A Shortage Of Space On
Industrial Switching Shelf Layouts:
Are Low Relief Model Railroad
Building Kits The Solution?
By Guest Contributor: Tony
|If you are planning
to design an industrial switching shelf layout you might be thinking about the pros
and cons of including industrial and warehouse buildings against the backdrop. The
big consideration is how thick they will be and how much space they will take
Obviously the thickness of 3D buildings could
be prohibitive depending on the width of the shelf. You won’t want to fill the space up with large
structures and have no space left for the track. 3D kits of model railroad buildings can look very
effective in the right location as long as they don’t take up too much space and restrict train
operations. If you plan to do plenty of yard work, then rail sidings will need to be a priority. If
you have ample space, then you’ll have room for scenery and 3D kits to be more of a feature.
Let’s use an example (courtesy of http://www.ngaugelayouts.com/n-scale-track-plans.html
). This is the 8ft x 2ft shelf plan without
any scenery or structures added.
Below is the same shelf track plan
with some roading, vegetation and some 3D buildings added. Although this would look okay, in their
current location the 3D buildings do take up quite a lot of space, and depending on where the
backdrop is located, the structures could somewhat obscure the view.
Positioning low relief industrial buildings against the backdrop could free up quite a lot of space
on the layout for more switching track, an overpass, or possibly even a wharf or port. The trackage
could even run closer to the front edge and allow room for more operations, possibly a big
industry, an engine shed, or even a turntable.
Flats are an option
The low relief buildings could be constructed to show just the frontage
(flats). This option would take the least amount of space and will look effective when viewed front
on. By just gluing the frontages onto some foam board or core flute, you could create an illusion
of 3D and save an inch or two in depth. The saved inch could allow more space for other features
elsewhere on the layout. However, be aware that by making the structures flats, the aerial and side
views may look less effective if it looks like the structures have little or no
The illusion of 3D
The other option is to construct
the kits to show the frontage and part of the roof and two sides. This will look more effective
when viewed from above or from an angle. The kits won’t take up much room and need only be an inch
or two thick depending on the scale you are working with. Space permitting you can stagger them so
they stand out different distances from the backdrop. This will add to the 3D
What I'm saying is; it's mostly
the "chopper” or side view that ruins the effect of background buildings. When you get down to the
track level even the flattest building flats will look much better against the
|Although you might
not see the above scenario so often in real life, it does provide a bit of a
compromise. It involves positioning the track closer to the backdrop to provide
more space and more depth to the structure. A combination of flats, low relief and
3D buildings could be used to add dimension and variation to the depth of
Positioning your shelf layout
higher from the floor can be a good compromise between viewing angle and reach. Although you might
prefer your switching layout at eye level, having it lower will help with extended reach to the
back of the 24-inch shelf. If it is too high you might need a portable step stool to use when
uncoupling cars at the rear of the layout. Another option is to sit on a bar stool with castors.
With a shelf layout it is generally better to be looking straight at the buildings rather than down
on them. Adding a mirror at one end can give the illusion of the shelf layout extending in the
Click here to see these Low Relief Model
The benefits of a forced perspective
By using a forced perspective, the
objects positioned in the foreground tend to increase in size and stature because there is the
illusion of distance in relation to those in the background. A forced perspective can help certain
layout features to really stand out. The background can help create a more life like overall view
of the era and time you are representing.
So it is important to carefully
consider the size and perspective of all objects and structures. You may need to reduce the size to give the illusion of distance as
For buildings that are seen up close
or in the foreground they need to be viewed at 100%.
If they are 100 to 500 yards away then
they can be reduced to 90% – 100% of the size to give some illusion of
If they are supposed to be ¼ to ½ mile
away then they could be reduced to around 80% - 90% of the full size.
Buildings that supposedly a mile or
more away could be 30% to 50% of the full size.
Obviously these are guides only.
So as an example; if an N scale building is 5 inches tall close-up, it would need to be 4 inches to
4½ tall if it is positioned ¼ to ½ mile away. Details in buildings that are further away also need
to be smaller in size e.g. windows, doors etc. Objects in the foreground and in the background need
to work together so as to provide the most impact for visitors at the same time creating a very
Painting a background sky and clouds
Even the sky you see in the
background can have a big influence on the realism of the scene. The position of the sun can
influence how you paint the background or position objects in the foreground. Clouds that are
nearer the sun need to be lighter in color or more transparent that those clouds that are further
away from the sun. Attention to details like this can make a big difference to the overall effect.
No two clouds should be the same.
The clouds and sky can alter the
mood of the scene too. They can give the impression it is early morning, late afternoon, or even
dusk. It could look like a sunny day, or like it is about to rain or even snow.
If you are painting the sky and
clouds, be aware the overhead sky is generally darker and lighter towards the horizon. Use two
tints or shades of blue paint and blend them where they join to make a third shade of
Search Google images for some
photos of real clouds to use as a guide. There are also several examples at http://www.freefoto.com/browse/?query=clouds
Techniques for painting sky and clouds
You can make stencils out of
cardboard and use them for painting clouds, but remember they all need to look different. Start
with the small clouds near the horizon. When you come to spray on more clouds above, you’ll
probably find a light misty spray falls on the lower clouds giving a misty atmospheric
Change the stencil often and hold
it ½ inch or so from the sky when spraying the paint. Repositioning the stencil and gradually
adding layers can give a 3D illusion. They can also be overlayed to give shape and size variations.
Spray the paint sparingly and decrease the cloud size from top to bottom on the backdrop. Don’t
spray too near the edges as you don’t want a sharp outline. A soft fuzzy look is
Storm clouds can be painted by
spray with gray paint first, before over-spraying them with white paint to provide the desired
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