Space Truck

datetime December 12, 2015 8:30 PM

I ran an Infinity league at my local store this past summer. An ongoing narrative ran through the five weeks of missions, and that narrative frequently called for battles to take place in fairly specific locations that are difficult to represent with the terrain my store had on-hand. I didn’t want the players to have to play these missions with ill-fitting boards, so in the month leading up to the league, I spent some time creating new terrain pieces to match the environments I was planning to send them into. You’ve already seen one result of this effort in the form of the sewer board. A second one– a modular system of space station walls– was built enough to be played on during the league, but I never finished sprucing it up because I didn’t like how tedious it was to assemble each time we used it. (I may revisit that bucket of components at some point in the future, though).

The third board I built took the most work, but ended up being my absolute favourite. The inciting incident for the entire campaign was an alien attack on a Yu Jing cargo transport over Paradiso, and I wanted an actual ship for the players to play on. I traditionally build my Infinity terrain out of hand-cut foamcore construction with hand-cut craft foam detailing; this technique yields great-looking terrain that is extremely durable, but it takes quite a long time to build due to all of the precise manual cutting. I only had two weeks and change to build my spacecraft, though, so I had to figure out some shortcuts that would let me do more construction than normal in the time I had available.

After a bit of brainstorming, I decided that the answer to my problem would be papercraft. The outside of the ship would be built with my normal methods, but the interior walls and floors would be laid over with some sort of suitably sci-fi-looking panels printed out on cardstock. I wasn’t sure yet where these patterns would come from–whether I could scrounge them or would need to build them myself in Photoshop– but this seemed like an effective way to decorate an interior space without needing to model all of the detail by hand.

To begin, I fired up Adobe Illustrator and scratched out a layout for the ship. I wanted the interior to have tight, winding corridors, while the exterior would be fairly open, with only a few large blocks (in dark brown) to hide behind.

I reproduced the design on large sheets of graph paper and then brought them to my local store to play a few test games on. I made a few changes based on our results– for example, adding an extra height tier to the hull to give a bit more cover to hide behind.

Once I was happy with the layout, I started transferring it onto sheets of Foamcore to form the bottom of the interior layer.

These were cut out with a utility knife.

The same pattern was transferred to a sheet of 1″ pink insulation foam, which would form the base layer of the hull.

This was also cut out, taking care to cut straight down so that the upper and lower levels would match up correctly.

Bam!

I had my layout to tell me where to put each of the walls, but I needed to know what sort of papercraft texture I would need to cover each of them. I was planning to vary the wall textures depending on the part of the ship– clean-paneled hallways, dingy storage rooms, grimy mechanical engineering rooms, plain metal cargo bay, and a different sort of clean panels on the ship’s bridge.

I measured each of the interior wall segments on my large paper cutout, recording the lengths of each segment on this rough scaled-down diagram. I then decided which type of texturing would apply in which areas, and used those determinations and the wall lengths above to tally up the required quantities of each wall type in a spreadsheet:

The spreadsheet is a bit hard to read, but essentially, each row is a wall segment (listed in sequence from front to back), with its length and the type of printing that goes over it. So if I have a wall segment that is 4.5″ long and I’ve noted that it will be Engineering on one side and Hallway on the other side, the spreadsheet adds 4.5 to the tally for both of those wall types.

Simple, right? πŸ˜›

Once I knew what types of walls I needed, I had to actually build them. I dug around on the Internet and eventually found some incredible texture work done by a guy named Philip Klevestav, who does modeling and texture work for video games including Overwatch and the Ghost Recon games, The texture samples above and below are from Quake 4 maps he made, and he offers them for free on his website as a sample of his work. These were exactly what I was looking for. πŸ˜€

I didn’t use quite as much of this one since i wanted a cleaner look for most of the ship, but the parts at the bottom left were useful for creating the engineering sections of the ship.

