Sometimes I make pretty things.
Other times I make cool things.
And still other times, I make dumb things.
Today is a dumb thing.
Let’s make an Infinity-scale Christmas village.
I started with my usual MS Paint sketch to plan out how I would go from gift boxes to houses.
With that vague plan in mind, I went to the Dollar Store and bought a whole bunch of patterned Christmas gift boxes, then laid them out on my kitchen floor (which conveniently has 1-foot tiles) to get an idea of how much space they would fill up.
For the first building, I planned to more or less exactly replicate my beautiful MS Paint drawing.
As I had planned in the drawing, I cut out a panel to form the building’s L shape. My original plan was to cut segments out of the boxes and fold the original walls in to fill the new shape without disconnecting them, but I immediately realized that this was way harder than just cutting and re-gluing the panels. So, that became the new plan instead.
The village buildings were all going to be internally lit by flickering LED tea lights, so I needed to punch holes where the windows would go. I measured out a shape I liked on a sheet of cardstock, then used this to trace window shapes into my building.
These were then cut out with an XActo knife.
At this stage I wasn’t planning to have the doors glow, so I just drew a rectangle for now.
The boxes all came with lids that, if I were making sci-fi buildings, would make great instant parapets. However, I wanted to make quaint sloped roofs, so the lids instead became the trusses to hold up the roof. I measured the width of the building at the ends, then did some quick Grade 12 trigonometry to figure out how long each of the sides needed to be.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that math isn’t useful in real life, kids. 😛
Cutting out those triangles didn’t leave enough cardboard for the roof, so I scavenged some thin card from cereal and soda boxes.
The roof was hot-glued on to complete the structure of the building. This entire project was being done in a very short span of time, so my goal for everything was “extreme s*** quality”. 😛
I had to cut a hole in the box bottom to let the light reach the second-storey window.
More will be done on this building a bit later, but first let’s check in on the bulk construction for a few other structures…
It’s useful at this point to explain the overall concept for this terrain set. Not content with merely assembling a collection of quaint old-timey residences, I decided that I would be constructing Santa’s Dystopian Present-Mining Gulag. Presents, you see, occur naturally in the mountainous geology of Svalarheima, and Aleph’s recreation of Santa Claus strip-mines this precious ore to be shipped to the richest children in the Human Sphere (in the future, they’ve abandoned the pretense of gift distribution being merit-based).
So with that established, the next buildings I made were going to be offloading stations for the The tracks would pass under an overhang, where indentured elves would unload into a storehouse and send the carts back.
I wanted two of these buildings, and decided that I liked the overall shape and size of these plain cube boxes at the base. I marked the overhang and the slope of the roof…
…and then cut everything out with a knife.
A large gap under the overhang had to be filled in with a panel of corrugated cardboard.
This next building was one of the more complex– the cut-out gap would have a door on the ground floor, and also a cut-out in the sloped roof where a balcony would sit.
The interior walls were filled in with cereal box cardboard…
…and then the balcony was built out of more cardboard and glued in place.
One of the most important buildings to be built was Santa’s workshop/watch tower. This terrain set was being built for a specific scenario that I wrote, which involves Santa himself being holed up in the watch tower and players trying to get to him. I wanted Santa’s perch to be VERY hard to reach, requiring lots of climbing and walking to reach the top.
I initially thought that I wanted to leave the “neck” of the building that leads to the tower attached to the bottom floor, but quickly realized that this would be a lot harder to build and transport, and ultimately split each floor into its own separate component.
The ground floor was pretty straightforward, only involving a new roof being dropped in.
This was held in place by L-shaped cereal box “patches”.
The next stage was the “neck” that would ultimately support Santa’s actual workshop. For this, I stitched together the four corners of the box I had cut apart, using more cardboard patches to keep everything firmly attached.
I made a point to keep the pattern lined up between the various components, though this would ultimately prove not to matter as the native patterns of most buildings (including this one) were later covered up.
The top floor would be a simple house shape, built just like the previous houses.
The only difference for this one was that I made the roof removable, as players would need to be able to go inside to assault Santa. A snugly-sized chunk of Foamcure provided the plug to keep the roof firmly in place.
Like all the other buildings, Santa’s workshop needed a lot of surface detailing, but I was pretty happy with how its basic shape interacted with the mission I wrote.
The most complex building that I wanted in my mine was going to be a smelting building complete with multiple smokestacks. I used Knorr broth cans as the base of each stack, cutting a hole in the roof for each one to slot into.
Ugly cardboard supports on the inside kept the cans suspended at the correct height.
To add some asymmetry, I wanted the third smokestack to have a rectangular housing, so I cut grooves into the main building and this tall gift box to let them slot into each other.
All together, the building looked pretty sweet. 🙂
The next structure was something I wanted to build as a centerpiece for the terrain set. It’s something I’ve seen in both real-life and sci-fi mines, but I didn’t know what it was actually called. So, I took a stab in the dark by Googling “Giant Mining Wheel” and hoped for a Christmas miracle:
It turns out that it’s called a “Bucket Wheel Excavator”. 🙂
My excavator would be substantially smaller than the real ones, but still the biggest thing on the board. Unlike the rest of the buildings, it would be entirely constructed from foamcore.
I drew up some plans for the various panels I would need in Adobe Illustrator, then printed them on card and cut them out into templates. I’ll drop in an explanation graphic from a previous article for anyone who needs a quick refresher on how I cut foamcore:
Also useful: my 12-minute video on cutting foamcore from a bazillion years ago.
