Monday, June 6, 2011

Long Grass: What Works, What Doesn't

Modeling California scenes without tall grass is like modeling Pittburgh without steel mills. Getting that tall grass right has been one of the challenges for me as long as I've been modeling California scenes, and I'm still not sure I can get the look right.

California didn't always look like this, of course. The original California grasslands had a mix of various native and tall grasses that didn't die off in the summer and produced lots of seeds for the animals and the original California Indians. The tall golden grasses are actually invaders that came with the Europeans, and have taken over most of the state. Each of the common grasses is well-known to any schoolkid who learned which could be stripped of seed pods when walking by, which were scratchy, and which could be thrown at other kids.

I've tried several different approaches to modeling tall grass - fine and coarse yellow ground foam (mostly AMSI's #42 ochre and #52 aspen gold, much better than Woodland Scenics' much-too-pale burnt grass), static grass (nice but sparse), fake hair to put in drilled holes, and (best so far) self-adhesive Silflor grass tufts that are great for detailing a scene.

Vasona Junction, however, is the first location where I'm trying out the Silflor grass mats. Silflor mats are static grass applied to a backing; in my case, I'm using the California Golden Grass mat which uses 6.5 mm fiber. This is one of the taller grasses in the Silflor line; they also make mats with fibers as short as 2mm and as tall as 8mm.

Yesterday, I commented that the grass and mat seemed awful high and hard to disguise; here's some close-ups of the Silflor mats (both with an undisguised edge and with 6mm Silflor grass tufts applied along the edges) compared to Silflor's static grass glued straight to the plaster.

First, here's a photo looking down on the Silflor mat at Vasona Junction. The mat looks great, but notice the grass is close to six feet high near the figure. The grass to the left uses the Silflor grass tufts to hide the edge; the 6 mm tufts are noticeably shorter than the mat, so I took some shears to the edges to disguise the change in material. I really love the opacity of the Silflor mat; none of the ground below can be seen, and it looks like a full pasture covered in grass.

This photo shows the same scene in side view. Again, nice and opaque, but the grasses seem awfully tall. Most of the effect of the grasses really comes at the edges where the individual grass blades are visible against the backdrop, suggesting that the edges of the grassy area are more important than the middle.

Here's another pair of photos, this time showing the static grass I installed at Alma last year. This first photo shows the side view of the static grass with the Silflor grass tufts dressing up the area near the retaining wall. Notice that the tufts now tower over the rest of the scene, and the static grass looks a foot or two high - perhaps a bit short, but not burying the scene.

Finally, here's a photo looking down at the scene. This starts showing the drawback of the static grasses - it looks very sparse when viewed from above. The extra yellow here comes from yellow ground foam added to the scene before the static grass was applied, and keeps the grass from disappearing against the brown soil. (That soil is sifted dirt from the worst corner of my backyard. Because my backyard is downhill from all the scenes here, the dirt color is about as realistic as can be.)

The photos on the layout might not hint at the actual thickness of the Silflor sheets. Here's a nice photo from my shelf layout showing two pieces of Silflor. The flower bed on the left is a bit of the shorter Silflor mat from one of the Silflor sample kits; the material on the right is the 6.5 mm California Golden Grass mat. The golden grass is noticeably thicker than the shorter mat, so some of my complaints about the California Golden Grass may be specific to that particular product.

Which look do you prefer, or what's your favorite approach for modeling California dry grasses?


  1. Wow, that material is indeed really thick. The look of the grass mat on the first photo is great, especially the left half with the disguised edge. I like how you compensated for the height difference. The static grass looks good, but it's no comparison to the rolling golden grass in the first photo.

  2. Hmmm... either my eye is really bad, or the problems with the scene don't show up in photos. I guess it's time to have you over to see the two grasses in person and see which you prefer!

  3. The grass does look tall in the second photo, but with the height adjusted along the edge to match the tufts it doesn't look too bad to me. More than happy to come over and look at it in person.