Category: special effects

The Saga of Geyser Gulch – Part 3

A Scene 7 Years in the Making

I first began work on Geyser Gulch back in early 2013 and wrote a little about it on the old Thunder Mesa blog. In this three part series, I'm revisiting and elaborating on some of those old posts, and describing the planning and building of the Gulch right up to the present day. Click here to read Part 1. Click here for part 2.

Bridge footings and abutments blended into the existing scenery with Sculptamold.

Part 3: Finishing the Scene

With the trestle complete, it was time to finish the scene with ground cover, desert plants, details, and, of course, the modeled water of the hot springs and geysers. The first step was to blend the bridge abutments into the existing scenery with Sculptamold, and then paint that new scenery to match. I use flat latex and acrylic paints for my scenery painting and have a good supply of the most used colors pre-mixed and on hand.

I've described and done videos about my scenery painting techniques several times before so I won't rehash it too deeply here. Basically, I paint the new area with my scenic base coat, a special mixture of Raw Sienna flat latex house paint. Once that has dried completely, I go back and darken the textures with a thin black acrylic wash from a spray bottle or soft bush. This seeps into the cracks and crevices, darkening the shadows and giving them added depth. I allow that to dry, and then do the final scenic painting with earth toned artists' acrylics right out of the tube. I get the cheap student grade stuff since I use a lot of it. The colors used on the Gulch were raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber (for deep shadows), yellow ochre, and unbleached titanium. Using a flat 1" brush or filbert, the colors are semi-dry-brushed onto the top surfaces of the rocks, working from darker to lighter tones. Colors can be blended together right on the scenery. The final step is to go back with some unbleached titanium and dry-brush on a few highlights to really make the scene pop.

Once I was happy with the scenery painting, I ballasted the approach tracks to the trestle, and started adding ground cover in the form of real rocks and dirt collected in Sedona, Arizona and Moab, Utah. This was all wetted down with a spray bottle filled with "wet water" (that's water with a coupe drops of liquid detergent to break the surface tension), and then everything was cemented in place with diluted matte medium.

Larger rocks, bushes, weeds and cacti are being added in this view. They were all cemented in place with Aleene’s Tacky Glue. Note the big rocks that have tumbled down into the water.

Fire barrels were added to the trestle refuges. These started as resin castings from Wiseman Model Services and I added the lid handles, fashioned from 1/32″ birch plywood.

Prickly pear and other cacti are castings from Pegasus Models. Other plants and weeds came from Scenic Express and Woodland Scenics.

Old Unfaithful has its own National Park style sign to alert guests to this scenic wonder. The sign artwork was created in Photoshop, combining text with realistic photo textures of real wood. 

Modeling Water in the Hot Springs

Modeling water believably is one of the biggest scenic challenges in this hobby. Perhaps one reason is that water can look so differently under varying conditions and environments. When I modeled Big Thunder Creek, for example, I wanted the look of a fast moving, high desert stream, rushing down from the high country to bring water and life to the canyons below. Frothy cascades and waterfalls give way to deep, green tinted pools, teaming with riparian plants and animals. I also wanted that green tinted water to evoke similar waterways at Disneyland. But for Geyser Gulch, I was after a very different kind of water: the travertine rimmed turquoise pools fed by hot springs and geysers.

Modeling the water for Geyser Gulch actually began with the sculpted terraces and blue-green colors applied when the scene was first begun 7 years ago. Following photos of places like Havasupai and Mammoth Hot Springs, I chose colors and textures that are not typically seen on model railroads, but nevertheless do exist in many places in the natural world. The water in these places is actually crystal clear, like the waters in a swimming pool, nearly devoid of nutrients, but filled with tiny particulates of white travertine. The amazing colors come from those sediments reflecting the sky in the clear waters.

Big Thunder Creek evokes the high desert riparian environments found in canyon country. A rare oasis of green in the red rock desert.

The turquoise waters of Geyser Gulch. In nature, the vivid colors come from white travertine sediments in the clear water that reflect the sky above. In the modeled world, they need to be recreated with paint.

As the waters evaporate, that travertine also forms a white crust on everything it comes into contact with. Over time, that's what builds those sculpted terraces. In the shorter term, it crusts the shoreline and anything close to the water. I simulated this mineral build-up on the lower parts of the trestle by dry-brushing unbleached titanium acrylics onto the stone footings, and dusting the lower bridge timbers with white chalks.

With the scene finally set, and everything painted, it was time for the final steps to make that painted on water look wet. For this, I turned to a couple of products that should be familiar to most modelers: Envirotex Lite clear epoxy resin, and Mod Podge acrylic gloss medium. Envirotex to give the water an appearance of depth, and Mod Podge to enliven the surface and make the water look like it was moving.

