Fancy Squares

datetime July 31, 2019 9:28 PM

I’m really smart and talented and attractive and I succeed at most things I try, so sometimes I like to set myself absurd goals just to break up the monotony of my relentlessly successful life. About six months ago, I posed myself just such a challenge: to make a foamcore terrain design SO SIMPLE, that even you– yes you, the less smart, minimally talented, and honestly rather homely masses— could build it without parental supervision.

I of course did not succeed. As always, the fault lies with you; I vastly overestimated the average human’s patience, hand-eye coordination, and capacity to sit next to a bottle of glue for an hour without ingesting any. But if you imagine yourself to be among the more skilled apes and want to risk crippling injury attempting to follow my instructions, I invite you to click the new “Papercraft” link in the menu above and see what doomed misadventures await you there.

I even made you a TV show so that you could absorb the instructions in a more format to which your adorable brain is more accustomed. After all, words are hard.

If, on the other hand, you worry that you would come away from such an endeavor with fewer than the factory count of fingers, you can just keep reading here and watch me make pretty red shapes in Photoshop instead.

*condescending head pat*

To start with, I came up with a floor plan that I thought looked interesting, with lots of hidey-holes around the exterior to take cover in. Objective rooms have to be based around 8″ squares, but most manufacturers add some sort of weird bumps to this basic layout, so I felt pretty comfortable with my own divergence from the standard template.

Next, I mathed. The floor plan gave me the dimensions of the outside wall panels, but because of the way I was planning to set up my papercraft patterns, I also needed to know the dimensions of the INTERIOR walls, once everything had been offset by the 5mm width of a sheet of foamcore.

The top left shows the math required to create a 90 degree bend; basically, there is none. Each adjoining wall will be shorter by the 5mm of its neighbour’s thickness, resulting in a 45 degree wedge being removed from either side of the bend. Easy stuff.

The right side shows the more… involved math to create a 45 degree foamcore bend. As before, the angle to be cut out beside the fold line is half of the entire bend, so 22.5 degrees in this case. And that math is just a smidge more complex. 😛 Granted, not all of the numbers are necessary, but once I started calculating line segments using half-remembered grade 10 trigonometry identities, I figured I might as well fill out the grid.

Once I’d had my fun, the only really important number to come out of that spider web was 2.071– the number of millimeters to cut away to the left and right of any fold line to remove a 22.5-degree wedge and allow a 45 degree fold. Easy-peasy.

Armed with that crucial, number I set to work laying out the walls in Illustrator. My basic idea was to create a papercraft wrap that would go on the front, top, and back of a strip of foamcore; here, the dark grey faces are the exterior, and the light grey faces are the interior. The skinny black sections indicate the folding cuts– you cut through the top paper and the inner foam down the central line, then cut the paper only on the outer edges, and then slice down at an angle to remove a triangular wedge.

Honestly, it’s pretty hard to describe. Go watch the relevant part of my TV show to see what I’m talking about.

Once I knew the general layout that I needed to cover with paper, I spent a few days sketching out different concepts. I came up with three different designs that I thought could work– a high-tech Nomad-inspired design, a lower-tech heavy machinery design inspired by the Russian robot from Pacific Rim, and a comedy pattern that I won’t detail because it’s hopefully still going to come out someday and I don’t want to steal my own punchline. >:).

I initially planned to make all three for today’s release, but then I started actually building the Nomad one and realized how ABSURDLY time-consuming this all was, so I ultimately decided to simply focus on that design for now and earmark the other two as possible future projects.

Once I was happy with the sketch, I brought my Illustrator design into Photoshop and overlaid the sketch onto the panels.

The Nomad design is almost entirely made up of tessellated plastic panels, with random lights and areas of heavier machinery breaking up the monotony. I chose to incorporate a really impractical array of angles on the exterior paneling, as I was prioritizing sexiness WAY above verisimilitude.

I built the entire design out of vector shapes– which is to say, math. Instead of remembering “this pixel is red and this pixel is green”, you tell Photoshop that “there’s a sharp corner at coordinate [248.981123,-2093.02390] that connects to a curved corner at [83.2109,20.334]”. This approach keeps everything editable forever (since you can always just move a corner), and also helps the design scale up to any desired size without losing quality.

The raised panel effect is also a vector calculation (sort of– I won’t go into the details, but it’s actually a bit of a cheat); you tell the program, “the light source is at a 15-degree angle from the top; it casts a very light blue highlight on anything that faces it, and a spooky green shadow on anything facing away from it”. I chose green for the shadows (instead of your standard “make it darker” effect) to create the illusion of a strong coloured underlight coming up from the floor, which is an effect I absolutely love when doing sci-fi illustration and miniature painting. <3

Given how overpowering the red panels had the potential to be, I only wanted them to cover half of the design’s surface; to break it up, I also wanted to incorporate a lot of dark grey machinery and trim. This doo-dad is supposed to be the intake for a ventilation fan; I intended to match it on the other side with the back of the same machinery to create a sense of plausibility in the design. I liked the angled pill shapes I had used for the panel lights, so I incorporated more of those into the vent to keep everything consistent.

