Backdrop Scenery Techniques
Using SceniKing® Backgrounds

SceniKing town scene behind East Utopia yard
SceniKing backdrop

My free-mo style module containing East Utopia needed backdrop scenery. 

Usually one doesn't put a backdrop on a free-mo module because the module should be able to be turned 180┬║ at train shows so it can be viewed and operated from both sides. However, it is unlikely that I will take the module to shows because it is 8-feet long and would be difficult to get up my basement stairs. Also, in its present configuration it is against a wall and only can be operated from one side. I designed the backdrop to be removeable just in case (which helped in my move to new premises).

I made the backdrop from masonite hardboard. It is 15 inches high. I didn't want to do a lot of framing so I made it freestanding. I took a 1 X 4 length of pine and glued a 1-inch piece of masonite along the bottom edge and screwed the bottom to the side of the module. This allowed me to slip the sheet of background tempered hardboard into the "slot" created. Later I added a few screws along the top edge to help it hold its shape.

This time I decided to try one of the SceniKing commercial background scenes. Les Mavor, who lives in nearby Barrie, Ontario, owns and operates SceniKing┬«. 

I decided on town backdrop scenery instead of industrial. I didn't need more industry locations because East Utopia was essentially a yard for "off the layout" Canadian destinations. In my current UNRR layout it has become the main yard with the ferry at one end and some industries at the other end.

The backdrop I bought was C003 that is 101 X 13 inches. This can be connected to C001 and C002 to make a backdrop 16 1/4 feet long. I only had room for the one section.

SceniKing backdrops are on sheets of paper. You trim the white borders on both sides and temporarily tape them together along the top borders.

Preparing and assembling the paper backdrops
trimming backdrop

The sheets have a slight overlap. To handle the length Les recommends assembling them in groups of 3 sheets and installing them like wallpaper. The sheets come with sky in place, however, the seam becomes obvious. Many modellers remove the sky so that's what I did.

The paper sheets are easy to trim with a sharp X-Acto #11 blade. I used several blades. The trickiest part is cutting around the tree branches. Nature abhors straight lines so I took the time to trim as closely as possible to the tree leaves.

I was left with a bunch of sheets assembled in groups of three or four. The tools I used were an 18-inch ruler, a cutting mat, an X-Acto knife and liquid glue for paper. A glue stick would also work.

Preparing the sky

I laid the full length of hardboard on my basement floor on top of newspapers. I primed the hardboard with a coat of leftover acrylic primer using a roller. After it dried I used a roller to apply flat white paint from near the bottom to about three-quarters up the sky area. While wet I applied a sky blue flat paint with a wide 4-inch brush to the top third of the sky.

Painting the sky on the hardboard backdrop laid on the basement floor
sky backdrop painting

Sky is normally whiter or grayer near the horizon and bluer as you look up. This time I didn't wait to add fluffier cumulus type clouds. Instead, immediately while still wet I blended in some streaks of gray using the same brush and added a few streaks of white here and there. The effect is more like a hazy, cloudy city sky with pollution in the air. The effect is actually quite subtle.

Temporary placement of the sky backdrop on the module
sky backdrop

When the paint was dry I inserted the hardboard backdrop into the groove created by the 1 X 4 with the 1-inch hardboard strip along the bottom. This was sufficient to hold it in place and made it quite easy to handle. I did move some of the freight cars out of the way so I wouldn't knock them onto the floor. Then I took a pencil and dragged it along the base of the homasote on which the track is laid. I angled the pencil so that the line was slightly below the sub roadbed. Then I removed the hardboard backdrop scenery and put it back on the floor.

Mounting the SceniKing backdrop sections

There are several ways to accomplish this. The instructions suggest using fresh glue sticks. I followed the alternate assembly method suggested. I sprayed the backs of the assembled sections with 3M SprayMount adhesive and carefully pressed them in place while tacky on the backdrop in the correct sequence. 

When using this method it is easier to mount the sections if you restrict them to several pages glued together although some repositioning is possible if you work quickly. I worked inward from both ends of the module because the entire scene was several inches longer than the module.

