Friday, April 6, 2012

Castle Destro (Contruction)

Day One (04/13/2011): I wanted this to serve as a combination diorama/playset/display case, so I knew from the very beginning that there would have to be compromises in many different areas. I started with a bookshelf that I've been using for action figure displays since 1999. When I bought the bookshelf, I added a step in the assembly. I attached a sheet of plexi-glass to the front, to reduce the accumulation of dust and to keep our four-legged family members out of the display. I used a set of small hinges on one side so that the plexi-glass could swing open like a door. On the other side, I used magnets to keep it closed. Before getting started on the Castle proper, I removed the hinges and re-mounted them. Let's just say that I know a bit more about doing these things properly than I did 12 years ago!

Destro: So, what do you think of our new home, my dear Baroness?

Baroness: Oh, it's just wonderful, Destro... If one is fond of faux wood paneling.

Destro: But... Ummm... Well, it's not finished yet, my dear! We'll need to customize it to suit our tastes!

Baroness: We? No offense Destro, but if your sense of interior design is anything like your sense of men's fashion, I'll be doing the decorating!

Day Two (04/14/2011): Today, the kids and I ran out to Michaels looking for something to use for the castle exterior. We found a couple of options, but didn't settle on one or the other. Instead, we accidentally discovered small birdhouses shaped like castle battlements. We bought two of them for $4.99 each and drove home. After a little bit of trimming at the base, they worked perfectly!

Baroness: Well the entrances are a bit small, don't you think?

Destro: <sigh> Grenadier! Bring me a saw!

So the next step was to use my scroll saw to cut the doorways to the proper size so that a figure could fit inside. I also removed the roof and expanded the doorway on the top tier of the tower so that a sentry could be placed there. I also added a protective wall around the top of the "castle" to protect other troops from incoming fire.


Day Three (04/17/2011): Today, the entire Castle was transported up to the garage for a base coat. I painted the entire thing flat black with the exception of the individual shelves - I left those alone because I want the Castle to have wooden floors (it is, after all, very old). The plexi-glass door was masked off with newspaper and painter's tape so that the edges were painted, but each shelf would still be visible through it (more on this tomorrow). The top shelf was a bit tight going back in and it scraped away some of the base coat, as can be clearly seen in the picture. This wasn't exactly desirable, but it's far better that it happened now and not after I had finished detailing the interior walls. I'll touch up the base coat around the scuff tomorrow before I get started on the detailing.

Baroness: Destro, why is the Castle not finished yet? Where did you find these contractors?

Destro: What do you mean? This guy submitted the lowest bid!

Day Four (04/18/2011): Today, I enlisted the aid of my two kids in detailing the exterior. Basically, we did a faux finish like you might see on one of those home improvement TV shows. We cut three small sponge pieces to the exact shape of the stonework on the battlements. Then we mixed a pile of paint with varying degrees of white, black and gray. All three of us then used the sponge pieces like little stampers and we "stamped" the stones onto the exterior. We were pretty pleased with the result. Tomorrow, we hope to get the whole interior done just like this.

Day Five (04/19/2011): Today, I managed to get the faux stone finish applied to the upper two levels of the Castle. It seemed to take much longer trying to apply the little sponge stampers in the enclosed space. While this is really not difficult work, after two days of it I'm ready for it to be finished! I also started to work a little bit on the roof-level landing pad, but there's really not much to show there yet. I'll post some pics of that area once I get it closer to being completed.

Destro: General Mayhem, why has this man been shot?

General Mayhem: My Laird, he failed to meet my stated expectations.

Destro: In what way General?

General Mayhem: I said that all of the Castle's toilets were to be fully functional by day's end and clearly he did not achieve this. Therefore, I shot him. Such failure shall not be tolerated on this project, my Laird!

Destro: General, this man is... er... was not a plumber. He was an electrician!

General Mayhem: Electrician? Hmmm... 

Day Six (04/20/2011): Today, I finally finished all of the remaining stonework. The whole Castle exterior and all four interior floors have been detailed with the faux stone finish. Both of the battlement towers have also been finished - in fact, they were still drying as of this photo. Now that "construction" is complete, I can turn my attention to interior decorating!

So then the construction is finally complete?

Destro: Yes, my dear Baroness! The Castle is finished!

Baroness: Excellent! Then I shall begin decorating tomorrow.

Destro: But...

Baroness: But what? You didn't seriously think I was going to let you decorate, did you? Do you think I've forgotten what you wore to the 2007 San Diego Comic Convention? Hmmm?

