Sector Mechanicus: My 10 step method for awesome looking industrial terrain

As part of my foray into Necromunda, I ended up eventually breaking down and getting the core Necromunda: Underhive box. While I parted with the Goliath sprues, due to a mispack that I had to go through GW customer service to resolve, I ended up with twice the terrain as usual, in addition to the massive pile that I bought because when I get into something, I go all in.

Of course, this meant that I needed to find a way to get all that terrain painted. Now, because it is terrain, that means that I could relax and just do something tabletop quality. Unfortunately, because I’m kind of anal-retentive about my miniatures, my definition of tabletop quality is a little different from most people’s, which can be both a blessing and a curse. After a little trial and error, I think I’ve hit on a pretty good method to banging out masses of pretty good looking terrain for the Sector Mechanicus/Zone Mortalis stuff that is commonly used for Necromunda.

So, I’m going to do my own version of a Warhammer TV Duncan Rhodes video. But, since I’m not as photogenic as our lord and saviour of two thin coats; I’m going to do it in my own style: an incredibly wordy article, and also forgetting to take pictures of all my steps.

Also, just as a warning, this method does involve heavy airbrush use. An all-purpose airbrush like the Patriot 105 is a great tool for this sort of work, especially when you’re trying to bang out a lot of terrain in a short time. If you don’t have an airbrush, you could probably adapt some of these techniques, but it may be a better idea to go look up one of the Duncan tip of the day videos. Just don’t think you need to stick to the Games Workshop family of products. Even in this guide, I mention a lot of specific products, but aside from a couple which are so good you probably should be using them anyways (Vallejo Metal Color for airbrushing metallics, for example), feel free to substitute paints from your favourite paint brand.

The Method

1. Clip it off the sprues and assemble it. Duh. The Zone Mortalis stuff is mostly one piece bulkheads that just need some feet glued on, so it’s easiest to just assemble it all up front. For the big complex Sector Mechanicus terrain pieces, it’s probably best to work in sub-assemblies where you have to but leave it unassembled for now where you can, but it’s not hard to figure out the best way to do something like this.

2. Prime it in Stynylrez black through the airbrush. You could use a rattle can of black primer if you want to, or airbrush a different black primer if for some strange reason your primer of choice isn’t Stynylrez. However, airbrushing primer is much easier than using a rattle can, and it can be done inside in all kinds of weather.

3. Airbrush it with a base coat of Vallejo Metal Color Steel or a similar dark silver colour. Someone asked me recently what the best acrylic silver paints were for airbrushing, and Vallejo Metal Color (Not Vallejo Model Air) is a great answer. It has nice fine pigments, sprays like a dream, and covers in one coat. Right now, it’s the only metallic paint that goes through my airbrush.

4. Pick out brass bits. One thing I like to do is incorporate some visual interest in big metal things by having a mixture of grey metals and brass. It’s why I like painting steampunk stuff so much; I get to throw in a lot of brass bits to add some contrast to my metals and machinery. I generally use P3 Molten Bronze for this, but you can use whatever brass paint you like.

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VMC Steel (airbrushed) and P3 Molten Bronze (brush painted)

5. First dry-brush. Get a nice, big, soft makeup brush and a bright silver and go to town. It doesn’t really matter too much if you get the silver on the brass bits; it can actually make for a nice effect as the highest highlight on brass should be silver anyways. Feel free to be heavy on the dry brushing here as we will be taking it down a notch in a later step, and those errant, chalky dry-brush marks that are why real hardcore srs bsns painters use more advanced techniques and leave dry-brushing to noobs (note: my tongue planted firmly in my cheek as I write this sentence) actually make for a decent representation of scratches and scrapes and other sources of visual interest. Don’t be afraid to really beat the devil out of it and take out your frustrations on this terrain.

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My weapon of choice

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Before (bottom) and after (top) the first dry brush. See the difference; it’s looking pretty good already.

6. Pick out non-metallic details. Things like wires, hoses, etc., which are non-metallic. We’re doing this after the first dry-brush because we don’t want to spend a lot of time picking these out only to hit them with our violent, heavy dry-brushing in step 5 and ruin out work. Do them in nice, vibrant colours; it’s better to err on the side of more vibrant, because we’re going to knock it back in the next step.

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Some non-metallic details such as the tanks and hoses picked out.

7. Wash time! Drop some Nuln Oil into your airbrush and spray. Using the airbrush to apply these GW shades is fun; you can build up the shade and let it get everywhere, and if you don’t go too heavy on the trigger, you don’t end up with the coffee staining issue you normally get when you try to apply the shade with a brush. For more visual interest, follow up with some Drakenhof Nightshade in some random areas to get a nice subtle worn mottled look between blue-grey and brown-grey, and/or something like Agrax Earthshade for brown patches.

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Post-wash, note how the washes really dulled it down.