3D effect of overlapping foam core mounted pieces of the backdrop in front of the scene
3D mounting effect

There is a section of buildings near the centre of the backdrop that had defined edges. I cut this out separately and spray mounted it on black foam core. This gave the backdrop a little 3D relief and allowed me to overlap the buildings onto the sections on either side without undue concern for a mismatch. 

I am pleased with the overall backdrop scenery of the town site.  I would not have been able to paint this kind of a scene. Its also possible to add more building fronts or other details as foreground elements. I am doing this on the new UNRR.

I didn't have room to add a service road in front of the backdrop because the track is quite close to the edge. Now that the backdrop is in place I don't have to worry about rolling stock falling off the back side of the module.

Here's a view of the completed scene.

East Utopia with SceniKing backdrop
Sceniking railyard backdrop

Backdrop additions at the NMR club

In October 2012 Gary Robinson and I added a double-sided, removeable backdrop to the center peninsula that was under construction at our NMR train club in Wasaga Beach, Ontario. This was before we moved to Bygone Days in Collingwood, Ontario where we are currently building a replica of the CN line from Barrie to Meaford.

The then new peninsula was not yet part of the operations and scenery and buildings had not been started. We needed a removeable back drop because the peninsula was built on modules that can be taken to train shows. The modules were 72 inches long.

We cut a groove in a piece of 1 X 2 inch pine the width of a sheet of hardboard. The Masonite sheet is smooth on both sides and 16 inches high. One side represented an industrial district beside a siding while the other was intended to represent a commercial, retail district with a track running down the middle of a street.

The backdrop was free-standing when it was slipped into the groove. Firstly, we hand-painted the sky background. Then we mounted a foam support on the city side. We acquired the scrap foam from a construction site and trimmed it on a band saw to be 3 1/2 inches high and 3 inches wide.

This became the bottom support on the city side of the backdrop. We put a 1/8 inch thick hardboard road on top of the foam and made a scale 5 foot sidewalk from styrene to run along the rear of the street. We still needed a wall of some sort along the front edge to avoid drivers falling onto the street below! The cityscape is cut from a Sceniking U054 city scene that I bought from Les Mavor in Barrie, Ontario. The sky had been carefully cut away and the scene had been mounted on black foamcore from Staples.

The scene included several streets receding into the background. We planned to build two highway bridges to span the lower tracks and extend them to the edge of the modules.

The foamcore was affixed to the hardboard with Velcro squares and buttons. The front of the industrial foam blocks were covered with foamcore to which Superquick brick paper was attached with spray adhesive.

We used 3M spray adhesive to attach all the paper backdrop scenes to the foamcore.  The industrial foam was secured with foam adhesive while the sidewalk was secured with Goo. The industrial side of the backdrop posed some additional problems. The hardboard edge had to run along the joint between the adjacent modules. The supporting pine board had to have a 3/4 inch lip between the hardboard groove and the edge of the module. 

I had some industrial-looking backgrounds that have been sitting in a drawer for at least 30 years. I didn't have a use for them on my Utopia Northern so I pressed them into service for this project. I followed the same method of cutting them out and mounting them on foamcore. The solution to mounting them was to attach the foamcore panels with Velcro buttons along the bottom edge of the pine board and put a second row of panels behind and slightly higher. Where necessary additional blocks of foamcore were added between the hardboard backgound and the panels. The result was a 3-D effect that worked out quite well.

Below are photos of the two sides.  The entire structure can be lifted out of the groove for maintenance or transport. It is relatively lightweight.

Our plan was to make a building to wrap around the left end of the backdrop (looking at the industrial side). The  module at the right end was to be an engine terminal serving both sides of the peninsula so the backdrop had to stop part way along that module. That was to be a future project. As often happens with club layouts we had to move to a new home and all the work was for naught.  Good practice, though!

Industrial side of backdrop
ho industrial backdrop

City retail side of backdrop
ho city retail backdrop

SceniKing has a large range of backdrop scenery with and without sky. Some backdrops can be ordered reversed to extend the scenes. Les would be happy to discuss with you any particular or special needs. You can view his catalog at his SceniKing website.

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