175 Years In The Future, There Are Only Panels

datetime February 21, 2015 1:00 AM


I have always opted to buy love. Really, it was the only option available to me– given my staggering menu of crippling personal flaws and blatantly antisocial attitudes, the only way I’ve been able to maintain any sort of social circle throughout my adult life has been through the balancing contribution of my works. My goal has always been to inspire in those around me, both in my physical and virtual spaces, a difficult moment of indecision.

“Okay, sure,” they say to themselves. “Spud may be kind of an asshole, and he does leave his crap lying around on four different tables wherever he goes, and the relentless bragging does get pretty f***ing irritating sometimes… but on the other hand… man, that blowfish was pretty awesome. Maybe if I put up with him for a while he’ll make me something pretty like that.”

And in that moment, they’ve unwittingly entangled themselves in my calculated cycle of grudging tolerance. Putting up with Spud does not, in the end, pay off for most people, but after years of practice I’ve perfected a manner of making it look like it might. I guess I’m sort of the lottery of human beings– a horrific investment obscured by really good marketing.

I mention all of this because it should go some way toward explaining why this particular project was finally finished last week. I started working on concept drawings for my modular Infinity terrain set back in May, and posted them in mid-June. I took a break to play in an Infinity league at my store during the summer, then resumed work in time to finish bulk construction in September. At that point, the terrain pieces looked like this:

Jump Ahead!

Usually this is where I berate you for skipping over the text with lazy quick-jump links, but seriously, this one came out at eleven thousand freaking words. Only a truly amazing reader could accomplish that feat of endurance, and clearly that’s not a label we need apply to just anyone.

Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll meet you at the bottom.


Flat foamcore boxes that link together and provide cover. That left them ugly but essentially fully playable, and as such, I put them aside to work on other projects for the rest of the year. My plan was to work on applying surface detail to the boxes sometime after Templecon (which is in early February), then take another break before painting everything in early Spring. This schedule would give me plenty of time to decompress after each stage, which is necessary on a project this big (at least for me) to avoid getting too frustrated and bored.

This plan was aimed to let me work on other important stuff between September and January– mostly Christmas presents and painting up my second Infinity army– but things changed in November when the Templecon event list went up. I’ve attended Templecon five times as a Warmachine player, and even though I’ve more or less dropped that game, I still planned to attend this year to play Iron Arena. The Templecon experience is more about the cool people you meet than the actual activity you engage in, so I was pretty sure I’d find ways to enjoy myself.

However, once the event list was posted, I was excited to see two Infinity events included. This changed my entire Templecon plan: instead of playing a game I don’t like with people I know (since a lot of the faces in Iron Arena are the same from year to year), I was now facing the prospect of spending the weekend playing a game I’m fired up about with a bunch of total strangers. Hopeful dread made way for dreadful hope.

That’s, like, totally different, you guys.

When I showed up for my first Templecon, I was already somewhat known in the Warmachine community due to the conversions and terrain I’d published on Lost Hemisphere and on the Privateer forums. Thus, the enduring love of a few attendees had already been pre-purchased upon my arrival.

However, Infinity presented a bigger challenge. In this community, I had no famous deeds to bias people toward me, and no great feats of modelry on-hand to win people’s favor on sight. Thus robbed of my two greatest weapons of empire-building, I needed to think of some other way to buy this new crowd’s affection.

The answer came in late November, when the TO of one of the Templecon Infinity events put out a call for terrain. He had a decent stock of terrain, but given how dense an Infinity tables needs to be, he asked if anyone planning to attend could possibly bring along a table or two to help accommodate the planned 20 players. Upon reading that, I thought to myself, “Hey, that’s perfect! I’ll just finish the terrain I’ve been working on, and they’ll all love it, and by extension me, and everything will be sunshine and unicorns for the rest of my days.”

So I posted that I would bring along a table’s worth of terrain, and just after the Christmas holidays, I sat down and took at look at the scope of the remaining work.

And then, after I stopped crying and wondering desperately how I could get out of this commitment, I sat down and began the five weeks of madness that I will chronicle for you now.

Each of my 26 terrain pieces currently looked like this: precisely cut flat panels for the floors and roofs with nearly-as-precisely-cut foamcore walls to keep them up. I needed to take these five-inch-cubed boxes (which also double as surprisingly pleasing drums) and add detail to them until they felt sci fi enough to hold a Space Shootout over.

Structural Cleanup

The first thing I did was to bevel the top edges of each piece. To do this, I drew a pencil line about 1/4″ from the outward edge of each box, then lightly scored the top paper layer of the foamcore roof along this line.

Then, I ran a utility knife diagonally between this scored line and the bottom corner of the roof layer, trying to keep the cut as smooth as possible (and for the most part, failing spectacularly at that goal).

This went much faster than I expected (all 26 pieces were done in about 3 hours); I had expected it to take several evenings, so I took this as a good omen, signalling perhaps that this project might not be as onerous as I had anticipated.

The tiny size of the scrollbar on the right side of your screen should indicate to you that this hope was ill-founded.

The bevelled cuts were quite a bit rougher than I wanted, so I decided to try cleaning them up with a layer of silicone. Here I’ve squeezed out a bead of silicone all along one edge…

…and then I used an expired membership card as a spatula to smooth it over. I first ran the card over the bevelled face, then along the top and side to clean up anything that fell out of the lines.

The end result wasn’t the perfectly smooth surface I had envisioned, but it was still an improvement, so I called it “done” and charged ahead.

Next up, I wanted to add trapezoidal tabs to the top of each door. These would serve three purposes:

  1. To allow me to mount a small light fixture over each door (which I didn’t finish in time for Templecon, unfortunately)
  2. To provide cover to models standing on the roofs, since I’d intentionally provided so little of that.
  3. To improve legibility of the board by making it clear from any angle where the doors were located on each building.

Here I’ve started by cutting out the materials– some kebab skewers with their ends cut to be slightly pointy, and a bunch of foamcore trapezoids the same widths as the various doors.

For each door, I first embedded two sticks into the roof, then pushed the tab down on top of them. With the holes thus punched, I applied a bunch of Weld Bond glue in between, then squished everything solidly together.

Once this was done, I went back with more silicone to smooth the transition between the tab and the rest of the building’s face.

