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Book Review
Advanced Terrain Modelling
Advanced Terrain Modelling (Modelling Masterclass)
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by: Jim Rae [ JIMBRAE ]

Originally published on:


Osprey Publishing cover an enormous amount of military/historical subjects within their catalog. However, I have to admit to a certain preference for their modelling series of books which cover an extraordinarily wide range of subjects and, are in my opinion, some of the most practical and useful modeling monographs ever published. This new book from the publisher covers new terrain (no pun intended!) in the hugely popular area of diorama work and is published within the company's 'Modelling Masterclass' series.

The book - the basics

Advanced Terrain Modelling (Modelling Masterclass) is written by Richard Windrow and is a hardback book consisting of 192 pages which contain around 200 photos. The book is published in a slightly different format from the more 'recognisable' Osprey titles being in a ring bound format. This allows the book to open flat which is particularly useful on the workbench (or for scanning pages for reviews!).

The book - in more detail

Advanced Terrain Modelling consists of eight chapters. Five of the chapters consist of actual 'build' projects, the remainder cover areas such as Materials, tools, techniques and, in the final chapter, four pages of sources covering a variety of manufacturers and suppliers of material used by the author.

For this review, i'll be concentrating on ONE of the build-projects in detail and do a chapter by chapter analysis of the remainder.

Chapter by Chapter

Materials, Tools and Tips: Consisting of 11 pages, with a multitude of sub-divisions, the first begins with the absolute fundamental of any diorama - the baseboard. In this, the author discusses two diffferent materials - 'Gatorfoam' and expanded polystyrene advantages and disadvantages of the respective materials are considered and expanded upon. Once the discussion on baseboards is complete, the basic 'layer' of the groundwork is talked of with both Claycrete and Celluclay being the preferences of the author although Windrow also looks at the use of various plaster products including those of 'Woodland Scenics'. The next sub-section deals with adhesives, also a fundamental subject but one which many less-experienced modelers have difficulties with. The first section finishes by dealing with another complex area - Groundcover. This includes water, leaf scatter and other assorted 'foliage' which will vary according to the period of year or climate being modelled.

Tools: The author, like any good modeler, uses a variety of tools for a variety of tasks. Varying from inexpensive and simple plastic spatulas to the more complex items such as 'Hot-Knives' for cutting expanded polystyrene. A variety of specialized tools such as 'Olfa Cutters' are also discussed with particular reference to their use in specific tasks.

Projects: As I mentioned before, there are five distinct projects detailed by the author. These are:

(1) A first World War Trench

(2) A Motte-and-Bailey Castle

(3) Fall in the Forest

(4) A Walled Garden

(5) A Second World War Street

Techniques: Again, with this 21 page chapter, a number of sub-divisions are built in. The first of these covers a very difficult area (to do convincingly) - Mud and Water. This is where the step-by-step photos come into their own. An (apparently) simple little vignette of a soldier standing in front of a section of estuary at low-tide is presented. This shows have the various elemnts come into play - beginning with the basic form for the diorama base and then the creation of a grass area on either side. Simple details, such as the ribs of an abandoned boat are gradually added in along with a more convincing finish of the estuary banks. Small but interesting details are also added-in (an abandoned anchor and a barbed-wire fence) with the carefully use of text and photos, a complete scene comes to fruition..

The next sub-division of the chapter is of an equally sought-after subject: Ice and Snow. Various branded products are used such as Snow-Coat along with Ice-Coat to great effect. Rock effects are also discussed in this section as are the use of paints and texture.

The final part of this chapter deals with a frequently overlooked area in dioramas - False Perspective. This deals with how to 'focus' the viewer and create a diorama only viwable from one direction. This is not something that most diorama builders would actually consider but it is certainly thought-provoking...

Sources: In effect, this is a very useful and detailed list of a variety of retailers and manufacturers. It's split into two sections - U.K. and U.S. with all their addresses (both physical and 'web') ¡. It does seem pretty complete although there do seem to be a few omissions such as PlastStruct or Monroe Perdu... One area which undoubtedly is missing are the various on-line communities which have so much available in the way of techniques.

Case Study - 'A First World War Trench'

I chose this project as there are a wide variety of different techniques employed. The authour begins with some useful notes on the planning of a scene like this - in this case inspired by a contemporary photo. The construction of the basic structure then begins using a series of basic building-blocks of expanded polystyrene to give the initial shape. Detail of form is added to with a dugout and 'funkhole' along with building up a parapet. The latter is quite an involved process with the use of sandbags, the construction of a camouflaged sniper's box and the groundwork on the parapet.

The next part of the construction deals with the walls of the trench - particular in the supporting revetment material which varied from corrugated iron to tree-trunks and planking. A simple (but useful) tip is shown in making chicken-wire revetments.

When the author explains his technique on the fllor of the trench, a wide variety of different details are presented. The construction of the duckboards, and the constant, clinging mud is all extraordinarily well represented. There are literally dozens of useful tips within this project alone and, for those interested in recreating mud, i've rarely seen a more informative or inspirational piece of work. The challenge in this diorama was undoubtedly the blending together of many different elements and materials to give a convincing 'whole' something that every modeller could learn from.

