Friday, 4 March 2011

Alienated! Prop creation

After reading the script, we made a list of the various props and scenery pieces we would need, and divided the creation of them amongst our group. As follows are the numerous objects that I created for our set.

Waste paper bin

The waste paper bin will feature in the very last scene of our animation, when the protagonist finally throws away his notes regarding his neighbour’s activities. Having acquired a good amount of different materials over years of model making, I chose to make the bin with one material in mind- a fine metal mesh.

Desiring a tapered design, I found a suitable tool- a plastic bottle. Wrapping the mesh round the bottle’s neck, I was able to achieve the tapered style. I then bent some thin wire into two different sized rings, to be secured at the top and the bottom of the bin to add strength and durability to the model. Lastly, a round mesh base was glued in place, and small paper balls added to complete the effect.

Small bathroom shelf

The bathroom requires a small shelf on which the baby monitor and various shampoo bottles will be placed. I decided upon a fairly standard shelf of balsa wood construction, so to be strong enough to support the objects and light enough not to put too much strain on its join with the wall.

Small components were carefully cut to size with a blade, before being glued together and painted with model paints. Several different colours were applied- a dark basecoat, and increasingly lighter shades dry brushed over the top, helping to accentuate the wood texture.

Wooden window boards

For the dilapidated second house, we decided to add boards to the windows helping to emphasise the dire state of the premises. These were created in much the same way as the bathroom shelf, albeit with more careful cutting. After sizing up the window spaces cut in the front panel of our set (11cm by 10cm), I cut the miniature planks to size.

To create a more cartoon exaggerated look, I used a blade to score the balsa wood, cutting out a deep wood grain pattern. This made the boards look weathered and in a bad state of wear, matching the decrepit house exterior. A small piece of tubing was pressed into the soft wooden surface to create indents to act as nails. When the boards were painted as with the shelf, these nails were touched up with silver paint. The multiple boards were glued together, with care taken to leave spaces between- our protagonist must peer between these boards several times!


The windows are a key part of the set- both living rooms are seen from the outside, and the windows will be clearly visible. These considerations taken into account, I decided to use another fantastic model making material- plasticard! Plasticard is a thin sheet of flexible plastic, which can be cut with a blade or scissors with ease. I have worked with three varieties- standard white (of different thicknesses), mirrored (plain white with a mirrored surface), and transparent- perfect for my windows. Note that the clear card comes with a blue protective cover, seen below:

To add a PVC style frame to my windows, I decided to fix a thin white plasticard frame to either side of a clear pane. The thin white plasticard was cut into measured strips of different lengths, and pieced together to form the framework, glued in place with poly cement adhesive. Lastly, to once again show a clear difference between the states of the two houses, I painted one frame and window to have a mud-splattered, mossy appearance, even adding some cracks to the ‘glass’ with white paint. It was very gratifying when several other students believed the cracks were real! 

Plug sockets and switches

With a small amount of thin plasticard, I decided to create some finer details to decorate the rooms of our set- plug sockets and light switches. These were incredibly simple to make, being constructed with pencil before being carefully cut out with a blade and filed smooth.

Small pieces of card were glued on top to create the switches, whilst a fine modelling drill was used to create the tiny screw holes. From the images you see above, the 1cm high objects were painted white, covering up the pencil markings.


There are three rooms in this set- the bathroom and two living rooms. In addition, we see the houses from the front; ergo two front doors were needed. That’s five in total- and I will not hesitate to say, that making these little doors was the most time consuming and difficult task that I undertook.

I looked at each door individually to see what was required of it before making. For example, the three inner doors are nothing more than scenery, and so could be simpler, detail existing only on the one side as the other is glued to the wall. The two front doors, however, are very different; the protagonist’s front door will only be seen from the one side, but needs to open- so I made a moving handle. The neighbour’s door on the other hand does not open, but will be seen from both sides, and so both sides must be detailed. In addition, the neighbour’s door needed an open letterbox.

The doors were created with plasticard and balsa wood (if you haven’t guessed by now, two of my favourite and most-used modelling materials!). I was fortunate to be able to buy a pack of different size balsa wood pieces, which were pre cut to (just shy of) 21cm by 7.5cm. Best of all, a couple of these pieces were slightly thicker than the rest- the thin pieces would become the inner doors, so to not stick out precariously from the wall, and the thicker pieces would be the front doors, for which holes had been cut in the set.

After accurately constructing the desired pattern on the doors on the thin plasticard (based on my own doors at home), I painstakingly cut out the rectangular sections for all the doors, before trimming them all around by a few millimetres. They were then placed back into the holes, creating the recessed pattern seen below. The plasticard pieces were glued onto the balsa wood, and when dry painted with emulsion paint. An unexpected treat was that the brush strokes actually created a wood grain effect on top of the smooth plastic surface, which looks great!

For the door handles, a small piece of thin plasticard was glued in place on the surface, and a hole was drilled through this (and the door) for the wire handle to be inserted. For the decorative doors to be glued to a wall, the handle was clipped so only on the one side, whereas for the front doors the handle was bent round both sides of the door. For the door which needed a moveable handle, instead of being glued in place, the handle was secured tightly either side with a small ring of plasticard.

The letterboxes were relatively simple additions. The closed one is simply a rectangular piece of plasticard glued on top. The open letterbox was cut out with a blade creating the hole, with the plasticard pieces then replaced albeit in an ‘open’ position. These were painted gold.

The neighbour’s door was of course given a wash with watered-down brown and green paints, to give a rotten and damp appearance. The last image shows the doors placed in the front of the set to test sizes- and they fit perfectly after a little sanding.

Mirror cabinet

The script states that there is a mirror cabinet in the protagonist’s bathroom. For this, I made use of the mirror plasticard I mentioned previously.

After the lengthy task of creating the doors it was nice to make something much simpler. The mirror cabinet, again measured up against the character model sheet, consists of a block of Styrofoam as the basis of the shape, with plasticard panels affixed to the outside to form the cabinet sides. The mirror card door (which does not open, by the way) was glued onto the front, and the sides were sanded such that the joins were all smooth. A quick sand with very fine ‘wet and dry’ paper removed the scratch marks left by the courser sandpaper. Lastly, a white bead was glued to the surface for a doorknob.

The gardens

The gardens were quite fun and simple to make since I still have plenty of resources left over from my older model making hobbies. Static grass mats and other forms of sand, flock and fake foliage formed the frontage to the houses. To show a distinct visual difference between the two houses, I made the one house with a relatively neat lawn, and the other with a dry, patchy, overgrown mess of a front garden.

As said, strips of static grass were cut and glued in place for the protagonist’s garden, whereas a thicker grass material was used for the neighbour’s lawn. The latter material is more of a clump of fibres than a roll, and so can be pulled apart slightly yet still be connected. This resulted in the patchy appearance in the second image. The central hedge is a long clump of model railway foliage glued to the base.

Normally, I try to avoid using cardboard for my models as much as possible, as I feel its uses are limited and results varied. Nevertheless, (I will admit, due to being out of alternative materials) I used cereal box card for the slabs running up to the two houses. They were measured and cut to the same size, before I clipped and trimmed the edges to give a rugged and tattered look- much more so for the neighbour’s house, where I cut some slabs in two and glued them slightly apart to look cracked. I painted them a washed out grey, and weathered them with a brown wash. Some of the cracks were cut into the cardboard, but the majority of the detail is painted on. Finally, a little modelling flock makes good moss. The dirt surrounding the slabs was filled in with brown paint.

I have actually since received a lot of praise for these slabs, many people not realising they were cardboard at all- one student from the second year in fact believed they were slate! Perhaps I have been a little harsh on cardboard- I think I will definitely use it again in the future, and not as a last resort!

For the finishing touches to the rest of the gardens, sand was glued into the gaps between the neighbour’s grass, giving a dry, dusty and somewhat inhospitable look- complimented by darkening that side of the hedge with a dark brown palette to appear dead. A few tufts of foliage were glued to the lawn (or what’s left of one) to represent weeds.

I am very satisfied with the finished gardens, which I believe have the right balance of realism and cartoon exaggeration. 

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