Friday, January 17, 2014

How to: Convincing Vines and Climbers

We are glad to announce another nice illustrated tutorial for creating convincing vines and climbers created for Wargame News and Terrain by the very talented and seasoned wargamer and scratchbuilder Alan Martin. His approach to build realistic climbers and vinces involves taking plastic aquarium leaves and welding them to the insulation on electrical cables, using a hot glue gun, to hold them in place. Provided you take care to ensure that the joins are made while both sides are hot, the welds should be fairly strong. 

Firstly I’ll show how a length of climber is made that can then be wrapped round a trunk or branch after construction, then I’ll switch to the slight alternative of applying the wire to the tree first, then adding leaves. The advantage of the second approach, if you are going to wrap the climber round a tree trunk, is that it’s easier to fix in place securely and more importantly so that you can position the leaves to grow away from the trunk as they would in real life. 

First take a length of electrical wire – this is 2.5mm mains cable in the UK, chosen mainly because the insulation is brown. At the top end, push the insulation back onto the wire to expose the copper wire, then trim the wire. The reason for doing this is that you can slot a suitable section of the aquarium plant into the end to make a more secure joint. Before adding any foliage, though, take some coarse sandpaper and and the length of the wire. It gives it a bit of texture and means that it’s more likely to retain any paint you use. 

Next prepare the leaves. The photo above shows the type chosen for this one, This particular type is designed to be chained together in lengths, so the obvious question is why not just use that? You could, but I prefer the strength of the cable and the plastic of the plants doesn’t take paint very well. (just stumbled over this link which recommends Krylon Fusion for getting them to take paint. Haven’t tried it myself.) 

What is good about this type is that it does have a growing tip with juvenile leaves which can be used for the tip of our climber. Firstly cut the main leaves from the steam, leaving each leaf with a stalk. 

The photo above shows the knife tip positioned at the point I have chosen.

Picture of the cut piece ready to be used in the construction of the vine.

Insert the cut stem into the insulation at the top of the length of cable.

Using the hot glue gun, weld the tip to the insulation. Use a little glue, but make sure that the plastic stem and the insulation are both melted a little to ensure a strong joint. If the result is a bit lumpy, you can always use a sharp knife to trim it back when it is cold. At intervals down the stem, weld the other leaves to the insulation. Make sure the insulation and the end of the leaf stem are hot and semi-liquid, and add a little of the hot glue, to ensure that the joint is strong. If you don’t do that the leaves could become detached. The photo above shwos the top end of the vine with some of the other attached leaves while the photo below shows the whole section. It can then be put in place round a tree, or possibly rould a fallen log, then the stem painted. It doesn’t look too impressive at this stage, but it serves to illustrate the principle of the basic construction, which can use other types of leaf. 

The following illustrations show a couple of variations attached to one of my forest giant trees. These trees are constructed by taking solid sections of branch, screwing and gluing them to chamfered pieces of mdf, and gluing huge buttress roots round the trunk which are made from offcuts of mdf. Originally, I then smeared them with DAS modelling clay to thicken them and link them in to the main trunk, but I found that the DAS was easily chipped to expose the white clay underneath. Fortunately, Dr Mathias from the Lead Adventure Forum, who makes his trunks from cardboard tube, came up with the brilliant idea of covering his roots and trunks with tissue coated in glue. I have unashamedly copied this approach to sort out that problem with mine. Here’s the thread – definitely worth a look. 

I originally attached the vines to the trunks with hot glue, but the glue didn’t adhere to the trunks well and started to pull away, so I had to find another method. The solution was to hammer short sections of pin through the insulation into the wood of the trunk, and hide these by attaching leaves at that point. Another lesson learnt was that attaching the wire to the trunk first allowed the leaves to be positioned more realistically, so that they are shown growing away from the trunk. 

The photo above shows another type of plastic plant used, which has a circle of 5 leaves round a central stem. I don’t want the stem, so I cut it away immediately above and below the set of leaves. I want a set of 3 leaves for my climber, so I cut 2 leaves away as per the picture. Photo below shows the top section of the vine pinned to the trunk, with one of the sets of 3 leaves attached at the bottom of the picture. 

Below are some more pictures showing the pin covered with another set of leaves and with a painted stem.

Photo vines 11 shows another, larger leaf. The original leaf didn’t have the cuts in it – they were done using a leather punch to make round holes at the bottom of the cut, then a sharp knife to take the cuts out to the edge of the leaf. You can make branches in the climber by cutting a slit in the insulation of the stem, and sliding the wire from another section of cable into that and welding them in place with the glue gun. Using a slightly thinner wire for the branch can provide a more pleasing effect.

The paint job I have used is fairly simple – you could probably get a better effect with a bit of experimentation. Aerial roots, falling from the canopy to the forest floor, are a feature of some plants. I haven’t yet tried this, but I think it could be done fairly well. 

Further suggestions:

One tip which looks like it might be worthwhile, but I haven’t tested it to show that it would survive the accidental brushing it would experience during a game, would be to tone down the shiny plastic-ness of the aquarium plants with a spray of matt varnish.

The first time at least, this will seem a bit laborious, but it will get quicker with practise. I hope you find this useful and I would be interested in hearing if there are any refinements or improvements that people come up with. Tutorial by Alan Martin.

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