Tutorial : Making lava pools

A number of my recent hobby projects have been based around creating tightly themed scenery sets – so far I’ve done a swamp, several sci-fi worlds, a wild west town and a desert.

My next idea was to do a volcanic set, for high fantasy as well as sci-fi games. I’ll cover more of the complete table as I finish the various elements, but this post is to cover the lava pools I’ve been making, using the various Amera crater sets.

I started making craters shortly after Christmas, using the following sets from Amera:

  • Z256 Double Blast Crater
  • Z251 Annihilation Crater
  • Z250 Battlefield Crater Set

After I posted the finished result on line, I received various pieces of positive feedback, including from Amera themselves, so I suggested I could do a guide, if they were willing to send me a crater to work with. I was surprised and pleased to get a whole extra set of different craters in the post shortly afterwards, and hence writing this blog in detail as promised!
I’ve included a Salamander from Mantic’s range for scale in some of the shots – he’s on a 25mm square base, so these are pretty large bits of terrain.

I was sent the combined contents of these two sets:

  • Z201 Crater Set
  • Z234 Moon Craters

As you can see, the craters arrive with quite a lot of extra material around the base, so you can cut them to suit the project you have in mind. I simply used scissors, but a craft knife will work fine too.

So here’s the craters trimmed to what I consider suitable for my gaming purposes.

The key part of turning craters into lava pools is to fill them. I have used plaster of paris but there are other options. I wont go into the detail of how best to use a filler, because it was very much trial and error even after doing 10 of these – as you can see some just popped out like soggy cookies even after days of drying. On the positive side, you can just try again till you are happy! Some excellent tips on using plaster and other materials are on the Hirst arts site.

I was happy once the plaster was reasonably flat and most importantly dry! The texture on the surface wont matter too much (as you’ll see later), so it didn’t need to be smooth. What was important was to ensure the plaster didn’t fall out or break up, so next I put many thin coats of PVA (white glue) over the top. This took a while to dry and build up, the plaster is very porous, but stick with it rather than rush it and do too few coats. Once a shiny surface starts to settle on the top of the plaster, you should be good to move on.

Next I started to decorate the craters a bit. I’ve used half beads to create some bubbles in the pools and also added sand to the rims of the craters as they are completely smooth. The sand and bubbles needs to be PVA’d in place, I typically put a coat under and over the sand. The bubbles I coated a few times till they sat nicely on the top of the plaster without an obvious join.

The lava skin is the last step of the modelling and its very much and art not a science. A google image search will give you an idea of what realistic pools can look like, but depending on your taste you might want something more fantastical or comical with a lot of “red” lava showing. I went for a bit of a mix of realism with wanting bubbling pools here and there. Again as its sand, its important to PVA under and over the sand. Be careful to wait for the bottom coat to dry before doing the top coat else the sand will move and may ruin the patterns you’ve created.

Once everything was throughly dry, it was time to start painting. Undercoat is the initial step and the first chance to get an idea of how the skin will look. You can spray undercoat for the most hard wearing result, or use a large brush.

The craters are very well textured models, so I used the dry brushing technique for all of the grey parts of the model, including the lava skin. I went through 3 shade of grey as you’ll see in the next few photos

The last and most dramatic part of the painting process is the red hot lava. Here’s the progression of colours I’ve used to achieve the effect.

Each layer of colour will fill progressively less of the space around the skin. As lava cools it changes colour, so only the hottest parts will be yellow. This Khorne red layer outlines all of the colour I’ll have and gave the me the best impression so far how the pool would look, and I was still a bit unsure even at this stage!

Its easy to put too much of the next few layers on (which I may have done) so try to resist going too close to the edge of the darker colours.

By the time I had got to the orange I was feeling better about the overall effect. I did go back in a few places and put some darker reds back in where I felt I’d not left enough space between layers.

At the penultimate stage the glowing effect was really starting to work and I was at last happy the project was on track.

This is the final step then, a mix of white and yellow in only the very hottest areas. I’ve placed the craters on my volcanic gaming mat to show off how they’ll look in their surrounds.

Here’s a closer look at one of the smaller pools.

…and finally a close up on a bubbling pool section so you can clearly see the layering of colour and the bubble beads.

Hopefully this was helpful, if I’ve skipped anything please comment and I’ll add extra info as required.

On the whole, I’d really recommend the Amera craters for this project. Personally I prefer the blast craters to the moon craters as the sides are quite steep on the later, but I think both work well and I have 10 unique pools rather than any duplication.

I’d like to thank Amera for their donation of the moon craters, I hope they find this guide to their satisfaction!

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