Destro: <sigh> No, my dear Baroness.


Day Seven (05/04/2011): Okay, the furniture really threw me for a loop! I had planned to use 1/18 scale dollhouse furniture for this project. There is a lot of it out there and it looks amazing. What stopped me was the price tag. For example, a simple dinner table and four chairs would have set me back $45! So, off to Michaels for some additional craft supplies.  I bought some 3" x 5" beveled plaque wood to use as tabletops ($0.59 each). For the table legs, I bought a bag of 1 and 3/4" shaker pegs ($2.99 for 18 of them).

I used a 15/64 drill bit to make the holes where the legs inserted into the tabletops.

After I test-fit each leg, I used a piece of sponge to apply brown paint (I believe the color was Espresso). The excess paint was wiped off to allow the wood grain to show through. The table legs were then secured in place with a drop of Elmer's Glue. Each table was given a liberal coat of matte sealant.

I also decided to use a couple of cheap cabinets that we had originally bought for another project (they cost me $1.00 each). The had been sitting inside the Dreadnoks Swamp Hideout, but after I gave them the same treatment as the tables, I think they'll fit much better in Castle Destro. The McCullen family crest on the wall is a decal that I printed out (many thanks to my IG teammate ShockVal for scanning the image for me).


Day Eight (05/05/2011): The plans I had for making chairs crashed and burned today. Lots of frustration. Back to the drawing board...

Day Nine (05/06/2011): Another trip to Michaels provided me with the solution to my chair problem. I returned the unusable parts I'd bought the day before and used my refund to buy some build-it-yourself dollhouse furniture. When you look at the packaging, the furniture looks like it was assembled from a jigsaw puzzle. But closer scrutiny showed that once assembled, I should be able to Dremel the offending pieces down so that they looked reasonably decent. So I assembled the four dinner chairs, Dremelled down the large tabs and then spray-painted them black. A "test-sitting" of the Iron Grenadier figures showed that the chairs were a bit too low, which meant I'd have to add some cushions. I cut four seat cushions from some styrofoam and then wrapped them carefully in paper towel, to give them texture. I then spray-painted the cushions red (the paper towel also gave the paint something to adhere to - I know from past experience that it usually doesn't work well with plain styrofoam). I also finished up the roof area today, adding a radra dish to one of the battlements and an appropriate decal to the V.I.P. landing pad.

Day Ten (05/08/2011): Today is the day for all the final details. I did some Internet searching for various things that I could convert into decorations:

- The McCullen clan banners were downloaded from JoeDios. These banners were used on every floor of the castle.

- The large wooden doors were downloaded from JoeDios. These doors were also used on the Second and Third floors.

- The three "paintings" are actually illustrations of Conan the Barbarian from Marvel Comics, Vigo the Carpathian from the film Ghostbusters and the Lich King from the video game World of Warcraft. I printed them out and then glued them to styrene "frames" that were spray-painted gold.

- The rugs were simply printed out, cut to size and laid on the floor. I thought about making them decals, but decided that it might be better if they were easy to move or remove in the future. My color ink cartridge started to die halfway through the largest rug, lending it a rather faded or "aged" look.

- The drinking glass on Destro's desk is a small piece of plastic tube cut from the straw inside a Windex bottle.

- The silver pitcher on the desk came from a Lord of the Rings Galadriel figure.

- The battle axe mounted to the wall came from a Lord of the Rings Gimli figure.

- The two M.A.R.S. briefcases came from G.I. Joe figures.

- The "briefing papers" on the conference table are just little pieces of blank paper cut to size. I will eventually get around to doing something cool with some tiny font, but today was busy enough without getting into that!

- The large hangar doors were downloaded from JoeDios.

- The flags on the roof level were made by painting some dowel gold and then sticking two McCullen clan banners together with the dowel sandwiched between them along one side. The banners were wrinkled to look as if they were flowing with the wind. The flagpoles were inserted into small holes drilled in the battlement wall.

Day Eleven (05/09/2011): Today was "move in" day at the Castle. Although there are still details I'd like to nail down eventually, most of these are going to require a lot of time to get done. The Castle is as complete as it can get for the time being. These last two shots show my IG forces marching toward their new home (the YouTube link below provides the appropriate Scottish music for marching troops).

