Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Sweeping Upgrade

Last night, we hung the first of the new photo backdrops on the Onondaga Cutoff.   This marks the beginning of the installation of the large, 12' long photo backdrops, the final step in was has been a 2-year process of planning, re-planning, research, design, and purchasing.   Backdrops are about the most visible, and least appreciated, of all the components of a layout, and I wanted to make sure that what I was installing was exactly what I would be satisfied with in the long term.

We started the installation on the M&E, since the backdrop here is stand-alone and not connected to other sections.  Better to make beginner's mistakes on an isolated area!  First, I moved all the rolling stock out of Euclid Yard, and then removed all the structures and building flats that had been in place for several years.  None of the scenic elements had been glued in place, as I expected that I'd have to move it all eventually for this process.

The original backdrop here is better than nothing, but is very primitive - I'm no artist painter!  Images like this are what made me take a hard look at my progress.  By 1980's standards, these backdrops would have been sufficient - not perfect, but good enough to match the quality of the models and other scenery.  With detailed and weathered models rolling on quality scale track, with scale ballast and foliage, the backdrops became an increasingly crude part of the scene.  Too much effort has been put into the rest of the railroad to settle for simple painted backdrops in shallow scenes.

The areas for the backdrops were measured very carefully, 3 different times on different days, to ensure the numbers were correct.  Jason and I cut the backdrops to fit, again measuring 3 times before making any cuts.  With custom prints, a wrong cut would be very difficult to deal with - there are no backups here!

Since this was the first try, we unrolled the whole sheet for a test hang with some painter's tape.  The measurements were correct and we were ready to begin.  I followed the directions posted at http://backdropwarehouse.com/Mounting6.htm - we were careful to think through each step and have a 'job briefing' before starting.  As suggested in that article, I used Elmer's Rubber Cement.  I brushed a 3-inch strip of cement vertically, as well as a 3-inch strip horizontally at the top, middle, and bottom of the painted backdrop.  Working foot by foot, we fastened the left side first, and then I unrolled and gently pulled the backdrop along while Jason used a new, try 3/8" nap paint roller to push the backdrop into the wet cement.  We had to re-adjust several times as we started to get the perfectly level installation, and the cement allows for that since the paper was such a heavy grade.

As we worked along, it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a sweeping, dramatic improvement to the scene.  Once we started, it was a continual process to spread glue, unroll, press into place, then spread more glue, etc.  It went quickly once we began - the planning had paid off!

After it was unrolled, we stood back, and it really impressed us.

Suddenly, this scene developed a depth and level of detail that would have been virtually impossible with paint.  The paper was nicely adhered to the backdrop, and so I put some structures and foliage back on the layout, and moved the cars back in - and the results are really something else.  Here's a view looking railroad south towards the Peter Doelger Brewery:

Even with no additional ballast or foliage work, the 'finished' look of the scene is very apparent!  With that level of detail, my simple mock-ups for the brewery itself have been replaced with some simple flats temporarily until I make time to assemble the brewery structures, weather them, and install them permanently.  

 Finally a close up view of some equipment in the yard, again showing how the backdrop alone takes this scene from a simple, unfinished view to a view with unlimited depth, allowing focus to fall on the stars of the show - the rolling stock.  Even this old Model Die Casting flat car that I built in high school looks good!

I'm excited with this, and this really gets me inspired to keep the ball rolling and get the rest of these backdrops up this fall and winter.  Jason will be helping with the cuts and the installations, so watch for more of those soon.  It feels like we have turned a corner on the Onondaga Cutoff - now, with this in place, the 'final' versions of these scenes come into focus and will be moving forward.  This is an exciting step in the right direction and a top-notch compliment the operation!


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