Monday, 6 May 2013



Okay, so it's been quite a while since my last entry, over 6 months ago in fact. Well, I did have to paint the house, put up the new verandah railings and host a few parties...
This little project began as an idea for my next major motion picture, tentatively titled, “A Visit to Grandpa”. The story concerns a little girl who is going to visit her grandfather on the Moon. The storyboard, as yet incomplete at this time, required a small scale moonbase of some kind for a number of approach shots of a shuttle arriving from Earth, carrying the girl to the Moon. I decided to really “lash out” on this model, money-wise and, so far, have spent the pricely sum of around $80 on its construction. Not too bad, considering that the finished setup measures 1.3 metres by 1 metre and features 14 separate structures, 7 transport vehicles of varying designs and 20 astronauts, all in 1:144 scale. To say that working at this tiny scale tested out my eyesight would certainly be an understatement! Taking a leaf from the classic, “2001: A Space Odyssey”, I decided that the base would be lit from beneath as indeed is the one in the film just before Heywood Floyd enters the pit with the TMA-1.
I purchased a cut sheet of acrylic, in 5mm thickness, from my local shop, along with some timber pieces to provide bracing. These were cut and screwed to the underside of the acrylic to provide enough rigid strength for the sheet to be suspended between a pair of trestle tables. The idea was to balance the sheet between the tables, illuminate the base from beneath with incandescent lamps and dress the surrounding table sections as the lunar surface, effectively extending the base area from just over a square metre to about 6 square metres. As of this writing, I have yet to set the base up for video shooting and, as our local model show was rapidly approaching, I wanted to display the completed model in a similar fashion.

The C’n’C section began life as a simple lampshade, adorned with a few kit parts, strip styrene, an old radar dish made from ship display stands, some lengths of cable-covering tubing and a plastic golf tee to top it off! Paint and detailing on this and other structures, consisted of spray cans of Ivory, pencil-drawn panel lines, stencil patterns, pinstriping tape, miscellaneous kit decals and weathering by rubbed and brushed on lead pencil. The symbol atop the building, representing the Earth and Moon, was quickly drawn on the computer and white-glued into position.   


Having collected junk (useful, but basically unwanted items) for many years now, I just had to sort through some of it to locate boxes that I could use for the various buildings. I collected thirty or so, but only ended up using a small number of them. Since this was a moonbase where everything had to be transported up to the lunar surface from Earth, I felt that the buildings should be fairly simple and modular in design. Detailing would utilise a minimum number of model kit parts and small holes would be drilled to provide illuminated window on each structure. Since the complex would be videoed in only a small number of shots, I didn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time making it but, as it turned out, because of the local model show, I ended up putting far more effort into it than was necessary.

Instead of mentioning the detailing process with each additional building, I thought I’d just list most of what I used to change the basic shapes into something that would read as real on video. Some of these pieces may seem to be a little unusual and even silly to use on the structures, however the main point of it was to create something to appear in a film, appear to be what it was supposed to look like and, above all, be done as cheaply as possible. Here’s a partial list:
toy domes from a playset, security packaging locks from DVD cases, model display stands, tubing to cover cables from TVs, computers, etc, calculator casings, pot plant dishes, car stereo speakers, clear plastic button containers, a cardboard core from a roll of sticky tape, wire roll cores, spindles from blister packaging that stop children from removing the toys from their boxes, Evergreen and styrene strip of various thicknesses and widths, cotton bud boxes (empty of course), a large plastic serving dish, a chocolate container (minus the chocolates), counters from children’s games, electrical “doodads” of which I have no idea, calculator buttons, shampoo lids, drink providers for pets, the boxes that good pens come in, soft plastic mesh from craft shops, bits of broken toys, bendable drinking straws, hypodermic needle fittings, plus a smatterings of other, unidentifiable items, the origins of which escape me. To glue all these disparate items together required a variety of adhesives, from PVA white glue and two-part epoxy, to super glue and model kit glue. A healthy dose of imagination didn’t go astray either!

I won’t go into exhaustive details on every structure for the complex as most of it is quite repetitive. Suffice to say that, once selected, the shape was added to with other boxes or pieces, holes for windows drilled with a 2mm drill bit, a primer was sprayed on, followed by the base coat of Ivory White. After drying, pencil lines, pinstriping tape, decals and other final details were added, followed by a weathering of lead pencil.
The shuttle landing area for the base began life as a serving dish which, when turned upside down, closely resembled those of Moonbase Alpha in “Space: 1999”. I continued the resemblance by constructing the receiving area off to one side from styrene and the docking tube from Evergreen square tube. The landing pad itself was the upside down chocolate box. This structure took on the shape and details of those in “Space: 1999”, not from any conscious decision on my part, but from the fact that, logically, this was the only way to go.       

The Medlab section started out as a pair of pen boxes. One of them was sawed in half and glued to the sides of the other box to make the cross shape, the medical symbolism being apparent in the resulting shape of the building.


The dual structures of the power station came from a pair of car stereo speakers which were mounted on styrene and added to with upside down pot plant dishes and button containers. Styrene vanes were glued on and detailing consisted mainly of kit parts, including parts from a mine roller used with military tanks.


The “exhaust” section of the power station consisted of the core from a roll of sticky tape which fitted around three tubes which someone had given me a while ago. In order to obtain a glow from the tubes, they were glued down onto styrene temporarily and PVA glue was poured around the base of each to form a thick layer. After drying for a few days, the structure was peeled off, resulting in no bottoms for the tubes which allows the light to shine up through them from below.

