Sunday, May 14, 2017

Scratch-Building Duncan | 16mm Scale

The old Scot who could Rock 'N' Roll ... on the rails and rather reckless that is! This narrow gauge industrial locomotive of the Skarloey Railway was a highly anticipated project that's now completed and ready for mixed traffic on the railway.

Duncan has a unique design as an Andrew Barclay locomotive, with his characteristic features that look similar to his German Orenstein & Koppel cousins, fitted brass pipes and extended tubing, large cab with low windows, and a tall funnel that could get him stuck in low clearances!

An appealing industrial loco, Duncan is an engine that has been on my list to make into a scratch-built model, sporting features that originate from original illustrations in the Railway Series books, the Thomas and Friends show from season 5, and his prototype.

 This has been a fun and challenging project, and below are photographs taken of his construction:


 These measured drawings served as a guide for me to make the parts for construction, getting the proportions right, the right measurements, and variations on Duncan's design.


On the workbench, I always start with the cab when building steam locomotives, and get the cab interior and details done first. With balsa controls like the throttle and brakes, I make the brass pipes with Darice Craft Designer's 16 gauge wire, with strips of thin paper to glue for facets, and covered with metallic sharpies that match with the pipe color.

Next, I build the boiler and smoke box as a shell that covers snugly over the custom Lego Power Functions chassis, made from heavy weight card and glued as well as taped in place for the cylindar parts. The running plate that extends to the front buffers, constructed from balsa.

This part was a fun challenge as it supports Duncan's smokebox. It's made from chipboard cardstock. I like this material a lot because it's thicker for some parts that require it's strength and thickness, but what I like most of all is its ability to bend easily for the curved edges of parts like this. The funnel is paper card rolled for his tall funnel and glued in place.

More chipboard was used for the roof and smoothly painted black. Rivets are craft gems spray painted in primer to be glued in place, and here are naturally blended to the body shell with paint.

Duncan has modified wooden buffer mounts here in addition to metal supports, and lamp irons made from balsa for replaceable headlamps! Door handles are also made from bent craft wire.

Now begins another challenge, hand-making and mounting those extra details on the side. Here are brass craft wire pipes, a sand pipe from the dome, and a brake crankshaft made from wire and balsa, mounted on his boiler housing and extending from his cab.

The axels over his wheels are made from balsa or cut chipboard. Each piece is cut and glued in place by hand and weathered.

Buffers actually work and can be sprung. Here before painting, pre-rolled strips of card paper are glued on balsa supports with rivets and mold extensions from more chipboard. Craft wire couplers and chains will be mounted on a hole that will be drilled into the buffer housing later.


Nearing completion, Duncan and all the assembled parts have been weathered using acrylics from Plaid FolkArt, Apple Barrel, and Deco Art's Americana. Duncan's red cylinder supports and wrapped steam pipes from his dome are actually made from salvaged electric copper wire encased in plastic, which have been cut, primed and glued into place for painting.

Here are his finished buffer details, with worn buffer caps, and sporting his working coupler and chain for pulling.

Name and number place are printed designs from Adobe Illustrator, mounted on the cab and boiler, showing manufacturer and the name of his previous working home at a wartime airplane factory.

As a well-tank engine, Duncan's water is stored in a container mounted between his chassis and driving wheels, so like his prototype, his filling cap extends from each of his sides for a water crane hose to be lowered at water stops!

Ready to join the Skarloey Railway fleet, Duncan is ready to roll. As the tallest member, he stands out from the others with his large cab and tall funnel. Here Duncan has his custom LEGO Power Functions chassis to stand together with Rusty and Rheneas for this shot.


While temperamental and stubborn, Duncan can pull any load and has the determination to prove valuable for the railway. He is fun to operate, and a charming addition to these scratch-builds.

Happy Modelling!

Scratch-Building Rusty | 16mm Scale

Trusty Rusty! The little diesel engine belonging to the narrow gauge Skarloey is ready for maintenance and quarry work:

Rusty has always been one of my favorite narrow gauge characters from the Thomas & Friends show growing up, being a bold and kind diesel, and his interesting design being a Ruston & Hornsby prototype.

Inspired by original illustrations of Rusty from the Railway Series books as well as the Thomas and FriendsTV show, I adapted a hybrid look for him the way I was inspired to make him look, with his dark gray livery,  equipped with a larger radiator for a square face, a wider body, and weathered in grime and dust like on in season 5 model from Rusty and the Boulder.

