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!


  1. Phil, you are doing a good job, overall I think you have captured the depth aspect in most respects, especially in #4 & 8 pics. goes without saying that taking those at eye level makes a huge difference and you mention this in the post, as against those taken from higher (above) angles.

    Not sure about where you live but there are a lot of towns in NSW that are still basically one street that parallels the railway line, with other roads running off the main one, a good example I believe is Curlewis, which has a lot of older buildings in the parallel street, so possible to photo as many as needed especially the street in Curlewis that has a pub on the corner, a split road with a greened and treed road going straight for some distance. Another location that is more spread is Stratford on the NCL.

    1. Col,
      Thanks for comments. The concept for Kingston Plains branch has been heavily influenced by the Merriwa branch and unsurprisingly, the layout of the town is also influenced by Merriwa's geography with the bulk of the town located south of the railway and only a few houses and the Council works depot north of the station in Macartney St. I substituted the service station and milk bar for the works depot but the idea of a few more houses visible to the north of the railway has carried through. There is no road bridge at Merriwa but, as I mentioned, the bridge also serves to conceal the entrance to the module.

      Having said that, my search for suitable buildings went much further afield, with some from Cassilis, Kandos, Mudgee, Glouster Coonabarabran and a few others that I have forgotten. The key criteria was the need for undulating terrain with the ability to look slightly down on any particular building.

      cheers Phil