Helm’s Deep

By Onyx.

 

Inspiration.

 “At Helm’s Gate, before the mouth of the Deep, there was a heel of rock thrust outward by the northern cliff. There upon its spur stood high walls of ancient stone, and within them was a lofty tower. Men said that in the far-off days of glory of Gondor the sea-kings had built here this fastness with the hands of giants.”

“A wall, too, the men of old had made from the Hornburg to the southern cliff, barring the entrance to the gorge. Beneath it by a wide culvert the Deeping Stream passed out.”

The Two Towers – chapter: Helm’s Deep.

Materials and equipment used.

The most useful material used to build this board. Hirst Arts blocks.

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Materials. 

  • 2 X MDF 900 x 600 x 6mm
  • 2 X MDF 600 x 600 x 6mm
  • 2 X Polystyrene blocks 900 x 600 x 50mm
  • 2 X Polystyrene blocks 600 x 600 x 50mm
  • Various polystyrene offcuts
  • Hirst Arts Blocks (H.A.):
  • -Basic Block Mold #40
  • -Gothic Dungeon Accessories Mold #41
  • -Gothic Additional Accessories Mold #44
  • -Bridge Mold #53
  • -Bell Tower Mold #55
  • -Prison Tower Mold #60
  • -Octagon Tower Mold #63
  • -8″ Round Tower Mold #64
  • -Ruined Tower Mold #65
  • -Egyptian Basic Block Mold #95
  • -Wall Builder Mold #200
  • -Floor Tiles Various Sizes Mold #201
  • Dental plaster
  • Bostik Craft & Hobby PVA glue
  • Homemade scenic cement
  • Polyfilla
  • Woodland Scenics:
  • -W.S. Raw Umber pigment
  • -W.S. Black pigment
  • -W.S. Burnt Umber pigment
  • -W.S. Green Undercoat
  • -W.S. Stone Gray
  • -W.S. Ballast (fine & medium)
  • -W.S. Talus (medium)
  • -W.S. Foliage (light & dark green)
  • -W.S. Turf (Weeds & Yellow grass)
  • -W.S. Dead Foliage
  • -2 X W.S. Rock moulds
  • Glass Coat Timber Finish (Resin and Hardener)
  • Superglue
  • Acrylic paints:
  • -Jet Black
  • -Alabaster White
  • -Weathered Grey
  • -Stratum Rock (brown)
  • 50mm duct tape
  • Human hair
  • Humbrol Liquid Poly cement
  • Wattyl Estapol Matt spray can
  • Homemade cork boulders
  • Balsa Wood
  • 2 X brass hinges
  • Solid lead, painted Gamling figure
  • G.W. paints:
  • -Silver
  • -Light brown
  • -White
  • -Dark brown

 

Equipment.

  • Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Craft knife
  • Tweezers
  • Small file
  • Wallpaper scraper
  • Modelling tool (scraper)
  • Foam nails
  • Sprayer
  • Paint brushes (large & small)
  • Foam brush
  • Homemade scatter Sprinkler
  • Engraver
  • Pin Vice
  • A hot glue gun
  • Wooden skewers
  • A sanding block
  • A small pie tin (for diluting the pigments)
  • A metal ruler
  • A red marker pen
  • A pencil
  • Thin rubber gloves

 

1. Playing with the design (and the blocks).

Its been said before that Hirst Arts blocks are like Lego for grown-ups. I totally agree, very useful (and fun to play with).

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This was the first time I had cast H.A. blocks myself. I followed the instructions found HERE. I used dental plaster to build my bricks (I bought a 20kg bag for $10AUS from Boral supplies).

After spending quite a few hours casting up many, many blocks (whilst watching the trilogy in the background), I set about transferring the design from my head to the board. To aid in this I printed out pictures from the movies and kept them on hand whilst building. The first thing I built was the Tower of the Hornburg. A much simpler design than Weta’s version (and much smaller) but I’m happy with the look of it.

Once I figured out how to get the curved walls to a workable radias, I began glueing blocks together (using PVA glue). I worked on one panel at a time. The Gate panel was first (using Bridge Mold #53). Next I built the two towers either side of the gate (using Octagon Tower Mold #63). The curved walls were made using the 8″ Round Tower Mold #64 and the Basic Block Mold #40. Using the PVA glue gives you a fair amount of time (about 30 mins to dry) to line the panels up together for tight joins. The battlements were glued together at this point but were not attached to the walls. I wanted to get good access to the tops of the walls later.

