Sunday, November 13, 2016

Scratch-Building Proteus | 16mm Scale

The Legend lives! Proteus is my latest narrow gauge custom made for a #ThomasCreatorCollective Halloween project for the Thomas & Friends YouTube channel.

Introduced in the ninth season of Thomas and Friends, Proteus is an object of local legend. He's based on Henry Hughes' Falcon Works 0-4-2 saddle tank prototype. Working the mines and running in the mountains, he had a very bright lamp, which he said was magic, promising that if any engine found it, they're wishes would come true in times of need.

I never thought I'd make this engine, but working on him I've grown to like him, as I feel he can play a bigger role in symbolizing the faith of the little railway. From shooting footage of the dioramas that I've made for him, and within a week's time of making him from start to finish, it was a fun challenge!


Starting with the basic parts, I form the body into shapes, first starting with the cab, working to the boiler tanks and footplate. All are cut from Bazzil Basics card, secured with  Midwest Products balsa strips. Scotch tape hold curved parts like the boiler and smokebox with Crazy Glue or white glue.

As it takes shape, painting and weathering takes place using acrylics from Plaid FolkArt, Apple Barrel and Deco Art's Americana. I have peelable gems that are primed to glue in place, and are naturally blended when painting. Stripes are also from colored card glued in place.

For the buffer beam, I used thick card, and added for painting. In addition to painted chains, coupler hoops are bent and cut using pliers, and paper facets hold them in place with Crazy Glue for a strong bond.

Buffers are rolled strips of colored card, to allow them to slide in and out! Wrapped around strong objects like a piece of balsa, a screwdriver or a marker, they're glued in place and cut. The buffer mounts are cut balsa, which are painted and weathered later.

Handrails and brass piping are Darice Craft Designer's 16 gauge wire in silver and copper, secured with strips of paper and glued. I use Sharpie metallic pens to color the paper to match the metal accordingly.

The whistle is made from wrapping strips if index card around for the top and bottom, and a cap on top. I also use metallic paints for larger or thicker parts.

Valve gear and coupling rods are made by hand using balsa and tooth pics that are painted and weathered. I test every part I make in motion with the LEGO Power Functions motor system to make sure movement is as smooth and easy to move as possible. Custom LEGO wheels are from Big Ben Bricks, painted and weathered.

You can read this post in detail to find out how I use LEGO to make my narrow gauge custom engines move.


For the Magic Lamp, I wanted to have it operational to make it generate flickering effects naturally with appropriate electrics. The finished model is pictured above, the lamp mount ready to be secured, and painted black with the wires.

The light is controlled by a transformer off camera, with the extended wires hidden away in the scenery as the engine pulls away from the camera, so that it turns on and off as he moves.

I used an HO/OO scale spotlight, which can glow very brightly. All I did to create the lamp is to wrap card in layers, which actually allows it to be removable. Thinner strips are added along the edges, and a body shell is added underneath. The handle is bent 12 gauge wire, painted white later and weathered.


The face is sculpted with Sculpy clay, using my fingers and both clay and wood carving tools. Once baked, sanding can make the sculpt much smoother for painting and detailing.

There is a controlled system of leavers from the cab that extend out to the front, which I used 16 gauge wire to bend and glue in place, the mounts made from card. Once painted, it's glued on the front, with an extended leaver from the cab.

 The finished face, pained in acrylics. The eye brows are drawn using ink pens, and the pupils are stickers to change position every clip of a sequence filmed.


After the model is complete, the diorama is ready to be set up. I imagined it to be an abandoned quarry siding where trucks were once shunted to be collected back down the Ulfstead mountains to the harbor. Once Boulder Quarry closed, it was left alone as a dissused service line and for shortcuts.

Here I'm testing how some key scratch-built 16mm narrow gauge rolling stock and accessories look on this diorama. I use Ashland deer moss mats, lichen, and moss overgrowth to add life to the slate storage shed's side yard. Ballast is natural road gravel.

Once everything is put together, filming can take place! I also had a warm living room spotlight to shine from a ballast truck yard on the side off camera to add a contrasting light source with the intense blue of the moonlight.

Like my old layouts, I brought out my green afghans for the gap and distant moorlands! The hill may be where an incline of some kind existed to haul wagons up and down to load them when brought here from the quarry. Now nature has reclaimed the industrialized valley, and where it once was a bustle of activity of narrow gauge, the land attracts wildlife. Digital layering of the moon and color grading add atmosphere.

For this intro shot, Proteus approaches the edge of the fell, looking over the landscape and any used narrow gauge tracks to keep an watchful eye over the little engines while they work busily in the dark night.

He is the guardian of the mountain, and a manifestation of the faith the engines keep to help them when times on the railway get hard. This shot is a reveal that he is still there, looking out for any misfortune.

With this color grade tests, the scene needed to have that extra dose of spooky atmosphere, but contrasted by the beauty of nature and light with the scenics and studio lighting.

Certainly the mood created from the light in these shots shows the goodness of the engines shine in spite of the darkness, from any fear and uncertainty. Though a local myth told by engine crews, railway staff and local villagers, Proteus and his light are a living symbol of the triumph of faith conquering fear to win the trials of life, and that burning fire is there in all who work the railway system, and holds them together.

This was a great project, and something different that I became passionate about with the challenge of budgeted time that has generated interest to describe Proteus' story in detail. I hope to make more to reveal it in new personal projects in the coming year.

Until next time!