There’s no doubt that adding people to your model railway layout is one of the quickest ways to bring a layout to life. Unless we live in the most remote areas of the countryside, the world around us, particularly around those areas we choose to model, is rarely ever deserted, so it goes without saying, you’re going to need figures, and probably lots of them to bring your layout to life.
Miniature figures are available in an abundance for all common scales, from Z up to G and beyond, in pretty much every pose (even some rather naughty ones!) you can imagine and in a wide array of materials. The largest variety of scale model figures come from European manufacturers such as Preiser, Noch and Faller, and are designed for 1:87 scale (HO) use. They can however be used on OO scale layouts providing they are not positioned too closely to OO scale figures or anything that’s obviously OO. The slight difference in height is acceptable though in most cases as we all vary in size and shape in the real world. We’re not all exactly 6 foot tall!
As well as a vast array of people, a huge variety of animals are also available, from the most popular farm animals like cows, sheep and horses, through to the more exotic forest creatures from Busch which include snakes and squirrels. Again, the European manufacturers like Faller seem to have the monopoly on the vast majority of animals.
Model Figure Painting Tips
Both painted and unpainted figures are very widely available for the railway modeller and diorama builder. As you’d expect, painted figures are generally more expensive, the but finish on most is usually pretty good (especially the Preiser Exclusive range which is just amazing!). For those that are a little more cost concious though, painting doesn’t actually take too long and you get great satisfaction from painting a batch of your own figures.
Painting generally requires a steady hand, some fairly subdued, matt colours and a fine brush. It’s also generally easier to paint the figures while they’re still on the sprue. If your figures aren’t on a sprue, a tiny drop of superglue on one foot can be used to stick them to a strip of wood, making them easier to hold while you paint them. Stick 5 or 10 in a row to strip of wood and paint them in batches.
Metal figures will need a good clean before painting with soap and hot water. Then when dry, they should be given a coat of primer to help your chosen paints to adhere well.
When painting figures, first apply a base colour (the colour that will cover the largest area). Many modellers recommend using oil or cellulose based paints, but my preference is for artists acrylics as I can wash my brushes out just plain old tap water. Leave plenty of time for drying between each colour, especially when adding detail using acrylics. The airing cupboard, or a shelf above a warm radiator can help reduce the drying time between coats.
For a really detailed tutorial on painting plastic model figures, check out this tutorial by the chaps at Gaugemaster.
Positioning Figures On Your Layout
It’s generally best to position figures so they look like they are doing something… Moving goods, walking into a shop, opening a car door, climbing a ladder etc. This adds additional dynamics to your layout, adding interest for the viewer. Figures can be held in place using a tiny blob of PVA or Deluxe Materials Tacky Wax on one or two feet. Use a blob of Blu-Tak to prop up a figure while the glue dries.
Some modellers prefer to drill a tiny hole into the bottom of a figures leg and insert a pin that can be pushed into the baseboard for added strength and security, but it’s not normally necessary on a layout that won’t need to be moved around.
For many of us, our first experiments with figures involve planting a few choice characters on platforms and pavements, but we often neglect to populate our carriages and locomotive cabs. Most model carriages these days offer a clear view of the interior, plus the increasing use of interior lighting in ready to run models makes the omission of passenger figures from coaches pretty much inexcusable.
To install passengers, it is necessary to remove the body of the coach, but in most cases, the body will just be held on with a could of plastic clips which can usually be undone by slipping a fingernail behind the clip or gently prising the clips with a small screwdriver or pocket knife blade.
One thing is for sure though, unless your modelling the busiest commuter train at rush hour, it’s not necessary to fill every seat and gangway with passengers to make it look busy. Just a few passengers in the window seats on both sides will do the trick, then maybe the odd passenger walking to the buffet car etc will add an extra dynamic. Figures can again be held in place with Tacky Wax or a tiny drop of contact adhesive.
Need more inspiration?
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