You almost ruined it! Pt. 1: A tutorial on how to build and paint 40k terrain

I’m currently working on some (of my own) terrain for the upcoming Lords of War-tournament that will kick off in early january. So far we have planned out six individually themed tables, and we’ve given a lot of care and attention into selecting just the right pieces for each table. Since we cannot muster all six tables using the group’s collective terrain, some of us have agreed on lending our personal doll houses to the playground – which is why I’m under pressure to finish some scenery that has been lying around for a long time. In this series of articles (which will span over two-three weeks) I will explain how to build and paint 40k ruins based on my experience of terrain making.

 

Why building an illusion is more important than the building itself
I’ve seen a fair share of tutorials on how to build terrain and I hate to break it to you, but around 90% (a not so scientific estimation) of the terrain on the interwebz looks bad. Like really bad. This has nothing to do with effort, cost, or materials at hand at all. There are some amazing builders out there who can create the most precious and realistic scenery with nothing but glue, some balsa wood, and a handful of bits. The key to making great looking terrain is more about knowing when to take shortcuts and how to present something that is totally fake and make it pass as real. For integrity reasons I will not fill this article with pictures of what I consider as bad terrain craft, but I think it is important to be honest from the start and highlight the problems in order to overcome them.

When building terrain it is easy to make the mistake of building thematic scenery without considering the scale of the actual piece you’re trying to emulate. I cannot count how often I see this in game clubs or on battle reports, and it is what I would like to refer to as ‘the reversed Rhino syndrome’. A Space Marine Rhino is said to be able to transport 10 marines – and yet it still has room for the driver/gunner, the engine, the tracks, and other various equipment. There’s no way a model that small can hold all that junk, but thanks to some clever sculpting from the designers over at Gee-Dubs, a Rhino will pass as functional on the tabletop because it successfuly gives the illusion of being a ‘normal sized’ APC. You might ask yourself what this has to do with terrain making, but what I’m trying to say is that you should never think of your terrain as a perfect representation of what it’s supposed to be. How many times have you seen people building shrines or cathedrals by outlining the ruined walls, putting a huge ass statue of some bald Space Marine in the center and then finishing it off with heaps of sandbags and tank traps everywhere – only to realize the building would have been too small to even fit a space preacher when it was still operational. Another example is people who insist on putting silos, machiery, and gadgets all over their factory terrain and not leaving any room for (the would be) workers or the stuff being manufactured. You have to realize, if you wanted to make a true scaled factory for 28mm games you would have to build it around the entire (or at least half of the) 6×4 table. So the trick here is to build your under sized pieces in a a way that successfully creates the illusion of a factory – without being an actual one.

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40k manufactorum – extreme home makeover edition
This is getting somewhat long for a first post but here are some points that I think need to be addressed when building terrain. Plan ahead of your work and go through them before you glue your first wall section and you’ll see that your scenery will improve tenfold. To illustrate this series I’ll use pictures of how I built and painted my 40k factories. They were made out of three sets of GW’s Manufactorum, some spare wall bits from Mantic Games sci-fi terrain, a couple of 3d printed barrels and boxes, and some left over plasticard I-beams and pipes that I had lying around.

1. Playability vs. aesthetics
First off you have to balance the playability and aesthetics of your scenery against each other. A building can be either too playable with nothing but the naked walls outlined on a template or base, or too aesthetic with heaps of details, piles of debris and collapsed walls leaving no space for miniatures. I find it easier to build the actual ruin first and decorate it with rubble in the end. That way I have more control over the aesthetics so I don’t go over the top. Collapsed walls and floors are good, but try to keep them to a minimum of one or two sections per piece as an entire collapsed ruin won’t confer much to the game.

When I decorated my ruins with barrels and ammo boxes I made sure to keep them in places where they wouldn’t compete for space with the miniatures. For example I never place equipment underneath windows, in doorways, or in other firing points. If I make a heap or some sort of field storage I always place piles in the corners of the buildings where you tend to not place your models. This rule can be broken if you have a special intention though, for example I’ve placed some barrels in pairs on the edges of the second floor or in a corner to provide provisional cover for the troops. This gives the impression of the terrain being used by actual people and gives life to the piece. As you can see below there’s a huge storage pile in one of the bombed out walls which gives the illusion of the ruins being used to shelter equipment from both sight and weather. Take a look at a real field position and you’ll seldom see crates and boxes scattered all over the place as the military is notorious on how to organize and keep order.

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2. Weight and angles
The second thing to consider is what weight you build into your piece. This may sound a bit weird, but you can actually create a sense of heavy weight just by adjusting the walls and floors and knowing where to stack your bits. On my large building I had to build an entire floor level using nothing but rows of 3×1 or 4×1 floor square tiles. Since I hade to cut some of the tiles into smaller pieces I made sure to glue them together so that there is a sense of weight towards the center of the level. This gives the impression of the floor almost collapsing under it’s own pressure after the building has been shelled with enemy fire. You can also play around with gluing wall sections at a slight inwards angle to create an illusion of the entire foundation sinking into the ground and slowly collapsing.

Also pay atention to the angles that I glued my windows and fire points in. I’ve tried to minimize the amount of ‘see through’ angles from every side of the building, this means that the ruins both work as line of sight blocking terrain and as tactically important pieces. If you want to utilize the cover while still being able to fire through, you have to get in there. Try to mix and match so that if one side blocks line if sight through the ruin completely, there could e a crossing angle that let’s you see straight through it.

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3. Points of interest
Lastly you want to work on the points of interest. These are spots that gives character to the piece and draws the attention of the observer. A terrain piece that is cramped with details like consoles, cables, dropped guns and other crap will look cluttered and non-coherent. Select an element that you want standing out and work it into the building. For example I just had to integrate the large ventilation fan from Mantic Games in my ruin so I glued it underneath a bombed out part of the wall section. This creates the look of the building having inner walls and rooms that are functional instead of randomly placed. I also had to cover up a hole in the floor to keep models from falling into and getting stuck inside the terrain piece, so I used some fence bits to make it look like the troops had made provisional scaffolds/walkways over a dangerous area. This is also a great opportunity to work on integrating your details and improving the overall aesthetics.

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That’s all for now, sand your base and scatter som gravel over the flat surfaces of the building itself and let it dry. In the next part I’ll go over some shortcuts when priming and preparing your terrain for the actual paintjob.
Cheers!

F.

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