Help me build Hoth!
October 18, 2011 7:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm crafting my first real substantial diorama (read: not made out of construction paper and a shoe box) and I need some construction assistance. Bonus! It's the ice planet of Hoth!

I've started building models lately. My latest construction is this - a Star Wars AT-AT that I finished up last month. I include the blog link and associated pictures because they are relevant.

A week or so after finishing the model, I realized I was missing something. Mainly, I felt like I could really make it something special if I fleshed it out a little bit with a diorama scene - maybe turn it into something I could put on my desk at work or something like that.

I have no experience with this sort of thing, but I have a couple books that go over it a little, so I decided to give it a whirl.


1. I went out and bought some wood (including some toe moldings for the edges) and I put it all together into a suitable frame.

2. Then I bought some foam insulation. I cut it to shape and used it to start to construct the terrain - which includes some hills and such to give it a little character.

3. Then I bought some spackle - you know, the stuff in a tub that's purple, but turns white as it dries. I mixed this with some Elmer's glue to make a kind of paste, and I applied this in layers over the styrofoam to create a more realistic terrian.

4. While wet, I added some accessories - I used some straws for some industrial piping and conduit and some other stuff. Also, the AT-AT model came with some gun emplacements, so I added those.

5. I used some green modeling putty to fix up some of the edge work and so on.

Next, I would sandpaper it down to a fine finish and spray paint it with a primer and then give the whole thing a base coat and then paint it per usual.... except, I have a problem.


The problem is that I'm not sure how to merge the diorama and the AT-AT. The AT-AT is already painted, detailed and finished.
I don't want to just glue the AT-AT on as an afterthought once everything is all painted and finished with the diorama.

I mean, this is supposed to be Hoth! If an AT-AT is trudging across a field of snow and ice, one would think it would sink a little bit and kind of leave an impression in the terrain. I want the putty/terrain around the feet to kind of squish up around the feet of the AT-AT, as if you put your foot in mud. Does that make sense?

However, my every effort to that thus far has a) almost ruined my AT-AT and b) almost ruined my diorama, which now looks like this after some dramatic patching work.

In a perfect world I would have these foot "impressions" - then I would prime, paint, finish and just drop the AT-AT into place... but I'm not sure how to do that without getting putty all over the AT-AT and making a huge awful situation.

My latest idea is to like, trace an outline of the AT-AT foot imprint, then cut a piece that matches it out of wood or something and use it kind of like a stamp in wet putty.. but.. I"m not sure if that will work, or if I have the technical expertise.

I kind of want to give up. Help!
posted by kbanas to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Put a bit of saran wrap around the feet to make the impression? Then take it off?
posted by peagood at 7:51 AM on October 18, 2011

Response by poster: Put a bit of saran wrap around the feet to make the impression? Then take it off?

That's interesting. I tried to do something like that by putting the the feet of the AT-AT in plastic zip-loc bags and sticking them in the putty, but that didn't really work. Saran wrap sounds like an easy way to reverse the process.

Then I guess I sort of wait for the putty to half-dry and pull the saran wrap off. Or.. just wait for it to completely dry and sandpaper it off.
posted by kbanas at 7:56 AM on October 18, 2011

When I was a kid, I had this MPC model kit of the ATAT attack on Hoth base; also here. You can kinda see from the pictures how they depicted the trail the AT-ATs left. The thing I think is most striking is that it shows the effect of something heavy walking through fresh snow. Think of somebody walking through an untouched snowy field; they don't just leave isolated prints in the shape of a foot. It disturbs all of the snow around them, leaving rough and chaotic piles and grooves behind.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:00 AM on October 18, 2011

Your first idea sounds workable-- create a stencil out of wood and press it down into half-dried putty. Practice on putty that's not attached to your diorama first.

Just don't bend your Wookiee.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:01 AM on October 18, 2011

You can use a blow dryer to heat the saran and mold it a bit closer to the feet - a zip-loc bag might be too thick. And yes, then what you said, and/or wait for the putty to dry a bit and then do it. Make a sample first, and try it before doing the final on your diorama. My experience is with kindergarten crafts, and because I used to carve the plaster dental molds for braces. My other thoughts were wax (either coating the legs or carving a wax foot out of a candle), small water balloons, or liquid latex.
posted by peagood at 8:02 AM on October 18, 2011

You might try a different material for sculpting the landscape. Glue mixed with spackle sounds sticky and difficult to work with. Setting-type joint compounds (Easy Sand is a common brand) come as a powder. You mix with water to form a paste of whatever consistency you like, spread and wait. Advantage being that such compounds cure via a chemical reaction, so they harden sooner and also harden even if kept damp, so they'd set up under plastic wrap whereas your current concoction would stay soft and sticky for a looooooong time.
posted by jon1270 at 8:06 AM on October 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: You can use a blow dryer to heat the saran and mold it a bit closer to the feet - a zip-loc bag might be too thick

Ah, so I wouldn't lay the saran wrap down like a sheet on the terrain - I would wrap the feet in saran wrap and then use a blow dryer to mold it really nicely to the feet? This is intriguing.

The problem with using a wood stencil for a "foot" like I suggest earlier is that this would undoubtedly not replicate the "balance" of the AT-AT. As in, I'm sure the terrain is uneven, and I'm sure some feet will be "deeper" than others to create an even look.
posted by kbanas at 8:07 AM on October 18, 2011

Response by poster: You might try a different material for sculpting the landscape. Glue mixed with spackle sounds sticky and difficult to work with.

It's actually not too bad. I'll take that into consideration for next time, but honestly it firmed up and dried nicely inside 24 hours.
posted by kbanas at 8:11 AM on October 18, 2011

I meant that it may take a long time to dry if you've got a film of plastic on it, even if only on a small, footprint-sized area.
posted by jon1270 at 8:32 AM on October 18, 2011

You don't easily "ruin" a diorama made that way. What you need in any case is a surface cover; the spackle (we - model train - typically would use simple plaster, either on top of chicken wire and glued-on layers of newspaper, or on roughly cut styrofoam or whatnot) alone looks too "hard," also you'll always see remnants of the traces from when you applied it. Like, a squorchy-and-then-sanded surface where it should look like a naturally eroded one.

So for your example, this stuff would make it possible for you to just stick the AT-AT on to the diorama with some minimal dots of white glue and afterwards dust its feet, together with the entire area, with snow.

For footprints, you prepare a fake foot, measure the step width of the thing, and make imprints after 'snowing' and before the glue you used for the 'snow' dries (or, if that creates a sticky mess, let it dry and take a tiny chisel or something to craft your footprints afterwards...).

Really, for supplies for diorama landscaping, browse the landscaping products of online model train shops. You'll be amazed.
posted by Namlit at 9:17 AM on October 18, 2011

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