Snowy Soo

Winter Railroading.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Playing around with container images

Greetings everyone,

They say slow progress is better than no progress, so I'll take some heart in that. 

I am getting some modelling done this weekend, focusing on what I see as the two most urgent and glaring problems my layout has right now: 

  1. Too much bare blue-sky backdrop badly in need of photographic images to give the layout some depth.
  2. Still too much pink insulation board showing. I mean ... it's been three years. You'd think by now I would have put some paint and ground cover over the bare spots (and yet they're still there). 
So it's these two things I'm trying to focus on this weekend. 

I decided to do something with what looks like a vacant lot between two industries: the warehouse (which I think I'm going to call Queensway Transfer), and Hymopak. 

Here's the spot on the layout, empty and adorned by only my four pathetic shipping containers:

Those four containers look lonely against the backdrop. But at $10 a piece now, filling the space with more would cost more then I'm willing to pay.

On the prototype, across Medulla Road from Hymopak, there's a large industry that sells, rents and fixes shipping containers. I'm guessing the business is there due to its proximity to Obico container terminal, which CP shuttered a few years ago. 

This shot shows the industry I'm modelling. I like the multi-coloured stacks of shipping containers. 
The place always has stacks of containers, in a multi-coloured mosaic that I think would make an interesting addition to my layout, while sticking to the prototype and not using a lot of space.

Now, I could just model it using HO scale plastic shipping containers, but they're surprisingly expensive. Even when bought in packs, they're in the range of $40 for three, which seems like a lot. I mean, they're just plastic boxes!

I've managed to pick up a few cheap containers (four in total) at train hows. But it's not enough to create the kind of mass I need for this spot. So, I decided to try something that's quick and almost free: printing digital photos of real containers, printing them out to size and combining them to form a background image. 

There was an article about this in one of my older Model Railroader magazines that I now can't locate. 

One challenge is that I no longer have layout programs or Photoshop on my computer. Those are expensive too (I know what you're thinking and you're right, I am cheap). I know they're are free photo editing and layout programs out there, but I wanted to know if I could get useable images uploading photo files and placing them in a Google doc (simple). 

So I went to work this morning. The hardest part was finding images of containers shot directly from the side, and not off on an angle. I uploaded them onto the Google doc, moved and cropped the rectangular container images until they looked like stacks and printed them out on photo paper. 

You can see the results here. Sorry this pic is so blurry. 

Camera shake made this photo come out blurry. Images of the actual containers are fairly sharp.
So I trimmed the containers and stuck them to the backdrop using double-sided tape. 

You can see the results here: 

The images don't look bad. But I think the effect would be much better in 3D, which will be more work.

Here's a wider view. 

So how well did this work?

Well, I'm glad I to know I can use Google Docs to contain the images for printing. Though its function is very limited for layout tasks, I was able to crop and stack the containers. This is a good thing to know. 

I'm happy with the image quality but I'm convinced the containers need to be "built out" and made 3D, not pressed flat against the backdrop. I think I'm going to go back and do this here, but it's going to be more work. I could photo laminate the images onto a wood or styrene blocks. Then of course, I would need shots of a few container ends, which means another hunting expedition on Google images. 

I still think that for now, the containers add a bit of visual interest to what was a barren section of the layout. This is going to be one of those situations where it will have to be "good enough for now" until I can circle back and maybe improve the scene when I have more time. 

A chain link fence, maybe a small utility building and some scenery to blend the images in would help the scene out a lot. 

I once saw at a train show very cool N scale module of a large shipping container facility. The man who build it combined dozens of images like the ones below to create a convincing scene along the backdrop. He also had scores of actual shipping container models stacked between the loading tracks, which really helped give the scene the scale it needed. 

I'd be interested to hear your comments.

Also, if anyone out there is interested in trying something like this on their layout, I've included some downloadable image files below. You will need to re-size them. I'm no expert in posting downloads.