As I built things out, I found that I liked a greenish tinge to the dark grey machinery and trim. I reasoned that if the floor lighting was distinct enough to be visible on the red panelling, it should be washing over and tinting pretty much everything else in the scene.

Filling in more details. Getting to this point confirmed to me that the 50/50 split between red and grey was a good look.

Random trivia: that light over the door is a small detail I originally designed for my modular blue terrain set; I sculpted one out of clay, but didn’t have a practical way of mass-producing at the time. I always liked the simple angular design, though, so I finally found a spot to use it here. 🙂

This is about the spot where I decided to record a video to show the basic workflow I was following to create the design. I think it’s a fascinating video, and you can trust that assessment because my superior intellect prevents me from being influenced by bias.

It’s a door. It’s the wrong colour, but I couldn’t decide what colour to make it, so I left it for now. It won’t get fixed until almost the end of the entire project.


Hey look! I installed fancy hover-zoom thingies so you could see details! 😛

At this stage, I had completed enough of the panelling in the central panels that I felt comfortable starting to duplicate things to the other side.

Hey look, it’s the column!

Real talk on this column: it uses a lot of the same visual elements as the rest of the design (green-tinted grey plastic, with glowing pill-shaped lights), but the way they’re assembled together doesn’t really match anything else in the scene. The lights being much smaller, and duplicated so many times, creates almost a “spider eyes” effect that would be much more at home on Combined Army terrain.

BUT… I liked it, and didn’t have any better ideas, so I left it.



With the exterior done, I turned to the inside. I imported whatever elements I felt would be appropriate to the interior– either because they were going to be the same on both sides (the trim and the door), or because there would be a different design element located in the same spot on the inside (the lights, vent, and column).

I decided to make the interior look a bit more ramshackle than the sleek exterior; I opted to use a repeating paneling pattern on the walls so that I could later pop some of the panels off to incorporate improvised wiring and such, to reinforce the Nomad feel.

Random sci-fi environment detail I like and always incorporate into my papercraft designs: pull-away panels for storage and circuitry. Like on Star Trek! <3

I decided that the lights on the exterior are actually cameras, and that the interior would show the housing behind them, which would in turn lead to a video monitor showing the camera feed. As I mentioned earlier, I intentionally gave it a jury-rigged feel by embedding the camera housings underneath random popped-off wall panels.

Why would they run the wires along the wall instead of underneath it, you ask?


More zoomies! Wheeeee I’m having fun with this feature. 🙂

Hey look, it’s the interior of the fan. AKA, the single most complicated thing in the entire room design. This is way too bulky of an object to build with Photoshop’s bevel and emboss feature, so I had to build it all manually– it’s basically just drawn, with all of the panels placed and shaded manually. And while the same is true for the column and the outside fan, the interior fan is just a much more complex shape than either of those.

In conclusion, Spud’s life is hard, send donuts to cheer him up. ;_;

Hey look, it’s.. minor updated around the vent? And two little shapes around the door?

I don’t know. Spud-In-The-Moment takes pictures and screenshots because they seem important at the time, and quite often Spud-In-The-Future has no bloody idea why.


I was super excited at this point, then I remembered that I still needed to do the floor. You can’t even imagine the agonized whining.

Hey look it’s the floor shape.

Hey look it’s some circles and lines.



And then I made it glowy and it stopped being boring.

Potato easy to entertain. <3

Glows tend to look better surrounded by dark materials, so I cranked all the green-greys down a few tones.

More colour balancing, more edge glows, and added running lights.

Aaaaaand… we’re done! SHIP IT!

Nah, just kidding. Once the basic design was done, I wanted to make some variants on the design in different colours. As I showed in the video above, changing the colour of the exterior paneling is incredibly quick, as they’re all just on a single layer.

But I also wanted different colours for the floor glow, which meant I needed to re-tint all the grey plastic to match. And while the exterior panels are one layer, the grey plastic and the downward edge lighting is spread across HUNDREDS of different layers. Soooo… yeah. Changing everything from green to pink took SIX HOURS. And then I decided that I also wanted an orange floor glow, so that was ANOTHER six hours.


Aaaaaaaaand that’s pretty much it. If I haven’t successfully warned you away from trying to make your own colourful objective room, you can find all the crap to do it on my new papercraft page.

Making these patterns was an insane four weeks of work (plus two more just creating all of the assembly instructions in various formats), but unlike a lot of the “looks great eventually but takes tons of time to get there” things I work on (drawing, sculpting, normal terrain work) I actually found this one enormously entertaining throughout the process. Papercraft manages to combine a lot of the things I like about other crafty endeavours while discarding a lot of the miserable parts.

So, while I don’t have any immediate plans for a follow-up, I would be very surprised if this turned out to be the last papercraft pattern I ever released.

We’ll see. 🙂


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