Terrain Tutorial: Indestructible Hills
Heavy Gear has a lot of unique settings but the desert, savannas, and jungles of Terra Nova are certainly among the most iconic. There are countless ways to make or buy terrain for your games. With this article I wanted to cover a way I’ve made some very sturdy desert terrain cheaply, easily, and with great results. Check it out!
These hills and rock spires are made using high density polyurethane foam, the kind mattresses and car seats are made out of. It’s available from most hardware stores at a reasonable price with one mattress being enough terrain for a very full 4×6 table. Here is a link, so you can be clear on the kind I mean. Please DO shop local though if you can!
I find this kind of terrain great because it is cheap, lightweight and very strong. When I say strong, I mean it, it won’t chip like styrofoam or plaster. I carry mine tossed in a box without worrying about how it sits or jostles.
Before I go any further an acknowledgment: I didn’t invent this technique. I saw a similar hill someone had made over on The Miniatures Page years ago and reverse engineered it from pictures. My technique doesn’t perfectly follow theirs (I don’t flock mine for example) and I’ve added some of my own innovations when it comes to the spiky rocks. Kudos random dude on the internet and please hit me up if you want a full credit if you see this.
Let’s Get Crafty!
1. Tools Needed
You will need large scissors or a box cutter (I find scissors much easier to use), spray paint, and some larger brushes along with acrylic craft paint for dry brushing. You can use a sharpie for laying out your cuts but it’s not strictly necessary. When I laid out these I had my 4x6x2 measuring widget which sufficed.
2. Initial Cuts
Cut out the hill a little larger than you want the final form to be (about .5” larger should do). When using the scissors to do this I Try to make sure that I cut at a little angle and that that angle is constant. The taller your foam, the sharper your angle should be.
3. Providing Texture
For this step I used my hands but you could also use needle pliers if you don’t like the feel. I then pluck out the foam around the edges of the hill. This is the more artistic part of the process and can take a little time. It looks best if you are not entirely uniform but make the drop off sharper in places and shallower in others. Play around until it looks right! This can be hard on your fingers and nails (thus the pliers suggestion). If you are choosing to make large standing stones or spikes with this, use the scissors to feather off the foam a bit at a time cutting vertically along the stone. You can do much of what you need to with just the scissors, and the ones in these pictures, I only plucked around the bases.
This step really only applies to the spires. I added some washers to their bottoms to weight them. Be sure to think about the center of gravity when placing the weights. Hot glue holds them together fine.
5. Spray Painting
This part takes time and you can’t really skip it. I did two layers of black primer, a layer of sandy textured spray, and two layers of flat brown paint (the kind used for camouflage). The foam really soaks up the spray and you will have to wait a while between each coat. I spray the hill upside down first to make sure I catch all of the underside. Depending on the color of your foam you may have to do more or less of this. The key here is not just to color the foam, but to add stiffness to it. This will not only help models stand on it and protect it from flaking, it will make the next step of painting possible.
The textured spray doesn’t show up super well and I got back and forth on whether it is needed or not. An additional step at this point, if you desire, is to add a thick layer of PVA glue and flock the tops. Like any flock, it will come off over time and handling. You can also spray adhesive on the flat tops and then attach paper or card to flock it. I didn’t do this because for me, the real advantage of this terrain is that it is very hard to damage. I like being able to just throw it into a box and go at the end of a game.
6. Dry Brush
If you are confident with an airbrush you might be able to do this step with that tool. I do it by hand because I like the rough look. I use a simple tan and do one or two passes on it. You can also do this with colors other than earth tones. For example I made a glacier table this way by using a light blue base and then dry brushing white over. At some point I’ll be making some Caprice terrain by experimenting with dark red or purple as the base and then brushing grays on top of that.
Now you have a nigh indestructible hill that can support a pewter heavy gear without bending! You can get a whole table of these over a weekend with out too much hassle.
As I was saying, this technique also works great for Glaciers. WiseKensai makes the whole thing look even better with a filter, but you can see it in action over on MercRecon.Net here:
Here are some unfiltered pictures so you can see what it looks like normally:
And here that same table is boxed up:
Advanced Techniques and Other Ideas
- You can attach multiple layers of foam on top of one another to make larger mountains. Hot glue will be enough to hold them in place. This is also a good place to make use of your waste off cuts.
- Cut out a section that curves inward and then put another section over it to make cave entrances. Place an electric tea light candle inside for spookiness.
- When making spires, use the already flat edges of the foam, and draw their vertical length inward. This lets you exploit the flat edge as a sturdier base.
- The flat edges are also good for making hills designed to but up against the edge of the board, or to define the end of a board when making a 4×6 table into a smaller play area. You can also glue plasticard to these flats and paint it to look like the outer wall of a buried fortress.
- Using a bread knife you can saw into larger cliffs to cut them down in sections. This can let you make a tiered or terraced hill or natural “stairs” for models. Be sure to keep base size in mind when cutting.
- Searching online you can find people making waterfalls from hot glue. It would be easy to incorporate these techniques with this foam (glue sticks to it very well) should you find you like the look.
- Final note: having a model around when making terrain is always a good idea to check your height and realism while you are in progress.