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Sometimes it may be desirable to build a LEGO diorama or model with proper terrain as opposed to everything being built on the ground (typically being a set of baseplates laid out on a flat surface). Terrain is an important feature of landscaping.


Types of terrain


Good and bad slope for hills

Hills are typically small and mostly used as a nice edge to a raised area (see below). Making hills can be quite difficult as creating a natural looking slope usually requires a lot of irregularity, which is not an easy feature of cuboid bricks. It can also be difficult to create a lightweight understructure to hold the hill. This scene is a great example of a hill. Some limited advice on hill building is given below

As a general rule, slopes should be no more than two bricks width per one brick height. Anything sharper than this looks a little too artificial. That isn't to say that one brick by one brick slopes shouldn't be used intermittently.
Hills are typically built out of green bricks, with grey, dark grey, tan and brown highlights.
Note: For modeling arid countryside, it may be appropriate to change the ratios to deemphasise green. In particular, the American southwest is often predominantly tan, grey, or earth orange with little or no green, while the Australian outback is predominately sand-red, red and earth orange.


In contrast to hills, mountains can be quite steep. Good mountains are typically green at the bottom, followed by grey (with dark grey and black 'speckles') to white (with grey) at the top to signify snow

Note: As above, arid climes may have less green in them. Further, snow can be quite difficult to do convincingly since in real life elevation changes of several thousand feet are required to go from green grass to snow, and most model mountains are (to scale) only tens or at best, hundreds of feet high. If snow is wanted, the use of Selective compression or forced perspective to make it convincing should be considered.


A sample creek

A layout can be greatly improved by the addition of some water. Creeks, streams, rivers, sea, canals and even waterfalls can add a nice touch to any diorama. Some advice on building water follows:

A good way to make water is to start with a base of blue (and/or medium blue) and add trans-blue, clear and smoke plates above to give the effect of ripples and flow and with some grey or dark grey plates thrown in to represent rocks (for shallow streams). In old LEGO Shows, water was often made entirely from transparent plates.
Waterfalls and rapids
A waterfall or set of rapids can break up a water flow very nicely. Even a difference of a couple of plates adds a certain amount of 'realism'. Waterfalls look particularly good if they are broken up by rocks (in grey or dark grey) and if they feature froth at the bottom (using white plates).


Embankments are man-made structures designed to allow a sharp division of height. They are often used to allow roads or train lines to pass along the side of hills, or on surfaces which are too unstable for structural stability. They are typically regular and monotone, making them an easy 'terrain' to model.


Bare pathways with people but no buildings
image gallery

gallery owner (lar)

From Brickshelf Copyright held by Brickshelf user lar.

Even placing pathways down in an irregular fashion can really "liven up" a layout. These usually should be placed before the buildings are placed. They need not have large elevation changes but a bit of irregullarity helps.

Same area but with buildings in place
image gallery

gallery owner (lar)

From Brickshelf Copyright held by Brickshelf user lar.

This demonstrates what a vibrant look can be achieved with just a little irregularity.

Raising the ground

An important component of terrain modelling is the use of raised sections. This can be done though non-brick means (such as wooden structures) but is more often done using bricks as they are a versatile (if relatively expensive) medium. Due to the weight and cost of bricks, a number of different techniques have been developed to minimise the 'cost' of raising a given area. Some of these will be listed below.

GMLTC (Gerlach) lattice
GMLTC (or Gerlach) lattice
This is a cost and weight efficient lattice structure, developed by John Gerlach of The Greater Midwest Lego Train Club. It is extremely strong and relatively light weight.

External References

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