With that done, it was on to the next (and largest) phase of this project…

The Panels. Dear God, The Panels…

From the early design stage, my plan for this project was always to use foamcore for bulk construction followed by layers of craft foam to create textured patterns on top. The panels would all follow a fairly uniform pattern, creating a square-and-octagon pattern on top and a wavy black line through the side of each building:

The intended effect is of a sort of Ikea kit living unit, 3D-printed in modular sections in space and dropped onto a planet to be assembled by colonists. Everything should look like generic sections chosen out of a catalogue and assembled into whatever configuration suited their needs.

To convey this generic, machined feeling, I wanted the detailing of the various models to be made up of identical flat panels. Rough surfaces imply handcrafting, so I wanted everything to be smooth and my panels to be the exact same size and shape across the entire complex.

Using the original Adobe Illustrator files I used for my foamcore templates as a guide, I made some slightly smaller shapes to sit on top of them. It took a few attempts to get them sized exactly right, but eventually I was happy enough to print them out and transfer them to craft foam.

This used the same method as in the Foamcore Video— hold the paper template over the foam, trace with a pencil, cut out with a utility knife.

The panels are sized to leave about a 1mm gap between them. Once cut out, the panels were glued to the various rooftops with Weld Bond, which is extra-strong white glue that’s fantastic for terrain-making.

Satisfied with the size of the panels, I traced, cut out, and glued on the remaining panels on the 17 other straight building modules.

This is about half of them.

This part was super boring. πŸ™

The 18 straight sections were relatively easy to panel, but the 60-degree bends and three-way hub pieces would require a bit of custom fitting to adapt the square and octagonal shapes to their triangular roofs.

This ended up being a fairly awkward process. I stuck the square corners down, and then held multiple octagons against each other to see where they overlapped. These overlaps were marked with a pencil, then cut away with enough of a margin to leave a gap between them.

End result after about an hour: pretty near-looking. πŸ˜€

The bends were harder, because while the hubs went together nicely with six regular-size panels, six ended up being way too much foam for these pieces, while four was too few, leaving a narrow, irregular gap down the middle.

My solution was to create a custom-shaped irregular trapezoid to fill the gap between two half-rows of normal panels. This isn’t nearly as snazzy-looking as the 3-way hubs, but fortunately, all of the bends will have an additional thick panel over most of the top, so you won’t be able to see it much in the end. :/

And with that, all 24 modules had completed roofs. They looked pretty sweet all connected together. πŸ˜€

With the tops finished, it was time to address the side panels. I wasn’t entirely sure of the exact dimensions I wanted for these panels, so unlike most of the other templates that were designed straight in Illustrator, I laid these ones out by hand with a ruler. I dunno, I guess I just think better with a pencil than with a computer mouse. :/

For this design, the highest bump will contain each section’s window, while the lowest bump will contain a small vent. In the final assembly they won’t be on top of each other like this; the vent bump will instead be underneath the straight panel on the right side, with a 1/2″ gap between the bottom and top panels. However, drawing and cutting them together let me save a fair bit of foam, which is an important consideration any time you’re multiplying a design 96 times. @_e

Once I was happy with my design, I rebuilt it more precisely in Illustrator, printed it, and cut it out to serve as a cutting template. Note that unlike the top bits (which came from my pencil design), the final template will remain a long rectangle, with lines strategically cut out of it to facilitate marking.

…like so. The tiny cut-outs give me just enough room to poke through with a mechanical pencil when transferring the marks to the foam material.

Cutting out templates in one big piece this way makes them much faster to transfer (since you’re only juggling one large piece of paper instead trying to continually arrange and reassemble eight small fiddly ones) and much more durable over the course of the entire project (though I did still wear the paper down around piece #60 and had to print and cut out a fresh one).

I use mechanical pencil for my marking because its shininess helps it remain visible against the black foamcore and craft foam I like to work with.

Having fantastic eyesight doesn’t hurt, either. πŸ˜›

One lucky find that greatly benefitted this project was a huge roll (I think it must’ve been at least 5ft long and 4ft across) of black craft foam that I picked up at my local Michael’s.

Because of the regularity of my rectangular template, I was able to trace out dozens of panel sets at a time. Mass-production is super boring, but it’s better than the alternative of constantly switching from tracing to cutting between every piece; after a while you get into a groove, and from there it’s only mildly agonizing.

Here’s how the pieces link up once they’re all cut out– I basically just swap the two long bottom pieces. I technically could have put both of the bumps on the same panels, but this way I have a point of interest on each panel, so the building is more evenly interesting.

Attachment is once again done with Weld Bond glue. Window panels go on the inward panels, while vents go on the outward bumps.

Speaking of the vents, let’s take a look at how those were done.

Vents are a really fantastic bit of detail you can add to sci-fi terrain because they satisfy the three-pointed star of mass production– they’re fast, cheap, and easy. πŸ˜€

To start with, I cut a full A4 sheet of craft foam up into 1/8″ strips by carefully measuring out ticks and then linking them up with a metal ruler.

I then cut these out with a utility knife.

Fun Fact #1: I went through nine full utility knife blades over the course of this project. Foam is surprisingly hard on metal!

I then pulled out a second sheet of foam and started gluing the strips onto it in a partial overlap pattern, with each piece covering about half of the strip before it. I used wood glue here because I was temporarily out of Weld Bond (it may surprise you to learn that I was using quite a bit of it on this project…), which meant it took forever to dry.

That took about a day to happen, after which I divided the “sheet of vents” up into 1″ strips perpendicular to the vent slats and cut them apart.

This gave me what turned out to be an utterly ridiculous amount of textured vents. I think I still have eight or nine of those strips left. >_<

To make each individual vent, I held a cut-out panel over the back of one of the vent strips and traced its shape onto the vent. I then drew an outline a bit larget than that so that the vent would disappear nicely behind the rim of the panel (though it couldn’t be too much bigger, as otherwise it would pop out of the top from behind the panel’s top rim) and cut it out.

Next, I held the surface panel over its intended position and traced through the opening to get the exact position of the opening. I then held the vent piece over this and traced around it to give me the final shape and position that the vent would sit in.

I cut this shape out with my knife (taking care not to let it fall inside– I don’t want bits of foam rattling around my modules!), then gooped some Weld Bold around the rim and dropped the vent grate inside.

