12 April 2018

[Crafts] What A Dream Cruise Looks Like

Once upon a time, there was a model car photography competition being held; a casual one though. It runs bi-weekly, and winners get to decide on the theme of the next one. I won last week's, and so I got to pick one for the first time ever. I wanted to go big on the theme, one that would entice imagination by asking participants to create their own vision based off thought-provoking words. I myself wanted to explore the world of photographing real landscape while using forced perspective to help make the model appear to be life-sized. The theme for this round was to capture what your vision of a cruise looks like; the best relaxing drive ever.

That idea sank pretty quick when I realized it's barely spring, and trees haven't yet bloomed leaves yet. The timing for this theme was not right! I wasn't going to be capturing any lush vegetation where I am on the globe. So I circled back to what I usually do in these situations: build a diorama. I've never built at a 1/18 scale before, but I sure as heck wanted to give it a try.

As always we start off with the cheapest, lightest board we've got. I always consider portability, and ease-of-storage a key trait of dioramas I make. Can't justify making display models that can't be tucked away if I don't want to see it. This measures 20x30 inches, default size of Dollarama foam boards, and happens to be sufficient for what I have planned.

One of the challenges I see in photographing dioramas is creating that sense of scale at a low angle. If I work with a flat board, then the only way I can take a low-angle wide shot without capturing the bottom edge of the board requires a lot of real estate between the car and the camera. I find that this is one of the most common giveaways of the build that I see many diorama builders face, and it usually restricts you to capturing above eye-level with the car; which I am often bored of seeing. So what I've envisioned is a stretch of rural road where the shoulder lane and beaten path slopes downward... presumably into a field of grass or whatever I want to background scenery to be. I'm capturing that by bending the board like so. In doing so, I can capture more of the foreground without worrying about clipping the edges.

This foam isn't going to keep that shape though, so I've cut out strips that will be glued underneath to act as support ribs as well as a bind to maintain that slope.

The black foam board will be glued to this so I have a flat bottom.

The black strip will be a 2-lane road, and it will not be glued into place. This does me several benefits:
1) This keeps the overall size smaller, making it easier to store.
2) This gives me the flexibility to create a second strip of road, potentially in different conditions.

So long as I don't feel the need to photograph the car on the other side of the road, I won't develop a supporting base to hold up the side that's overhanging off the white board.

Don't mind the yellow. I was testing out how the leftover yellow paint would turn out on that sandpaper surface. I'm using what's left of the Beltone paint I purchased years ago to complete a Blazblue-themed joystick controller to create the hard yellow separator line down the center. Bristol board is not the best material to simulate asphalt; I learned that sandpaper does this extremely well in the past. I've used sheets of 180-grit to cover the entire board, because I don't know where to buy super-long rolls, and I don't think I would either. The challenge here was to figure out how to deal with the edges where the pages met. This is another commonly overlooked detail that gives away the realism of the build. No photo was captured of how this was dealt with, but I had scored the foamboard between the sandpaper's edges, pressed in the board on both sides where the pages were. This is to create the impression of fault lines of the road splitting.

After the drying has been complete, this is what the base of the board will be like. I love leaving a lip on the edge to make it easier to pick these up, so this eliminates the need to wedge fingers between the bottom base and the table it sits on.

Here I'm testing how it looks so far with that sloped surface.

Look at how much foreground I can capture! This is great! I can capture so much of the scenery this way and I don't need to center the car in the photo frame either.

Back to the road, I've pinched the edge to reduce the thickness of the foam board. This helps mask the appearance of a board, and also lays down the foundations of what a paved road really is; a pile of tar pressed into a flat surface. The edges will naturally slope downwards.

This is to gauge the size of lanes and shoulder space. It's smaller than ideal, but I can work with it. Also you can clearly see the edges of the sandpaper here. The spray-on tack coat wasn't holding down the edges of the paper. God that was driving me nuts. Went and super-glued those edges into place.

No progress shown on masking the board to spray on the lines. You can probably imagine how that works. This is a progress check to see how the paints are working out. In this photo, I've loosely brushed on variations of brown to get a base coat of the dirt/gravel surface I'll be making. I've also sprayed one coat of Satin clear to protect the black paint I sprayed over the sandpaper. Another coat was applied followed by two coats of matte clear, as I am not currently aiming for wet asphalt.

I've had bags of clumpy foliage in previous works, but this is the first time I've purchased train diorama gravel. I'll be using brown and blacks, and will be holding it down with this Scenic Cement, which appears to be an awful lot like PVA glue. Also for experimentation purposes, I'm also trying ground black pepper to sprinkle into the mix to add a bit more finer details in the dirt.

Here we go.

Put up boards on the sides to help reduce spilling over the edges and wasting the gravel.

It looks like the base paint coat was pointless seeing as how I've covered it, but rest assured, I don't intend to have the gravel coat be thick enough to cover the surface entirely. So the paint definitely does have its purpose.

