Tuesday, January 18, 2022
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Building Your Custom Flight Arena (Part 4)


When the plastering and contouring of the landscape and rock areas of a mountain feature are completed I paint the entire mountain in a base coat, usually white on the upper parts that are snow-covered, and grey and brown on the lower parts without snow. This base coat helps reveal mistakes that are very difficult to see in the confusion of papier-mâché and plaster. It also begins a layering of colors that give the mountain a natural look. Few rocks or mountains are one flat color, they are patterned with texture and many colors and you should try to copy this on your terrain feature.


Building Your Custom Flight Arena Part 4
A lone skier, out of bounds and trapped in a tree-well. Hopefully she will b found by a helicopter search.

After completing the white base coat in snow-covered areas, I paint any exposed sections of rock, like cliff faces and under ledges, in several complimentary colors to look like rock. I might use a long stroke technique to represent the strata layers in sedimentary rock, or maybe splatter paint to look like spots of imbedded minerals. After the rock sections look good I add more white snow to the top surfaces to give a natural over-lapping look of snow covering the rocks. Exposed rock without snow cover on lower parts of the mountain is painted in the same pattern and colors, down to the level of the tree line where earth tones of brown and green start to predominate. Turf powders can be used on the rock ledges and in hollows as low vegetation and small bushes.

If you are moving slow when painting over the papier-mâché, and the paper starts to so often, you are better to just leave that area to dry and come back to work there when it has hardened again.


Building Your Custom Flight Arena Part 4
Little Sister peak, standing beside The Sentinel.


I try to use latex or acrylic paint and water based glues wherever possible. This ensures that the paint will adhere to the glue properly and there are no offensive odors to breathe in. I use common white glue or wood glue for most things, except plastic parts that require specific glues or jobs that require spray adhesive. When I want a quick hold I use hot glue. Water based products are easy to clean up with soap and water and since paint and glue always end up somewhere that you don’t want them, easy cleanup is a big advantage.

As your mountains drop down to lower elevations it is only natural that it will be warmer and the vegetation will grow thicker. Your paint colors will reflect this with more earth tones and several shades and layers of green. The greater the variety of colors and textures, trees and bushes, the more realistic the final look will be.

You can glue sand or pebbles to look like gravel where you need it or to add a fine, consistent texture that can be painted over for a different look. There are also several types of spray paint that look like textured rock and are very easy to use.


Building Your Custom Flight Arena Part 4
Detail of hoodoo formations demonstrates the use of actual hoodoo sand glued to the papier-mache base for a natural effect.

Natural looking vegetation can be added to the ground by gluing various turf powders in random shapes like growing grass or ground cover. This turf or foliage powder comes in different textures, with several natural looking colors and is used in building terrain features for scale model trains and dioramas. It looks excellent when glued on a diorama as grass or in clumps like weeds. Or dip a twig or dried weed into glue, then into coarse green foliage powder, and you have a tree or shrub.

You can also make your own ground cover powders with sand or dirt, crushed up dry leaves or even flour or salt, depending on the effect you are after. I know it sounds obvious, but it’s pretty hard to beat the look of soil glued to your mountain feature when you want a certain area to look like exposed soil. No additional painting is necessary and you can’t deny the natural “feel”. In the same way twigs, crushed bark or forest debris glued on the ground, especially under trees, looks real and natural because it is. And it costs nothing.


When it comes time to add trees and forest to your mountains or dioramas you can make your own or buy them at most hobby stores or model train supply outlets. These trees don’t come cheap and you will need a big budget to cover an eight foot mountain in forest, but in a future article I will tell you several ways to make your own trees at a price that anyone can afford. If you decide to use ready-made trees and bushes, they definitely take less work and there is much less mess involved. You can get trees of various types finished for any season, so your mountains could be forested from the top with snow covered fir and pine trees, progressing down through spring blooms and into summer foliage in the valleys.


Building Your Custom Flight Arena Part 4
Flight conditions in the high alpine are challenging, and sometimes treacherous to bold pilots.

Keep in mind that you will be flying missions around these mountains. Maybe a simple drop-off of clients and supplies on a tiny outcrop, or maybe a tough hovering extraction of casualties from a jagged peak but either way, you or some other pilot is eventually going to have flight complications that bring them crashing down on those mountain sides. W hen that happens you may not want to be chopping up a dozen trees at $5.00 each.


Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3