I seem to get asked
the same questions quite often: How do you build models like that, and
where do you get your ideas? This guide is meant as a general set of
suggestions, which could improve almost anyone’s model-making. This
section lists the most important procedures for making any model. They
use fantasy references, because that is what I build, but apply equally
to historic or sci-fi.
Whilst inspiration can
come from anywhere, at any time, it is often hard to “make it happen”.
There are, however, some questions you can ask yourself which can aid
you through “designer’s block”. The following are a few suggestions to
get you started, and the answer to one question can easily lead to
What is it going to be
(This will determine if you need a cluttered, detailed interior or more
What is the model of?
House, Shop, Tower, Temple, etc.
Who owns the house? Who built it? What is their social
standing? How many people live there?
What do they sell? Do they make the stuff on-site? Who are
Wizard’s tower, defensive tower, signal tower, etc.
Temple to which
religion? Good or Evil? What rituals are performed there?
What materials is it
Brick, stone, wood, etc.
Mud brick or fired clay? Is it coated with plaster, adobe,
Chipped stone? Fieldstone? Sandstone (Egyptian)? Marble?
Half-timbered? Log cabin? Planked walls?
What historical style
or period is based on?
(Even fantasy settings are usually based closely on some particular
style and culture)
How big will it need
to be to serve its purpose?
fittings and accessories are kept and used there?
What are they made of?
Strangely, this stage
can actually provide the original inspiration, e.g. a building plan that
doesn’t work as intended, but would make a great... The design process
can take different forms – stacked blocks, CAD models, sketches, scale
plans. The more experienced you become, and the more decisions you have
already made, the less time you will need to spend doing plans. However,
it is always a useful process, which can provide new ideas and
will make you answer more questions – how do you get to the second
storey? Nice fireplace, but where does the smoke go?
When attempting a
large building it is imperative to start with some kind of plan – even
if that plan changes organically as you build. It is far quicker and
cheaper to throw away paper plans and start again, than it is to try
ungluing plaster blocks. The quality of the plans does not matter if
they are for your use only – a thumbnail sketch on an envelope is fine,
as long as you understand it. If, however, you wish someone else to
build the model, then the plans must obviously be more detailed.
I prefer to go from
sketches to scale plans, using stacked blocks to see how certain details
will look. Just stacking blocks restricts your possibilities in
most cases – you can only stack what you have already produced, and you
can only stack what will balance.
Once again, this can
supply inspiration, “that’s a cool picture, so how could I make a model
of that?” Of course, you can build models without doing any
research, but you limit yourself. It is also rewarding process – you may
not find just what you were looking for, but could happen upon something
infinitely more interesting. Here are a few suggestions to get you
Study at other
people’s work on forums or personal websites.
Use a search
engine to find inspirational images of “castle”, “Egyptian
hieroglyphs”, “gargoyles”, etc.
brochures from travel agents – many have pictures of local places of
description of a building in a novel, and let your imagination work
out how it should look.
Buy or borrow
books on “Mayan Culture”, “Ancient Egypt”, “Gothic Architecture”
Find out what
tools, equipment and materials are used in a forge before you start
Look at printed
dungeon floorplans, and translate these into a 3D construction.
buildings, and take your own photographs.
Check book covers
in the fantasy section of the bookshop.
If you’re going to
add plants, moss or fungi – look for real examples to base yours on.
These 3 steps are
meant to get your creative juices flowing. It isn’t important in which
order you do them, as long as they get done. It may be tempting to stop
thinking about them, once you begin sticking plaster blocks together,
but don’t. Inspiration strikes again, designs change and require further
research – the processes should continue until your model is complete.
Good planning will
speed up the actually building process immensely, and don’t give up – a
mistake is a learning experience too, as long as you make a mental note
not to do it again. Bear in mind that so-called “mistakes” often lead to
more interesting models – remember that half-finished church which
became an instant ruin, when you knocked it off the table!