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Tutorial: Burning starship wrecks (and how to model fire!)

Burning star destroyer, dreadnought and freighter

Most frequent question I get asked on gaming sites is about how I have created fire and smoke. Now I'm releasing a tutoral about this topic - while it's actually about creating starship wrecks, it will teach you how to model fire. Another page (coming soon) will show you applications of this technique.

The  ships in this tutorial were originally created  e2o board/paper miniature game (in development) in mind. The game will have strong visual aspect and burning spaceship wrecks have their place in the game.

The tutorial

First, about the models. In two models I've used parts of my earlier resin casts. Dreadnought is based mainly on a failed cast, while Victory star destroyer (arrow shaped) has only aft & tower taken from the cast, and those parts are easy to scratchbuild - see articles about scratchbuilding, Scratchbuilt Victory -class Star Destroyer and custom star wars starships. The last one is quickly scratchbuilt from various pieces. 

Materials for fire

Black wool
Filler powder and PVA glue or some other filler material
Pigment powders and/or strongly pigmented paints (I've used miniature paints)
Possibly cardboard (I've used 1mm) or other materials to base the fire on. Broken models and failed resin casts if you use such are excellent for this purpose.


Base structure for the ships

Some wire and failed casts as base of space ship wrecks
Initial phases of starship wreck construction. Some wire, failed casts and other small bits as base of space ship wrecks.

Basing the spaceship wrecks
Twisting some more wire, creating pieces from cardboard/pieces of wood/random plastic pieces and gluing pieces together. The structures are attached to bases cut from 1mm (1/25in) cardboard with 1mm thick wire.

Starting to create fire
Creating actual fire. There's one photo missing here: First, you take a piece of wire and some black wool. Use PVA glue to glue the wool to the wire. There should be wire inside the wool enough to support it, but not so much that it is clearly visible where the wool starts to get sparse. Before pushing the wire inside the wool, apply glue to it to the part you want to be tied closely to the wire. You should rub and manipulate the wool between yor fingers so that it gets sparse at one end, and be thicker (and therefore look smaller) where you rub it to the wrire using glue.

Serial production: After you've tried this and have got a result you like, you should do these items serially, one phase at time. For example, if you want to do four torces, glue four patches of wool to wires before continuing to the next phase. 

When the glue from the previous phase is quite about dry, start mixing a filler mixture. Interior filler powder + glue + pigment powders have worked really well for me, although I've also used miniature paints instead of pigments. You should get as bright orange color as possible, preferably more red than yellow. Apply it on the wool glued to the wire, and continue some way towards the other end - you should still leave good amount of wool unpainted. The very bottom part can be more or less even surface, but the higher you go, more uneven and sparse should the filling get. When closing the middle parts of the wool, there should be just random tiny spots of orange representing sparks.

One thing you should notice with this is that the filler pattern should be random. When trying to create random pattern, most people unconsciously do actually more or less regular pattern by tring to get patches as far from existing patches as possible. This creates a dull and uniform pattern, so you should actually try to place some patches adjacent to each other and leave good amount of empty space between some.

Ready flames and unpainted wrecks 
Different color themes work differenly in different concepts. With these ships, I've left flames mostly bright orange on purpose, applying only little paint on them. Usually I apply uneven patches os yellowish orange color on the root of the flame and a bit darker red towards the smoke end. I've ofteb had to add some black paint and again some more orange (a bit different taint) to make the flames look more realistic. You'll see examples of this on the second article on the topic.

The ships have now their final structure. Pieces of cardboard are glued on destroyer's wire structure to create remaining hull plates and some small holes has been drilled to the dreadnought.

Painting the wrecks before attaching flames
Here the starships are painted. An even grey paint is applied, a bit lighter grey drybrushed to make it look less dull and then some black is applied with a dry brush near to places that have burned or exploded.

Completed burning spaceships, bases still unpainted
The flames are now attached to the ships; The wires are tied/glued to wherever they can be. Again, remember true random placement!

Another view to starship wrecks

Burning wrecks on the gaming board
Burning wrecks on the gaming board

A familiar scene from the Return of the Jedi
A familiar scene from the Return of the Jedi

While the photo is a bit blurry, you can see one more detail that is quite important. Plates and superstructures that are burning or next to burning ones are likely to be glowing hot, or at least reflect the light of the flames. This is very important detail that can give you a lot of realism, whatever you are using the flames for.

Imperial Star Destroyer finishing a dreadnought
Imperial Star Destroyer finishing a dreadnought

The wrecks, once more
The wrecks, once more


Average: 3.4 (141 votes)


Brilliant! I'm going to have

Submitted by Kev-La (not verified) on

Brilliant! I'm going to have a go at this, and try to make some flaming hulks for my Full Thrust games. Thanks! :)

Glad you like the

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

Glad you like the instructions, happy modelling!

This is most original and I

Submitted by Zargon (not verified) on

This is most original and I thank you for all the tips. I plan to start building a scratchbuilt Space armada and your work helps inspire me. Thanks and Cheers

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