All of this tracing and placing had to be done individually for each vent to ensure a good fit– no mass production this time!

Once the vent was in, I glued up the vent panel and stuck it on.

There we go– pretty as a picture!

The panels all went on pretty nicely, but I did make sure to trim them flush with the “contact edges” of each module so that the panels wouldn’t prevent adjacent pieces from linking up tightly.

The vast majority of the side panels followed the exact measurements of the template, but a few needed custom alterations. Here we have the “window side” of an end cap, which would ordinarily be narrower due to its right side being a new outward jut (like the left side is there) toward an adjacent outward bump. However, since the window side of the caps just continues straight and then ends, I had to cut out ten slightly longer window panels to accommodate this.

I know this seems incredibly trivial to mention, but it’s an important factor when doing mass-production– knowing where and when you need to make slight deviations from your template is key to avoiding the frustration of, “Wait, why the hell is this too short?!” after you’ve just cut out ten (now useless) pieces. πŸ™‚

A similar alteration happened on the end caps. I still had all of the paper templates that I used when cutting out my foamcore top and side pieces, but the faces on the end caps were slightly shorter back then (since I hadn’t yet added the trapezoidal tabs above the doors); thus, when I cut out the foam panels for the ends, I needed to make them “one door tab taller” to ensure a clean, unbroken face.

These were then held up against their eventual resting spots and traced to allow them to be cut into shape, discarding all of the raised portion except the bit that sits on the tab.

Fun Fact #2: Even after making my accommodation for extra height, the face panels were still 1/4″ too short due to me messing up the math in my head. However, I made this little error work for me by cutting the sides of the tab a bit short as well, resulting in a nice two-layer effect on those areas.

Lesson learned: good planning is crucial, but there’s also something to be said for adaptability. πŸ˜€

While the middle pieces (the straight bits, bends, and hubs) were all the same, I had made five different designs for my end caps– which meant that the end caps all required some amount of custom work when it came to the paneling. This double garage (which is my favourite piece in the whole terrain set, incidentally– I love how the shape of the doors interlocks with the outward bump in the middle) was the most complex and thus required the most custom measuring and design.

The panels on this face were barely there, being only a slim outer border around the massive doors. These needed fairly careful lateral measurements to ensure that they linked up in the correct spot.

I didn’t make door panels for the smaller doors since they’re quite far inset and you can’t really see them, but since the huge doors are plainly visible, I rigged up a quick interlocking door panel that echoed the shape of the side panels.

Fun Fact #3: This paper bit is another leftover from the foamcore stage back in September, with “one foamcore sheet’s width” removed around the outside as shown above. NEVER THROW ANYTHING AWAY, PEOPLE! πŸ˜›

This drawing was cut out into another of my tracing templates, which soon became two nice sets of foam door panels.


Randomly moving on, let’s take a look at the bridge. When I built this, I was really concerned that the incline would be too steep, and my suspicion was well founded– a model on a 25mm base slides straight down the foamcore incline, making it impossible to stand guys anywhere but the ends and the middle.

I attempted to solve this problem by applying some rubber grippy stuff (I think it’s supposed to be drawer lining..?) to the surface to give models something to stick to.

Cutting it out was easy, but it was fairly difficult to glue down– there’s no detail underneath, so the glue has trouble gripping it.

In the end the grippy stuff was only moderately effective– heavy models squish down hard enough to make use of the rubber, while tipped-back minis like this one simply lean “uphill” to maintain their balance. However, this leaves a huge number of minis that remain unable to use the inclines, so even with this stuff attached, the bridge is a bit of an awkward in-game piece. πŸ™

At this point the surface detailing of the existing foamcore boxes was more or less done, but as you can see from the scrollbar on the right, we’re barely a quarter of the way through this ordeal. For those reading straight through today, I’m going to recommend a bathroom break right about here before we head on to the segment I will collectively refer to as…

Roof Debris

In my initial design post, I pointed out that one of my design decisions was to make the rooftop area of this terrain set a complete deathtrap by making it nearly devoid of cover. A standard North American Infinity board is generally set up so that a guy blocked by cover can walk out into the open and then be back into cover after moving about 6″. This ensures that a model can take a brief risk to move or fight before resuming its safe position in preparation for your opponent’s retaliation.

On my rooftops, however, it isn’t uncommon to have anywhere from eight to eighteen inches of completely open ground. Elevation is a huge advantage in Infinity (as it lets you look over terrain that would normally completely block Line of Fire to models you want to kill), so I wanted the rooftops of my terrain setup to be a major dilemma for most players–specifically, is the extra line of sight worth losing your guy?

Now, with that said, the rooftops weren’t going to be completely devoid of cover. I wanted enough open ground to make them dangerous, but with just enough cover to prevent them from being a completely open sniper’s gallery. After playing a few dummy games with my initial cutout templates, we decided that the easiest way to ensure “a bit of roof cover, but not too much” was to attach all of the roof cover to the curvy bits– eg, the four bends and the two 3-way hubs. These pieces generally end up in the center of each building and are rarely less than 8″ from each other when we set up the board, so the roof cover would generally end up quite spread out simply as a result of setting up intuitive buildings.

The construction of these roof pieces ended up taking almost as long as the paneling phase, but they’re much more interesting than “this is the part where I cut out 90 octagons” since each one is different, so I’ll go into more detail on them than I did the preceding sections.

Since, yaknow, the two things this article lacked were obviously detail and length.

Let’s start with probably the coolest of the bunch:

#1 – Satellite Dish

This bit of rooftop debris was actually built back in June when I found myself stuck at my parents’ house for a weekend without having brought anything to do. In a bored panic, I rummaged around through some of my old boxed possessions in their basement storage room and came up with a few scraps of craft foam a 120mm circle of foamcore.

Thus armed, I spent most of a Saturday building an articulated satellite dish at their dining room table, because, well… what the hell else was I going to do?

It’s really hard to make a proper 3D parabola out of a flat sheet of craft foam, so I opted instead to make a 2D approximation instead– narrow and wide instead of bowl-shaped. I cut what I felt looked like a good dish shape out of the blue foam, then made a random bit of techy framing from the black so that the surface wouldn’t be too boring.

To make it curve, I rigged up a series of craft foam braces that all followed a shallow parabola I quickly sketched on a napkin. Each brace was sandwiched together out of multiple foam layers to add rigidity.