I brought both texture samples into Photoshop and spent an evening manipulating them into the layouts I needed. The rows in this image are, in order:

  • hallways
  • storage rooms
  • bridge
  • engineering
  • cargo bay

In some cases I was just duplicating the same texture all along the wall, but I tried to work in some extra details here and there, adding consoles and exposed utility lines here and there for visual spice.

Armed with my wall textures and the calculations for how much of each type I needed, I mocked up a series of PDF files and brought them to my local Staples to have them printed. You can download them here if you’re interested:

Staples is an absolute bargain for terrain printing– they’ll do an 11″x17″ sheet in full colour on stiff card stock for like $1.75. My entire expenditure for this terrain board was under $20. It is absolutely worth that price to avoid having to texture all of the walls and floors myself with craft foam and paint. πŸ™‚

With all of my printing done, I started laying out the floors. In order to figure out where everything goes, I drew up a second copy of my large paper template and cut out its individual rooms to make it easier to transfer the room shapes onto the foamcore panels.

The template was also used to cut out the shapes I required from the rectangular panels I had printed out. Here we have the floor of the cargo bay, which I mocked up out of several different pieces of Philip K’s texture packs to look like it had a pair of tracks set in the floor to assist with loading and unloading.

With that glued on, I moved onto the surrounding rooms.

In retrospect, it was a mistake to cut the various rooms apart on my paper template– it was difficult to piece them back together precisely how they were supposed to go, so my resulting floors and walls are slightly closer to one side of the ship than the other. If I had this to do again, I would have left the paper template intact, merely cutting small holes at intersections and bends to let me poke a pencil through it.

Another problem I had was that the floors I made didn’t look quite right– they mostly followed the direction of the hallways, but some of them weren’t quite straight.

After having all of this trouble, I used a different method to create the floors for the front third of the ship:

Rather than printing out rectangles and cutting my shapes out with templates, I mocked the textures together into their final orientations and shapes in Photoshop, and then had them printed all as one piece. This was much faster AND looked much better.

So, scratch my earlier comment– this is how I would do floor textures if I did a project like this again. πŸ˜‰

Cut out the fish shape, glue down, BAM, finished floors. πŸ™‚

Next I moved onto the walls. They were all going to be the same height, so I traced 2″ tracks all over a sheet of foamcore, with several of the rows receiving an extra 1/4″ piece that I could cut out to create a “wraparound corner” to help them sit better on the perimeter of the base.

Bear with me, it will make more sense later. πŸ˜‰

The wall segments were cut out with a utility knife.

I then used the techniques I outlined in my foamcore cutting video to create folding wall pieces as needed all around the ship.

I wanted as little exposed “core foam” as possible, so I cut the pieces to slot into each other as shown here.

I want to say that these were the pieces that made up the exterior of the ship, but honestly I’m not sure. >_<

Before I set up any of the thin walls, I wanted to create the “voids” in the ship– large blocky pieces representing the engines and drive core that models wouldn’t be able to move through. For each of these, a flat top panel was created, and then walls were cut out to wrap all the way around it.

You can sort of see on the left here what I was talking about earlier– the walls have been cut out with a bit of extra paper on the outside, to let the piece wrap around the floor panel. This helps make the entire thing sturdier, and also covers up the exposed foam that would otherwise rot away when spray painted.

I evidently took a break at this point to create a very simple extra piece– cargo pallets cut to the size of the cargo bay’s tracks. Each one would be made up up two stacked foamcore rectangles with a papercraft sleeve over the top.

These panels were taken from a different source, found here, and once again manipulated in Photoshop to make the exact size and shape of panels that I needed.

Ta-da!

Alrighty, with the large void blocks built, it was time to start applying paneling. I laid out my supply of each wall type, and then started cutting out segments of each one to match the walls of my blocks.

