Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Batcave Comes to Marxville

Today is Sunday Comic's Sunday and I thought that instead of showing another Batman vehicle in Corgi's excellent line of DC Comics vehicles I would show you what can be done in a small space.  This is an encapsulated version of how I built a Batcave on my layout.

After many years of slow-leaking the building of my 3-rail O-gauge Marx train layout, the Marxville and Plateau (MaP), there has been a spurt of activity on it this year.  The year started with constructing a backdrop, recently chronicled in an article in Paul Race's "Big Indoor Trains" Newsletter: Creating Custom Backdrops For Your Indoor Railroad Paul Race's website is listed as a favorite in the column at right.  Although it's main thrust would at first appear to be LGB you'll find many scales and gauges and many tips pertinent to them all.  Sign up for his excellent Newsletter - it's FREE!

My layout is shaped like an inverted 'U' and the bottom of the 'U' is called the Transition Area.  To the right of this area is the town of Marxville, to the left is the Plateau, formed by layering four sheets of 2" thick Styrofoam one atop the other.  After finishing the backdrop, the Transition Area was the next to receive some attention.  Working my way left, the edge of the Plateau was next in line.  That brings us, finally to the subject of today's blog. But the Batcave doesn't exist in a vacuum, it is surrounded by a layout and scenery, all of which need to be built up in order for the cave to look right in its chosen setting.  As I said earlier, the Plateau is constructed of layered sheets of Styrofoam.  This material is easy to carve and coat over with plaster or spackling.  As I run a toy train layout, the detail is not as finessed as it would be on a scale model train layout.  And that's the fun of toy trains because it's a lot easier to follow a 'good enough' philosophy and the rivet counters prevalent in the scale world have no toe-hold to stand on - cuz it's just a toy after all. 

The complete run-down of how I built and detailed this area can be found in the MarxTrains Yahoo Group and I welcome anyone interested in toy trains to join.  Here's the 'How-To' in a nutshell:
- CARVE: The Styrofoam is easily carved, but MESSY.  My method is to, carve, toss the large debris in the  garbage, vacuum, and repeat - carve, toss, vacuum.  
  -- I use a knife with a stiff serrated blade.  The flimsier type of serrated blades (like a Ginsu) are fine for making long straight cuts but the stout blades are best for carving.
  -- Sometimes it's better not to have too detailed a plan, I let the shapes suggest themselves as I carve

- COVER: Cover the Styrofoam with either plaster, pre-colored grout (tan or brown), or my favorite - pre-mixed, lightweight spackling compound.
  -- Plaster and grout will yield the best results if you want highly detailed scenery as they take detailing well, and you can use readily available rock molds.  This is the scale modeler's choice
  -- The lightweight spackling does not take detail well at all but I use it to cover - mostly - the Styrofoam.  BUT as this is a toy train layout I'm not as concerned that every square millimeter gets covered.

- PAINT: I use regular household latex paint and almost always use four different colors, and sometimes five. I also don't care if it's flat or satin finish, trust me, it'll all look just fine when you're finished.
  -- The undercoat is dark brown.  Use a wet brush and cover everything.  Let dry and touch up spots you missed
  -- Follow up with a darkish toffee brown using a somewhat wet brush, bordering on dry.  You want to almost cover the dark brown.  The dark brown is meant to provide the shadows in the deep recesses of the scenery.
  -- Using a dry-brush technique, apply a light dusting of medium tan.  You don't want to cover up the toffee brown, just provide highlights.
  -- Last, use a light tan and with a VERY dry brush give the landscape a VERY light dusting.  This is the last highlight
  -- Optional: Using white you can give yet another VERY LIGHT dusting

- GROUND COVER:  The grass or underbrush is next
  -- Using painters tape or masking tape cover any area you don't want ground cover on.  NOTE: The glue mixture described below will still seep under the tape and you will need to do some touch-up painting but at least the rough ground cover won't get on the surrounding area.
  -- Using the dark brown paint, paint about 12sq inches of ground - do not let the paint dry before proceeding to the next step.
  -- Using Woodland Scenics ground foam products, or Faller or Life-like grass products sprinkle on your desired ground cover (I use a set of cheap plastic strainers I bought just for this purpose).  Now is also a good time to place any rocks, logs, or any other details onto the landscape as they will be blended in to the scenery.
  -- The paint alone will not adhere the 'grass' to the landscaping.  Now you have to glue it all in place.  My next step is to lightly spray the ground cover that was just laid down with a mix of water and about an ounce of dishwashing detergent.  A large Windex bottle is just fine for this but preferably use a spray bottle which can be adjusted to a fine mist
  --  IMMEDIATELY follow up by dribbling on a a mix of white glue/water/dishwashing detergent.  My mix is 50% water to 50% white glue.  Then I add about 2-3 Tbsp of detergent.  The detergent is used to make the water 'wetter', by decreasing the surface tension of the water, allowing it to seep into all the nooks and crannies. 
  -- Remove any tape, do any touch-ups and 'plant' trees, shrubs, etc.  I hope th photos will help in understanding this whole process.