I applied terrible dollar store white glue to the insides of the braces, then bent them around the back of the “dish”. It was a huge pain to keep them in contact while the glue was drying, but my dad solved my problem when he suggested that I lay it all around a big pickle jar to help hold the curve.

Once this was dry, I glued the front pieces onto the other side.

I didn’t have any thick craft foam (you can get it in 1/8″ thicknesses in addition to the super-thin sheets I normally use), so I built the LNB out of a few sandwiched layers. I squeezed a piece of wire in the center to keep it rigid and to help mount it to the dish.

I poked the wire through the back plate, and with that the dish itself was looking pretty good. πŸ™‚

At this point I had only managed to burn about half a day, so I decided my satellite dish now needed MULTIPLE POINTS OF ARTICULATION. These braces were sized so that the curvature braces would slot into the little holes on the top side; I traced the first one eight times to give me some nice, chunky components..

The holes in the center were sized approximately to match a wooden dowel I found in the garage.

This center piece was sized for the same dowel, with more layers being stacked up to wrap around it.

Finally a cap was added, with random angled variations between layers to give it a high tech feel.


I glued the braces to the curvature supports, then ran a dowel through the three pieces to connect them. Once I knew how much dowel I needed, I cut it to the right length by rolling a sharp knife over it.

Finally, I glued some end caps onto the sides to hide the dowel hole, and my X-axis pivot was done. πŸ™‚

I was still only at about 9pm by this point, however, so I started working on another pivot, this time around the Z-axis to let my dish turn left and right. This joint would also be removable, as I figured the dish part would be a bit fragile to transport if it was permanently mounted to its base.

As such, I went with a very simple joint– a fat cylinder underneath the dish that slotted into a ring on the base.

The base had, of course, more Space Angles.

I wanted my satellite dish to be freestanding, so I dug out the foamcore circle and eyed it to figure out what I could make out of it.

I figured out that 1/4 of the circle would probably suffice for the side of the stand, and would leave me half of the circle to make the front, back, top, and bottom. Without much planning at all, I just started cutting and gluing until I had something that more or less did the job.



It’s a bit lazy-looking, and it’s extremely front-heavy, so it falls over. I’ve been using it as a scenario objective since the summer, but once I got around to building my terrain kit, I figured I could make better use of it as a piece of Rooftop Debris.

In its new role, I wouldn’t need nearly as large of a base, so I cut off the bottom inch or so with a knife.

I then wrapped a foamcore jacket around the back to make the base appear bulkier and more solid.

Cut cut cut, glue glue glue…

The satellite dish needed a platform to sit on (and to cover the slightly dodgy roof panels on the bend module), so I traces out the edge shape onto a piece of 1/8″ foam (which I now had piles of in my apartment six months later).

In addition to housing all of my rooftop cover, the bend and hub modules would also contain all of the terrain kit’s roof access hatches– I figured it would make sense from a gameplay perspective for people to be able to get to the roof without immediately getting shot, so putting the hatches next to the only available cover made a certain amount of sense.

Two layers around the edge and a single layer for the hatch doors left me with a pretty serviceable-looking sci-fi hatch. πŸ™‚

This particular hatch is for the center of one of the hub pieces; the ones mounted on the 60-degree bends have a much wider casing to let them lock into their Roof Debris Platform…

…like so.

One of my central design principles for this terrain set was that I wanted everything to be as durable as I could possibly make it. This is a large part of why I wrapped my entire terrain kit in craft foam; besides being easy to work and looking really great as sci-fi paneling, foam creates a cushion around the terrain pieces that stop unforeseen impacts from denting the foamcore underneath or chipping off paint.

That was the first Durability Measure I implemented. The second…

…is that absolutely everything I surface-mount is going to be attached with freaking screws and nails. Bits that stick out of buildings are notoriously prone to being torn off when accidentally caught in motion or when stuffed into bins during storage. To prevent this, I kept a variety of screws and nails on-hand during the Roof Debris stage and ensured that everything I stuck on was held in place by some amount of metal.

This bit here is how I attached the satellite dish’s base. Rather than simply gluing the bottom of the base to the rooftop, I created a foamcore “plug” the size of the base’s interior and wrapped it around a screw, with a hole in the top (that you can just barely see in this picture) to put a screwdriver through.

I screwed this directly into the roof with some glue on the bottom; once it dried, I put more glue around the outside of the plug and jammed the satellite dish’s base down around it. This gave the base way more surface area to grip than it would have had from a surface-mount alone, ensuring a solid attachment.

Freaking BAM, y’all. That is one fine-lookin’ communication terminal if I do say so myself. ~_~

#2 – Solar Panels

The facility created by my modular terrain set is envisioned to be a self-contained settlement, so obviously I’d need to provide power for the buildings somehow. Solar panels filled this thematic role while also providing tall cover and looking really snazzy.

The voltaic cells themselves needed to be dark and shiny, so I dug around the bead section at Michael’s until I found these flat black ones that seemed like they’d do the job.

I strung them together in sets of three using picture wire. I was going to use solar panels for two of my rooftop cover positions, with each block featuring three panels.

The beads would need to be mounted on a rigid back plate, so I dug out something I’ve been stockpiling for a while– meat trays! My local supermarket switched from styrofoam to hard plastic meat trays back in the summer, and I’ve been cleaning and saving them since then as a ready source of plastic card. I now have a stack 8″ high ready for future terrain projects. πŸ™‚

I cut out small backing plates from the meat trays, sizing each to fit two rows of black beads.

To keep the beads in place (a bit of a challenge, since the back side of each bead is slightly curved), attached strips of thick craft foam to the top and bottom of each plate. The beads themselves wouldn’t be attached until after the painting phase much later on, but it was useful to throw everything together early on to get a sense of how it would eventually look.

With the panels more or less sorted out, I needed to create mounting brackets– two per panel. Here I’ve cut out some 1/2″ strips of foamcore and beveled the top left corner to give me a mounting surface for the panels. The other cuts on the back were cut to match this main angled face.

I wanted a bit more useable surface to mount the panels onto, so I added foamcore spacing blocks between the two uprights.

The solar panels would be another removable piece like the satellite dish, but these would be mounted on wooden dowels. I drilled up through the bottom of the spacers to make room for the sticks.