While I made Rusty a while back in 2014, he was due for an upgrade. I wanted to try for the first time making a working model from Lego's Power Functions system to give him control on battery power, and I'm very pleased with how he came out. Straight from the workbench, here I have a gallery showcasing my process while constructing him.


Acquiring the necessary parts, I assembled the battery box and receiver in place on the engine motor, made in a way for me to make an interchangeable chassis for use on multiple models.

In addition to painting and weathering the wheels for realism, I have Rusty's circular axel boxes made for me to mount them on temporarily to provide smooth running and make it easy to remove.

You can read this blog post to see how I make replaceable a narrow gauge chassis from the Lego Power Functions System.

Now I can begin construction on the body shell, made with thick card paper, and braced in glued  Midwest Products balsa strips for a strong bond. Bolts and rivets are made from peelable gems, primed before-hand to glue in place, and are naturally blended when painting.

On the workbench, and testing one of my hand-sculpted faces, he looks eager to be finished! Slidable buffers are glued on and the interior of his removable cab is painted.


Here are some of the faces I made for Rusty, some already finished and one being made. Made from Sculpy clay, I also use wood and clay carving tools with tooth-pics to construct the faces. After being baked and dried, they're painted with acrylics with hand-drawn eye brows, and stickers for the pupils.


 Now the fun part. Rusty is being painted here in Plaid FolkArt and Apple Barrel acrylics. Making the cab removable unintentionally allowed me to give myself a better way to access the cab interior's details to paint and glue, and also has a potential in having a second "open-cab" variation to the design!


Here are close up photograph of the finished cab interior. The leather seat is sculpted from Sculpy clay and painted to be glued in place like a comfortable tractor seat the driver. In addition to the throttle, brakes and a gauge, I began making details by hand, items common for a narrow gauge diesel for situations that call for things like tools or a spare rope, with an operator's warning!

Working couplers are made from bending Darice Craft Designer's 16 gauge wire into hooks to mount in a hole drilled from the buffer housing, then wrapped in thin strips of paper and glued in place for the couplers chains.

Buffers are strips of card rolled into shape and both front and back glued on paper, with the excess to be cut and sanded down. They along with the couplers are painted and weathered for extra realism, with rust, grime, and some warn metal on the buffers.

Rusty's hood is also removable! I made it so it can be opened to access the diesel engine inside. It's taped in the back and has small strips of craft wire for the screw handles. I made a starter crank for whenever the driver needed to jump-start the engine in case of an emergency.

I even considered giving Rusty brake pipes, which are also made by hand with craft wire, and leather cords cut and glued with strips of paper. They can be joined together to link a whole train consist together if needed.

With the new Lego battery power, he runs quite smoothly on any track and can pull a decent rake of wagons on set. Rusty overall is a very appealing character, and it was a fun project to make. I've learned from doing things many times, and it's quite fulfilling making a unique model that's unique and not quite like the original.

Next time I'd love to make an open cab wrap-around that can be mounted in place for shots of him working at the factory where he was built before coming to the Skarloey Railway.

Until next time!

Behind the Scenes | Skarloey Ry. Compilation | Gallery

This week, I'm sharing a blog post dedicated to illustrate the process of making the sets and props of these narrow gauge railways of Thomas & Friends.

Some of my favorite of the world's railways are narrow gauge, and watching Thomas & Friends and reading the Railway Series books as a boy, some of my favorite stories were the books that included the Skarloey and Mid-Sodor railways and the others that didn't make it on television. The excellence of the models that were made for the sets by David Mitton's model-making team for the TV show inspired me to learn more about model railroading, and making hand-crafted pieces of art for the screen for animation careers and film projects.

This grew into a hobby that's lasted ten years, when I decided to teach myself how to make models from the show, and to grow in my model-making skills, just for the sheer fun of it! In recent years the quality and detail keep getting better and better, but using the same materials I could find locally and cheaply at craft and hobby stores. These are some of the things that have been finished, and I'd like to take you behind the screen to see how these sets and props are made.