8. Second dry-brush. With the same makeup brush, do a subtle, controlled dry-brush just to pick out some of the edges but without going all over and messing up your non-metallic detail. Focus on the upper portions of your bulkheads and supports and the like, so it looks like they are getting more direct sunlight.

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The effect is difficult to capture in photos, but the second dry brush can really help bring back some of the highlights which faded a little in the wash.

9. Add finishing touches. There are a few things you can do here to take it up to the next level. If your terrain piece is sticking out of the ground like the support pieces for the walkways, you can add some crud to the bottom where dirt, debris, and standing water during floods might congregate. I like to use Typhus Corrosion for this part, which is basically GW’s technical paint that consists of brown with bits of crud floating in it. Basically, apply it to the areas close to the ground with a big wet brush and feather it up and out. This will give the impression that the areas close to the ground have gotten dirty through years of flooding and add a little bit of dynamism and visual interest. If you want, you can also add a little green corrosion to your copper and brass bits with a touch of Nihilakh Oxide. If there are any lights on your terrain piece, you can get a cool, simple OSL effect by painting the light source white and then spraying some artist acrylic inks in the colour of your choice overtop, allowing the overspray to represent the reflected light. You will look like an awesome painter who takes the time to do super advanced and crazy difficult techniques like OSL on your terrain; just keep the fact that it was actually super easy between us.

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Some quick glow effects with white paint, an airbrush, and some artist inks.

10. Varnish. You’re going to be handing these terrain pieces a lot and you’re probably not going to take as good care of them as you do your army, so give it a coat of satin varnish, which is a nice happy medium between a bright shiny gloss and those super dull matte varnishes that makes you wonder why you even bothered using metallic paint in the first place. Again, I like to use my airbrush for this because it makes varnishing much easier than either trying to brush it on or use a rattle can.

The Results

From there, you can start assembling your terrain. I found it’s good to assemble it in modules; this way, you can build your table in multiple ways, but you aren’t taking an hour to quickly lego together some rickety terrain pieces every time you want to play. When you do this, it’s good to think about how pieces might logically go together. Furnaces and the like may have big smokestacks, which should be the tallest things on the table. Pipes shouldn’t go to nowhere, especially when they’re being placed vertically as supports for flooring. Terrain should have enough supports that it looks stable, which has the advantage of actually being stable and not collapsing onto your nicely painted miniatures. It also may be a good idea to make some concessions towards the practicalities of playing the game when you do this — where you place your ladders, how you can get nice cover, and how you can make your terrain such that it can be interacted with and is meaningful enough that it matters in-game, but not so unbalanced that whoever has this terrain piece on his side of the table basically gets a free win.

Finally, once you get it together, you may need to touch up a few areas with paint. Places where you got some glue where you didn’t mean to could use a little love. Further, with OSL and weathering, you may need to add a little bit more for it to make sense. For example, if you have a clean pipe coming out of a dirty tank, you may need to add some grime to the pipe to make it look more consistent. Or you may need to dry brush on a little more OSL if you end up with a glowing bit that is facing another surface.

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This is my terrain setup; it has a few major pieces, but can be arranged and rearranged in a number of ways. The two stories of the section with the large white tank is not glued on, so I can take it off and place it on the gaming surface to have two single story terrain pieces. Also, the large chimney on top of the white tank is removable, and the pipes can be arranged in any number of ways. I think I’m going to get a battlemat to go with it; I was thinking the Cryx Necrotite F.A.T. Mat would be a good choice as it would go with both Necromunda and Warmachine, and could be set up with forests and more natural terrain and not look too shabby either. I’ve also got some fully painted Zone Mortalis terrain; the sort that comes in the Necromunda: Underhive box painted with the same technique to go with it.

As you can see, this painting technique works quite nicely. You end up with some good looking terrain, but because the washes have dulled and blended some of the colours together, it has enough contrast that it still looks good, but not so much that it overpowers the miniatures, who should be the focus of the game.

This isn’t the only technique I used though; on some of the larger pieces, I also did some chipping using the hairspray technique. That would be its own article though. If you want to do this, I would suggest to do the chipped sections first and mask them off while you work on the rest of the terrain piece and be careful about your colour choice; orange and brown rust doesn’t contrast red paint very much.

Conclusions

When you’re painting large things, effective use of an airbrush can be key to getting it done fast and good. This technique here is a nice way to get some awesome looking terrain, but for your projects, you can feel free to adapt it any way you want. Picking out brass bits and other details is really the only time-consuming part of this project. I kind of went overboard on some of the details for mine, but if you just want to get it done up to tabletop standard, paring back on the amount of details you put into the brass and the non-metallic bits you picked out can be a real time-saver.

Good looking terrain is an aspect of miniature gaming that is often undervalued. As we naturally want to focus on getting our armies painted, terrain often lags behind in both painting quality and actually getting it finished. However, there is nothing more satisfying in the hobby than seeing two nicely painted armies duking it out on an attractive table.

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