Dowels were beveled at roughly the same angle at which I’d cut the panel faces, then covered in glue and jammed into the drilled holes.

I didn’t want to hold them while the glue dried, so I propped all six pieces under a kleenex box and let gravity hold the sticks in place for me.


With the structural parts of the panel supports more or less done, I turned to making them prettier. First I added some minor detail to the very plain sides with teensy-tiny foamcore strips.

Next, I cut out some little tabs to mount to the backs of the panels.

They were angled to sit perpendicular to the panel surface, giving the impression that they’re directly attached to the panels and are the bar upon which the panels swivel up and down (which they don’t actually do, sadly).

The supports looked a bit plain attaching to the smooth backs of the panels, so I cut out some vague little octagonal thingies to break up the surface. These will be sandwiched between the panel and the upright.

When testing the swivel of the uprights, I found that the foamcore caught on the craft foam surface slightly, making them somewhat hard to turn. To solve this, I dug out some ring-shaped beads I had left over from making my order tokens.

These stone-ish rings were glued to the bottoms of the uprights to create a much more slippery contact surface between the two pieces.

Speaking of contact surfaces, it was time to make another raised platform. Here I’m once again using a spare foamcore panel to trace the shape of the rooftop edge onto some thick craft foam.

This was glued onto the roof, and then three holes were drilled straight into the module box.

I had to carefully line three of the assembled panels up to figure out exactly how far apart to drill the holes. I wanted them to nearly touch when facing the same direction, but always leave just enough of a gap for them to spin next to each other.

Drill drill drill.

Actually, I’m not really using a drill for any of this– foamcore and craft foam are so soft that it’s just easier to spin the drill bit by hand. πŸ˜›

The uprights dropped cleanly into the drilled holes.

That’s all for the panels for now; the bead strips will be glued on later.

#3 – Rooftop Gardens

There was still one bend module to do, but I hadn’t yet figured out what to put on its roof, so I moved onto the two 3-way hubs.

For these pieces, I opted to build a set of rooftop gardens. In theory they were supposed to be vegetable gardens with little red tomatoes visible on the vines, but I never ended up finding a good way to model tomatoes until just now when I’m writing this sentence and realized that rolling out tiny little putty balls would entirely do the job.



Anyway, here’s how they were built. The gardens are going to wrap around the outer edges of the hub, so I made some little shapes out of 1″ insulation foam that follow the same outline.

I then cut out long strips of craft foam and glued them to these styrofoam bits.

Continuing with my plan to ensure that all dangly bits are firmly attached with metal, I plunged screws through the top of each planter and down into the rooftop.

These pieces weren’t quite tall enough yet to completely block line of sight to a regular-sized Infinity dude, so I cut the same doglegged shape out of thick craft foam to create a second tier, along with some strips of foamcore to raise them up.

Small nails went down through the foam and foamcore, then into the styrofoam planters (yaknow, it’s pretty annoying when all of my bloody materials are called “foam”…) with lots of Weld Bond glue to hold it all together.

The planters will get actual foliage later, but for now they’re about as built as they need to be.

I still hadn’t figured out what the last rooftop cover detail would be at this stage, so I took a break and instead built a whole bunch of rectangles.

Occupational Health & Safety… In Space

The door pieces on my terrain set all have balconies, and raised balconies without adequate railings are totes unsafe, you guys. Therefore, I had a lot of little foamcore mini-walls to build.

Their construction was fairly simple– I cut out long strips at a standard height, then cut the meat out of the bottom edge to let the railing “grab” the edge of its balcony. Once I had these long strips prepped, I cut and scored them to size for the various balcony shapes I had in my set.

Railings definitely count as “extra dangly bits”, so they were no exception to the MUST BE TACKED ON WITH NAILS construction standard. Holes were punched through the bottoms of the balconies with my sculpting spike…

…then the key joining areas of the walls were gooped up somethin’ fierce…

…and then they were stuck down and wrapped around, with little nailed pushed up through the punched holes to keep everything in place during drying and beyond.

One important note that I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned yet: all throughout this project, I kept a pot of clean water and a #4 paintbrush next to me to let me clean up all of the glue that oveflowed out of my joints. When building terrain for durability you can’t skimp on the glue, but excess Weld Bold will dry in the shape it’s left in when wet. So to avoid having bubbles and snakes all over my terrain set, I spent the entirety of the process I’m detailing in this article cleaning up overflow with a wet brush anytime it gushed out of the space between two pieces.

Tasks like this are the reason I don’t throw out old damaged mini-painting brushes. Instead, I keep a mug full of them on my desk, where they serve as terrain and basing brushes– basically, any task where fine detail isn’t a huge priority.

I did all of my railings as one continuous foamcore strip, but I didn’t do the most amazing job of measuring all of the sides on this piece, ending up about 1/8″ short. It brought great shame to my famirry to do so, but ultimately I hung my head and patched the last eighth-inch with another strip of foamcore.

Whole most of the railings were only wrapped around a flat balcony, four of the doors contained a free-standing staircase. These required a fairly different railing construction strategy.

Instead of long flat strips, these would need to have angled railings stuck down on their ends. And because I wasn’t convinced that a simple surface mount would suffice, I resolved to cut stair-shaped holes out of the side walls and stick them much more firmly onto the staircases.

These holes were once again drawn on with the aid of the paper templates I had saved from the bulk foamcore assembly stage, because Spud truly is the best kind of hoarder.

The stair slots were cut down through the foam (but not through the other paper face) with a sharp utility knife, and then the unwanted “plugs” were pried out with a sculpting tool. This left a bit of foamcore foam inside each hole, which I scraped away with the same tool.

With all of the plugs removed, the new wall slipped nicely over the protruding stairs, lending additional rigidity to the somewhat flimsy stairs.

With all of the railings, both straight and angled, attached to their moorings, they now needed some detailing. The variety of shapes and sizes made it impossible to come up with a single template to apply to all railings the way I had on the main buildings, but I still found a way to keep them all consistent. I cut out the two paper templates pictured above– one long, one short– and used them to create an up-and-down zigzag pattern across whatever size of panel was needed for any given railing.

Here’s how that looked on a “straight ahead” staircase….

…and on a wraparound, where the zigzag had more room to get all swoopy.

