Monday 20 February 2012

Steampunk- Stolly

OK, definitely a bit of silliness here- this arose out of a conversation I had with a friend during the early stages of the Steampunk project, where we decided that if its (relatively) low budget science fiction on film or television, then it has to include an Alvis Stalwart. This futuristic-looking amphibious lorry was built for the British Army in the 60’s, and since being pensioned off by HM armed forces, seems to be earning a living cropping up whenever a director needs a futuristic looking vehicle with minimal modifications and at low cost (see the Battle of Serenity prologue in “Firefly”, the refugee camp in “Children of Men”, the American military convoy in “Reign of Fire”, etc etc).

The basic technology of my version for "The Century Survey" is based around that used in the Sentinel steam lorries, making this a vertical-boilered vehicle. I haven’t gone into too much depth with thinking about the application of the technology though (apart from thinking it drives to one axle, the others simply supporting the weight), and the model isn’t properly built to scale either; rather, just aiming to get the proportions fairly close, in a rough 1/32nd scale. I was going off pics of Stalwarts in army service rather than any sort of detailed blueprint or works drawing... after all though, the whole model was just a bit of fun and something random.

As you can see from the above pic, taken prior to painting, the model of the 'Stolly' is entirely scratchbuilt- the main chassis and flatbed are from foamcore board, with artists 3mil mount card forming the main bodywork. All other accessories from the scrap box, and include that staple of my builds, marker pens, bits of other toys and kits (the headlamp and some of the whistle details are from a large toy American locomotive for example), and the door steps are clips from printer ink cartridges. Really it was a typical bodge-job.

The rather lurid paint job was just to give it a bit of presence when photographed in black and white/sepia. Its liveried up as a works vehicle of the Leeds-Liverpool Navigation Company, and in the fiction of the Century Survey/Britannia project, it’s a maintenance vehicle used by the canal company in Saltaire.

One of the experimental shots- the lens flare effect on the windows ended up a bit over the top, but I was trying to avoid having to go to the complication of fitting a properly glazed cab with interior for a quick-build, background item. More fool me, but then again this project is a process of experimentation. I plan to fit a few more details anyway before its used in any more photos...

Steampunk- Airship

More from the steampunk project, “The Century Survey”. As anyone familiar with the genre will know, Steampunk= Airships. So having at least one airship miniature for the photos was essential.

The basic body of the airship was built up around the cylinder from an air-hammer pump, the sort used for blowing up inflatable toys, airbeds etc. The ends came from a weird outdoor toy set purchased from a cheapie shop, and the body was further built up with mountcard, scribed and clad around the plastic.

With the bodywork of the main airship, I ended up with something decidedly 'Flash Gordon' in appearance, though the pannier being carried beneath ended up a little too futuristic. It was a bit of a compromise- I tried to make it removable, both for storage/transport (bearing in mind I was in the middle of a house move when this started), but this in turn made it rather bulky. The method I used was to incorporate bits of marker pen, so that I could make different interchangeable panniers which incorporated felt pen lids. The resultant bulky structure would be pretty much impossible to lift in reality, but the timescale of the initial pics rendered replacement impractical. The engines are assembled from mountcard, foamcard, more marker pen lids, and the props are from an ancient Airfix Stirling bomber kit, which has been used as a source of parts for numerous models.

The finished airship was given a very simple paintjob- the pannier and engines in battleship grey with some colour detailing, and the main body of the airship sprayed with primer then metallic silver.

The finished airship as it appears in the photomanips. From beneath it doesnt look too bad, but the side-on view (beneath the gantry) illustrates the problem with the size of the pannier. At some point in the near future, replacement panniers will need to be constructed, along with new engine mounts, however the miniature sufficed nicely for these shots.

Friday 17 February 2012

The West Riding Monorail Transportation Co.

