trimmed some scrap to make pieces that I glued on the flat areas on the top.  Im no geologist but I know that the rocks and canyons prevalent in Westerns and in Road Runner have visible strata on their sides.  That is how I justified why all of the hills plateau at the same height anyway, you can decide for yourself whether you think that it works.

Once the glue had dried a bit (about an hour) I took the pieces outside and sprayed them red.  I then immediately sprayed the flat areas on top and the edges where the pieces meet the table black.  Finally I sprayed grey primer in quick streaks down the sides, about four or five streaks per piece and that was it: finished.  After letting the pieces dry in the shed overnight I brought them in and plonked them on the table to see if they would be ok for gaming with.

I quite like how they turned out to be honest, all the more so because they only took an afternoon to make from start to finish.

They definitely come from the “cheap set design” end of the modelmaking spectrum, rather than say the architectural model end, but that’s ok with me.  They look like something from a cheap Doctor Who or Star Trek episode to my eyes, which has a kitsch appeal.  I also reckon that they look like the sort of terrain that John Carter would have come across, if Barsoom had been visualised by Hanna Barbera.

I quite like the pieces, their boldness and overtly pulpy sci-fi look appeals to me yet I am sure that some people will turn their noses up at them, seeing as the “rocks” do look a little like the desecrated corpse of Elmo.  What do you lot think?

Invigorated by my fast progress with this little project I immediately went back in to the man cave and started working on a model post apocalyptic fort.  The first part of progress on that goes up tomorrow.

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8 Responses

  1. Nice job. As you said, quick and simple but perfectly adequate. The vibrant colours I’m particularly fond of. Yoda my name is.

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    • Thanks for the feedback Mikko. I wasnt sure if the pictures would do them justice and, as expected, they dont.

      I really think that a table covered in large rocky foam pieces like that could look really great. Very Beggars Canyon, very Geonosis, very Total Recall.

      Also very cheap, very resistant to damage and comparatively easy to store. If only all of my terrain bits were like that.

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      • The ease of storage and damage resistance are indeed things I never tend to think about. Hence my exquisite (indeed) pieces of jungle terrain are sitting on a table, as they take a lot of room, are fairly fragile and impossible to store. Great success!

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        • My dedicated games room is as big as I could ever had hoped at a little under 6 x 4m and I am still running out of space. Storage is definitely the hardest thing about making terrain.
          I have some post-apoc buildings planned but they are on hold until I find a suitable box and then work out the model measurements to fit that, rather than the other way around.

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  2. I found that it helped having multiple people to make the rocks – Depiff was my dogsbody when we made rocks.

    Yours turned out rather nicely – I particularly like the chunkiness of them. I hope I have the space to make some of that size soon!

    Good write up by the way, and thanks for the plug. We’re all pleased as punch that you found a use for our work!

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    • In my experience terrain projects are always more satisfying when a group muck in together. Its far easier to get a tableload of consistent looking stuff that way.

      Thanks for the kind comments. Lots more GorkaMorka stuff on the way.

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  3. Hey Paul, wellcome back to the interwebs mate! =)

    Cliffrockmesathings turned out great for what they are! Especially like the otherworldly shifts in colour (and the general shape of them). Makes me think of the covers of old scifi novels, 70s and 80s strategy games (in SPACE) and so forth. Really great job!

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    • Thanks Mattias, I am glad to be posting again.

      The airbrushed, 70s album cover sort of alien landscape was what I was hoping to get. I didnt know if it was going to work out until the last minute.

      I still have a bit of the foam left over so I am hoping to make a couple of corner pieces out of those over the next few weeks.

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