Follow the photos below for the step-by-step process.

It’s important to prepare the surface well before pouring liquid epoxy. Envirotex is self-leveling and will find any holes in the surface to flow through. A temporary dam of blue painters tape was used to keep the resin from flowing out of the hot springs and onto the floor.

Envirotex Lite clear 2-part epoxy resin. About 1 oz was enough to cover all of the water areas in Geyser Gulch about 1/16″ deep. You don’t really need more than that. I followed the directions and mixed the 2 parts 1:1, stirring thoroughly and pouring immediately after mixing.

After the initial pour, and as the resin began to set-up, I used a bamboo skewer to try and add some ripples to the surface. You can use a small propane torch to eliminate air bubbles at this stage also, but since I wanted the look of bubbling springs I didn’t bother with that step.

The Envirotex sets crystal clear and ultra glossy. It also wants to set completely flat and level so most of the ripples that I worked into the surface completely disappeared as the resin cured overnight. You can tint Envirotex with a drop or two of acrylic colors if you want, but since I wanted clear water, I poured the resin as is.

Dead, flat water looks pretty unconvincing in my view and will also reflect anything above the layout such as track lighting to pull you right out of the scene. The solution is to add some texture to the surface of the water and I used good old Mod Podge for this. This stuff is one of my favorite scenic materials. It’s cheap, widely available, and easy to use. The matte version even makes an excellent scenic glue.

Once the Envirotex had cured completely, I stippled Mod Podge onto the surface with a soft brush. I also brushed some onto the geyser heads and other surfaces that might be shiny from splashing water. Mod Podge is a heavy bodied acrylic medium that dries to a clear high gloss while still holding its shape.

The final look of Geyser Gulch after drying overnight. The Envirotex gives the water depth, while the Mod Podge enlivens the surface with ripples and movement.

Making Old Unfaithful Erupt

An erupting Geyser or two is something I've wanted on a model train layout since long before I even began thinking about Thunder Mesa. Inspired by "Old Unfaithful" from Disneyland's early Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland attraction, I wanted an effect that was reliable, relatively easy to maintain, and that could be triggered by push-button or by a passing train. I knew I wanted an effect with real steam or vapor coming out of the geyser head, but one that wouldn't damage the scenery or lead to maintenance issues over time. I had an inkling that some sort of theatrical smoke machine might work, but they were all too big and messy for my needs. To be honest, how to do the effect stumped me for quite a long time and I kind of had to wait for technology to catch up before I could do it right.

 

A vape pipe converted to mini smoke machine.  The plastic vial contains vape “base” – A flavorless, nicotine free concoction of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin that is the “smoke fluid” for the machine.

As vaping gained in popularity, I began to wonder if one could modify an inexpensive vape pipe into a small smoke machine that could be used on a layout. As it turns out, you can, and I was far from the first person to think about converting one of these things to more creative and artistic uses. I wondered if you could attach a small electric fan to one end and blow the vapor out the other. After doing a little research online, I found that not only could you do that, but that the cosplay community had beaten me to the idea by several years. A few people were already making them and selling them on Etsy and other places, so, rather than cobbling something together myself, I saved a little time by purchasing one of the units and having it shipped to the studio.

I chose a model that could be activated by push-button and powered by a rechargeable 2 amp power bank via USB (not included). Then it was a fairly simple matter of hooking the unit up to the existing plumbing I had built into the geysers. Old Unfaithful was built up from carved Balsa Foam over a short length of 1/4" copper tubing that extends below the layout. Rubber tubing connects the business end of the pipe to the copper and a big red button on the layout fascia was wired up to activate the unit. The rechargeable power bank is hidden beneath the layout where it is secured to the benchwork with velcro tape. Load the unit with fluid, plug in the USB, press the button, and voila! The geyser erupts!

In this overhead view, it’s easy to see the copper tubbing inside the caldera of Old Unfaithful Geyser.

Because it’s real vapor, every “eruption” is a little different. Here, a small cloud of vapor rises from the geyser.

Check out my latest YouTube "How To" for a complete breakdown and demonstration of the system and how it works.

 

The mini smoke machine I used was made by MONcosplay Prop Shop, available on Etsy.

Off the top of my head, I can think of lots of other model railroading uses for a mini smoke unit like this: a forest fire scene. a slash burner at a sawmill, a burning building, a factory or smelter smokestack... You get the idea. Imagination is the only limit!

Wrapping Up

I hope everyone enjoyed this series on building Geyser Gulch and found it informative. Looking back on the 7 years it took me to complete the scene, I'm glad I didn't rush it. It certainly didn't need to take 7 years, but it does take time to build the required skills and knowledge, and to better refine an idea for the best presentation. I'll be happy to answer any questions in the comments below, or over on Thunder Mesa's Facebook page if you follow my exploits there. Remember, you can also visit Thunder Mesa Studio and see the layout in person on the first Saturday of every month. Check the Visit tab for details.

