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Blending buildings into a layout

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  • Member since
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  • From: Vermont
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Blending buildings into a layout
Posted by Ablebakercharlie on Saturday, November 13, 2021 3:09 PM

I hope this isn't an inane question but here goes..

I just applied sculptamold on the top of my layout to give it some texture so the ground isn't all flat.  I want to add some model buildings that I have and am looking for tips on how to blend them into the "ground" of the sculptamold. 

Specifically, you know how model buildings sometimes have a bit of "ground" that spread out from the walls and are part of the model?  (Maybe the modern ones don't have this but I am using some ones that were my late father's as a nostalgic nod to him - they are about 45 years old +)  

How do you blend the building into the ground so it doesn't look like it was just plonked there? 

This has been on my mind for a couple weeks now so I thought I would ask for the wisdom of the forum.  




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Posted by RR_Mel on Saturday, November 13, 2021 3:30 PM

I just use ground cover.



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Posted by MisterBeasley on Saturday, November 13, 2021 3:55 PM

My structures usually go on first, before scenic material.  I do urban streets differently, and if I happen to build a foundation from a stone wall, that goes on before the sceniery, too.

I really like to completely integrate structures into the scene.  If that means the structure base must be slightly obscured to better blend it in, so be it.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by kasskaboose on Saturday, November 13, 2021 4:07 PM

Besides ground cover, why not clear out some foam and add some lichen to give hide the structure a bit?

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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, November 13, 2021 11:07 PM
As best I can recall, there are only two structures on my layout that needed to be "blended" into the scenery, as all of the others are atop flat areas (plywood) or are designed to be situated in areas where multiple levels will easily fit.
Those two are the green structures, centre frame (a Walther's kit) which is sitting on scenic landforms made from plaster over aluminum screen, along with the green structure in the left background, a scratchbuild, also sitting on irregular "ground". 
My thought was that raising the ground's level as it neared the backdrop would imply (to the viewer, at least) that the terrain beyond (not visible, mainly because there's no actual terrain) would continue down to the shores of Lake Erie, where more structures might be located.
(Photos will enlarge if clicked upon)
Some of that centre structure's visible support posts are on level-ish ground, while some sit in drilled holes, slightly camouflaged with tufts of Woodland Scenics coarse foam ground cover.  The posts behind that first row are pretty-well all in drilled holes, the ruse hidden in the shadows.
The other structure is the green one, at left above, in the background, where the terrain is built-up as it nears the backdrop.  As you can see in the photo below, those posts supporting the loading dock look to be okay, as does most of the foundation, but all of the terrain was scraped and/or drilled in order to accommodate the posts and foundation - some of it hidden by that "bush"...
At the other end, the bottom of the partially-visible steps of the office are on level ground, but the posts supporting the porch (like the one near the open gate) are in drilled holes.  That bush near the steps is nothing more than camouflage, too.
I'm not positive, but I may have omitted completely the rear portion of the basement wall, and possibly the also the rear wall of the office.
As for older kit structures that came with a base that included some "ground", this elevated fuel tank, from Revell, had plastic "ground" around the tank area and also around the sand house, which was another part of the same kit.
I scratchbuilt the two structures shown below, and replaced the original tank with a scratchbuilt one.  I removed the "ground" from the outer edges of the concrete footings that support the tank, and also cut-off the "ground" flush with the ends of the concrete supports, leaving only a bit of it where the bottom of the ladder is secured...
...then added ground cover to the remaining portion of the tower's base and the surrounding area.
For structures that are shown on more than one level, I sometimes make them as a single entity, like my version of the P&M Languay factory....
...or the main train station in Dunnville, another scratchbuild...
.....where the ground-level entrance for the Post Office, below, isn't all that easy to see (there's another ground-level entrance at the far end, mostly for parcels and luggage.  Neither of those entrances are easy to notice unless you're looming over the layout, or peering under the bridges which run over the sidestreets.
National Grocers is slightly different, with a background portion that has the ground floor mostly hidden by another bridge, and its upper stories behind the portion in the foreground...

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Posted by NorthBrit on Sunday, November 14, 2021 6:47 AM

All excellent suggestions etc.  by everyone.

May I also suggest; prior to bedding in with grass or weeds,  to put the building/s  in an earth color mix.  Doing that if any grass or weeds do not totally cover then earth covering will show.   Still giving a realistic appearance.