2. Building the Hornburg.

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With the Outer walls roughly built, I thought I should start the base. I glued the 600mm square polystyrene block onto the corresponding MDF base with PVA. Using the wall panels as a guide for height, I started building the rock of the Hornburg. Several polystyrene boards were used to build the rock up and the craft knife was used to shape them. I wanted to make sure the postern door and ledge were included (love that bit of the film, even if it is a bit cheesy). Another tower was built (to connect to the Deeping Wall) and a few of the Wall Builder Mold #200 panels were used to build the side wall up to the Tower of the Hornburg.

The Woodland Scenics rock moulds were a pleasant suprise. I bought one as an experiment and cast it up using the dental plaster that night. The next day I was so impressed with the results, I went straight out and bought another one. I used the ‘rocks’ at the base of the towers either side of the front gate (its actually the same rock turned upside-down and cut in half). I finished all the panels for the outer wall and set them aside.

Next I began the walls for the inner keep and started working out the steps between the keeps (how many and how far apart and still be playable). Now that I had several pieces of the walls finished I started glueing them down to the foam. I used PVA and a hot glue gun to attach the Tower, the outer walls and the gate to the base. A bead of PVA was used on the joins in the panels to fill any gaps.

I had already made the Tower of the Hornburg whilst waiting for my H.A. moulds to arrive (used left over blocks from previous projects). It is basically a 3 inch, square tower with extra detail on the corners and a few windows. I mounted it with LOTS of glue from the hot glue gun. I also stuck wooden skewers down into the polystyrene at the corners of the tower. With plenty of glue on them, they gave the tower a little more support. Whilst giving the Tower a long time to dry, I learnt how to pave.

3. Learning to pave.

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Now that the wall panels were set I started thinking about the paving. I decided to coat the floor with polyfilla and carve the paving into it (using my old engraver). This was another first for me and again I was very happily suprised with the results.

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With the success of the gate paving under my belt I set about paving the top of the outer wall and the steps up to the inner keep. Polystyrene was used to make the base of the floor and was glued into place using PVA (always with a slight recess so that when the Polyfilla was spread into place it would sit even with the top of the bricks). At this stage, I also cut the steps and the floor of the gate towers out of polystyrene. It is very rewarding to make these kind of details by hand. Polyfilla was spread over the foam and allowed to dry. The paving was cut into the floor again using my engraver (it was shortly after this that my father in-law actually bought me a dremel with all the attachments, a lovely gesture and I was very touched by his generosity, not to mention very happy with the new, easier way of doing the paving etc. Thanks Dad).

4. The Inner Keep.

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Now that the outer walls were looking good, I started focusing on the Inner keep. I built the floor of the keep up across the back, where the steps lead up to the main door. The steps were made using H.A. steps and the walls around were bricked up with Basic 1″ blocks.

A doorway had been left in the outer wall of the Inner Keep (complicated eh?) for the access to the Outer Keep. As I built the inner wall I made sure the doorway matched the outer wall. The flooring on top of the inner wall was done in exactly the same way as before (but with my new dremel). The details on the wall (arches, battlements etc) were added once the paving was done. To save space in the tight inner keep, I put the stairs up to the inner wall off to the side (not really where Weta had theirs but that’s life).

5. The cliffs of Helm’s Deep.

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To make the cliff walls I cut some polystyrene blocks into the shape I wanted and glued them down using the hot glue gun. I had previously cast up several W.S. rock mould rocks and began placing them on the cliff wall. Once happy, I glued them in place with PVA and the glue gun. Now I used my trusty carving tool to gouge out the foam between the rocks and shape the cliffs. At this stage I coated some of the cliffs with polyfilla to hide the polystyrene.

6. Back to the Keep.

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As you can see, I had already undercoated some of the areas that were going to be hard to get to and now I base coated the rest of the fortress. I made the front archway wall able to be slid out of position to ease the painting of the door and inside walls. The Gamling figure was used to repesent Helm the Hammerhand (minor alterations were made to him later).

7. Painting the fortress.

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The top picture above shows the first coat – a heavy drybrush with Weathered Grey. All the internal doors were base-coated with dark brown. I completed the inside of the arches/main door first and then glued the archway wall in place with a roof on top.

