Usually, I take a packed lunch into work. Occasionally, however, I buy something at a nearby supermarket instead. This is especially common during school holidays, when the kids don't need a packed lunch themselves and there seems little point in getting out bread and fillings for just me.
Why am I telling you this? Well, some of the supermarket pre-packed meals come in interesting-shaped containers...
The Basic Salad Box Building
If you clean the packaging, cut off the lid and turn the box upside down then it looks a little bit like a science fiction prefab building. At least, that's what I thought when I first did this.
Here's what I did next:
- Fix the box to a square of thin MDF, to act as a sturdy base for the model.
- Add some doors and windows. Mine came from Laser Cut Card, a South African outfit who make some very suitable sci-fi fittings. I imagine that other companies make such things as well, though.
- Fix some textured plasticard to the roof. This is intended to serve two purposes: (a) add a bit of detail to a large, flat surface by mimicking solar panels and (b) cover up the recycling marks that the manufacturer had embossed on the bottom of the box.
- Glue some sand around the edge of the base; this helps to cover the joint between the box and the MDF.
Note that this was the first salad box I converted. There are 2 things wrong with it which I corrected on subsequent builds:
- I tore the original labelling off by hand, but this left some residue and fragments of paper. For later boxes, I followed this up by using "Sticky Stuff Remover" to clean the plastic completely [yes, this is a real product. Look in your local hardware or automotive store, or possibly in a large supermarket].
- I used far too much glue when attaching the solar panel and this has softened & warped the plastic. It's quite obvious on this model, especially in the painted photos later on. For later builds I was much more careful to use just enough glue and no more!
A more complex Building
I didn't want all the buildings in my science colony to be identical, though equally they all had to have elements of similarity [as if they're all based on a small number of prefabricated parts]. For the command centre, I decided to add a tower from another piece of similar packaging.
Obviously, cutting the salad box to fit around this tower wasn't particularly easy! There was a gap of up to 3mm in places between the two parts, so I glued some lengths of balsa strip along the inside of the joint. Even these weren't all in quite the right place, though!
Finally, with a couple of applications of filler, a reasonably stable seal was made and the model could be decorate with doors, windows and solar panels.
Painting the Base
The recipe for this is quite simple:
- Firstly, undercoat in white! I wanted very much to go for a Star Trek "Federation" look, so mostly white with royal blue trimmings seemed appropriate. By spraying white over the entire building, I saved a lot of work.
- Paint the door and window frames in a neutral colour. I chose a mid-grey which happens to have a hint of green in it.
- Highlight the edges of the doors and window frames in pale grey.
- Paint the solar panels in dark blue.
- Wash the solar panels with bright gold.
- Paint the windows (including the porthole on the door). I chose to make them highly reflective and show the surrounding planet, though this could have been done differently to hint at what is inside.
I'm not going to elaborate on painting windows since there are some very good tutorials on other websites, but I will say this: it didn't take very long at all. Indeed, it probably took me longer to paint the window frames than the windows themselves. Believe me or not...
- I added some home-made decals on either side of the door, to identify the building. On the left is a "Star Trek style" door label, with both a number and a 3-letter identifier ("SCI", "MED", "REC", "HAB"...). On the right is a Federation logo, though I think this particular one comes from the Halo universe rather than Star Trek. Hey, I'm not fussy about mixing genres a bit!
As you can see below, I've now got several of these buildings. It's probably enough for a simple outpost/colony on some remote planet or moon, though making more would be trivially easy.
If anything, I should perhaps have some other scatter terrain to flesh out the base. Hmm, what about a launch pad, water collection device, communications rig, garage or the like? Anyone know any good packaging for these?