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Posted by dknelson on Sunday, November 14, 2021 10:22 AM

Although it is common to see -- and to overlook -- when visiting layouts in person, few things stick out more like a sore thumb in layout photos than buildings which are 1) not flat in their floors but sit at a jaunty angle and 2) are sitting on top of the ground, with gaps.

  Starting with scenery first, and its varied contours, is interesting and of course the ultimate in being prototypical, and the way real structures adapt to the rise and fall of the land their built on is with their foundation being higher here than there, with a perfectly flat top surface all around.  This is easy enough to do and tracing with a pencil or even making a "Xerox" copy of the bottom of the building is a way to create a template for a foundation of styrene, cast plaster, or the material of your choice, using a level when setting it into the scenery.   Another approach, also taken in the real world, is to level that part of the terrain.

One advantage to a foundation on which the structure sits is that it makes the structure easier to remove and salvage for the next layout, versus incorporating the varying terrain hights into the structure itself.  There are of course structures that adjust their height to suit the terrain, such as single story houses which have a garage or  ground level access to the basement underneath  where the land drops down.  Some industries are built that way too.

Years ago I experimented (and wrote an article about it for my NMRA Region's quarterly publication) with cementing soft and very thin foam rubber, dyed green, to the bottom of a structure model, on the theory that the foam rubber would, like a gasket, give here and there to fill up the gaps.  It worked, sort of, with a very heavy structure model.  It did not work at all with a very light structure model, and most plastic structures would be too light to make this idea work.  PLus my source for very thin foam rubber (the packaging of multi-disc CD recording jewel boxes) stopped using the product.   

I have toyed with the idea, purely as a test, of taking a structure, adding a tacky glue like Aileen's to the bottom edge, and dipping it into ground foam to see if that too would create a flexible gap-filling sort of gasket at the bottom.  But my hunch is that it would never really look like a building sitting on a foundation.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by Ablebakercharlie on Monday, November 15, 2021 2:56 PM

Thanks everyone for your suggestions! Very helpful!   

It is always a good day when a forum question results in a response with pics from Mel and DoctorWayne!

I also appreciate that the responses included suggestions on what to do before the ground cover / sculptamold has been applied which is also very helpful. Thanks! 

I plan on incorporating the suggestions on my layout.



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Posted by freeway3 on Saturday, November 20, 2021 2:32 PM

Good suggestions above. I'll add the method I'm working on right now:

The first photo shows how I build a base for a structure that won't be planted flat, on a raised wood / cardboard pillar. I bring Sculptamold up to the edges and blend. Where I want the terrain lower, exposing part of a foundation wall, I leave a little gap. When dry, I can carve this out easily with a knife.

Below is the foundation wall material (laser etched basswood - will be painted as cinder block) glued together at a 90, with a stripwood cap on top. I carve out the slots in the terrain until this assembly slides in snugly, but is still removable.

Below is the foundation in the slots, with the (obviously unfinished) structure on top. Everything is still removable at this point, for painting and finishing. It's a little kaddy-wompass in the photo, but you get the idea.

Once everything is finished, ground cover and vegitation will blend it all in.



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Posted by SeeYou190 on Monday, November 22, 2021 9:58 AM

Specifically, you know how model buildings sometimes have a bit of "ground" that spread out from the walls and are part of the model?

That "ground" piece on older models usually includes a foundation for the building, which is something omitted from a lot of modern plastic kits. I have sought out some of these old kits at train shows to get these foundations to scratchbuild buildings on top of.

What I do: I remove most of the "ground" to about 1/2" to 1" from the foundation walls. This can even be done on a completed model using a saw and going slowly. There is no need to cut all the way flush to the foundation.

Then I "sort of" level off the area where the buiding will sit on the layout. I glue the building in place making sure it is level. I usually use Liquid Nails for this.

Then, I blend the scenery contour to match what is left of the plastic "ground" on the model. I used to use Loctite Water Seal Epoxy Putty for this step. However, that product has jumped from $3.00 per tube to $8.00 per tube. I need to find another product for this.

Then I paint the ground and add flocking and ground foam. Always leave a bit of the foundation visible.


Wink Happily modeling my STRATTON & GILLETTE RAILROAD. A Class A line located in a personal fantasy world of semi-plausible nonsense on Tuesday, August 3rd, 1954.

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