The Scenic Cement does promote the use of a spray bottle as the liquid is runny enough to pass through the nozzle, but so far I've only been dripping the adhesive. It seems to hold fairly well for something so runny.

Zooming in, this is what I have so far where the black blends with the brown.

No picture of the product captured, but coming back to this project by day 3, I picked up sand from the dollar store (new product!), which is many shades lighter than the talus gravel, but oh so inexpensive. It definitely has a weaker appearance, so I'm using it as filler for the bottom half, as those other two bags of gravel weren't cheap. I've sprinkled the black pepper in the colour-transition area, but it was barely noticeable given the near match to what's already there. Oh well.

Being the cheapass I am, I didn't want to go ham with the Scenic Cement on the lower half. Instead I mixed the kid-favourite dollar store liquid white glue with water to get very runny glue. I applied this bery liberally to all the gravel.... to the point that the lighter areas look like soggy cereal. Dry time took a solid night while having the whole board stood up to let it run off.

Here's a close up of the cinder pile's edge, where it will reside closely to the edge of the asphalt board.

The goal here was to pile enough cinder to pretty much cover up the side of the asphalt board.

Took this opportunity to glue down bits of loose gravel on the asphalt to get an impression of debris, because what rural road is completely spotless?

Unfortunately due to a lack of precision and technique, the edge of the gravel isn't squared off, which equates to having this gap. This could arguably be passed off as a natural cause of asphalt shrinking in colder temperatures, but asphalt doesn't have that straight of an edge, so I can't overlook this.

Here's another progress shot of how the scale of gravel and road lines are looking in relation to the car.

This is very promising so far.

The last thing I'd like to make is the first modular foreground piece. Currently as it is, the diorama is set in a dry sandy area with little vegetation as seen in the progress photos above. If I ever decide to photograph in a background setting where it's a grassy field for instance, this foreground won't fit in. What I can do is create the necessary elements on a separate board, for the exact same reason as keeping the road piece an individual piece; to have the flexibility of creating different scenery. I'm hoping to do a grassy field, so I've laid down dark green tones as the base, and plan on jabbing a bunch of "grass" or leafy vegetation into the board.

I'm just reusing leftover material from past dioramas. These leafy things are components of a bush ball, which was also purchased from the good 'ol discount store. The scale of these things absolutely don't work well at the 1/64 scale, and they probably wouldn't work that well as bushes at 1/18 either. So I've spent time separating stems from the main branch, which I will jab into place later. Boy am I looking forward to that!

Switching back to the main board for now, I'm fixing up the uneven edges of the cinder. I'm also using this chance to top up on it so bring the height of the pile higher to cover as much of the asphalt's edge as possible. This time I've used the school glue straight out of the bottle to lay down the base coat of adhesion. And to keep the poured gravel contained in that area only, I've put up two board to funnel that into place. Really should've done this in the beginning.

Because I want to avoid the chance of gluing the asphalt board to the base, I'm using a low-profile strip of scrap foam to serve as a guide. Topped this off with the scenic cement as that seems to hold better than a thick coat of school glue.

I put the grass-planting step on hold for now as I figured I could do that part after gluing down patches of fake turf. This turf honestly does a terrible job convincing you of its realism, but we'll see how that goes after I plant those leaves into it.

As for the backdrop, you may have noticed that I've changed it up. I switched out from daytime to dusk. I figured this would be significantly easier to set up my lighting to match it. Getting the lighting to match the photo's lighting or vice-versa is the one major challenge of doing these kinds of dioramas. I've had to turn down the brightness and contrast on the TV, and I've even set up the photo in Photoshop in the event I need to adjust the colour temperatures to match that on the light bulb I was using (seen in that silvery box on the right).

Here's a snap of the photoshoot with the lights on. That speaker did end up helping out block out areas of the gravel that was receiving too much light. I've shot the following with my phone, and I'm quite content with how the overall picture turned out.

In this one I focused a little too much on the composition of the car and its relationship to the wind turbines in the background. My lamp was positioned too high as it doesn't match how far down the sunset is in the photo. There's also a big white reflection on the back side of the car. That's a lot of minus points for me. However, there's just the right amount of light shed on the gravel.

This one is just about spot-on from what I make of it. The lamp is so low that even the bottom half of the tires are lit, the gravel slope in the foreground is barely lit, and the car's side has little to no reflections. This creates the impression that the road is on high ground, and not lit by any street lamp or standing nearby any bright signs. I am so blown away with how this turned out.. on a phone no less. This was completed in 4 days time... and all this for a "friendly" photo competition.

29 April update:

Got a chance to move photos from the phone onto the web. Here's what the turf looks like 10+ hours later:

Fake turf looks bad no matter what, even if put beside a 1:1 car. It's never convincing in my eyes. So I went the extra mile of painstakingly stick those leaf strands in place.

It's most noticeable when you get low like this.

Now the green has much better substance. I've put it to use in a later photoshoot you can find here.