Wednesday, 16 January 2019

More on Backdrops - Still a work in progress

I had hoped that I would writing about the completion of the Kingston Plains backdrop in this post but, unsurprisingly, progress has been slower than planned. So this post provides an update rather than a description of the final product.

The Kingston Plain backdrop is significantly more complex than the one behind the Hall's Creek module ( ). I needed the backdrop to give an impression of a larger community beyond the few structures that I could fit on the module. It also has to portray a rural environment beyond the town. In many respects, the backdrop becomes a two dimensional extension of the existing landscaped module, a combination of  shaped terrain and models of man made structures structures.

This backdrop is also a work in three parts:
  • at the right of the silo,  a rural vista which also shows how the goods shed and stockyard are integrated into the countryside;
  • at the left of the silo, additional houses forming part of the township; and 
  • the end section which shows a road across the railway linking the visual with the unseen part of the township in front of the module.
(No, not a model of Kansas - please ignore the yet to be located and apparently flying houses)

The natural features have been painted using similar techniques as those detailed in my earlier post. However, I have not included trees and other vegetation closer to township as they may need to be integrated with some of the man made structures. But the main challenge on this backdrop has been how to represent the man made features so that they appear at the correct distances between the back of the module and the horizon.

For a while, I contemplated the use of some low profile buildings for some of the buildings near the service station but these didn't provide sufficient depth. I needed the buildings to appear to be part of the painted scene. Having got the natural terrain to a reasonable point, it's a risky process for me to attempt to paint structures onto the scene. Apart from the challenge of painting an accurate representation of a building, the image needs to convey the correct distance and the right perspective. So, for these structures I decided to integrate photos of particular buildings into the backdrop. I have seen this technique used effectively on several display layouts but then again, it always seems easier for others.

The sourcing of suitable images required a bit of research. Initially I looked at real estate agent selling photos. The one thing that quickly became apparent was that the viewing angle becomes far more critical for structures that populate the fore and middle grounds. My track level is about 1150mm above the ground whereas my eye level is a further 500mm higher. While it's possible to occasionally crouch down to track level, most train operations are conducted with a downwards perspective on module. Consequently, there needs to be a slightly downwards perspective on any building photograph.
As this photo shows, most real estate agents photos are either taken at ground level or in some instances looking up. Images from these angles just don't look right when placed adjacent or behind models viewed from above.

An image taken from a drone will probably yield the best results but in the absence of such photography, I then tried Google Street View as a source of possible building photos. This has proved much more lucrative, if perhaps very time consuming. I needed to find buildings of suitable age and appearance on the low side of the street or perhaps, being viewed down the hill at a T intersection. In addition to images of buildings taken perpendicular to the street, I also wanted to find photos of houses where the road was diagonally disappearing into the distance as well as houses where the back yard was visible.

Once I had identified a suitable building, I did a screen capture and dropped it onto a PowerPoint slide. Here, with a bit of trial and error, it was cropped and resized to the size needed for the backdrop. as part of the experimentation, I usually created several images of different sizes on the one slide.

The slide was then printed and, in what was a literal 'cut and paste' exercise, the actual building was cut from the page and pasted onto the backdrop. The photo opposite shows three houses fronting the main road in Kingston Plains. A fourth building is hidden by the service station workshop.

While it sounds simple, there was a fair bit of experimentation to get the angle and size correct. This photo shows several buildings tacked into position on a road disappearing into the distance. By the way, the grass colour has since been toned down.

I am also aware that I will need to use some form of matt spray to protect the pasted image to prevent fading and moisture damage.

I mentioned earlier that I had chosen not to use any low relief structures in the township. However, I have installed part of a road bridge over tracks at the start of the Kingston Plains station. This allows me to conceal to entrance to the module as well as providing the appearance of a road link between the two parts of the town. The bridge is based on a drawing that I have of a standard road crossing on the North Coast line. Hopefully, road bridges were not too dissimilar on the Main North.

At present the bridge superstructure and deck have not been fixed into position as I need to paint the remaining portion of the bridge and abutment onto the backdrop. I also need to fabricate a portion of an approach embankment and paint the road leading up to the bridge. The home signal for the station had to go. The bridge would obscure it. Presumably it has been moved to the other side of the bridge where it can easily be seen by the crew of a locomotive.