While finishing these up, I finally had an idea to fill in the last rooftop. I’d fluctuated between a few different ideas– a water tank, a fuel tank, a computer terminal, an elevator, a crane, etc– but I couldn’t come up with good designs for any of them that could be executed in the scant couple of weeks that remained before Templecon.

What I eventually settled on didn’t really make much sense and didn’t have a strong visual design, but dammit, it was some sort of roof thing, and that’s all I really cared about at that point.

Let’s all just close our eyes and pretend that it makes sense to have a building complex that contains both solar panels and…

A Nuclear Reactor

Just roll with it, folks. πŸ˜›

I hate building spherical and cylindrical objects by hand (since it’s fairly difficult to make them look smooth and even), so to create my reactor’s cooling towers, I took a stroll through my local dollar store. Eventually I found these nice little screw-top pots with interesting rectangular bumps on the bottom, which I figured would give them just enough “science-ish bits-and-bobs” to fit into a sci-fi terrain piece.

My original design called for this smaller cylinder to jut out of the back of the reactor, but when I realized that this would be difficult, I gave up immediately.

Spud is fairly arbitrary about what he will and won’t put effort into. Spending nine months on a terrain project is fine, but spending ninety minutes diagonally attaching a cylinder is freaking ridiculous, you guys*.

The two cooling towers would look a bit silly just glued to the roof, so I needed to build some sort of casing to wrap around them. Without any real design in mind, I traced the circumference of the two pots, then freehanded some geometry around them that looked vaguely interesting to me.

This shape, which would be the top of the casing, was cut out of the foamcore, and then I started figuring out how to wrap walls around it.

The procedure here is all covered in the foamcore-cutting video, which I’ll link again for anyone who didn’t click on it the first three times.

I decided that I wanted the top of the casing to sit at an angle, because I do not make rational decisions when I am surrounded by foam.

This was easy enough to accommodate on the front and back, as it merely entailed cutting the back wall about 1/2″ taller than the front, with some minor height adjustments at the far right and left. However, the sides were a pretty annoying challenge to fill in, as they had no right angles whatsoever and required a ton of guessing, trial cuts, re-guessing, re-cuts, and so on to fill in.

Eventually I did manage to fill all of the walls in, but found it difficult to get the cups to sit nicely in their box due to the rims around the threaded opening. I could have solved this by re-doing part of the foamcore, but after the hour I’d just spent on that, I said screw that and turned instead to trying to figure out how to cut the offending portion out of the cups with a saw.

Fun Fact #4: This is Spud’s “train saw”, which was purchased 25 years ago by Spud’s dad to help him lay out a badass electric train set Spud got for Christmas when he was 5. Spud has never understood what possible purpose it served in this task, but it has nonetheless remained a critical part of Spud’s hobby arsenal throughout the decades that followed.

It’s still pretty sharp, too. πŸ™‚

Oh, you silly plastic cup. You were a fool to challenge the Train Saw, and now you know what fate befalls the unfaithful.

Feel the bite of its merciless teeth, and despair.

*eerie sound of plastic cups wailing in the distance*


Fits real nice now!

Since I had so many vent strips left over, I embedded a few into the walls of my reactor before dropping the cups into their final position. In addition to gluing them into place, I also glued in a half dozen or so small foamcore scraps to hold them steady and prevent them from falling down.

I cannot stress enough the importance of building for durability, folks. I have spent the last five years watching my shoddily-assembled Warmachine terrain slowly disintegrate under the strain of play and storage, and I’m no longer interested in building terrain with an expected expiration date.

I want my grandkids playing Space Men on this crap, dagnabbit!

Alrighty, looking pretty good so far, though that central section is a bit plain. Let’s get some foamcore up in there!

I made a funny-shaped trapezoidal box out of this bizarrely angel-shaped piece.

And then stuck panels on it.

And then stuck it to the main housing.

With screws.

And with that, my dear readers… we’re done.

Nine months on the calendar and four months of actual work after the initiation of this project, I had a stack of nearly-fully-detailed modular building sections ready for paint. Spud was a very happy potato this evening, you can rest assured.

Once again I’ll point your eyes toward the scrollbar to help you understand how misplaced this sense of completion was, but dagnabbit it, it felt pretty good at the time…

Fun Fact #5: Spud keeps all of his terrain garbage until a project is complete, because he likes to see how much was accumulated through his efforts. If Spud is working on multiple projects at once, he maintains separate garbage piles for each to avoid spoiling the accuracy of his forensic analysis.

Totally Unrelated Fun Fact: Spud lives alone.

The Enpaintening

I had always planned to spraypaint the pieces, so I needed to seal up any exposed foam to prevent the propellant chemicals from eating them away. I use Mod Podge for this purpose– it’s sold as Papier MΓ’chΓ© goop, but also makes a good modeling adhesive and sealant. I spent an evening brushing it onto all exposed foamcore and and insulation styrofoam surfaces, though in retrospect I was a bit too sparing with my coats, as quite a few of them ended up being eaten away to some degree anyway.


The final stages of my terrain project were being completed in the middle of January in the far reaches of the Fabled Canadas, which made the prospect of spraypainting the pieces somewhat complicated. Spud does a bit of spraying within his apartment (usually priming/sealing single models), and even those few puffs of a spraycan leave a lingering chemical stench for hours afterward. This project would involve emptying multiple cans of paint and propellant, which was out of the question at my place and basically impossible in the sub-zero temperatures outside (in case you’ve never tried it, spraypaint flat-out doesn’t work in the cold).

So I put a somewhat whiny call out to my various associates, and one Paul “TheUltimate” Nguyen graciously volunteered his garage. For this, Paul will forever be honoured in the halls of Space Valhalla.

Which I’m sure ALEPH is working on somewhere.


I taped down a plastic dropcloth on Paul’s floor, then set up my first batch of buildings.

My original plan was to paint the buildings primarily white with detailing in black and orange, in homage to the buildings’ original inspiration– the planet Horizon from Mass Effect 2. However, this plan was nixed because white is fairly difficult to paint evenly, and I feel like white buildings more or less necessitate a coat of grime and chipped paint that I didn’t feel up to applying in the time I had left. I still wanted to do my homage, however, so I borrowed a different scheme from the same franchise instead– the Kodiak shuttle from the third game, with its royal blue primary coat and black/white detailing:


I was going to spray the main blue in two layers– a very thorough, two-coat layer of somewhat-darker-blue, and a very light, overhead dusting of somewhat-lighter-blue.


