Agincourt 600: Shaping the battlefield, with David Marshall

As part of the museum’s commemoration of the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For this special exhibition, the museum commissioned a bespoke diorama of the battle with David Marshall, model maker of MMDioramas, along with the Perry brothers of Perry Miniatures.

So far in our blog series on making the model David Marshall has given an overview of how the project took place (see this link), and the Perry brothers have detailed how they produced the bespoke figures for the battlefield (see this link). Here, David will take you through how he made the terrain of Agincourt for this extremely detailed diorama.

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When we started the project in January 2013 we had an outline of what the battlefield would look like and its size, but the details and final decisions were still to be made. The first few months were taken up with working out these elements until we had a final design concept.

The completed diorama would be 4m x 2m in size, with woods flanking on either side comprised of a selection of autumnal trees and evidence of coppicing.

(Coppicing is a traditional English term for a method of woodland management, which takes advantage of the fact that many trees make new growth from the stump or roots if cut down. In a coppiced wood, young tree stems are repeatedly cut down to near ground level. In subsequent growth years, many new shoots will emerge, and, after a number of years the coppiced tree, or stool, is ready to be harvested, and the cycle begins again.)

The plan and terrain of the fields of Agincourt where the battle took place was then decided on, and a contour map supplied of the area for reference. The terrain of the battlefield would be muddy as a result of the trampling armies (think Glastonbury festival), but there would also be evidence of ploughing and planting in areas less touched by the action. There would be no roads and no buildings.

As the model would have to be installed into the top floor of the White Tower in the Tower of London via crane through a 1.2 meter wide window (the Normans weren’t big on wide access stairs or lifts), the whole model had to be split into four smaller sections of 2m x 1m. This dividing of the model also made the diorama easier to work on.

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Making the terrain of the diorama – shaping the field of battle:

The contour map of the battlefield was converted into a series of profiles so a carpenter could use them to make four wooden carcasses. Each one was 2m x 1m and was the foundation of the whole diorama.

Once I had these delivered back, I filled each one with polystyrene and weighted them down and left them to dry for a week or so. This keeps the weight down but still gives me a firm base to add all the texture and figures later on.

3CAE359E-2E41-45D9-9545-363FA34A164CThen I shaped the polystyrene with a hot wire cutter and sandpaper until it resembled the right shape. This job turned my workshop into a snow storm as the polystyrene went everywhere!

3C4517CD-6507-417A-BCF5-0A871CFD8AFBAlthough I had used sandpaper the surface was still quite rough, so I then skimmed it with a thin layer of tile grout before putting another thicker layer on top, so it would be strong enough to support the figures later.

Up until now it was just hard work with no creative touches. Now the fun could begin, starting with a layer of Artex. Most have heard of this used to create texture on ceilings, but it is great for model making. It is a powder that you mix with water to the thickness needed. The result was I could use a more watery mix for the areas that were very muddy and firmer for the ploughed areas. It also takes ages to dry, so I was able to work a long time on it as it set.

The trampled area needed hundreds of small footprints added so it looked like an army had walked all over it. I found a piece of resin that resembled a small footprint so I just set to pushing this into the Artex until the whole area was covered in tiny footprints! This process was rather time consuming so I wasn’t sorry to finish it!EF5DB256-38C2-402F-8CC9-CC40F193C973

For the ploughed areas, I ran a small trowel repeatedly over it in a series of straight parallel lines until the field was covered in furrows.IMG_0626

I left that to dry for a week or so and then painted the whole battlefield a special mix of brown wall emulsion paint that I selected to match the sample of Agincourt earth I had been given by the Armouries.AF702946-C3DB-41D3-986E-3D303F42D6F4

82849A75-5BB6-441A-AC76-9C7AFFC4554DA single coat of brown paint gives a very dull and uninteresting finish, so I then diluted raw umber acryllic paint and splashed that all over the brown base. This ran into all the footprints and furrows adding extra colour and tone to the whole field, which started to bring it to life.FFF49013-D0D7-4AC3-B263-787DDA45DB47

The final paint job was to dry brush a cream paint all over it. Dry brushing is the technique where you add paint to a brush, wipe as much of it off as you can and then very lightly draw the brush backwards and forwards over the field. The cream paint stays on the peaks of all the footprints and furrows highlighting all the detail and adding more contrast and life to the field.1DA7CC97-08C9-4C9B-87DD-8F62C8238769

Months before I had ordered the trees and coppicing from Realistic Modelling Services. We had long discussions about the colour of autumnal foliage on the trees and worked very closely with the Royal Armouries to get the coppice looking authentic. It was worth the effort when all the trees were planted.

Then I had to add the grass where the English army was deployed. I used a series of coloured ‘flock’- different shades of green, brown and cream of finely chopped foam and static grass. I counted 7 different layers and shades by the time I had finished.5404C27C-ED47-4653-9A70-EAFB1B32F027

Finally, I needed to add a few puddles where water hadn’t drained away. It made sense to use the low areas of the field where water would collect and just left to slowly drain away. The field’s high point runs along the middle of the field and then slopes away to each of the woods on both flanks so the puddles were added near the woods. I remember it fooled a number of people who thought we had had a water leak. Very satisfying!

The finishing touches on the battlefield occurred was once the model had been safely craned into the White Tower. We needed to fill the gaps between each section with Artex, once this was done the final footprints or furrows could be added and finally painted with the same colours as the rest.

All of this, of course, was the canvass to display the battle involving 4,500 figures…..that is another story….

Next up – painting the armies of Agincourt.

To see David Marshall and Perry Miniatures stunning diorama in the flesh, be sure to visit our Agincourt exhibition at the Tower of London, running from October 23 until the 31 January.

Find out more about how the model was made and the figures made in the posts below.

For more details about the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition please click this link.