How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

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Thread: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

  1. #1
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    Question How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    Hi all, I have been trying to make desert scenic bases and have come across a problem. No matter what I do (add sculpey rocks, add desert grass from beaver hair, use desert mats, etc), I can never get it to look natural; it always looks obviously fake. Does anyone have any ideas or advice? I read Tony Barton's how to and it always comes out ordered and clean if you catch my drift. Thanks for your help!

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  3. #2
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    You mention bases, and for me, they are different than dioramas (a base is used as a 'backdrop' for 1-2figures that are not acting in any way) and it is difficult to say exactly what it is you do wrong.

    First of all, where is it set? A North African desert is different to say the deserts of China.

    Secondly, where is it more exactly? If it is set in a fairly settled area, the desert will be a little more beaten and tamed than if it's set in the middle of a wild desert. That means, the dirt will be packed and dirty. Oh, and EVERYTHING will be dusty, including plants and grass.

    Thirdly, study pictures of the real thing. http://www.popularmilitary.com/milit...s/helmand1.jpg shows some marines in a desert-like environment. Study the ground: it is made up of very fine sand, 'dirtied' up by small rocks and pebbles and strands of dried grass.

    The way I would do a base based on the picture above:

    Mix plaster 50/50 with fine sand used for bird cages and perhaps a few grass strands for model rail road work and smear a thick coat on the base, making sure the coat is as smooth as it can get. If you want to use grass, place individual grass strands in the plaster when it is still wet and work he plaster up a little bit in each straw.

    Make a very small batch of plaster mixed with tan paint - this will be your dust. Mix it until it is a very pale tan. Let this dry throughly and then grind it up with sandpaper.

    Paint the base in a very light tan color - I recommend spray, but a light brush work could do as well and let it dry.

    Spray the base with dullcote of your choice and sprinkle dust liberally over the base.

    Finally, seal everything with another layer of dullcote if you think it would be necessary.

  4. #3
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    I just got a can of Tamiya Sand spray. The first brief test looks good - when I have time I'll do a proper one and post the photos.

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  6. #4
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    thanks for the help guys. The desert regions I am particularly trying to recreate are the areas around Jerusalem during the Crusades. Here's three of the bases I have made:
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2703-jpg
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2706-jpg
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2708-jpg

  7. #5
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    Another thing to remember: Mother Nature isn't orderly. I always put groups of rocks in odd numbers, usually 3 or 5. Put larger stones down first, then medium, then smaller ones. Static grass, by Woodland Scenics, works great. Cut a portion off, dab the end in white glue,stick it on the base- sprinkle some sand / dirt / etc. on the bottom to "root" it down. When dry, trim the grass to desired height, irregularity, etc.

    Just a little bit goes a long way towards capturing the realism. Looking at actual settings helps tremendously.
    It's a fabulous time to be collecting in 1/6th scale!

  8. #6
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    Quote Originally Posted by firerailz View Post
    thanks for the help guys. The desert regions I am particularly trying to recreate are the areas around Jerusalem during the Crusades. Here's three of the bases I have made:
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2703-jpg
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2706-jpg
    How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural-100_2708-jpg
    I immediately see the problem: You try to hard spreading stuff around, making rocks and stuff look placed down. Just grab a couple of rocks and drop them from say 4" above the base and let them rest where they land. then work the terrain up against tem.
    Another thing: It looks too clean. Dust everything, either by my method or by paint or whatever floats your boat.

  9. #7
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    thanks for the advice warge, I will definitely rework it. Do you think using gravel used in scale modeling might help a bit?

  10. #8
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    Quote Originally Posted by firerailz View Post
    thanks for the advice warge, I will definitely rework it. Do you think using gravel used in scale modeling might help a bit?
    Sure - anything that can look good should be used.

  11. #9
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    balsa foam is always a great base for build-up, debris, stonework, etc.

    woodland scenics is great for organic matter, pebbles, smallish debris "bits", etc.

    add some acrylics for color and then some thinned dark walnut/black washes to harmonize all the dio colors. you should be right as rain!

    Warge's techniques of random placement is a keeper - works like a charm.

    you can see an example of these materials here in a desert diorama i recently created.

    i hope this helps!

  12. #10
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    thanks Dekoy, that helps a lot!

  13. #11
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    Re: How do you make desert themed dioramas/bases not look unnatural

    I think mixing the color a bit might help you here. outdoors the fine dust and particles covers everything and even though the rocks, tiles, and sand may have their own colors they are kind of mixed together and weathered by dust and bleached by the sun.

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