For the living quarters I used three almost identical lids from chocolates boxes and detailed them with styrene, Evergreen strips and kit parts.

The Hydroponics section (at least that’s what I think it is) was created by joining four plastic children’s bowls to a centre piece of a pair of shampoo lids. Detailing was accomplished in the usual way.

Another pen box, both halves this time, became the Common Rooms/Observation area. Joined together with pacer pencil lead containers, it contains five unpainted “N-gauge” railway figures behind a clear plastic window. I was hoping to see them as silhouettes with the illumination from below, however tests have proven them fairly invisible.

I liked the idea of pipes snaking their way along the lunar surface so I quickly constructed them from bendable drinking straws mounted on a styrene base – a fast and easy solution to appear realistic in the video.

Three minor sections were quickly made from a styrene base and various toy and kit parts to provide additional visual interest to the layout.

By the way, the name “Sheffield” comes from the nameplate of the 1:350 scale ship that I stole it from. It fitted the top of the building perfectly and so the name stuck!

Here’s where I had the most fun with model making than I’ve had in a very long time. For the video I intended to shoot, these were unnecessary as they would have been invisible in the shot, however with the model show looming, I felt I had to add just a little more, visually, to this diorama. Hunting through various shops, I came across something called a “Blizzard Buster” put out by Matchbox. It had a great set of caterpillar tracks for driving across the lunar surface and, at $2.25 each, fitted my  meagre budget. After drilling out the connecting rivets from four of them, I set about converting a pair of them into a type of lunar transporter by adding kit parts such as a bomb crate, a WW11 aircraft engine cowling, a clear canopy from another tiny aircraft and some other small pieces. I painted them both in Mandarin Red. I’m really happy with the results, especially after the addition of pinstriping tape and decals which made them look more realistic.

I used the other pair of caterpillar tracks to create a larger, passenger-carrying vehicle which was joined together in the middle with kit parts. The nose came from a ship’s gun turret and even includes a tiny 1:144 scale driver. More kit parts and a clear aircraft canopy detailed the vehicle, while the painting consisted of more Ivory White.

For the “Hopper” as I call it, I used a car’s engine block as the basis for the shape, as well as cut down tubing from the same kit for the landing legs. The landing feet themselves are ships’ lifeboats in 1:350 scale.

A tiny one-man vehicle was created from a small kit of the “Thunderbirds” Mole that (I think) came with another of the Thunderbird craft many years ago. I added lifeboats as details, a cabin with driver and a canopy from a WW11 aircraft. Even the wheels turn on this!

The nose from a Japanese Sci-Fi fighter, the main body of a tiny Thunderbird 5, electrical bits and a few kit details became the “Skiff”, a lunar flying vehicle that bears a passing resemblance to something one might see in Star Trek. Joining the vertical engines to the main body is the top from a Bic disposable razor! Another WW11 aircraft gave up a clear cabin for it. I painted this one in chrome silver.

Finding the kit dome from one of those BTR military vehicles gave me an idea for yet another lunar machine, the “Dragonfly”. Reminiscent of the “Lost in Space” Jupiter 2, the cabin area was populated with two figures and tank wheels added to the ‘skirt’ allowed for vertical takeoffs and landings. A trio of bombs and steering jets completed the pleasing design which I sprayed in the Mandarin Red colour.

Having made a couple of flying vehicles, I now had to come up with a place on which to land them – a sort of maintenance area and landing pad. This was quickly cobbled together from a child’s playing game and various kit parts. It was primed and then painted chrome, with heavy weathering to dirty it down.

Not content with just the base and ancillary vehicles as my model show display, I just had to go and add some people. A friend gave me quite a few “N-gauge” railway people which I then proceeded to behead. Small beads bought from a craft shop became their heads, looking all the world, especially at this tiny scale, like they were wearing miniature space helmets. A two-piece oxygen tank piece was made for each of them and, after standing each in Blu-Tac, they were primed and then sprayed with the chrome silver, after which their air tanks were picked out in red. This part really tested out the old eyes!

I traced around each building with a pencil onto the protective paper coating of the acrylic, carefully cut around each shape and removed the excess paper. The whole area was sprayed in silver, followed by primer grey, after which the other paper was removed and the buildings securely glued into place with Araldite. Test the lighting with a tripod worklight positioned below the setup, it revealed a number of light leaks around the buildings. These were coated over with car putty and resprayed with the grey primer far too early to avoid the chemical reaction between the two, resulting in a look that appeared to be a seething volcanic eruption beneath the base – an interesting effect to be sure, however a little inappropriate in this case. I roughened up the lunar surface by rubbing car putty over the entire area and I added more paint by small brush, and more again, just to stop those darned light leaks. Once satisfied that I have gotten most of them covered up, I will sprinkle cement powder over the entire set, carefully brushing it up against each building and making tiny craters with a pencil. The under-the-table light works a treat! It illuminates the windows in each structure beautifully, even in bright daylight. The downside is that way too much heat is created and this, if left on for long enough, will affect the acrylic sheet in a way I don’t wish to think about at this point in time!!!


The above photos were fairly rushed, but some turned out quite okay. I purchased some PVC angle strip and proceeded to add pieces to the sides of the diorama to act as a barrier for the cement dust which is not glued down at all. Don't want the pesky stuff floating through the air at my local model show now, do we? The PVC barrier is only lightly super-glued on so is easy to remove when I shoot the base for the film.
Hope you enjoyed the photos. Take care and keep on modelling!!!

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