I applied the first coat to spaced-apart groups of 8 modules at a time to let me access all sides of each piece, ensuring an even coat from top to bottom.

The highlight layer didn’t need to hit anything but the top of each panel, so I sprayed the entire set all at once while holding the can a about 18 inches above them to let the spray disperse.

Two basecoats and a highlight coat took most of a Sunday; in between layers, I hung out upstairs giving Paul a really basic Icestorm demo to see if he was interested in playing Space Men, because I am the kind of person who repays kindness with merciless cruelty.

With the blue more or less finished, I still needed to apply a bunch of other colours to the modules by hand.

The spaces between the upper and lower side panels were painted black; this created a continuous dark strip that ran the length of each building, nicely offsetting the solid blue and making the various modules look like they actually are one solid construction.

Fun Fact #6: Painting on top of smooth spraypaint sucks. Even a colour as opaque as black took like three coats. SO BORING. >_<

Once I started applying paint, I realized that the beveled edge on the top of each piece would also look pretty good in black, as would the tabs over each door. The stairs, raised platforms, and other random “metal bits” were done in a very dark grey.

I didn’t bother highlighting the black to keep it actually looking black, but the greys were highlighted one stage higher on their various raised edges to differentiate the two colour swatches.


Spud’s favourite piece continues to look badass. πŸ™‚

The various vents poking out of the terrain bits were all painted light grey…

…then highlighted almost-white.

Which you kind of can’t even see in this shot with its crap lighting.

It’s there though.

…alrighty then.

With the hand painting more or less done, I hauled the entire kit down to my store for a Podge Party, ably assisted by my Sixth Best Friend, Tom, and my he-says-we’re-nemeses-but-I-haven’t-signed-any-documentation-to-that-effect, Fake Ricky Johnson.

Now, Podge is a time-tested terrain sealant that goes on white and clears as it dries. And this has always managed to come true, in spite of that terrifying moment each time when it goes on and you worry that OH GOD WHAT IF THIS TIME IT DOESN’T TURN CLEAR AND I GET WHITE STREAKS ON EVERYTHING CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP.

Tom and FRJ (or “Fridge”, as he liked to be called before the accident), for their part, proved that there is no universal law that cannot be broken through the application of sufficient incompetence– which is to say that THEY PUT ON TOO MUCH PODGE AND THIS TIME IT DIDN’T TURN CLEAR.

At least, not entirely clear. So there was, indeed, a bunch of white goop showing over the black and blue paint, which Spud had to clean up with supplemental touch-up coats.

And this is why Spud really needs to learn not to put important things in the hands of crack babies.



Yaknow what sucks to build by hand?


Whether you opt to mount rods as even spaced rungs along an upright or cut regular-sized holes all along a sheet, scratch-building ladders is boring and sucky and bad for your liver and I won’t have any of it in my yurt.

Fortunately, you can get ladders on the interwebs for like 70 cents.

So I did that instead.

Because, seriously, f*** ladders.

I bought a huge stack of Warsenal ladders, which were blindingly easy to assemble. The pieces pop out of a laser-cut plastic sheet…

…then they super glue together.


I still needed a way to mount them to my buildings; I debated systems using pegs, magnets, and other contrivances, but after thinking about it for a day, I realized that the flat panels in the back of each ladder lend themselves really nicely to being hung on hooks– which, now that I think about it, is probably exactly what they were designed for.

I made a pile of hooks using two layers of craft foam– a small bit as a spacer, then a longer but to act as the actual hook. These were glued down the faces of my seven of my straight building sections, using that long craft foam bit as the size gauge to tell me how far apart to set everything.

I then fine-tuned the spacing by pressing an actual ladder into the hooks (very gently, since the glue was still wet).

The ladders ended up being about 1/2″ short, but whatever. Compared to the agony that would have resulted from me trying to scratch-build them, “slightly short ladders” was a pain I could see myself getting over really, really quickly.

To help paint my ladders, I taped them all to a scrap of foamcore.

Then I sprayed them.

Then I sprayed them again with lighter paint from the top.

Then I plunged my trusty Sculpting Spike through each ladder hook, that they might be secured to the buildings…


I really hope I’ve adequately stressed the importance of screws and nails throughout this process. Never, ever, ever, EVER trust mere glue to hold surface-mounted objects together. Glue will always let you down, and when it does, bits you worked really hard on and don’t feel like replacing will get lost.

And then you are a sad potato. Or a sad human, I guess, if you’re you and not me.

So, yeah.

Badass ladders, bought from the Interwebs, because making ladders by hand is something crazy people do.



Aaaaaand we’ve officially reached the point in the ridiculously long article where Spud can no longer string together intelligible thoughts.

Spud is very sorry. He really meant no offense. Some of Spud’s best friends are crazy people.

Other Random Detailing And Stuff

Hey, remember that cool satellite dish we made before? It looked boring and needed paint.

Naturally, Spud went with “garish lime green that matches absolutely nothing else in the project’s colour scheme”, because Spud has the skills of an artist.

Plain green looked kinda dull, so Spud freehanded a bunch of hexagons into the dish interior.

The way you do this, in case you’re wondering, is that you put lighter paint where hexagons should be, and then don’t put lighter paint where hexagons shouldn’t be.

Then you edge highlight them, and then you collect painting awards.

They give those out for three-stage terrain painting, right?


Hey look, it’s those solar panels from before! All the paint is on, so we can finally glue them on! YAAAAY!

I wasn’t sure of the best glue to use to adhere smooth rocks to smooth plastic, but after a quick brainstorming sessions with former Terrain Elf Scott “Rightfin” MacNeil, we figured that contact cement would do a decent job.

So, here I’ve applied a line of cement to the back of each panel row and let it dry.

Then I put a matching row of cement on the top and bottom of each panel backing, and let those dry, too.

Then I squished them together, and they had a crazy glue orgy and lived happily ever after.

Hey, remember those planters that had no plants?

They need plants.

First I painted the flowerbeds brown, because that’s what colour dirt is, then I attached clumps of scatter foliage with Weld Bond all around the bottom of each planter.

As you’ll recall, I was still holding out hope at this point that I’d come up with a good solution for scale tomatoes, so I applied Army Painter brand fake ivy to the top row of each planter in anticipation of future fruit growth.