I really appreciate everyone who takes the time to follow along with my projects. Enthusiasm is contagious. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

Boot Hill Part 3 and The Haunted Undertaker’s Shop

Studio Update - Sep 30, 2017

My Undertaker's Shop tribute to Disney's Haunted Mansion is just about finished as of this writing, with just a few more small details to add. The same is true across the street at Boot Hill Graveyard, where a new picket fence and a gnarled old tree have sprouted up. This week's video log goes into detail on the "illusioneering" and special effects at the Undertaker's Shop, and shows how I built the "Lantern Tree" in the graveyard from twisted picture wire and acrylic modeling paste. I'm pleased with how these scenes have turned out and quite happy to have them done in advance of next Saturday's Open Studio & Train Night.

The Undertaker's Parlor of Messrs. Atencio, Crump and Gracey has been installed in its plot near the front edge of the layout. A follower of the TMMC Facebook page suggested that I rotate the structure 90º to give guests a better view of the interior effects and that turned out to be an excellent suggestion. Thanks for that! Below decks, an ITT Products sound module with a 2", 8 ohm speaker plays a spooky 2-minute soundtrack that I created. George at ITT products was very helpful when creating this custom sound module and I highly recommend his products. Both the soundtrack and the interior Pepper's Ghost effect are activated by one of the "Big Red Buttons" that guests can push on the layout fascia. There's much more on the Pepper's Ghost effect in this week's Thunder Mesa video log.

Check out the video below for part 2 of the time-lapse Undertaker's Shop build.

Over at Boot Hill, I've been putting the finishing touches on the scene with a weathered wooden fence and a gnarled old Juniper tree that has a flickering lantern hanging from the branches. I wanted some sort of illumination for the scene during night operations and this seemed like a fun and clever option.

The picket fence was built from Grandt Line castings with scratch-built wooden posts between them. The knobs on top of the fenceposts are dress-pin heads. The fence was assembled in three large sections at the workbench where it was primed and painted before being installed in the scene. I primed it with Krylon flat grey before drybrushing on splotchy coats of light tan and white acrylics to simulate weathered and faded paint on a wooden fence. I still need to add the iconic "Boot Hill" sign to the crossbar above the gate.

I built the tree using braided picture-hanging wire, twisting several strands together to create the trunk and then unraveling the ends to simulate smaller branches and twigs. Some some scrap-box bits were glued to a 3mm yellow flickering LED to make a lantern, and then the soldered on leads were hidden within the tree's armature.  All of this was then coated with three or four applications of acrylic modeling paste to build up texture, taking care not to cover the lantern itself. I let the paste dry overnight before finishing the trunk with a dark brown primer, followed by several dry-brushings with lighter shades of tan and grey acrylics. The tree was then installed on the layout and Woodland Scenics dark green foliage clumps were cemented on with Aleene's Tacky Glue. You can see a time-lapse of the tree being built in this week's video log.

I'm pretty pleased overall with how the entire scene has come together. As usual, it turned out to be a little more complex than I had originally planned as additional effects and details were added, but I'm very happy to have it (mostly) done in time for the Halloween season! 

I'm not quite sure which project I'll be tackling next. There are a few more lighting effects I'd like to finish up before next weekend, but I'm also more than ready to get back to work on the Thunder Mesa Riverfront and its 50' paddle-wheel steamer. Right now, it's time to clean up the studio and get organized again after the last two weeks of frenzied modeling. Thanks for checking in, amigos. Adios for now!

PS: As a bonus for following along, I'm offering the ambient night sounds of Thunder Mesa and the Haunted Undertaker's Shop soundtrack as free Mp3 downloads. I created both of these tracks for the layout and they can be downloaded and played on any MP3 capable devise. Add a little nighttime atmosphere to your own layout or a spooky Halloween soundtrack. Have fun!

Thunder Mesa Night Sounds

Haunted Undertaker's Shop


Thunder Mesa T-shirts from Spreadshirt.com

Frontierland Area Music for the Thunder Mesa Mining Co.

Frontierland Music Loop
Every land at a Disney park has its very own soundtrack, usually a one hour music loop that helps to reinforce the land’s theme and further immerse guests in the experience. I’ve always enjoyed the music played in Frontierland and thought it would be a kick to add it to the railroad. I put together my own extended loop that also includes music from the Big Thunder queue and Big Thunder Ranch (now gone!). The music is provided by an inexpensive MP3 player and piped in through speakers hidden under the layout.