Day Twelve (08/28/2011): While I was still quite happy with the castle itself, I've recently came to realize that something was missing - scenery. So, I set about brainstorming for ideas on how to add some scenery to the castle. Eventually, I decided to use the empty shell of the "Ugly House", a large dollhouse I made a few years back for my children's Ugly Dolls. The kids lost interest in it after a year or so, and the house was used for various different playsets over the years. Most recently, it had been gathering dust in a corner of the basement. Anyway, I decided to set the castle on top of the Ugly House so that the top of it simulated ground level and the rooms below would be like secret underground caverns - which would more than likely be found underneath Castle Destro, right?

Right away, I went out and picked up some Woodland Scenics artificial grass, coated the top of the Ugly house with spray adhesive and sprinkled the "grass" on. It looked great, but if I'd had any prior experience with the product, I would have waited to apply it. I very quickly realized that adding other terrain was going to be somewhat difficult without messing up the grass. But, you live and you learn, right?

Day Thirteen (08/29/2011): I knew approximately how I wanted the project to turn out, but I wasn't sure how to get there so I decided to ask my fellow Iron Grenadiers at HissTank to help brainstorm as a way of getting new ideas and also poking holes in ideas that ultimately wouldn't have worked well. One of the best suggestions I received was to add a moat around the castle's perimeter. I began the moat by scraping away the grass in the area where I wanted the moat (see? I should have waited for the grass). I then painted the "bottom" of the moat with three different colors of brown. While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled some sand and loose dirt on to give it texture. In order to keep the "water" in the moat, I needed to build up the walls of the moat a bit. So after the paint was dry, I applied a thick ribbon of wood glue to the outside edge of the moat. While it was wet, I alternated sprinkling sand, dirt and more of the artificial grass on the glue to make it look sort of like shoreline. The moat is only about 1/8 of an inch deep, but I really only need enough depth to hold the simulated water while it dries. To fill the moat, I had planned to use the type of synthetic water used by model railroad enthusiasts. But to fill a moat the size was planning would have quickly become very expensive. So I decided to use hot glue sticks! My master plan is to melt a bunch of glue stick in a pot and then pour the melted glue into the moat. Because it dries clear, I figured the bottom of the moat should still be visible. When all was said and done, the glue dried a little foggier than I expected, but it looks pretty good. After the moat was dry, I scraped away more of the lawn so that I could put in the driveway. This was done using spray adhesive and sandy dirt. The whole driveway was then watered down using a spray bottle. I rolled my Razorback and some other vehicles over it a few times and was rewarded with very distinct tire tracks. The driveway was then sprayed down with a water/glue mixture to keep it in place. Here's a shot of the castle as it will sit when the whole project is finished.

Day Fourteen (09/19/2011): Obviously, I got a little sidetracked on this! Anyway, I finally got back to it today and built the drawbridge. I installed it with a couple of small hinges and some chain. The chain runs through the plexi-glass door and can actually be used to pull up the bridge! The drawbridge is a bit wide, but it would have bothered me immensely if it was too small to allow a D.E.M.O.N. in and out of the Castle! The moat got a bit of touch-up in the form of border stones. The stones were fixed in place with hot glue. I was deliberately sloppy with the hot glue, because I found that it looks like water between the rocks. I'm not done with this yet, but I'm a lot closer after today!

Day Fifteen (04/06/2012): Today, I got around to adding some interior lighting to the "underground" areas of the castle.  I bought a length of rope light and used carpet tacks to secure it to the perimeter of the ceiling.  It lights the area well enough so that you can see everything displayed there, but it's still dim enough that it seems like an appropriate and realistic amount of light for the underground portion of an old castle.  The lighting effects simply won't show up the same in pictures, but you can see below how I ran it through the rooms.

While I had the whole thing torn apart, I decided to place some 2x4 studs underneath the display.  My workshop is in the basement, after all, and once in a while we do get a little bit of water down there.  I hope that it will also keep out most of the lint and cat hair that seemed to migrate in there when it was lower to the ground.

Sadly, My hammering of the carpet tacks managed to knock loose almost all of the moat stones I'd glued in place.  The moat was looking rather pitiful, so I decided to go ahead and rip it out.  I liked it, but it never quite achieved the look I wanted from it.  So, the castle will now be surrounded by grass.

We took a break to have dinner and then the kids and I set about making the underwater training tank for the Undertows.  We used an old packaging container from the Star Wars Order 66 2-packs to simulate the tank.  We cut a square opening in the top and then hung a pair of Undertows from fishing line so that they appeared to be sparring underwater.  We'll go back and add more detail at a later time, but we're pretty happy with it so far!

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