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Tutorial: How to build exotic (alien) trees and bushes

Close-up of alien trees and bushes
About this tutorial 

When I talk about scratchbuilding, my first tip is always the same: keep you eyes open! When I'm writing this, all the shops around are full of christmas decorations. While many of them can't be used for anything but what they are meant for, there are some real discoveries amongst them.

Even if you are not as lucky as I am in finding materials, you can still learn something about terrain building from this tutorial. The basics of treemaking are the same, even if you used plain wire. You might want to add plaster to the trunks of the trees too, and put some dyed moss etc on them, but here you'll see the basic techniques of tree building.


Chirstmas decorations, soon to be alien terrain 
Lesson 1, again: Keep your eyes open! I found these christmas decorations from a shop selling miscellaneous stuff for cheap, and saw immediately that they could be used to create scifi/fantasy trees and bushes. I grabbed a few and decided to create a small tutorial when refining them. 

The Tutorial 

Preparing christmas decorations 

The first thing to do is take the bundle I'm going to make trees of apart, and cut the wire of from the pieces I'm going to use for bushes - with wire cutter. 

Twisting the body of the tree 

Pinchers may be of use here, but probably not neccessary. Start twisting the wires around. If you want to leave branches to different lengths, you shouldn't make the bottom of the tree as even as I've left. Of course, if you're using plain wire, you can always cut the branches. You might also wish to examine a real tree while doing models of them, you can get better resemblance then. 

Twisting the body of the tree 

When you've twisted the trunk for a little while, it's time to start the branches. Remember that trees rarely are perfectly symmetric. Take part of the wires and start twisting them together, moving away from the other wires you left untouched. Remember to twist into the same direction you did in the main trunk. 

Alien tree is ready (but not based) 

Repeat the process with the other parts, separating the wires to smaller brances, until you have a tree looking like the one above. Twist the ends of the wires to resemble branches. 

Cardboard bases and styrofoam 

Now you'll have to prepare the bases. Straight squares don't look good, so if you are planning to use these as miniatures game props, make the bases so you can clearly see what spaces they take even if they don't follow the edges strictly. Cut very thin chips of styrofoam and glue them on the bases you want some height variances on. 

Form with styrofoam 

Now twist the root wires of the tree so it can stand on it's own and glue it to the cardboard base. It doesn't have to be very strudy (see the next phase). 

Using tape to attach trees 

Use painter's tape (I'm not sure if that's what it is called otherwhere) to fix the tree. 

Making bases for the terrain 

Now it's time to make the bases. Read this whole part before beginning, as the paste you are going to make may dry quickly after applying. 

To create the paste, I've used filler powder meant to fill small cracks inside the walls etc, wood glue, water and some pigment powder. You can ask for pigment powders from local art equipment shops. You can also try to mix some paints into the paste, in which case you don't need to add that much water into it. I made two different pastes, applying different amounts of pigments into them. Into the other, I added green and little brown, and to the other, I added about as much green and brown and some black. 

After your pastes are ready, start applying them to the bases. Give them a layer deep enough to drown any signs of polyfoam or tape, and it will take a while for it to get dried. Take a bit from each paste and apply them randomly on the bases, and before the paste is dried, apply some flock on it. The base created of two different shades (even better if they get a little mixed) will look much more alive. Also, I haven't applied plain flock. First, I crushed some dyed moss, took a bit of fine brownish sawdust and green flock, and strewed them on the wet paste. After the paste is dry, blow the excess flock off the pieces.

Close-up of alien trees and bushes 

And here's what we have made! I believe this has been the easiest set of terrain I've made. I had had a thought for a while that while I have a lot of terrain props, everything outdoors stuff is something you could find at this planet. So, I had a feeling that I should have something more exotic for Star Wars... I never imagined I'd find materials for that so easily! 

Ready scifi terrain in use




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