You can see here how complex this task was– this particular block has three different panel types in close proximity, with an engineering section on the left, then a small bit of hallway before switching again to grey cargo bay. It was a bit confusing to keep track of at times, and more than once over the course of the project I had to rip panels off after I realized I’d used the wrong textures. >_<

Once the impassable blocks were put together, I started working on the interior walls. Most of these contained at least one door, so I needed to figure out how I was doing those.

I didn’t want my space ship to just have open archways all over the place– I wanted doors that opened and closed as needed. The mechanism I envisioned for this wasn’t terribly complicated; I would simply apply door “stickers” to a thin plastic sheet, and then build a pocket for that sheet to drop down into.

To make the pockets, I cut out a second archway for each door, and then glued thin craft foam spacers to either end of it. The spacers would give enough space for the door cards to fit inside.

These secondary archways were then attached to the cutouts in the walls.

The plastic card for the doors was taken from plastic meat trays from the grocery store. My local store switched from styrofoam to these thingies about a year ago, and once cleaned off they’re a really great source of flat plastic. πŸ™‚

The sci-fi texture packs I downloaded had no doors in them, so I adapted one of the nicer-looking panels into something vaguely appropriate in Photoshop.

I was worried that the white glue I was using wouldn’t stick well to the smooth plastic card, so I drilled a hole in the plastic close to each corner of the door; this let the glue pass through from one side to the other, letting the paper “grab” the paper on the other side instead of needing to adhere only to the plastic.

Here’s approximately how it all fit together in the end. The cards were all cut with an extra tab on the top to grab onto.

I created a thin yellow strip to go around each side of every archway. These were separated and set aside as I was cutting out the doors themselves.

The main area of each archway was textured like the wall around it. Continuing the surrounding wall texture helped the thicker archways feel like an integral part of the wall instead of the add-on they actually were.

Then, the thin archway was glued on top (on both sides).

Here’s an example of how the wall textures were glued together– each was cut out with several attached wall segments. The back of the paper was scored– usually you try to score the “outer” side of a corner when folding, but in this case I didn’t want to damage the printed surface, and any scoring is better than no scoring with paper– and folds were created. Glue was lightly brushed over the back side, and then the whole thing was pushed into place.

Pretty!

I made a bit of a mistake when setting up the archways in this spot. I had sized all of the hallways to allow a 40mm base to walk around, but in this narrow spot, I put the add-on part of each archway extending into the same hallway. This cut off half an inch of space at the narrowest point, which isn’t enough room for medium-based models to pass. πŸ™

In practice, we say that 40mm models can walk past anyway, but that allowance wouldn’t be necessary if I’d thought about it a bit more and put one or both of the archways inside the rooms instead of the hallway. ;_;

As you may have noticed, this walkthrough is going to jump around quite a bit, as I was often switching between different parts at the same time. Here you can see the foamcore walls that I had cut out for the nose of the plane; I wanted to create cutouts for windows to be dropped in, so I created an angle template and traced it onto the three front faces.

Later on, these holes would be matched up with slots on the hull portion to give the impression of a continuous window through both pieces.

Random doors!

Most of the walls in the ship were connected to other walls, but I wanted a small divider in the bridge that would just sit in the middle of the room. This wall would be a bit flimsier than the others, and I wasn’t convinced hot gluing it directly to the printed side of the floor paper was going to provide long-term adhesion (given that I had accidentally dripped hot glue on the floors as I worked throughout the project, and had no problem peeling them off when they cooled, with no damage to the paper underneath!).

Fortunately, I had already solved the problem– remember earlier when I mentioned drilling through the plastic card to help the paper door things stay attached? The same principle was going to apply here– I used an xActo to cut a thin slot in the floor paper, to let the glue pass through to the more porous foamcore underneath. The bond this created was far stronger and has held up quite well to this day. πŸ™‚

Aaaaand that was basically it for the walls. πŸ™‚

The inside of the drive core room wasn’t finished at this point because I hadn’t yet figured out if I needed to stick anything to the wall. More on that in a sec.