The only man made objects that I have attempted to paint are the roads and these has been the source of considerable frustration. Getting the interface between module and the backdrop to look right is proving difficult and I'm also not yet satisfied with the roads as they disappear into the distant terrain.

All said, this is most definitely still a work in progress, more to follow!

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

This One's for Harry

Harry is my wife's great nephew. He is six years old and, at this point in his life, very keen on trains. How long this fascination will last remains to be seen, but for the moment, his interest is very strong. While he has his own train set and presumably plays with it frequently, whenever he visits our place, a request to look at Philip's Creek quickly follows. Any excuse to show off Philip's Creek is always welcomed and during his most recent visit, we again ran a few trains.

What made this visit different was that Harry took quite a shine to my models of the 44 class locomotive. They were, in his words, "his favourite locomotives". I have to admit this declaration surprised me somewhat. These days, this class of locomotive is rarely seen in NSW, a long way from the "no fewer than 100"  that were in service in 1968 (Leon Oberg, Locomotives of Australia 5th Edition p300). The majority were scrapped or sold long before Harry was born, so I can only assume his liking for the 44s is because of what he has seen on Philip's Creek.

The locomotives roster for Philip's Creek includes two 44 class, 4473 and 4485. Both are Trainorama models from the original run, 4485 is an unpowered version. I notice that Trainorama has just announced another production run. When I told Santa the likely cost, he just about had a heart attack. So even if the timing of the new release had aligned with Christmas, it's unlikely Harry would have received one as a gift. That said, models like this are not toys and Harry is still too young for a model of that detail.

What I omitted to mention at the time is the possible second hand market, potentially the old Lima version. In 2019, I'll have to keep watch on Ebay to see if something, probably in fairly original condition, is offered at a reasonable price. In the meantime, for Harry (and anyone else who may be interested) I have included a few photos of 4473 and 4485 in action around Philip's Creek to tide him over until his next visit.

Finally, as 2018 draws to a close and this is my final post for the year, I'd like to take the opportunity to wish all readers  a Merry Christmas and a very happy 2019 for you and your family.

The first rays of the morning sun indicate that 4473 and the north bound Glenn Innes Mail are running very late.

4485 assists 44222 with a south bound block wheat train. 

4473 and 4485 combine to work a south bound coal train

Friday, 16 November 2018

The Great Clean-up

Again, another distraction has slowed progress on Philip's Creek. This time, it was the threat of a partial ceiling collapse in the garage that motivated this interruption. The genesis of this problem was a piece of poor design detailing when the our house was constructed about 15 years ago. The consequence of this was that water leaked into the garage roof space periodically and damaged the ceiling gyprock. While I had taken action to mitigate future leaks, part of the ceiling was significantly water damaged and was gradually sagging under its own weight. The last thing that I wanted was the ceiling falling onto the car or, even worse, the corner of Philip's Creek that I had just completed.

It was time the 'bite the bullet' and fix it. But as anyone who has done this type of work will tell you, the level of dust generated is significant, so some preliminary protective work on the layout was necessary. All of the locomotives spent the last few weeks in the house and I draped some drop sheets over that part of the layout closest to the damaged gyprock. All of the rolling stock was either hidden under the drop sheets or moved to the far reaches of the layout where I thought any generated dust would not reach. WRONG!

The drop sheets worked but by the time I had finished sanding the joints between the gyprock sheets, a layer of fine white dust had settled over any exposed part of the layout, and everything else in the garage for that matter. It wasn't quite a winter wonderland scene but there was an obvious 'whiter shade of pale' to paraphrase the old Procal Harum song. A significant clean-up was necessary.

This process took the best part of a day. The photo opposite shows the early stage of this activity with the red vacuum cleaner just visible on the lower right. Each wagon and carriage got a few blasts of compressed air as did anything else that could be lifted off the layout. I vacuumed what I could from the scenery and the track got a vacuum and a good work over with the track cleaning tool. I was pleasantly surprised at the lack of damage. Only one telegraph pole required repair. Trains started rolling again on Tuesday.

