Adding Depth to Building Flats with Interior Photos

Written by Joseph Kreiss, photos by the author.

A good trick to master as a model railroader is to add depth and visual expanse to our layouts. How do we make our spare bedroom or basement layout seem bigger than they really are?

As we observe railroads in the world around us, the plains or mountain visits seem endless and industrial areas go on for blocks. Since we don't have miles of layout space to play with, little tricks to fool our eyes into thinking our modeled scenes go on past the sheet rocked walls are good to have in our arsenal of modeling skills.

I'm in the process of building a group of U.S. Navy warehouses for a section of my World War II-era On30 Mosquito Creek Lumber Company layout. The actual corner area which the navy base occupies in the train room is pretty big. Even so, space is limited for these Quonset hut warehouses. I have about three inches of room to spare between a spur track and the backdrop where the warehouse are planned. Not a lot of space! There is just enough room to place a shallow three-dimensional structure, so, building flats are the way to go.

The building flats trick our brains into thinking even though we only see part of the structure, the rest of the building must be there. Rather than glue all the doors closed, I wanted to add interior details beyond the cargo doors of a couple of the Quonset hut flats to reinforce the illusion of depth. Again, at only three-inches deep, this posed a difficult task to accomplish. Inside the Quonset hut building flats, I added sections of sheet styrene as wall view blocks around the large warehouse doorways. I also added sections of floor at the door openings. These help to stiffen the structure and create a shadow box, so to speak, to add details in.

I added some O-scale details and a few crates onto the floor of one the four Quonset huts. This helped a little, but the interior still looked shallow and empty. The solution: Add a photo of a warehouse interior inside the building flat.

Since I didn't have my own photos of showing the inside of a Quonset hut during World War II to use, I searched the Internet to find something suitable. I eventually found a couple non-copyrighted images that had a generic, timeless look to them. I saved them to my computer and then inserted the image files onto an Open Office Writer word processing document. The program has top and side rulers and allows the stretching or compressing of the image to fit the size I needed. In my case, the image needed to be about 7-inches wide by about 3-inches tall to fit within the opening.

The actual door opening is around 3-inches by 3-inches, but I made the photo wider so I could wrap the image around inside the building flat, rounding the corners and giving a seamless look to the interior scene. I printed the images on heavy copier paper, then cut the extra white paper from around the photo. After a test fit and a little trimming, the photo neatly slipped inside the opening and was fastened in place with spray photo mounting adhesive.

To finish the project, I added a narrow strip of rolling door material to the top of the door opening to help hide the view of the top seam inside. I also painted the styrene floor to match the tones of the floor in the background photo. A few added crates, a fuel drum or two and a cart helps hide the back seam between the floor and the photo and helps keep the eye from looking too closely at the background photo.

I hope you'll agree this fast and easy trick helped add much depth and interest to the shallow building flats.

About the Author

Blackwater And Mosquito Creek's picture

Joseph Kreiss