Initial concept sketch

With my ongoing "Century Survey" steampunk project, the aim is to produce some large-scale photomanipulations of shots taken around Saltaire, West Yorkshire, which look roughly historically accurate (Salts Mill etc) but with the Steampunk elements photographed and blended in- so a shot of the mill will have the monorail, airships, etc etc around it. I’m going to post-process the pictures to sepia tone, scratches, dust etc so it looks like they’re enlargements of period shots, supposedly documenting this alternate Britain.
I was wanting to do something pretty much weird but vaguely plausible for the shots, that might standout amongst the usual Steampunk fare, and I wondered about a mass-transportation system being built for within cities that would work pretty much as an overhead railway, but be rather less obtrusive- and this lead me onto monorails.
It was something I toyed around with for the Britannia Model Village project, but abandoned in favour of more conventional railways (easier to do in the timescale). I simply dusted off the idea and decided to back-date it by a century. Blame growing up in Dudley with the Merry Hill Monorail nearby, though that ended up in pieces in a tatters yard within a few years so maybe not the best inspiration…
What I will have for the photographs will be models in 4mm scale, and heavily modified standard gauge equipment running on the rail. The idea is that concealed beneath these locos and stock will be 2mm gauge model train equipment for practicality, and the monorail track itself will incorporate (camouflaged) N gauge flexitrack. I want it to look very heavy-duty at rail level, with more refined columns at street level so that its not quite so obtrusive as a regular overhead railway viaduct would be. It does need to look period though, so lattice girders and a chunky, robust rail high above are the order of the day (no Listowel-style flimsiness in Britannia). The use of N gauge mechanisms does give another advantage- though at this stage these are only photo props, it does mean that at some point in the future I could fairly easily evolve the concept into a working model railway…

Start of the project- the pattern for the girders was drawn on photoshop, printed out, then laboriously cut out from 3mil mountcard...

Trial assembly of parts, with train components to check the scale was right.

Majority of the girders built, with support columns made from card and marker pens.

Detail of the rails, showing the N gauge flexitrack before it was camoflauged in with filler and card.

Another test assembly, to check the viewpoint it would be intended to be seen from.

Pacific-type locomotive under construction.

The look of the locomotives is inspired very much by the idea of the standard-gauge superstructure being built around a much smaller mechanism- imagine a narrow gauge chassis that sits beneath a standard gauge body. Much of the look is inspired by a pic I saw a while ago of the experimental Kitson hybrid locomotive built for the LNER in the 1930’s. As the pics of the loco from the time show, it looks slightly ridiculous, with a small boiler atop the diesel generator. Though the monorail wouldn’t follow the same hybrid mechanical principle, the ‘look’ of the loco seemed to be what I needed to aim for, so the boiler and firebox made smaller and mounted high up in the superstructure to clear the NG running gear.Couldn’t find many pics of this oddball loco about- I saw a different shot of it in a book at my in-laws, but I could only find one or two pics online… if you search for LNER Hybrid Loco on google you eventually find it, it’s the one that looks as if a Romney Hythe and Dymchurch boiler was accidentally welded onto a tank loco frame along with the contents of the local plumbers merchants by the Doncaster Work Experience boy.

Going for a more Victorian look, I decided to use a couple of Dapol “City of Truro” kits I had buried in a box from years ago to use as the basis for the loco, and to donate parts to several other models. I mounted the boiler higher up the superstructure, created a ‘box’ to supposedly hide the NG mechanism/wheels, and lengthened the tender. Other bits of detailing were culled from the scrapbox- no proper plan, more that if it looked good, on it went. I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of steam locos in any case, and who’s to say what the precise layout of pipework etc on a loco like this would be? The final model combines what I’m after anyway, a combination of Victorian looks with industrial gubbins. The model sits on an unpowered N wagon chassis, though cosmetically is designed to look like its wheel arrangement (and side skirts) are on flexible bogies.

The intention was initialy to build a couple of trains, some track, then photograph it against green to drop in with the aid of Photoshop into other pics. I’ll be doing this with lots of miniatures. Oh and did I mention this is being done on a budget of practically nowt? Just using up bits from the scrapbox and odds and ends (the steam-powered tank that’s on the blog shows my usual modelling approach, it was built for a bit less than a tenner in the end, most of which was for a second-hand Dapol loco kit to form the basis of the vehicle). These monorail trains didn't have to be museum quality given their purpose as background items- they just had to look half plausible, built entirely from imagination with a cavalier disregard for rivet counting or even much modelling finesse. Given the restricted timescale of the project (I had to have the initial concept test piece done by the end of July 2011, whilst also moving house and taking extra shifts in the day job) it was more important to just get something built as quick as possible…

The tank loco really was just a concept test, built from odds and ends in the scrapbox. It looks very cobbled together, built as it is around a derelict Playcraft clockwork loco body, with the smaller boiler being from an ancient, very broken, N gauge Lima 4F. Unfortunately there was a problem when the glue was drying which has meant the N boiler has ended up drooping at the front, irritatingly. The other bits and pieces were literally cobbled together from odds and ends in the scrapbox. However the loco really is probably too much of a bodged job to use for the intended photos, and in any case the looks are a bit too modern.