The mission that I was planning for this board involved attackers boarding the transport in flight and sabotaging its engines and core. To facilitate this objective, I wanted to model those components on the board.

For the engines, I went down to a local surplus store and bought a pair of flashlights with fairly space-y looking panels around them. I would be dropping these inside the walls toward the back of the ship.

The plan was to cut out the current bit of wall and ceilingΒ  that were in place there, and then create an alcove by dropping in a small angled “shelf”. Two notes on the construction of the shelf:

  1. Instead of simply gluing the bottom of the horizontal to the face of the vertical, I cut off the cardboard layer to give a really solid guts-to-guts bond between the two, aided by a pair of small nails.
  2. The vertical extended all the way down to the ground for added stability, instead of simply ending where it couldn’t be seen anymore.

Together, these two measures would help ensure that the engine bit never dropped down inside the wall. πŸ™‚

The alcove was sized to the width and height of the flashlight.

Each engine bit would be dropped inside one of the impassable chunks beside the cargo bay.

Walls were also set up. It was fairly complicated to figure out where these needed “corner tabs” and where they needed to end flush to avoid bumping something else– the disadvantage of adding something like this at the end instead of planning around it from the start. :/

A completed alcove.

…with a flashlight dropped in.

These engine bits were the only things I planned to paint on the interior of the ship. And as it happened, this was the first project I worked on after picking up my airbrush this summer, so it was the first time I ever tried using it.

Spoiler alert: I bought a decent entry-level Iwata airbrush, but an absolutely godawful secondhand compressor with no pressure control. So rather than a soft spray, my airbrush was jetting out paint like a fire hose.

And since I had never done this before, I had no idea that this wasn’t “working as intended”, or all of the problems that I was about to suffer through. >_<

My idea was that I would put blue paint in the deeper parts, and then softly spray flat grey on the outer parts, giving the idea of a blue glow emanating from the deep areas.

So far so good on the blue parts, though I did notice that I wasn’t getting the soft blend I had always associated with airbrushes– note the hard transition between the blue paint and white primer due to the huge pressure going through the airbrush.

The problem was more obvious when I applied the grey, as I was totally unable to get the light dusting I had in mind; instead, the grey paint flooded the entire piece, almost completely obscuring the blue underneath.

And then my “zenithal highlight” of lighter grey turned into a solid off-white stripe.

So, yeah… these engine pods were untimately a complete failure, and I never actually glued them inΒ  since I was pretty sure I would eventually re-do them once I figured out what was doing wrong.

I’ve subsequently bought a pressure control for my airbrush and am now able to spray in a much more controlled fashion (as seen toward the end of this article), but haven’t actually gotten around to re-doing these things yet. I need to remember to do that before CaptainCon…

At this point the interior was nearing completion, with only a few details remaining. Among them was the array of computer consoles I wanted to scatter throughout the ship. These are the first ones I attempted to make; I had just sort of guessed how tall they needed to be, but when I built the first ones, I saw immediately that they were far too big– nearly the full height of a standing model.

I also kind of hated the yellow housing.

So, I threw them out and made new ones.

Here we go. Smaller and prettier. πŸ™‚

Another thing I realized when making the first set was that the side panels weren’t strictly necessary, so I made these ones with only the top, bottom, front, and back, with the intention of simply leaving the black foamcore “plug” that reinforced them on each side visible.

This ended up looking fine. πŸ™‚

Yay computers!

Btw, these screens are yet another scrounged graphic from Google Image Search. I can’t find the full-resolution version I actually used, but a smaller version can be found here. As usual, I photoshopped the pieces of that graphic into the exact shapes I needed rather than simply using them as they came.

Once they were finished, the consoles were distributed around the ship– holes were cut in the flooring again, and then they were hot glued in place.

I still had a bit more work to do on the lower half of the ship, but at this point I switched to working on the hull, as it was getting quite close to the start of the league and I needed to make sure I had at least a sorta-playable version of each half ready to go.

Continued on page 2!

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