For various sets, I make temporary dioramas that can easily be assembled. Scenics are from various suppliers. Trees are for winter decorations and dioramas with wooden stands I've used for quite some time for my narrow gauge scenes. The newest material I've found that I love to use are from Ashland at the craft store, such as lichen, moss, and grass mats of many different colors and textures. for this scale, it's the perfect collection of scenic materials to give life and lush landscapes for these engines to run.

If space is limited, I've learned there are many ways to use what you have to create a model set that's believable in the frame. That's what I've found the most useful in making "live" sets to put up and tear down. I can make the scene in any way I want it, and for any reason, if I'm not happy with it, I can start again!

Focusing on creating something that is believable with these scenic materials has helped create some lovely scenes, and it's taught me how big an impact it can make in transforming a seemingly ordinary space into something quite beautiful.


Now we're good to get ready for shooting! Set in fame with a tripod, I focus the camera at the angle I want to capture the subject, in this case Duncan! When I'm happy with the arrangement of the the  props and accessories in frame, the composition, and the lighting, I record my footage, and maybe take a photograph for a photo gallery of the footage or to share on social media! Any corrections needed such as the edge of a backdrop that needs to be covered can for some shots be edited in post production.

Having good lighting helps gives the things on the layout you want to see more exposure, and makes the appearance of your set look more natural, and having other smaller directional lights handy can even create subtle effects like lit interiors for buildings or overhead lights.

Also, arranging everything around the work area for filming is something that when done right can help make your scene look like it's bigger than it actually is, especially when you have limited space. You can apply this knowledge to any layout using almost anything that makes the illusion work, often using common, everyday objects.


Digitally, the magic happens. I've been learning how to generate all kinds of film effects, and while preparing for making the compilation, I made many tests with images that have overlays like birds, structures or scenery either in the foreground or background, and both color grading and texture overlays to create a film look that captures the feeling of how things looked from the era these engines ran their railways.

It's a lot of fun to do, although it can take up a lot of time when you're first learning how to use it.

Some of my favorite of the effects that made it into the cut are the more natural ones based on the seasons and the time of day. This one has Rusty traveling on my first winter diorama with snow from Woodland Scenics! I absolutely love winter scenes and getting to make one of my own for the first time was quite wonderful indeed. The engines are also battery powered so there was no trouble with the operation.

Color grading can give an emotional charge to special moments of a video when it's done with a purpose. These are two variations done for Rusty's winter scene, the first giving the diorama a warm sunset color scheme, the last one I ended up choosing, because of the coldness of the cool colors, and the white light of the afternoon sun.

In the computer, After Effects has a built-in 3D generator to create rain and snow, with controls that allow you to change the angle, thickness, and speed of the falling snow on your footage. I also gave a splash of cool blue color grading to give this scene a cold, magical winter look. For Rheneas at the Wharf, there was rain falling as the sun was setting, so there was a cool mid-tone with warm highlights, and the rain generator created the raindrops.


Recently I've completed five Sudrian narrow gauge locomotives, four of the Skarloey Railway engines that are featured in my newest work. Made from scratch, these engines have features that are inspired from the original illustrations of the Railway Series, how the models of the Thomas and Friends TV show looked from specific seasons, and their respective prototypes. They've been made in the spare time that I have dedicated to the hobby. It is quite an enjoyable and dedicated process for me that has seen a lot of rebuilds and practice to make sturdy and believable treasures.

You can click this link to find all of the posts showcasing how I make these narrow gauge scratch-built locomotives and rolling stock and how they're constructed, and a page dedicated to the various stages of model-making.


In scenes like this, I have a lot of natural materials on hand from going outside the neighborhood, like twigs and broken branches, loose road ballast in different grades, dirt, and rocks. Craft store accessories like these pink flowers make eye-catching features in the frame of the camera.

For scenes like at Rheneas Quarry Sidings, I have printed signs I make in Adobe Illustrator, mounted and glued on thick card. I cut strips of balsa I paint to make either appropriate stands, with a wire drilled into the base to stick to the scenery or foam core base, or have thinner strips to serve as the border for station structures.

Other signs I like are those made for warning signs, like limited clearances, station yard notices, and cargo labels. More of what I'd love to include more that sets the period of a given railway are posters, advertising food, travel, war posters, motor supplies, and local businesses.

If you want to see these models in motion on these sets, you can watch my newest video compilation made especially for them on my YouTube Channel.

Thanks for reading, and happy modeling!

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