Paint jobs are a tad basic, but then these are only going to be background items in photographs, and to get the concept photo manipulation piece done by the end of July, well speed was of the essence. Basically I'm going to tart them up a bit if the full project gets the nod. Ignore the slight wobbliness of these shots- the track was set up on a rough garden wall just to try the models in natural light... I'm going to re-photograph them on location in Saltaire tomorrow.

Test shoot of the monorail, in Sepia with some steam effects done in photoshop.

Since doing these pics, and looking further around for inspiration, I've realised that in Steampunk terms I've made these designs waaaay too conservative. I've been drawing up some designs for some much larger, more complex trains, which I'm hopefully going to add onto here shortly...

The Century Survey

Concept pic from "The Century Survey"- Bradford Industrial Museum

Concept pic from "The Century Survey"- Victoria Road, Saltaire

In late 2009 an author with whom I was aquainted asked me to do a bit of concept art for a steampunk project he was thinking of developing. I'd had an interest in Steampunk for some time, and a desire to do some work based on the genre (for those not in the know, steampunk can be basically summed up as ornate, decorative, Victorian science fiction, girls in top hats, everyone wearing goggles. In fact just google Brass Goggles and you'll see in far better detail than I can explain), basically the prospect of the commision gave me an opportunity to do something practical in the genre. At the time though there wasnt a lot I could do beyond producing a few sketches based off ideas I'd had for a while, and start making the odd miniature for some trial shots. However I ended up having to focus more on paid employment, and it all sort of tailed off.
I wasnt really looking for a new project in 2011, when I was in the middle of moving house, but I'd been scribbling some notes and doodles for Steampunk themed miniatures for some time, and heard about a show of steampunk work at the Bradford Industrial Museum. I dropped them an email, told them what I was thinking of doing, produced a speculative piece to see if they were interested, and suddenly found that in the middle of a house move I'd ended up commiting myself to producing 3 large pieces for exhibition by christmas.

Intitial concept pic from "The Century Survey"- Salts Mill

The Century Survey

This is something I've been wanting to do since I first visited Saltaire, and especially since I began working in the heart of the village, overlooking the magnificent mill buildings. Saltaire is a World Heritage Site in West Yorkshire, a workers town built around the mill by the industrial magnate Sir Titus Salt. Theres plenty more on Wikipedia:
The background to the project is that its set in the same fictional world as the Britannia Model Village- when I produced that project, I ended up writing a whole fake history for the country, how this alternate Britain existed, how it had developed. Delving further back into its past, the idea is that the somewhat standard Steampunk theme of the developement of Charles Babbage's 'Difference Engine' was succesful, and this first early computer combined with advances in steam engineering allowed the rapid technological expansion of the British Empire, recast as the nation of Britannia. If you like, this is where the world of the fictional Britannia splits apart from our own.
"The Century Survey" is set in 1901, round about the transition from the classic Steampunk genre into the later "Dieselpunk", seen with the massed steam technology being gradually replaced with early diesel and electric power. The project takes the form of a series of photomanipulations showing scenes around Saltaire Village with these differing technologies presented as 'everyday' sights. Supposedly this is a photographic documentation of the village, taken as part of a wider survey carried out with the 1901 population census. In reality, its an excuse for me to build lots of steam powered lorries, tanks, and other machines, and photoshop them into some of my favourite parts of the town in which I work. Eventually I plan to create a book of the images, with fake histories and other artifacts.
Three early pictures from the project were exhibited at the "Steampunk At The Industrial Museum" show in 2011/2012. Two directly relate to Saltaire, and the third was specially requested by the museum, showing their building with all this technology. Its proving a nice jumping-off point anyway for the rest of the project, and incentive to get more done on this all. I'll post some more details showing the construction of some of the miniatures.

Concept pic from "The Century Survey"- Salts Mill, Saltaire


So, a year with no new posts. Not that I havent been producing work, but I had a promotion in my paid job, more commisions, and managed to finally move into my own place, all of which left me rather busy.

The main project I ended up working on is something called "The Century Survey". If you look back at the old entries, you'll see a miniature of a steam-powered tank, created initially as a speculative commision for an authors project. My work for said author fell through when I couldnt combine working for him with paid employment however, but around the time I was moving house I got the opportunity to develope a steampunk project of my own... I'll be posting a lot more on this shortly, in greater detail. The only thing from the concept art for that early, abandoned commision being carried through is the Landship however, which has been modified somewhat in line with research about the real early tanks (reference material such as the book "Band of Brigands- the Early Men in Tanks" proving invaluable). Here is a shot of the 90 percent finished landship... more detailing parts to add, and a further repaint due before it can be used in the project.