However, the time was not completely lost as I managed to complete a few small modelling projects. One of these was the construction of a Uneek yard crane for Kingston Plains. This has been combined with an old Weico model of a Ford F100. Wikipedia suggests that this version was manufactured for the Australian market around the late 1950s. After at least 10 years, any self respecting farmer would have done something to improve its carrying capability so I thought it was reasonable to replace the small cargo area with a larger tray.The inspiration for this scene is a photo in Volume 4 of Wheatley brother's book, Railway Portraits, showing two large tractor tyres on the platform of Merriwa station in 1969. The problem for Fred is to decide if his suspension can handle the weight of these two wheels.

Number plates have yet to be added to the Ford and the backdrop behind the Kingston Plains module is still a 'work in progress'!

Monday, 24 September 2018

Finally getting to the Backdrops

Over the past few months when not getting distracted, I have made a slow start in addressing one of the major unfinished aspects of Philip's Creek, the lack of backdrops around most of the layout. This may be the first of several posts on this topic as I work my way around seeking to depth to what is otherwise a very narrow strip of ground, probably little more than 50m wide in 1:1 scale.

The first obvious question, why the hell didn't I address this in an orderly planned way before I started building the layout? The short answer is that I was too bloody impatient and wanted to get track down and run trains. As a plea in mitigation, the layout evolved over time to fit the available space. When it started in 1996, Philip's Creek was a continuous run loop and the viewing direction was inwards. A few years later, it became a point to point operation and the viewing direction was reversed as the layout started to run around walls. So even if I had installed a backdrop before laying track, it would be been superseded as the layout evolved.

Currently, the two primary methods of installing backdrops are to glue or fix some combination of panorama photos or to paint an appropriate scene on a blank sheet of timber.  Having said this, I can foresee the day when both methods will be  a thing of the past and we have some combination of wide screens behind the layout showing a backdrop where clouds move across the sky as well as vehicles, people and animals move in the background, all linked with appropriate sounds.

But back to the present, I wrestled with the decision as to whether to install a photo panorama or attempt to paint a scene. I believe that a good photo panorama, properly scaled provides the ultimate backdrop. However, these work best if installed first before track is laid. Terrain features such as creeks and hills can then be aligned with the panorama. As I said, I didn't have willpower to do that so, in essence, I'm playing 'catch up football' . A few years ago, I did experiment with a panorama which I photographed near Armidale. After some 'photoshop' work I did a test printout, taped it together and installed it near the Phillip's Creek coal mine. I was able to align a creek but it didn't seem to fit with other terrain features. For me, this represents the ultimate problem with a photo backdrop, the challenge of matching the backdrop with existing topography already in place on the layout such as the Hall's Creek module shown below.

So I decided to have a go at painting a back scene. I am certainly no Michelangelo or Albert Namatjira but there is plenty of advice around. There is a great article in Issue 6 of the Australian Journal of Railway Modelling together with numerous items and video on the internet. 

One consistent theme in most of these is the need to work from back to front or the distant to the foreground. Another is the need to dab with a bristle brush  rather than paint when seeking to create distant vegetation. All part of the learning experience.

As the painting moved to the foreground, there was the challenge of how to transition horizontal elements onto a vertical face which can be viewed from several angles without loss of perspective. For this module, the creek is that major element.

I sought to achieve this by representing a bend in the creek which then disappeared behind folds in the terrain. I painted a small portion of water on the backdrop which then appeared to disappear behind other hills.


The other thing that I have actively sought to do is to place trees on the terrain which has the effect of breaking up the backdrop particularly at corners.

The overall view of the module with the completed backdrop is shown below. This is another case where the camera presents a different view from what appears to the Mark 1 eyeball, particularly matching the colour of the terrain with that of the backdrop. The colours seems to be a better match than they appear in the photo below.

I'm reasonably happy with this as a first effort, but I suspect that I have done the easiest one first. The next one, Kingston Plains will probably be more challenging particularly with roads and probably buildings to be included on the backdrop. Work has just started with clouds added and a number of potential scenes identified. More to follow in another post.