It may shock you to learn that these went on with glue.

Once everything was glued down, I thinned out some more Weld Bond and drenched all of my plants in it to keep everything firmly stuck together.

Rest assured that if I could have figured out a way to stick the foliage down with hundreds of tiny nails, you would be reading about how I did it right now.

You aren’t, though, so apparently I didn’t.

And like that, I had Space Gardens.


The Coolest Bit

The only thing worse than making seven ladders by hand is making 40 window frames by hand. This is especially true given the rather complex window frame shape I’d drawn onto all of my designs. Fortunately, however, I had a devious plan to cheat my way past this problem just as I’d done with The Thrice-Damned Ladders: I would throw Ravyn at the problem.

Ravyn is a magical pixie who shoots lasers at things and hits people with sticks.

Totally not kidding about either of those things:


Ravyn’s uncontrollable drive to hospitalize senior citizens notwithstanding, it was in her capacity as a Lightmonger that I required her assistance this time around. Ravyn has always been game to manufacture items I dreamed up, as she has done a few times in the past. Mostly in our past dealings she was adding custom printing onto fairly normal cutouts (templates and the like), but this time around, I was curious if she’d be interested in helping me machine a bunch of terrain parts.


Ravyn told me to mock up the shapes I wanted in Illustrator, and she would turn them into real thingies. I did as commanded, producing three different variations of the same design using her specified colour legend of “red for cuts, black for etchings”:

  1. A thin frame
  2. A thick frame in case the thin one is too brittle to ship
  3. A version with fully intact window panes that I’d have to paint over, in case they’re both too brittle.


I fired my file off to Ravyn, and a day later she showed me the results. The thin frame definitely looked much more spindly than I’d wanted, but the thick frame looked absolutely perfect, and Ravyn assured me that it was plenty strong enough to survive shipping.

With the prototype approved, she went ahead and shipped me fifty of them. πŸ™‚

While I was waiting for the frames to arrive, I had one other component to produce to go along with them– the reflective panes that sit behind them. The outline for these was repurposed from the aforementioned Thin Frame, which I printed and cut out to give myself a good tracing template.

I used this template to trace 40 windows onto the back of a sheet of reflective scrapbooking paper. I was kind of surprised at how little space these took up– I barely used a third of a 12″x12″ sheet.

A long, dull evening of cutting ensued.

The results were pretty cool, though. πŸ™‚

Fun Fact #… what are we on, #7? #8? Spud still hadn’t received the window frames a week and a half before Templecon, which was somewhat alarming. After a quick panicked discussion with Ravyn, it turned out that Spud had given her the wrong mailing address and the package of precious woodcrafts was jammed up at some sorting facility in Chicago, with little chance of ever arriving, never mind “in the next week”.

Ravyn, being ridiculously awesome, immediately popped out a replacement set and express shipped them to make sure they got to me by my deadline. Neither of us relished the idea of risking cross-border shipping on that time scale, so they were instead shipped to Mr. Hey-Did-You-Know-He’s-A-Hardcore-Master-Craftsman-Winner Eustace B. Plarzburg to mule up to the convention for me, because seriously everyone Spud knows is awesome, except for Tom and Fridge who are bad.


One other item of note: given that I had no actual window frames to measure against, I had to trust that Ravyn’s laser and my laser (printer) agreed on the size of objects in Your Mere Three Dimensions, which was a thought that seized me while cutting out, oh, twenty-five of the forty window panes.

I had nothing to worry about in the end, but man, that was a scary thought for a while. @_@

Once I arrived in Rhode Island after ten bloody hours in the car, I met up with my trusty mule in a seedy bar, whereupon he passed me my most precious of cargos.

I had no time to rejoice, however, because with thirteen hours to the opening of the gaming areas, there was still terraining to do for one tired potato.

Forty window frames were taped to the room service menu in preparation for the application of foul-smelling chemicals.

What’s that? You aren’t supposed to spray paint inside a four-star hotel?


You’d think they’d have a sign up for that.

Once the paint was dry, I spent over an hour highlighting the top surfaces of each window frame while sitting cross-legged on the floor of my room. The temporarily homeless Mr. Plarzburg sat nearby, Master Crafting some dumb thing or other at the room’s desk while my legs slowly went numb.

While The Accursed Tom laid down his pretty little head to sleep, I started gluing little paper windows to little wooden window frames.


And then I dumped a bunch of glue around the back edges.

And then I glued windows onto 38 faces of my terrain set.

I forgot to bring nails.

Spud is fail. ;_;

One of the windows was going on an extra long face and thus needed an extra long bank of windows. This accommodation too exactly two minutes to rig up. First I chopped one window off of a 3-piece set…

…then glued the remaining two windows to another one, with a tiny bit of foamcore in the back to patch them together.

Then more glue.

And with that, ladies and gentlemen…


…a great darkness was let loose upon the world.

Behold it, Amazingnauts.

Behold its majesty.

Behold its ladders.


Cower at its raw nuclear might!

Puzzle at how much six solar panels could possibly be contributing in the same electrical grid as a nuclear reactor!



And then, like, some jerks ruined it by covering it with dumb army men and tokens.



Honestly, some people’s kids.

Fun Fact #Whatever: My grand project, rushed to life to buy me the affection of a bunch of strangers, was beloved by everyone who walked by it throughout the entire weekend.

Except the people who actually played on it, who freaking hated it. πŸ˜€

Mission accomplished, folks.



*wipes hands on pants*

*strolls off, whistling*


10 thoughts on “175 Years In The Future, There Are Only Panels

  • Martin

    The “cooling towers” could always be refluffed as water recycling plant thingies or anything else. Good job on the terrain.

  • Plarzoid

    Brilliant. You, sir, are amazing at what you do. I do think you should edge highlight the buildings, and now that you have a solution for the tomatoes, you should add those, too.

    Also, thanks for dinner! I’ll mule for you anytime. Next year, give me a demo on your board?

  • Igor

    Amazing terrain. There are fantastic bits of advice and tips throughout this article that just made me think: ˝That’s real simple. Why didn’t I think of this?˝
    All in all an amazing article I think I will revisit when I start building my terrain.

  • Johnny Erdmann

    Hello Could you tell me some measurements I might make one I’d do somethings on a CNC machine.

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *