Friday, 27 September 2013

Cheap & Nasty Scratchbuilt Terrain: Spraycan Lids = Undersea Base

I need some undersea terrain for the home-brew sub rules I am tinkering with.

I decided on some undersea bases and a kelp forest, with undersea mountains to come later once I decide how I want them to work in-game.

Spray can lids and plastic aquarium plants - we're set!

I wanted some cylinders or domes as they seem undersea-y shapes, and I noticed the top of my spray cans fit the bill.  A quick hunt round the shed revealed some silver-painted film canisters which were already doing duty as sci fi steel drums, as well as some other silver-painted cylindrical containers from the craft shop I stole liberated from my wife to turn into nuclear waste tanks.

A visit to the kitchen yielded some straws - I mean, transit tubes, to connect the undersea habitats.  A note on straws - not only are the bendy ones good for bending, as the name suggests, but if you are a bit casual with measuring, they can be extended or contracted to fit.  See how the red straw has been extended to be longer than the green straw.

I already had some aquarium plants - but my wife had taken them to use in the actual AQUARIUM - how ridiculous.  So I had to go buy some more and at $3 for 3 they were my most expensive purchase.

Again, it's probably obvious from the photos what I did, but here's the breakdown:

1. Superglue spraycan lids to pre-cut MDF boards ($1.50 large, 70c small)
2. Attach film cannisters and connect drinking straws with a dab of superglue
3. Cut cheap cardboard jewel box (50c) and attach film cannister

To fit things snugly to curved surfaces, trace the curved shape onto the object before cutting...

4. Brush PVA glue onto the bases and then sprinkle with sand
5. Remove excess sand off thoroughly!  I.e. bang the whole MDF board down hard, blow off loose sand, etc. Or you could regret it....
6. Undercoat everything with black spraypaint
7. Spraypaint the base itself with grey primer
8. Unfortunately we need to use a brush here. ..mutter mutter...  Generously dab on some el cheapo black craft glue to cover the grey overspray that went on the base

After about #7, I banged the model down hard. This loosened some excess sand I hadn't cleaned off thoroughly before at #5, which promptly flew in the air and stuck to the wet paint on the outside of the buildings. My initial attempts to fix this simply made it worse, turning the base into a paint-and-sand sludge which went everywhere. I had to scrape back lots of sand and repaint the base black again. This took 30 minutes and put me waaay over my time limit.

The aquarium plants are simply rebased onto pre-cut MDF, with a black-painted sand base

Aren't they EM4 spacefighters, you ask? Actually, no, they are supercavitating fighter submarines that "fly" underwater at 200kts+ using rocket engines...

You can see the sand that flicked up all over the buildings from the "disaster" moment....

If it wasn't for the "disaster" moment this would all have been completed in under 45 minutes like I was aiming for. I went for black bases as I presume it will be rather dark at the bottom of the ocean. 

 The buildings could do with more detail - perhaps add portholes and make the connecting tubes a different colour.

I'm reasonably satisfied with the end result although I could add lots more detail.  Portholes on the buildings and rocks on the base would be simple and quick additions.  Total cost was $6 - $3 for the plastic plants, and $3 for all the pre-cut MDF bases. Due to the issues with the loose sand on base, I blew out my time limit by 30 minutes, almost double the 45 minutes I allowed myself.  

Next visit to the hardware store, I'll get some small polyurethane piping (the sort they use for pop-up sprinkler systems) and make myself an undersea oil pipeline for the subs to attack or defend. 


  1. That's not sand on that building, them's barnacles. Ar! Ar! Ar!

    1. Absolutely! My subconscious must have known "barnacles" were necessary!

  2. I like what you've done here evilleMonkeigh! They could just as easily be used for a lunar colony as well ... perhaps not the kelp forest, but I'm sure you know what I mean! ;)

    1. It would work OK for 6mm sci fi but I'd probably want to enlarge the connecting tubes for 15mm....