Hi there, I have this very specific problem with my medieval set, and was wondering if you guys had any ideas;

I'm building quite a massive 1:9 scale medieval street, with cobblestones. I found a great way to create the stones using gluegun, but, I remain puzzled as to how I should make an uneven street, using material that I can drill for tiedowns. My best bet so far is to use a wooden plank and make it uneven with a sanding machine, but this way I can't make it uneven enough, plus its a lot of work. 
Is there any kind of material I could use on top of the wood to make large uneven shapes, that I could still drill through? 

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Another option is carving bead foam into whatever shape you want on top of your animation surface and covering it with scenic dope (a mix of materials like fixall, joint compound, and white glue). The scenic dope creates a hard layer on top of the foam that will allow you to tie down your puppets.

How would you tie down puppets on a setup like that? Would you have to drill through all the layers - the wooden table, the styrofoam, and the surfacing, and then use really long screws? I suppose you could have cutouts where the puppets need to walk, go ahead and build up right over the cutouts using sheets of styrofoam and then surface over it like you said and then from underneath the set maybe you could tear out the styrofoam. If you make the cutouts wide enough you can reach up inside to work with the tiedowns. 

Yeah a long drill bit and long tie downs. It's how they do a lot of sets on Robot Chicken, for example, this Snake Mountain sequence I animated. You'd just have to make sure the scenic dope is thick enough and the foam firm enough that the puppets don't sink when you tighten the tie downs. There were a couple of soft spots on that set.

Awesome! Thanks for the quick response. 

A little deep searching turned up this recipe for making the landscape dope that I found online somewhere long ago:

62 lbs pre-mixed JOINT COMPOUND
Mix this together (it will sit for awhile so you can keep it on hand, but i don't know how long cuz i used mine all up right away)
Mix in FIXALL till you get the texture you like (somewhere between cake batter and frosting)
The fixall sets the mixture. It drys faster than joint compound by itself - 20 minutes or so in thin layers, overnight for thick (depending on the weather).
  • It dries nice and hard.
  • To cover our foam landscape set, about 104 square feet, I used 2 batches, 2 62lb joint compound containers (@$15 ea), 4 gallons of glue (@$18 ea) and 3/4 of a 25 lb. bag of fixall ($15)
  • I made 1/2  batches at a time by using 1/2 a container of joint compound and 1 gallon of glue
  • It's mainly used for landscapes, you can drill tie downs through it nicely but the first batch I made, I used ELMERS WOOD GLUE.  it worked but it was REALLY REALLY HARD and a hassle to sand down (but hard as nails, I can sit on it!)
  • The second batch I tried I didn't have either Elmers White glue, or Elmers Wood glue so i used a different brand of wood glue and ended up with silly putty - completely useless - so ELMERS is an important element!

62 pounds and 2 gallons?  Must be a big landscape!  I'll have to see what this joint compound is...

Ok, I see, it's a specialised plaster for covering the joins between sheets of plasterboard.  The pva white glue would give it more flexibility and toughness.

I use tile adhesive for texturing, it has a slight sandy texture, and a bit of flexibility  and a good grip so it doesn't crack off of cardboard or mdf if it should happen to flex a bit, like plaster can.  But it is not really for adding a lot of thickness, up to 1/4" is ok but not if you wanted to build up an inch. 

Yeah, this kind of recipe is used by studios making big sets that animators need to be able to walk around on, so I guess they do use it pretty thick. 

I've used tile adhesive too, and it's great for putting textures down to make things look like dirt or whatever. In fact, that's what was used on Nightmare Before Christmas to create the ridged textures making it resemble something like a woodcut or etching. It needs to be tile adhesive - not grout (for anybody heading to the hardware store to pick some up). It isn't rock hard and you definitely wouldn't want to walk on it, but it is excellent for putting down over a surface that's already properly shaped and just needs some texturing, like paper mache or styrofoam that's been roughly carved with a drywall saw. 

This landscape dope sounds like a great option, I'm going to try and find out what the ingredients are called in Dutch and if I can buy them here. It would be really useful to have a sturdy set base, even though I'm working in 1:9 scale I have houses on both sides of the street so I'd need to lean on the street to animate. 

Speaking of which, what kind of system do you guys use to easily remove houses/walls to create space for your camera? I'm building facades of houses, leaning on wooden structures that I can screw to my tabletop and easily unscrew when I need them out of the way, just hoping that will work. 

By the way, here is a picture of a test I did with gluegun cobblestones, it was incredibly easy but I think the result is prety nice, even with this quick basic paintjob :) 

Elmers white glue is a popular PVA-based synthetic glue used in a lot of schools because it washes out of clothing (mostly washes out ;-).

Joint compound is sold in hardware stores and is used to cover up the seams of dry wall (plaster wall board) in house interior wall construction. It is sold in both paste form and in dry powder (add water). It typically is a creamy white color about the consistancy of peanut butter or soft butter (doesn't run).

I would think anyone in the construction trade would know what we are talking about in this discussion.

... jbd

I wasn't entirely sure what Fixall was, so I did a little search, and the first thing I ran across is this multilingual page - apparently it's a worldwide product: http://fixall.eu. Also it seems to be called Fixall everywhere. Well that simplifies things!! 

Now to try to figure out which one you're supposed to use - they have 5 different versions:

  • High Tack (super strong)
  • Flexi (flexible)
  • Turbo (fast setting)
  • Crystal Clear (transparent)
  • and Extreme Power (extra strong)

Since it's used for making the mixture set faster, I suppose you could use the fast setting, or maybe you don't want it to set too fast, so you have more time to trowel it on and shape it? Probably any of them would work, though I think I'd avoid the crystal clear because it might have a different formula from the rest. Maybe get a couple of them, make small test batches and see how well they work and how they affect the setting time/flexibility etc. 

Hey, the hotglue cobblestones look good!! Did you start to drill through one - it looks like it. That's what I'm curious about - if they can be drilled through without spinning loose from the tabletop or just gumming up the drill bit. 

Edit - Now I see that the high tack version is also called Classic, so I suppose that's probably the one used in the recipe. 

I just did a quick and awful sketch showing a way to make wild walls (removable walls):

Sorry - I don't usually draw with a tablet,and I never ever do technical drawing with straight lines. So this looks terrible. But I hope it gets the idea across - imagine the flat surfaces are pieces of thin plywood or whatever you make walls from, and the little L-shaped parts along the bottom of one and the edge of the other are strips of wood that have been hotglued along an edge of the wall piece. Now it's easy to either screw or clamp them together or down onto the set floor, and to remove them quickly. 

Or you could get some L-shaped brackets from a hardware store and attach them to your wall pieces, either with screws or hotglue. They sell long metal strips bent into a corner shape for that purpose. 

Here are some pictures of a wild wall on my set. They might be a little confusing, so I posted 3 from different angles so you should be able to understand it if you study them a bit. You can clearly see the 2 clamps. There's a strip of wood running up the wall, hotglued to the back edge of it, and the clamps are holding it against the other wall, which is a thick piece of insulation foamboard. 

The reason it might be confusing is because each wall is made of layers of material. The back wall is made of a series of planks that are glued to a big piece of cardboard. That's the wall with the strip of wood also hotglued along the edge of it. The other wall, made from foamboard, has a rectangular hole cut in it for a window, and there's a big sheet of glass behind it. I hope the 3 different angles can make it understandable. 

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