Hints & Tips

Thoughts on scenery

Realistic scenery can be the easiest or the most difficult thing to achieve on a layout, depending how you consider it.

Scenery can be done using cheap material available everywhere, even free material that mother nature offers in quantity. But you may also want to use sophisticated (and expensive) commercial material.

The purpose of this page is not to give you a step-by-step method to build your scenery, but rather some thoughts that will help you planning your scenery work and make it look like the reality.

The secret for a good scenery is to observe what's in the reality and how nature works. The natural tendency is rather to observe the layout and decide you want to have such and such thing in your scenery. This is the wrong approach. An "extreme" example would be that you may want to plant a poplar or a weeping willow in the middle of a desert scene, just because you want a desert scene and you like poplars or weeping willows. Unfortunately, these trees requires a lot of water to grow and desert is not able to provide enough water for these trees to grow. Rather, deserts accommodate small plants that can live with little water and which are able to store water when rain occurs. Obviously, a poplar or a weeping willow in the middle of the desert is not prototypical !

This is, of course, an extreme example and I'm convinced that none of you have ever wanted to create such a scene. But it is a just a grossly exaggerated example of what many of us have a natural tendency to do : concentrate on the layout rather than concentrate on what the nature does and how it does it.

When you planned your layout, you planned (at least roughly) the setting. You decided if it will be a New England road running in lush vegetation or an Arizona short line set in the middle of the desert. Also you planned some "geologic setting" for your layout (flat lands, mountains, valleys, urban setting….) and you provided some space on your layout to implement the corresponding scenes (even if the space is limited and you need to operate some selective compression to build the scenes).

At this point, it is important to completely forget your layout and to turn over to the "reality" to see how, in the real world, mother nature would "build" the scene. The best (and only) way to do that is to go out, find a scene similar to the one you want to model and observe… But, observe what ?

Assuming you want to model an heavily forested area, you are now standing in the middle of a forest and you see… trees, lots of trees! At this point you may want to go back to your layout and plant trees, hundred of trees, in order to make a forest. WRONG ! If you proceed that way, there is very little chance that your forest is prototypical. Why ? By going in a forest you discovered that it is made of trees (no need to go in forest to know that !) but you just forgot to observe the most important things : what are the tree species, how tall are they, what's their shape, how are these trees arranged in the forest ?.

Now, if you observe closely, you'll notice that there are some streams in that particular forest and that some particular species are growing along these streams (greener than the other because they have more water). You may also observe that trees of a particular species grow together and do not mix with other. Or that some other species seems to dominate the forest and have a tendency to invade others by growing in the middle of them. Etc… Also look at the soil and observe that the ground cover is different, depending on the tree species that is growing above… And what about those dead trees, fallen trees and all the branches scattered all over the ground ? You may also discover some clearing where nothing grows, rocks, ponds…

Back home, after this relaxing trip in the forest, you're now ready to "build" your forest. You may want to use ready made trees, or make your own. Whatever… this is just technique. But it's now easy, because you know how mother nature operates and it's just a matter of doing exactly the same. And when you plant a particular tree at a particular place, you know exactly why it has to be there. Eventually, you easily get a truly prototypical forest. A model tree will always be a model tree, with more or less details, hand made or ready made, but a model forest will be prototypical only if you know all the details of how nature operates in the real world. And suddenly all becomes easy...

This is just an example among numerous others, just to show you that a prototypical scene should start with prototype information, whatever the scene, and that once you get all the information it just becomes easy and natural to create the model scene. This apply to any other type of scene, as well.

Remember that it is much easier to build any kit than to make it look right in a particular scene. The secret is simple : just go out, find a similar scene and OBSERVE. Look for any details in the real scene. Take pictures, if you can. When you know everything about the prototype scene, go back to your layout. Things suddenly become simple and easy because you know exactly what to do to make it prototypical.

Composing a scene is the most difficult part of modeling, the rest being just techniques that any one can learn. Hopefully the real world is there to tell you exactly what to do. Just forget about your layout for a while and come back to the real world : it has all the info you need :


... and don't forget that if you are living far from your prototype, pictures will play the same role… and that you can find all you need with a simple search on the Web.

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Page created by Jean-Louis Simonet
Last update : 02/16/2000
© 2000, Jean-Louis Simonet