The second photo shows the fortress after a light white drybrush to bring out the detail. The door hinges etc, were painted silver (wethering and extra detail was added later).

8. Giving Helm the Hammerhand a hammer…

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Gamling’s sword had actually broken off in the post so it was an easy decision to replace it with a hammer. The problem was that I didn’t have an appropriate hammer… D’oh. Oh well, lets see how hard it is to make one! I looked through my scraps box and found some bits and pieces that, with a little attention, could be made to look like a hammer. After an hour of filing, muttering naughty words, praying for patience I finally had something that could pass for a hammer. Out came the pin vice & superglue and Helm had his hammer.

9. The Front Gate.

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These timber features (don’t know the official name for them) were simply cut and shaped from balsa wood and glued into place with PVA. They were painted with a dark brown base, then drybrushed with light brown and white. W.S. Black was washed over them and on the surrounding brickwork to give more detail.

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I wanted the Front gates to work so I bought a couple of tiny brass hinges and secured them in place with the hot glue gun. As per the above photos, I built the gates from balsa wood (pinching my wife’s craft scissors for the detail). I was suprised how easily this went and I’m pretty happy with the outcome (they are at least recognisable as the gates from the movie).

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The wooden barriers above the gate were made from more balsa wood and hinged using large pins. A black undercoat followed by both dark and light brown and a very light white drybrush. It was glued in place using PVA.

10. Weathering the fortress and giving the rocks some colour.

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The cliffs were basecoated with W.S. Stone Gray (diluted and applied with a foam brush). At this stage there was a lot more difference in the colours of the cliff and the fortress. I liked this but the differences were diluted as the further W.S. washes were added (oh well). The entire stronghold was washed with diluted W.S. Raw umber. This ages the brickwork and brings out more detail. The metal door hinges, braces etc were washed with W.S. Burnt Umber (to represent rust) and then with Black for detail.

At this stage the groundwork was done. Various sizes of talus and sand were glue onto the ground. Piles of fine ballast were poured at the base of several gullies in the rockwork to demonstrate erosion. When that was all dry, a base coat of Stratum rock (brown) was painted over the ground. A wash of diluted W.S. black gave the rubble more detail and a very light white drybrush finished it off.

11. The Causeway – Part one.

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I originally planned to make the causway out of balsa wood but the templates I made out of polystyrene were too good not to use. They were glued in place (good ol’ PVA again) and a skim coat of polyfilla was applied. Once dry the dremel came out again and the brickwork was formed. It was painted the same way as the rest of the fortress.

12. Finishing touches to the keep.

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A W.S. Green wash was applied to certain areas to represent mold and moss on the brickwork. Green was also applied to the cliffs in sheltered areas for the same reason. The cliffs received a light white drybrush for highlights and a black wash for detail. Several different colours of static grass were fixed in place (using PVA). A fine dusting of (mainly) light green and (some) dark green flock was glued in place using homemade scenic cement (diluted PVA glue applied through a spray bottle. Make sure you rinse the sprayer after use or it will be ruined by the set glue). A couple of small bushes (W.S. Foliage, light & dark green) were glued and held in place with Foam nails until dry. The long grass was made from human hair.

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Once all this was dry I sprayed the whole thing with a can of Wattyl Estapol Matt to protect the finish and give a little more strength.

Right…. onto the Deeping Wall.

13. The Deeping Wall.

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It was very important to have the two boards side by side at this point (on a flat surface) to line up the walls and rocks. Always good to minimise the inevitable joins in this situation.

Most of the Deeping Wall was made using the Wall Builder Mold #200 (saves a lot of time and weight). The battlements were made using the Octagon Tower Mold #63. The steps were made using the Prison Tower Mold #60 and the Floor Tiles Various Sizes Mold #201.

The height of the wall is roughly right (supposed to be 20 feet) and the wall is nearly thick enough for 4 men to stand abreast on (it is playable).

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I knew that it would be fairly straight forward to build a removable section over the culvert. A little bit of planning and some measuring and voila, an interesting game feature that is playable and generally un-noticable unless you go looking for it. The internal ‘rammed-earth’ of the wall was made using polystyrene, polyfilla, PVA and my carving tool.