These were all the pieces for the wheel itself– six buckets, which would be glued around a six-sided barrel.
Some foam was cut away from the hinge between each face of the barrel to let the strip fold in on itself.
A channel of foam was also cut out from the top and bottom edges to let the hexagonal end caps drop in.
So pretty. <3
The six buckets were folded in and glued…
…and then attached around the wheel.
Once that was done, I needed to build the arms that hold the wheel. I came up with a shape I liked, which I decided would incorporate a conveyor belt to bring the chunks of ore from the wheel back to the body of the excavator.
I built a pair of sausage-shaped end caps, and then a foamcore strip as long as their perimeter.
On the segments that went around the curved ends, I cut out small wedges of foam to let the strip bend smoothly into shape.
Once that was built, I cut out some geometric shapes out of craft foam to give the conveyor belt some texture and glued them in place with white glue.
Finally, I built a base to hold the arm up. Actual bucket wheel excavators have a multi-arm system of giant levers to move the heavy wheel around, but I decided that my much smaller one only needed a simple seesaw, and the rest was handled by Christmas Magic.
And now we slide into one of the next major phases of the project: colouring the buildings. To maintain both the holiday feel and the high silliness level that I wanted, everything was getting covered over in Christmas wrapping paper. Any piece I wanted to wrap up was traced directly against the paper and cut out quickly with a knife.
This was then adhered to the piece with Mod Podge.
Honestly, I kinda hate this wrapping paper. It’s going for “green and gold”, but lands much closer to “green and brown”. Bleh. :/
Also I put the trees in the wrong direction.
So, a quick tangent now about a gizmo I bought earlier this year. I saw a thread on the CB forums talking about a home CNC cutter called the “Silhouette” (which comes in different-named models). Basically, you feed it a digital file with precise guidelines for where to cut, and it happily whirs away transferring those lines onto a provided flat material with a teensy-tiny knife.
My imagination was captivated by this wondrous device, which I have lovingly dubbed the “Knife Printer”. I bought the biggest model– the Silhouette Cameo– around April, and you can see a video I recorded of the machine cutting up some of my Classified cards here:
In that video I was only cutting simple rectangles, but it has absolutely no problem cutting out more detailed shapes, including curves.
However, I quickly ran into trouble when I discovered that the Silhouette’s “autoblades”, which are designed to cut paper, are limited to a depth of 1mm, which isn’t long enough to go through a sheet of craft foam. Thus, any large-scale panel-cutting project I might want to use the device for will still require me to go over every single cut line by hand with a knife, which defeats a lot of the purpose of using this thing to begin with.
My spirits were lifted a bit when I found out that the company makes a “deep cut blade” that goes down twice as far, and this Christmas village project was the first time I had an excuse to try it out since I bought one in the Summer. However, after having the machine cut out 35+ windows and door frames for me…
…I found that the deep cut blade STILL wasn’t long enough to go all the way through the foam. :/
- I’m pretty disappointed. These are still miracle devices and the fact that they exist still brings joy to my soul, but sadly they just aren’t designed for craft foam and don’t seem to do well when cutting through it.
- It isn’t useless. Not having to manually transfer the design to the sheet of craft foam by repeatedly tracing paper templates still saves me a lot of time, and having a pre-existing groove to cut through does make the cutting easier. I just wish that the time savings was down to 20% of what I used to do instead of the more modest 70% that I managed this time around.
- Probably don’t buy one if you, like I did, want to cut out craft foam panels for terrain. They’re not cheap. :/
- I have more experiments to run. It’s designed to cut cardboard, so I want to see if I can find a large quantity of thin cardboard that strikes a balance between “can be cut clean through” and “is still thick enough to provide raised panel texture on terrain”. I’m thinking that comic book backing boards might be a good place to start.
So, even with some major setbacks, the science continues…
So, yeah. The machine did the first half of the work to cut out these window frames I had knocked together in Illustrator, and then I finished cutting them out by hand with a utility knife.
One thing that the printer had an easier time with was the “window panes”, which I made out of wax paper to diffuse the light from the LED tea lights into a smooth, even glow.
The wax paper was glued to the back of a frame, and then the frame was glued onto a building (which, you’ll notice, I’ve since covered in wrapping paper to improve upon its former brown cardboard look).
I had gone on a bit of a shopping spree at the dollar store to pick up random holiday-themed odds and ends for this project, and decided that I liked these plastic candy canes as structural supports for the rail awnings. The heart shape was unintentional. 😛
Alrighty, we’re closing in on the home stretch of the buildings now, with lots of clean-up work on various pieces. Santa’s workshop was given a more attractive outer pattern.
To give them a snowy look, all the roofs were painted white and then covered with a sheet of “white fluff cloth”. This is sold at dollar stores to be the ground in a Christmas diorama.
For Santa’s workshop, I left a slot of bare roof to help the different stages (which I didn’t intend to glue together, to make them easier to transport) stay in place during a game.
Here’s a mostly-final glamour shot of the buildings. I’m SUPER happy with how they came out. 😀
Having a hobby project turn out EXACTLY like you imagined it is a rare blessing. Enjoy it when it happens. 🙂
At this point the buildings were done, but there were a bunch of scenic accessories still needed to complete the table…