The Art and Craft of Building a City

Boone here; I am Echo’s artistic counterpart at Skull Theatre, the one who comes up with crazy ideas and has to get used to being told “We cant do it like that.” or “the camera doesn’t like that”. Im currently trying to hold down a day job so my postings may be a bit more sporadic than Echo’s.

When we first started working on this project we decided that we wanted our city to have an aged/decayed look to it- that sort of lovely slightly creepy, slightly mysterious feel of something that has long suffered the onslaught of weather and time. When it came to picking up random rusty and peeling objects at junk stores and dumps, this was obviously pretty easy to capture, but achieving a convincing appearance of age when building objects from new materials found around the house requires a bit more work and creativity.

In this post I’ll show you how I built one of the houses that will appear in our game, starting with this obligingly house-shaped juice container : 

and ending with this:

You will notice that except for its base texture, the building is rather featureless. This is because, as Echo demonstrated in an earlier post, we will be adding separately captured doors and windows in our city editor, which will allow us to mix and match pieces and turn one house into an array of unique buildings. Its rather like playing with a house version of Mr. Potato Head.

Because a juice carton is quite flimsy and prone to flex (which can hamper the drying process of any other materials you might apply) I started by covering it in plaster wrap. This also has the benefit of providing a roughly textured foundation surface, which paint will adhere to more efficiently than slick waxed cardboard.

Im not usually one for product placement, but this right here is my best friend these days:

If you’ve never worked with crackle paste before but enjoy playing with multimedia, I suggest you give it a try. Be patient though, it has its quirks and doesn’t always work the way you expect it to. It starts out as a thick, wet, plaster-like substance with a slightly grainy texture, which you can spread onto an object with a pallet knife just like frosting. It is important to choose a surface that is mostly level (I have found that the paste doesn’t work well on curved surfaces) and to not spread the paste on too thinly. If the art gods are with you, a day or two of drying time will give you a mixture of beautiful deep fissures and fine spider cracks.

I emphasized the cracks by painting over them with a dark sepia tinted gouache and then wiped off the excess. Crackle paste is extremely fragile when dry and will flake off at the least provocation, so after I finished painting, I brushed the entire house with a matte varnish

Here is the house after being captured and placed in our editor:

Unavoidably, some of the detail is lost in the process which can be frustrating, but I’m still very pleased with the overall effect.

I found that the crackle paste is also excellent at simulating cracked or peeling paint. Here, I’ve used it on a door that I made:

There is very little that one can do to guide the final cracking pattern of the paste but in many ways that is for the best. Giving up control and allowing physics to take over means you are more likely to to end up with a more natural look…..but oh how I hate to give up control!

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About skulltheatre

Video Game Professional
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