Clear Lake Lumber Company, part 2
By Rich Blake
In part 1 of this series we presented a walk-through of the Clear Lake Logging Company route, using it to describe the logging process.
In this article we will look at the various elements that were used to make the Clear Lake layout more realistic and enjoyable while viewing operations. Since this is a logging route based in the Pacific Northwest, the basic focus of scenery was easy to visualize –- lots of foliage and lots of steep grades. How to make this realistic with the terrain tools and scenery available was the challenge.
Layout Design Elements
One of my favorite concepts, which was brought to light by Model Railroader magazine, is the Layout Design Element, or LDE. The LDE is simply an area of a prototype route that is recreated in the modeling, or in our case, the virtual modeling world. Some LDEs are small scenes inspired from pictures of the prototype. Others may be made by visiting the actual area of operations. Either way, in the LDE concept we are simply copying objects and areas that are known about the prototype and creating small scenes within our layout. The Clear Lake follows this concept, and the LDE method was the impetus for almost every scene and camera angle in the layout.
When I began the route, a prototype had to be chosen as the theme. Once this was done, it was time to do some research and find pictures of my desired area of operations. I have numerous books and magazines dedicated to logging operations, so this was a snap. I reviewed pictures and selected those that provided the most interest to me as LDEs for the layout. The major LDEs on the Clear Lake are the mill site, Camp 1, the trestles, the switchbacks and Camp 3.
Mill site area.
Camp 1 area.
Camp 3 area.
Terrain planning and development
Once I had my references ready, I began to draw out the track plan. Since I was purposely limiting myself to one baseboard, the track plan was critical to operational capabilities. (The track planning and laying will be discussed in part 3 of this series.) Accompanying this track is the terrain, which the track must follow and/or avoid in order to get to where it needs to go. With my selected area of the Pacific Northwest, steep grades, water courses, and huge hills are not abnormal, so almost anything goes.
One of the things I wanted to accomplish was to create a sense of isolation in each major area of the layout. To do this I needed some kind of “view block” just as in a traditional model railroad. When the space is this limited the view block is necessary to accentuate the LDEs on the route and focus the user to the area that he is operating in without background distraction. I used terrain features to create this view block technique, and although they are exaggerated, it definitely works for a layout this small.
Topography map and viewblocking techinque.
Examples of view blocking can be seen in the mill site area. The large ridge behind provides isolation and directs the user's attention to only this area. The terrain is high enough that it would be difficult to move the camera viewing angle to anywhere but the mill site area. The main line run up from the mill site is bordered by terrain that keeps the camera view within the limits of the track. The Trainz viewing camera follows solid terrain and will track with the train as it travels along the layout. This feature can be used to advantage on small layouts to keep the focus on the train.
The river valleys throughout the layout were used to create a sense of space through vertical relief. The valley gorges are rather deep but provide good effect in making it seem as though the layout is larger than it is. On the Camp 1 area, the isolation effect is made through using the river valleys on each side and a small cirque near the log loading area. The cirque (a half-moon shaped series of hills) isolates the camp from the rest of the main line run behind and the valleys give the camp a sense of space and isolation making it look like it is on a ridge top.
Valley near Camp 1 and trestle.
Further up the main line to the switchbacks, a very large ridge and the back side of the cirque provides the isolation for this area. Camera viewing angles are very limited and there is little reason to “zoom out” beyond the limits of the terrain. Heading up and around the ridge to Camp 3, the sense of space is again provided through the vertical spaces above the valley below.
Within the Camp 3 area the focus is easy to maintain through using a semi-valley among the trees and terrain at the log loading area. The terrain rises up in all directions around the camp to again keep the focus in the operational area.
Camp 3 isolated inside cirque and trees.
Although I have been chastised by other users for my density of trees, these are essential in creating the sense of “being there” and furthering the isolation of the LDE scenes. The trees are as much a part of the plan as the track. Many trees are placed in strategic areas to provide view blocks to the outer edges of the layout.
Terrain elevation and texturing
The topography of the Clear Lake is rather convoluted and steep. As previously mentioned, this was necessary to achieve the isolation of certain areas of the layout. All the terrain features were created manually using the terrain tools in Trainz Surveyor. Programs exist to automatically create displacement maps for terrain, but all of the topography was manipulated in this case with the “spline smooth” and “plateau” tools.
Texturing the layout proved to be quite challenging, though Trainz has quite a few default textures to choose from. Most of the layout was covered in a base coat of green grassy texture and then areas were built up or highlighted as needed to create various effects. One technique that helped to create a sense of randomness was using the “[“ or “]” keys while placing textures. This spins the texture map, which in turn randomizes the texture. Varying the scale of the textures also helps to accentuate or blend areas as needed.
Topography, textures and trees used for dramatic effect.
Much like model railroading, a lot of experimentation is needed in creating scenery and terrain features. Although it is not perfect, the effect worked out fairly well on this layout using mostly default Trainz items and textures. The Trainz Surveyor tools are very powerful and allow much latitude in creation. The extra time taken to try to apply techniques can definitely pay off in creating convincingly realistic layouts.
Narrow gauge and logging content for Trainz
This is one area where Trainz is really growing. There is a small group of content creators that are dedicated to producing some fantastically detailed models for narrow gauge and logging operations. Best of all –- most of it is FREE. Many of the references given also provide loads of information and pictures covering this fascinating subject area. Using the basic operational concepts described above, one can come up with nicely detailed scenes.
Recommended narrow gauge and logging links for research:
Reference books and magazines:
Article and screen shots ©2003-2004 Rich Blake. All rights reserved.