Tutorial- Ridiculously Fast Terrain From Toys

I ran a little experiment yesterday to see just how quickly and easily I could complete some reasonably good tabletop-quality terrain.

On the block were two items from my "Bin of Lost Toys".  With nearly all my terrain coming from used resale shop toys, I inevitably end up with some extras that don't exactly fit any current or upcoming projects so these became the guinea pigs for this post. They are the orange ship and yellow building in this shot of some of my cast-off terrain toys.



Both of these toys were made of a soft plastic, probably polypropylene.  When dealing with soft plastics it is absolutely  vital that they are well cleaned and given a base coat of a plastic-specific paint.  Thus they were  given a quick scrubbing with a stiff brush and the same "Purple Power" degreaser that I use to strip the paint from miniatures.   Both were basecoated with a spray of Krylon Camouflage Flat Black with "Fusion" technology. I've found that it is the best product for laying down a basecoat/primer that will stick to soft plastics though the Rustoleum brand camouflage colors are pretty good too.


Das Boot 

This was some sort of Matchbox-brand ship with hex points to connect other sections and vehicles. All I had was the basic hull though. The only further modifications were removal the fore-deck piece (a couple screws) to give more cover at the bow and I dremeled away some fanciful sea creature outlines that were molded to the bottom edge of the hull.

On top of the black Krylon undercoat, in light, dusting layers I applied a ruddy brown primer, then blue (sides only), then orange then khaki.  Lightly dusting layers make the layers underneath show through.  Then I finished up with a quick drybrush of tan to pick up some highlight on the edges, make it all look appropriately dusty and try and disguise the places where the high humidity caused the khaki to speckle a bit.

Except for the black paint which I let dry for 20 minutes or so, I made no effort to let each layer dry more than a few minutes before adding the next layer.

For the blue and orange I used a satin colors.  This may sound like a bad choice, but when dusted on, satin sprays usually come out rather flat. Also, using satin sprays opens up a HUGE number of options as most home improvement stores will have a massive selection of colored satin spray paints compared to flat or matte colors which are usually limited to camo colors, black, grey, white and ruddy brown.

I wish I'd let a bit more of the blue show through, but the end result is a nice big rusty hulk.

Ramones Place

This old Toy Story playset originally had some water effects and such but all that was tossed out.  I disassembled it and painted each section differently, using the same light dusting layers as with the ship. The parts used are stock, except that I cut a few chips out of the section on the back where there might have been a ramp before.

The base and roof got some ballast superglued on. Rough on the bottom for rubble and finer on top for the tar roof look. I recommend gluing it on top of two layers of the Krylon undercoat. Even superglue doesn't stick as nicely to polypropylene as it does to the Krylon.  Then more black over the ballast.

I was out of grey spray paint but a light dusting of white made the nice grey color you see on the roof and base. This was a very good discovery, because most home improvement stores will have flat black and white spray paint for about a buck a can which is about a quarter of what most other colors will cost.

The wall sections and base of the pinnacle got khaki.  I should have sprayed from an angle to keep some of the black in between the brick texture, but it looks ok as-is.

The various metal bits got ruddy brown followed by a touch of orange.

Then I reassmbled it and everything got the same tan drybrush as the ship did.

I left the pinnacle as a separate seciton that can be used as it's own bit of terrain if desired.

Almost Final Thoughts.

These are not award-winning pieces but they are effective and based on the time involved I think they're almost impressive.  A wash would have added a bit of depth especially with the brickwork- but the objective was to have all this done as quickly as possible and I finished both of these in a span of around than 5 hours while at the same time doing a few other household chores.

If you're in the Chicago area and would like to play on them in-person, I've given them to "Greenfire Games" as part of their in-house terrain selection.


Terrain For Fun and Profit?...

I did have a bit of an ulterior motive with this project.  I'm considering doing some on-spec terrain for sale.  Being able to whittle down the amount of time it takes to finish terrain is vital if I'm going to make such an effort worthwhile.  Based on this experiment I think that if I were to do terrain in batches, with a similar process but adding a wash step, I could probably churn out some good looking pieces at a price that people would be willing to pay and within a time period that wouldn't make it feel like a burden to me.

Here's to hoping...

6 responses to “Tutorial- Ridiculously Fast Terrain From Toys

  1. jedthehomarid says:

    These look great Karl! Especially the ship. I’m picturing it lost in a post-apoc desert already!

  2. This is awesome! Seeing some of your toybashing has me checking out toys on ebay and thrift stores on occasion, like I need more random stuff laying around, haha. Impressive work!

  3. Thanks guys,
    Glad you liked them.

    I was kind of thinking post-apoc desert when I made the ship also. I was a bit tempted to keep it for my post-apoc desert terrain but I’ve got so much now that it’s time to be a bit choosy in what I add.

    Watch out for the resale shop. Great source of terrain, but it can pile up quick!

  4. Hi Karl,
    The ship looks great! I know it would look great in a dried up desert gaming table, but I think it would also look good as a post-apocalyptic craft sailing on water. I have a long range plan of making post- apocalyptic gaming scenery involving water craft and the ship would look good outfitted for this. You could possible design the piece to work in both settings.

  5. Have to agree, nice work on all of it, but the ship especially came out very well. Looking forward to seeing it on the table-top.

  6. Michael,
    I feel the same way about the multi-setting of the piece. It’s as useful on the water as in the desert. I’ve been taking a similar tack with almost all my terrain. For the past few years I’ve built my terrain on either no base at all or just a concrete pad. Doesn’t have quite the same diorama look of based terrain, but it greatly increases the number of settings in which they can be used.

    Thanks Jon,
    The more I look at those pictures, the more I think that if I find another I’ll buy it.

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