Super-tree or Super-nuts ?
by: Jeff Winkel

"The Triorama"

For the last 11 years, on and off (mostly off), I have been building a “triorama”. A triorama, by my definition, is three scenes, not just one, and in this case, on a turntable, like three boxes in a cartoon strip. My triorama contains three scenes from the movie, “Kelly’s Heroes”.

Scene One

The first scene is the barn where Kelly is holding the gold bar he got from his (now drunk) German captive and he is pointing to a map. He is showing his squad the map and convincing them to “go for gold”. To see inside the farmhouse, a circular opening was made in the thatched roof.

To keep the scenes apart, I wanted eye blocks rather than partitions. I decided I had to have a tree that perfectly blocked the other scenes, without blocking the hole in the roof of the barn. So I jumped in. Using resources ranging from Osprey’s “Terrain Modeling” (with almost nothing they use available in the U.S.), notes from a model railroading class, to every other reference I had, the journey began. Twisted wire just didn’t do it. A practice tree twelve inches tall was too wobbly. No roots had the right shape. There was no easy was out. So, this is what I did …

Making The Tree

Picture A shows the dowel-in-dowel method. Wood dowels were tapered on a belt sander and pegged and epoxied into holes drilled at an angle into the trunk and limbs. This works for the main trunk and major limbs only. It’s rough looking. And had I known I was still over 100 hours away from finishing, I might have given up the ghost. But, sometimes ignorance is … ignorance. You sharp-eyes modelers will see that this picture was actually one of my earlier efforts and not shaped or angled like the final tree, but the process was the same. In the future, I would add some large diameter copper wire for reasons you’ll see later.

Picture B shows the tree skeleton with some 1/35th figures for reference and uncountable 7-copper wire strands, from an entire spool I bought, inserted into holes drilled into the end of the dowels and other random places along the major limbs and trunk. This photo was taken after I untwisted and re-twisted every one of the 7-wire strands. There were many nights where I “twisted the night away”. Every combination of individual wires from the 7-wire strands was used. From 6 and 1, then the 6 twisted into 4 and 2, or 3 and 3, or 5 and 1… Or, starting with 4 and 3, with the 4 reduced to 3 and 1 or 2 and 2… You get the picture. In some case, I had two or three wires strands to start from, so I had 21 or 14 individual wires to twist and twist into various other combinations, to give the realistic randomness of a real tree.

Picture C is a close-up of untwisted and retwisted wires. The black circles are where I marked places for the holes to be drilled and wires to be inserted. Every strand had to end up as an individual wire to replicate the twigs at the outer ends of limbs, branches, etc.

When I stood back and looked at it, it looked so puny I had my second crisis of confidence and left it alone and pondered and pouted. Finally, I got the idea to solder more strands on for fill. I just didn’t want to do the “stretch the poly-fiber” bit. Picture D shows me soldering on more strands, before my burns and wire poke holes and my Internet search for copper poisoning symptoms. You can see some clamps I used as “third hands” to hold strands together for soldering and to mark places where I needed more wire. More untwisting and twisting.

Next, Picture E is a close-up of the beefed up, or wired-up, branches.

Picture F is the tree plastered only over the wood dowels to create more natural curves between the dowels. Had I figured out how I was going to do the bark, I would have skipped this miserable step.

Picture G is a close-up. The beautiful, naturally irregular texture is testimony to my frantic attempt to get the plaster on before it set. So, at this point I could have said, “I did it on purpose”, but it was just an experiment.

Well, if the infomercial was right, hanging upside-down is good for you. So, I hung Mr. Tree by his heels (Picture H) so I could apply an elastomeric coating to all the exposed copper. It’s easier to apply this thick, goopy stuff to every branch, tree and individual wire than you’d think. Just play the Rolling Stones loud and continuously, while you repeat the phrase, “I am doing this because I choose to. I am doing this…” Why elastomeric? I figured that between my own fingers that have individual brains and go their own way, just like a cat’s tail, to inquisitive fingers of others, it is better to bend than break. I flipped it right side up to cover what I missed. Imagine the fun YOU would have at this point using your fingernails to remove the elastomeric coating from the end of every single wire, as I did to leave the copper exposed and to try to keep in scale.

Picture I is what wood, epoxy, wire, solder, plaster and elastomeric coatings look like after they collide. Picture J is a close-up showing the various materials coming together. Black marks are for locating places where additional support, more wires, and such are needed.

I used two-part epoxy putty (wood colored) for the bark (Picture K). The gray area was metal colored two-part epoxy that I used after I ran out of the other. This added the additional thrill of setting up in half the time of the wood-colored epoxy. So, with toothpicks, with their ends carved into random diamond-ish patterns for putting in the recesses in the bark, I worked like a Voodoo shaman on speed trying to get the various patterns poked into the epoxy while I had to blend the joints of the small patches I could work on at one time, all before set up time. Picture L shows some of the detail and the boles and the places where the tree heels itself when it loses a branch, prior to painting.

Picture M is the tree base-coated with good ol’ gray primer. I have to remember in the future that airbrushing a tree (or anything else) in front of a paint booth because it doesn’t fit inside and forgetting to cover up your cabinets will give formerly white cabinets a new look!

Real paint. Washes. Highlights and more highlights are shown in Picture N. Lowlights include realizing what is going to happen to all this paintwork after I have to air-brush the leaves AFTER they are on the tree, because I never could figure out how to get the “leaves” painted before getting them on the tree. Picture O gets closer to the wire ends that attract finger and faces better than the kite-eating tree in “Peanuts”. I had to bend and re-bend the branches umpteen times either to get the right look, or, more commonly, because I bumped them doing something else.

Picture P looks like autumn, because the tree is full of brown leaves stuck on with Woodland Scenics Hobby-Tac. I wish I were modeling autumn, so I could stop here. But, even though I wasn’t going for the full-monty of authenticity to the movie, it was summertime. The “leaves” are silver birch catkin seeds. I learned, after more than 20 telephone calls, that apparently no park, arboretum or conservatory in the U.S. has any silver birch catkin trees. But, having a son who lives in the Czech Republic and who likes to hike is the next best thing. Thanks, son, for your two days of efforts for Dad! Was it worth the trouble? Look at Picture Q. The catkin “leaves” are perfect! No darn shredded HO railroad foam or parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme for this tree! Now, what do I do with a drawer full of chopped spices in my playroom that I bought in case that’s what I had to use for this tree? I wear a respirator when I model!

The Finale

R” we ready for the finale? Pictures R, S and T are three views of the tree, after repainting all the green over-spray. Picture U is a front view showing how the tree blocks Scene Two (the railroad yard with Oddball coming out of the railroad tunnel). Picture V shows how the tree blocks Scene Three (loading the gold from the bank), while it doesn’t block the cutout in the thatched-roof of the barn from Scene One. Finally, Picture W shows the back of the tree with some of Scene Two showing and the backs of Scenes One and Two. Please note that the “tri” is far from finished. I have to detail over forty figures, add posters, trash, railroad yard debris, a waterfall and water drip from the hill and huge amounts or grass, weeds, bushes, smaller trees, etc. Then the pastels.

Other than the fact that the tree took so long to do, I ran out of time to finish the “tri” for our Regional IPMS show May 7-9, I was satisfied with the results. Oh, well, there’s always next year, or, maybe if we get to host the “Nationals” in ’06. Thanks for reading this. Your comments are welcome, good or bad.

Jeff Winkel

This article comes from Armorama