Ever since I started painting flames of war figures I have always wanted to create terrain for the figures to fight over. I have since been following and reading many blogs and articles that detail how to create terrain, which have giving me many great ideas. However it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a certain website, The Terrain Studio, that my interest in terrain changed from just a curiosity to something that I had to pursue. This gentleman’s (Shawn Morris) work is outstanding I have been following all of his projects since his early forays in this field. He is meticulous, not only does he demonstrate his fantastic terrain, but he also goes into detail about how it is made, along with his design ideas. In addition to his blog he makes videos which he posts on YouTube, these are easily found through a search for “Terrain Studio”. He has been an inspiration for me to undertake a large terrain project; a semi-modular table top battlefield.
So I begun by visualising the sort the battlefield that I wanted to represent as well as what elements would key to the design. The ideas that I had were based around visual impact, setting, and theatre. In the end I decided that I wanted to represent the outskirts of a town on the Eastern front. This I chose because of the forces that I am modelling as well as it would enable me to model elements of both urban and rural environments. The other factor was that I really like the visual impacts of buildings. These adds a three-dimensional aspect to the battlefield strategically as well as visually. With the concept being decided, I went about researching the look that I wanted to create, while maintaining a level of authenticity.
Having looked through numerous reference books containing wartime photos I was quite surprised to find how modern the look of the buildings and locations on the Eastern front during WWII was. This being quite contrary to my naive conceptualisation that most of the buildings were straw ceiling huts and log cabins serviced by muddy roads. I don’t know where I got this view of the “Russian” landscape from but it struck me at how incorrect my assumptions were. I’m not at all suggesting that there weren’t villages or locations that match this description but I was amazed at the level of infrastructure that there was. To be sure I acquired more reference books which only confirmed what I had found. So putting my ignorance aside I decided to include more of these modern elements into the project. These included cobblestone roads, telegraph and power poles, and more appropriate looking buildings.
My personal preference, for the way I model, is to have everything that I need before I even start work. I am a completist to the point of obsession. I must have all of the right tools and the right materials to work with (This explains why I have cupboards full of miniatures that covers almost the entire catalogue of every German force that I could ever wish to field). If I don’t it will just nag at me in the back of my head “this would be X times easier if I had Y tool and I didn’t make do with using the Z tool”. This led me to scour the web for tools, buildings and scenery that would fit the look that I wanted to create. This task being complete I started to work in a sort of reverse order. How would I go about storing and safely transporting the battlefield after I had finished? I already knew the dimensions of the ‘cells’ that I was going to use and so I devised a simple solution utilising custom cut foam which I was able to arrange for a local company to make (which raised a few eyebrows!). Once this problem was solved, I went and had the MDF cells cut to size. Finally I arranged for a friend, with a good grasp on artistic design, to assist in laying out all of the pieces and drawing the arrangement onto the MDF cells. And so here is the initial design concept:
This is by no means how the final battlefield is going to be laid out, but it is definitely a fairly good representation. It’s missing lots of little elements and features that I am going to place for aesthetics, like hedges and some stone walls. There are a few elements that I have taken some liberties with. The church is most certainly not Eastern European in nature, however it looks so fantastic that I can’t pass up the opportunity to use it. My cover story for it being here is that this location is set near the border of Latvia and Lithuania and that Teutonic knights had brought along with them their Catholic influence to this settlement. Another potential issue is with the railroad being so curved, this may get straightened out in the final plan but I think that the curves look great and add interest. Another item which may change the final layout is I recently discovered that a company sells a tile system that is lighter and better designed for projects like these, rather than my crude MDF cells. On the positive side this gives me another opportunity to go over the design and add or remove features. I have my eye on a certain building being released early next year.
This is a major and ongoing project as my modelling time is limited, however I look forward to seeing this grow and take shape. I hope to share some progress with you in the near future. Let me know what you think of the design and what I should adjust.