Basic scenery elements in the Transition Area.

The white glue/water/detergent mix, the water/detergent mix, and can of paint

After applying the glue mix, everything will look acky and smarmy.  Don't let this bother you.  It will take at least 24 hours to set up and once it does the glue will dry clear and all the scenery will be bound to the table top.

Below is the Transition Area work in progress

Work progressing on the Plateau

The Batcave taking shape.

The 'chasm' has been cut-out.

The tunnel entrance being worked on.

The 'chasm' is built up using scrap Styrofoam.

The Styrofoam has been spackled and the base coat of dark brown painted on.
Also notice the cardboard webbing.  This is the first time I've used this method on my layout.  Not wanting to build up the mountain side with Styrofoam, I constructed a lattice using soda cartons cut into roughly 1 1/2" wide strips and using a hot glue gun, attached them to the layout framework. BE CAREFUL - those hot glue guns didn't get their name for nuthin' - OUCH!

The webbing is next covered with Plaster Wrap.  This is a plaster impregnated gauze available from several different manufacturer's.  Cut strips about 8"-12" long (and you can also cut smaller pieces as patches), dip a strip quickly in water, then lay over the webbing.  Lay them all in one direction first, allow to set perhaps for an hour or so, then repeat the process with a second layer applied perpendicular to the first.  Allow to set up 24 hours before painting.

Use your fingers to smooth out overlapping pieces and rough spots.

At this point scale modelers will probably want to add plaster rock castings to flesh out the scenery.  I chose to stop right here and paint the mountainside.  The photos don't show it but when you're up close and personal you can definitely see the gauze, even after painting.  What's nice about this is that I can later choose to detail it more, or leave it as is.

Here you can see the blue painter's tape covering the right-of-way.  I remove the tape shortly after applying the ground cover.  After the scenery dries (over night), the touch-up painting will be done.

You can still see the little round Styrofoam balls in the scenery, but remember, because this is a toy train layout, that's OK.  'Good Enough' works really well on a toy train layout.

The tunnel area is designed so that I can either use a Marx tin-litho tunnels set up on the ledges you see here or use no extra tunnel at all and still have it look nice.

 Still looks good for a toy train layout!

The road leading to the Batcave.

 For a small space we still have all the elements needed for a 'Good Enough' Batcave diorama - a secluded area in the terrain, a tree-lined road leading up to The Cave....

 And of course, The Cave itself!!  The graphic you see in the photo is available from an eBay seller called 'UKSteve'.  He's from England and does various Batcave graphics, based on the 1966 'Batman' TV series and he will size a graphic to your needs.  The trees directly in front of the removable panel are also removable allowing easy access to the panel.  My basic plan for The Cave came out pretty much the way I wanted it to, but I still want to tweak the cave portion some as I'm not totally satisfied with the way it looks in the photos.  However, that being said, it's still really neat.

The Batmobile is the Mattel 1/50th scale toy featured during the first week of this blog and used as the basis for a Bat-blog (see favorites at right) Wacky Wallpaper Wednesday, computer wallpaper.

I can almost see Adam West and Burt Ward toolin' down the road!!

The Batmobile is rolling and the Cave is sealed off.

(the theme song for the 1966 series wasn't much on lyrics, but once you heard it, you never forgot it!!)

Geez, what started out as a quick little blog turned into a regular scenery making treatise.   Gosh, sorry 'bout that folks!  The techniques shown were used on a train layout BUT can be scaled down to build small diorama's, school projects, and display's.  None of it is hard, but it can be a tad messy - but then so is working on the car, painting the house, or cooking - so, no biggie, right?

I hope you liked this progress report on my layout, The Marxville and Plateau (MaP) as well as the scenery and Batcave 'How-To.  Enjoy!