The projects - some observations

It becomes clear that the projects were chosen to demonstrate as wide a range of techniques as possible. In 'A Second World War Street' the predominant theme is rubble and how to apply it convincingly. 'A Motte-and-Bailey Castle' deals with both groundwork and scratch-building structures. Thatching, mud and wattle, timber and stone all appear in this chapter. The truly daunting subjects of ground cover, moss and vegetation get an extraordinarily complete treatment within 'Fall in the Forest'. Vegetation of a more 'controlled' and formal kind appears in 'A Walled Garden' with a really detailed kitchen garden complete with greenhouse.

Overall Impressions

Photos The photos are of excellent quality. Well-chosen to demonstrate a particular detail and of sufficient size to show the detail, these are some of the best photos i've seen in any Osprey book.

Text: The author clearly explains (without ANY jargon) what the objectives are for each project. Simplicity is Richard Windrow's objective firstly, by assuming that those who have the book will be aware of the basics but might not have explored a particular path in resolving a construction area. Secondly, he recognizes that less-experienced modelers may be using the book so he makes an effort to fully-explain the techniques presented.

Practicality? In my opinion, too many books of this type assume you're living near a modelling hypermarket stocked to the roof with all sort of items which you can just drop into your shopping trolley. Windrow has the ability to suggest alternatives to the many products he uses - allowing a choice to be made for those of us who DON'T live near 'MegaModels Inc.' . Another aspect of the practical approach of the author is undoubtedly how the techniques can be applied to other projects - mud and rubble are pretty universal themes in diorama work as is snow, ice and water.

Who is the book aimed at? In my opinion, anyone who works in dioramas should consider this book. Beginners will gain a great deal from the way the data is presented, experienced modellers will look at some of their favorite techniques and improve them with some of the approaches in the book.

In conclusion, an extraordinarily well presented, informative and inspirational book - Highly Recommended
Arguably, one of the best books, in recent years, covering the production of terrain for dioramas, was the author's other book - Terrain Modelling (also published by Osprey). So, can the latest book from the same author be as good as what was reckoned to be one of the best of it's type?
Percentage Rating
  Scale: 1:1
  Mfg. ID: 9781841769752
  Suggested Retail: $29.95/£19.99
  Related Link: 
  PUBLISHED: Aug 27, 2007

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About Jim Rae (jimbrae)

Self-employed English teacher living in NW Spain. Been modelling off and on since the sixties. Came back into the hobby around ten years ago. First love is Soviet Armor with German subjects running a close second. Currently exploring ways of getting cloned to allow time for modelling, working and wr...

Copyright ©2021 text by Jim Rae [ JIMBRAE ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of ModelGeek. All rights reserved.


It's going to be an interesting book to check, it shouldn't be too much of a problem to be more interesting than the first in the series which sounded like the author was paid by Woodland Scenics more than by Osprey. ("want to do some rocks? use the Woodland Scenics molds!"). but then " Windrow has the ability to suggest alternatives to the many products he uses - allowing a choice to be made for those of us who DON'T live near 'MegaModels Inc. " says Jim -so let's give the book a chance! Alternatively, buy a copy of "How to create dioramas" by Sheperd Paine or just check the HFmodeling "base making for beginners" series I am still waiting for such a book to write at some point "use your bloody eyes"
AUG 27, 2007 - 09:00 PM
Not having his previous book, I won't comment. However, I will give some rationale as to why I rated the book so highly. Firstly, I believe the title is a bit of a mistake. Many modelers will be put off by the 'Advanced' in the title. There are certainly some pretty advanced techniques in the book but the author does have the ability to break them down into simple tasks - making it suitable for the experienced as well as the novice dioramist. Secondly, any modeler (or author) has their favorite manufacturer or publisher. I don't personally see ANY problem with Windrow talking about Woodland Scenics as enthusiastically as he does. I tend to get VERY enthusiastic about MasterBox's figures, Tankograd's books or Vallejo paint. Woodland are just about the biggest manufacturer out there of items such as ground-cover and probably the easiest to get hold of. I'm not the world's greatest 'fan' of some of Osprey's series - particularly 'New Vanguard' which I honestly believe should be completely re-vamped. I am the first to applaud the work they've done in their Modelling Series. 'Modelling Waffen SS Figures' (for example) is one of the best books ever done...
AUG 29, 2007 - 12:06 AM
I bought the book yesterday, started reading it and can’t put it down. It is brilliant – even better than the first one! The author is not “advertising” any line of products, he only describes was he uses because it works the best. And WS-products are the best on the market (as every train-modeller knows). A great book, definitely a must have for everybody who is into dioramas or sophisticated base-work. Andreas
SEP 04, 2007 - 10:59 AM
Oh wow, i wouldn't have dare being so cruel with the book by saying this All hails and respect for people who manage to still be enthusiastic about the things they review after years of doing this!
SEP 04, 2007 - 09:04 PM
I've just got this book and it's excellent. Never read the first edition. In no way do I get the impression the author is using the book to push any one product. He merely lists the ones he uses, including amongst them Woodland Scenics and shows the results of his workmanship, which is superb. My favourite is the rotting tree made from hair curlers. I'd recommended it , but would watch the spiral binding does not tear the pages. Great for laying the pages flat but may cause tearing in less careful hands. Alan
SEP 14, 2007 - 11:06 AM
Thanks for the review Jim! It seems to be a very helpful book... I've the first volume... and now I want to buy this one too ! Tom
JAN 14, 2008 - 05:33 AM

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