Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Scatter Terrain - Pitcher Plants (Part 1)

So, you’ve knocked up your nice, new terrain board, and sliced up some styro hills. Now what? How about some scatter terrain.

Scatter terrain is just that, terrain objects you can scatter on a table top to break up Lines of Sight and generally make your table look a little less like the MDF plains of Alpha Prime and a little more like an actual landscape. Scatter terrain can be almost any small terrain feature – rocks, hedges, bushes, spinneys, etc.

This article is a step-by-step guide for making some inexpensive vegetation scatter terrain – alien pitcher plants. If you have happened by my website, you may have seen an earlier version of this particular process and, in both cases, I owe thanks to the talented folks who frequent the Terragenesis Forum for the original inspiration.

Useful tools and suppliesTools of the Trade
Our raw materials are two plastic drinking straws (in this case from a certain world-wide, clown-fronted, fast-food chain), two old DVDs (or CDs – I happen to work for a media company that goes through DVDs like post-it notes, so I have plenty of material to work with), and some builders’ sand (I have some fine sand I stole from my daughter’s sandpit about five years ago, but that is nearly gone now. I also have some coarser sand I bought recently for a concreting job – at under $NZ 10 for a 10 kilo bag, one could make an awful lot of terrain!).

For tools, we have some scissors for cutting up the straws, a pair of tin snips for cutting up the DVDs/CDs (I could have used the scissors to cut up the DVDs but the snips handle the heavy plastic better), a tea-light candle, a lighter, a pair of long-nosed pliers, a palette, some PVA or white woodworking glue, and a manky glue brush.

Snicker SnackCutting up DVDs and Straws

First order of business is to cut up the straws with the scissors and chop up the DVDs with the tin snips – the DVD plastic is tough but brittle, and tends to want to form sharp points. I try to round the corners off for both aesthetic as well as safety reasons. For the straws, I try to cut each section no longer than about 20mm, and with one end on an angle and the other flat. The section will stand on the flat end, while the angled end is important for the next step.

Burn, Baby, Burn
Burning stuff
This is where the tea-light candle comes in. The hard boyz on Terragenesis talk about using a cigarette lighter to warp the plastic straws. The only draw back is that the lighter gets darn hot. Being a wimp, I discovered that one of my wife’s candles would do the job just as well. Use the pliers to hold the straw section, as both candle flames and melting plastic are hot. You really only need to dip the straw into the flame, the thin plastic rolls and warps in interesting patterns. Hot stuff
Try warming the sides of longer sections – if you get burn through, you’ll have created a mouth.

The first time I made these, I had a bowl of water to dip the heated straws into which worked quite well. This time I just placed the straws on the paper after I finished with each one – watch for molten plastic bonding with the newspaper!

A Sticky End
Sticky stuff
I squirted a glob of PVA (or white glue) onto each base and positioned my cut straws. I use half an old Freikorps figure blister as a palette for mixing both paint and glue – the raised sides stop runoff and keep all the messy bits in one place. Mixing some PVA with water in my palette, I used my manky glue brush to paint the bases with the glue/water mix. I then sprinkled the sticky bases with sand for texture.

Glassy Eyes
Beads attached
I have a bad habit of trying to run several projects in tandem – sometimes it works and sometimes you end up with twice the unfinished projects on your worktable. Glass beads, for $NZ1.00. Had to buy these, especially when I saw a post on a blog about creating alien container scatter terrain for a skirmish-in-the-souk game. While I lined the bulk of the beads up on the bases as rows of jars, I also positioned a couple along side some of my pitcher plants as some alien fruit/seed pods/immature plants/plants digesting their captured prey.

By this time, the entire construction process had taken about three hours on a wet afternoon, including a bit of faffing around time. Waiting for the glue to dry was taking longer than I had anticipated so I packed up and called it a day.

To be continued - painting and decorating


  1. Interesting tutorial so far im looking forward to viewing part two, :) i must point out the obvious though that those beads would make great Aliens style egg's, i can just picture them in small clumps with a facehugger or two added to the base...
    I would really like to see some more tutorials for home made table top buildings and terrain as it's a very important part of the hobby and if like me you have to wargame on a shoe string budget they are very useful, im currently working on a couple of corn beef tin buildings. :)zac

  2. interesting abd very useful!!

  3. These things look so awesome yet are so simple!

    I've decided that this will be my first terrain project for my red planet table. :)

  4. Very interesting Tutorial with some excellent ideas. Tops marks!