Another helpful game aid I discovered then was that an upside-down, small step section acted perfectly as a base for mini’s standing on the steps. No more complaints that H.A. steps aren’t playable!

14. The steps up to the Back Gate.

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These steps are actually my favourite part of the whole build. Something about them just makes me smile. The steps were glued together (in several different formations) using the hot glue gun. This gave me the advantage of being able to pull them apart again (before the glue fully set) and try different set-ups. The one I finally decided upon gave a good cliff face staircase and left enough room down in the valley behind the wall. Polystyrene was built up around the stairs and glued to them using PVA. More W.S. rock moulds were used and the carving tool came out again to shape the cliffs. Polyfilla filled the gaps and joined the seems. A simple archway at the top of the stairs leads to a door in the back of the Tower.

15. Detail and colour for the Wall.

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The cliff walls were formed in the same way as the fortress board rock had been. The groundwork was the same aswell (various talus, ballast grades glued down using my scenic cement).

The stream was carved using my modelling tool and the Humbrol liquid poly cement (liquid glue for plastic) was brushed on to finish the detail of the stream. This glue actually melts the polystyrene and I found that it gave a much more natural look to the stream-bed than the nodule like finish of carved foam. The poly glue was also brushed onto several areas on the ground to held break up the flat look. It is obviously useful for game-play to have level ground but anything you can do to break it up without effecting gameplay, is a good thing.

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The ground and wall were painted in exactly the same way as the previous board for continuity.

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This picture shows the difference between the aged fortress and the grey drybrushed Wall.

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Again the flock, static grass, bushes and long grass were applied. I didn’t pour the stream until all the boards were finished.

16. The Causeway – Part two.

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Using some polystyrene off-cuts, I began shaping the causway. I positioned the causway board in place next to the fortress board to make sure that everything lined up. Bending the foam was all fun and games. In the end, using the biggest foam nails I had (and plenty of them) held the curved foam in place and the hot glue gun was used to hold it all down.

Small rectangles were cut out of the causway to place the H.A. arches in. I wanted the stream to pass under the causway as Tolkien had described (PJ’s version just flowed straight down the valley).

The top of the ramp was cut and glued in using the glue gun (needed to set quickly to hold the parts in place).

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The causeway was covered in polyfilla and sanded smooth. The cliff face from the fortress board was continued down the side and the outcrop that runs across the causeway was shaped using more polystyrene and topped off with some more W.S. moulded rocks. Polyfilla was used to cover the joins.

The stream was carved as before and some small pot-holes were formed with the poly glue.

Using my trusty red marker, the brick-work on the causeway was laid out.

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The other board (couldn’t think of a name for it) was prepared at this time so I could paint the last two boards at the same time. The rocky outcrop was formed with a W.S. moulded rock and finished with some cork boulders and talus/ballast. Sand and talus was sprinkled on both boards and glued in place using the scenic cement. More cork boulders were glued in place using PVA (these cork boulders are made from wine corks which are broken apart using pliers. Once painted, they look very rock-like).

The road was simply formed by dragging a sanding block gently across the polystyrene (leaving tracks) and sprinkled with fine black flock (held in place with scenic cement).

The stream was carved out and the boards were ready for paint.

This was done exactly the same way as the previous boards.

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A brown base coat, a light white drybrush for highlighting and a black wash for detail (as pictured above). The cliffs were coloured using the W.S. Stone Gray, black wash and white drybrush for highlights. W.S. Green was again used to bring the rocks to life. The causeway was painted the same way as the fortress (heavy grey drybrush, light white drybrush, Raw Umber wash with some Green washes).

The vegetation (flock, bushes,long grass and small dead trees) were added as before. Another can of Wattyl Estapol Matt spray was used to seal and protect the other boards.

The stream was made out of Glass Coat Timber Finish resin.

17. All finished.

Helm's Deep 

There you have it, the finished board.

It took about two months from casting blocks to pouring the stream. I really enjoyed this build and I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. As has been said many times before, now all I need is 10,000 Uruks to storm the keep (I’ve got over 70 and I thought that was alot, now I need more).

Many thanks to Bruce Hirst for his excellent moulds,
To Woodland Scenics for their outstanding landscape supplies
and to Weta Workshop for giving us an excellent design to copy.

I hope this article has been enlightening and helpful.

Thanks for reading!

Steve.

helms-deep-sml2

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