Cheap City Buildings

Stuart Wiltshire asked for me to do a tutorial on the cheap and easy city buildings I used in my Scrap Metal Rustlers game. First off I search the local dollar stores nearby. In the USA the best luck I have had are at the Dollar Store. Any crate type container would suffice, just ask yourself if it could reasonably pass for a building if painted.

Here is the UPC sticker one the crate itself. Looks like all of mine are made by United Solutions Leominster, MA, USA. Hmmm, I wonder if I can get these on a huge discount if I drive down there from New Hampshire....

With this particular brand of mini-crate there are solid panels in the center grid on two opposing sides. I just cut these out with a razor blade which is easiest if the plastic is warmed first. A word of warning is the plastic can become brittle during cutting if it is cold but can be easily repaired with super glue. In cold months I just hold the grid up to a clamp light bulb (120 watt) for 20 seconds and it seems to do the trick.

Here you can see this piece removed, and my hand for comparison of size. An average sized hand would probably fit within the outline of my own. You don't have to cut this piece out if you don't want to spend the time. I bought 22 more of these suckers so I'm not going to bother for the rest.

The plastic of the crate will be shiny in all probability. At this point I suggest you spray it with some color of primer. Black will give an end result of a burned out building, where as gray will help lean towards a concrete structure. You can use different colors for each crate, but keep in mind stacked buildings should have a similar under color so I just keep all mine black for maximum versatility.

Here are two textured paints off the shelf of the local home improvement store. Although they don't appear it in the photo these two are roughly the same color as the stuff on the right. The Valspar seemed to be slightly better at applying a nice coating of material, but the Rust-oleum wasn't a bad product either. You can choose and use what ever color or texture you like, but think how it will look on the table.

Here's the first pass of texture paint. Note I've got the crate up off the ground to prevent 'snow drifts'against the bottom edge. Make sure you use this stuff in a location with excellent ventilation!

As you can see in this close up the material doesn't completely cover like normal spray paint. The trick with using this stuff is to spray on several light coats and allow sufficient time to dry in between. If it seems like the more you spray the more stuff just moves around vs covers then you are putting on too much in one go. Have patience!

Here you can see a second pass. Getting better but you can still see the black peaking through. You'll want some of your under color to show through for color purposes. Also do not get rid of all the black on the under and insides of the crate as it helps reinforce shadow and thus give the illusion of mass. You don't have to get this perfect as I just slapped it on and my finished structures looked great.

Here you can see better coverage but still the under color shows through. Choose your base color very carefully!

As so much of the material ends up on the ground I like to stack the crates and spray them all at once. Hopefully more of the texture ends up on another crate rather than the ground.

Feel like you're on a building yet?

You could also consider placing some sheets of material under the buildings which might later be used for sidewalks etc. Try no to waste the textured paint as it costs a little more than your average can of spray.

Once the texture spray dries it will flatten and look more like concrete.

I started messing around with gluing various types of gravel to the roof but stopped as it made the piece heavy. You can lay sheets of heavy grit sand paper or use other material to cover the roof - or just leave as is. Also consider making separate roof caps which you place on top and have nice detail and features to make the buildings more realistic to your specific genre.

Once dry the building floors can be stacked any way you like. Here we're going for height.

And the same buildings make a nice city block just be rearranging them on the table. Place some curbs and streets and you're on your way.

It doesn't take too much to imagine what it looks like for your mini looking out.

Once you have these basic structures you can customize them as much as you desire. I already mentioned the roof caps, but they can also be made to cap multiple crates. You can also add tinted plastic sheet to the inside of the crate for glass. Add different colors of tinted sheet for different effects. You an even cut and drill the plastic sheet to make it look battle damaged. Keep things flexible by having the sheet held in place with clips or magnets. Consider hanging cat walks or billboards off the outside. Add some pipes or roof top water towers to really make the effect sink in.

© 2010, Gabriel Landowski