(You can now download the whole walkthrough as a free PDF here on our webstore!)
In the Jon Hodgson Backdrops books we mention that there’s a guide to making a scenic plinth to use with your backdrops on our website. And here it is!
In all of our own shots we boost up the model on a small piece of scenery to more easily cut the bottom of the book out of shot. There’s a guide to setting up your shots here, which includes the use of just such a plinth.
In this article we’ll run through the initial steps of hand-making a plinth. We should say in advance there are many, many ways to make such a thing. This isn’t necessarily the very best, or quickest way – it’s just how we do it. And you are of course to alter any of these steps, replacing any you see fit, or doing things in a different order. We find this way works well for beginners and is quite inexpensive. It also makes a great project to try with younger gamers/modellers. It’s a very forgiving technique.
Things you’ll need for part one of this guide:
- Hot glue gun (optional)
- A hammer (optional)
- An old brush or two
- Water in a water pot
- Paint palette
- Some scrap corrugated cardboard
- Tissue paper, tissues or kitchen roll
- PVA glue
- Hot glue sticks (optional)
- Brown paint
- Grey paint
- Air-drying clay
We’ve added this step in retroactively to be super-smart, and to get ahead of the schedule. This is something to do the day before you start work in earnest. Take some chunks of air drying clay and make some rough boulder shapes. You can roll them into round boulders, make some standing stone style rocks, some big ovals, whatever you like. They don’t need to be anything special – just rough chunks. Let them dry out. After about 20 minutes to half an hour you can experiment with tearing some of your boulders. If the air drying clay has dried out enough it creates some wild textures.
Put that aside to dry thoroughly – preferably overnight. If you don’t have access to air drying clay, you don’t have to add any rocks to your plinth. They do look nice though.
First draw a rough oval on your cardboard as a guide. We tend to make something this shape so that we can use it width ways and length ways in front of our backdrop book, giving us more options from one plinth. This one is about 15cm by 10cm.
Cut it out. Cool cardboard potato, friend.
Draw around it four times on further scrap cardboard.
Cut them out. These steps are easy!
With 5 layers we have a plinth about 30mm high, which is about right for giving us some tolerance in how much of it appears in our photos. If it’s too shallow it won’t give us enough to work with in providing a foreground. If it’s too tall, it won’t be as flexible to use, and we’ll need to jack up the backdrops book more than we otherwise might need to. We find about 30mm – the height of a figure, roughly, is a good size to work with.
Now we trim four of the five ovals down, so that when we stack them up we get a sloping hill. We decide with our plinth to make the final level half the width for some variation. Our example is quite steep. You can make it more shallow-sided if you prefer.
With hot glue we glued the cardboard layers together, starting at the bottom and working up to the top. You could use PVA glue if you don’t have any hot glue but it will need time to dry. Hot glue is quicker. Just be very careful as it is hot!
This is optional, but we like to run some hot glue around each layer to fill some of the holes and give the layers a bit of a softer edge. You can even use the hot glue to model more detail on your plinth. Be mindful that the purpose of this plinth is to provide a solid, flat footing for your model. Don’t make it too bumpy – leave some areas clear and flat for your model to stand on.
We paint the whole thing in PVA glue as a sort of priming layer. This gives the next layer better adhesion. Let it dry thoroughly. If you’re lucky enough to have heating where you’re working you can carefully put it on a radiator to speed up drying. Beware though – your cardboard might warp if it gets too hot on one side while it’s wet on the other!
Paint the whole thing with PVA glue once more. Take your kitchen roll or tissues and stick them onto the glued up plinth. This doesn’t have to be a neat job, and wrinkles in the tissue are to be desired for extra random detail. Paint on more glue and add another layer. This helps disguise the layers of cardboard a bit more. Make sure you fill any gaps with scraps of tissue. You can add as many layers as you want, but we find two works well enough. Let the whole thing dry thoroughly.
Next we paint the whole thing. A couple of thin coats of paint are worth doing – it’s very very easy to miss spots, and find that the camera picks them up later, so take your time with this base coat. Get the whole thing really well painted. We’re using brown, but you can use any dark earthy colour. Dark green works too.
Grab your air drying clay boulders. Now for some fun. Grab a hammer and whack em! (Be careful and wear eye protection!) You’ll need a hard surface for this, so be sure to protect it with something like a tea towel or a piece of cardboard. Breaking your solid boulders will give you some lovely natural-looking stones for your plinth. If you really love the boulders you’ve made then you don’t have to break them up like this, but we find it both satisfying and effective! Aim for a selection of sizes for the most naturalistic feel.
Fire up the glue gun again and glue your stones to the plinth. We like to arrange them in clumps, leaving clear slight lines through the plinth in several directions to make sure we have a really versatile piece of plinthage.
Paint your stones with the same base colour as your plinth. We find this is a good thing to do in order to tie your plinth’s colours together, and it means you can very easily touch up any mistakes. Air drying clay will suck up a lot of paint, so you may want to thin your paint with some water. That can also give you some nice looking effects, as you can see on that right hand rock.
Dry-brush your rocks so that they get a nice rough look. Going over them a couple of times with a dry brush works best. We’ve also added some dry brushing to the sides of our plinth to suggest cliff-like sides. We’re not necessarily committed to those areas being bare rock, but it gives us some options for later. Let everything dry.
That’s it for part one!
In our next part coming later this week, we’ll be adding some cool modelling supplies from Bad Squiddo to this basic base. There’s time to order yours today! You’ll be amazed how that potato will be transformed into a wonderful slice of moorland.
If you hate fun, lack funds right now (we all know that feeling!), or just CANNOT WAIT FOR THINGS, you can complete the project with some paint effects. Dry brushing on some patches of green, lighter brown and grey can work well. If you’ve got some fancy basing paint you can use that to good effect too. Perhaps you just want it to be a big boulder or cliff top. Experiment with it! The shot above just uses the unfinished plinth we’re working on. You can see it still provides a handy platform for your miniature in this basic state.
The figure shown here is The Seer from Bad Squiddo, painted by the author.