Building Umbar
Terrain Building article
By Neldoreth
Nov 20th, 2006

Umbar by the light of the moon.


Building Umbar was the greatest challenge I have ever faced in terrain building for Lord of the Rings. The primary reason for this was reference material. Not only was there no reference material from the movie directly dealing with Umbar, but there wasn't really anything from the movie that I could use as a baseline (as in the Haradrim Terrain project I did), or was there?

The first thing I did was look at historical imagery. Personally, I believe Tolkien's Haradrim were heavily influenced by the Andalusians in Spain. So, I looked at some Andalusian castles for inspiration. Of course, the number one castle in Spain for that kind of thing is the Alhambra! What an amazing castle it is as well! I instantly fell in love with its high, strait walls and its intricately detailed interior. My Umbar would definitely take some cues from that wonder of the Dark Ages!

Alhambra. Certainly a great inspiration for Umbar!

The second place I looked was the Middle-east. Certainly Tolkien was also influenced by that region in dreaming up Umbar, and so I figured I would find some valuable resources. I quickly realized that the old city of Jerusalem (in Palestine - particularily the Damascus gate) would also have to influence the architecture of my Umbar. Finally, I found my way to the fort in Alexandria (Egypt), which had a stunning look that actually extended into the ocean!

Alexandria is an excellent example of a port castle!

A very cool walled city in the Middle-east: Jerusalem.

I realized two things as this point though. The first was that I could not simply copy one of these inspirations exactly. It would just be too obvious and would not quite fit into the world of Lord of the Rings. The second thing I realized was that I had to incorporate something from the popular Lord of the Rings imagery. It was then that I remembered that Umbar was actually a Numenorean city. So, it is likely that some architecture and styles of Numenorean structures in the north would have been implemented here as well... So I looked to the architecture in Gondor....

I couldn't use Minas Tirith or Minas Morgul. The docks at Harlond were good, but too obvious. Then I happened upon Cirith Ungol. I really like that structure, very cool and very much distinct from the more popular Gondorian architecture of Minas Tirith and Osgiliath. So, I pretty much stole the gateway design, but tried to work it into the history of Umbar. So now I was ready to get into designing this monster of a project.

Tools and Supplies

  • 1.5cm (1/2") Pink insulation foam
  • 2.5cm (1") Pink insulation foam
  • 5cm (2") Pink insulation foam
  • Jagged rock (no kidding!)
  • Fine tipped pen
  • Sharp Hobby Knife
  • White (PVA) Glue
  • Foam Core
  • Balsa Wood
  • Thin card
  • Some Styrofoam balls
  • Tooth picks (both round and flat)
  • 3mm (1/8") MDF board
  • 1cm (1/2") Masking tape

Designing Umbar

The design process for this project was actually the most intense process. The City had to look good, it had to fit into the Lord of the Rings universe, and it had to be able to meld with the movie imagery. From the inspiration material I already had a lot of ideas to work with, and as a matter of fact my designing process took place right along side finding the inspirational images.

The key here was to design something that I could actually build, but that would capture the granduer of my inspirational resources. So, after sketching out design plans after design plans for a week straight, I finally came up with something that I thought would work.

One of the early concept drawings for the City of Umbar project! Many good ideas
were scrapped, along with many bad ones!

Implementing the Design:

The first step I took when putting Umbar together was the base or floor of the city. I decided it should be higher than the surrounding landscape, so I cut it out from 5cm (2") pink insulation foam. From previous experience I knew that I had to detail the base at this stage because the more stuff you add, the more stuff you have to work around when you finally detail, and so it is easiest to detail it right away.

I used my corsair ship templates from my corsair ship article to trace out the shape of the ship on the floor of the city facing in the direction of the gate. Once this was done I began making the stone/tile work design.

The process for making brick or tile design on pink foam is pretty simple, and it applies to everything including the walls of the castle and the tiles. First you use a sharp hobby knife to cut shallow (like 3mm or 1/8" at the most) slices into the foam along where the bricks or tiles would be. Then you use the jagged rock and press it against the entire surface of the foam. This will put natural looking dents into the foam and make it look like weathered stone. Once the entire surface is done, take a look at the piece of foam, if it has warped (this effect is more obvious when working with thinner foam) then press the rock al over the entire opposite surface of the foam. Once this is done it should have straightened out considerably. Finally, one the surface is textured, take a fine tipped ball point pen and run it through the grooves you cut out. Viola, you are done!

Here we see the process of texturing the foam illistrated.

After the base was done it was time to go to the walls. The hardest thing about the walls was the merlons and crenels. They had to be snazzy, yet I had to be able to do them over the entire wall section... I dreamed up the idea of using templates (if you read any of my other terrain articles you will realize that I am such a template junky!).

Here are the templates I used to cut out the pattern accross the battlements.
I drew out a single merlon initially, cut it out from thin card, traced it many
times onto more thin card and then cut that out. Repeat once and you have perfect
merlon templates!

First thing to do is cut the wall sections to size. Remember, measure twice and cut once! Once you have the wall sections ready to go, take one template and place it along the top of one side of the wall and tape it in place. Now take the second template and place it in line with the first along the other side of the wall. Tape it in place as well. So now that they are in place use a hot-wire foam cutting in a very well ventilated area (like outside) and carefully cut along the templates. Once you are done you will have very nice battlements indeed!

Patience and good ventialation are key to cutting nice looking battlements!

Once all of the wall and tower pieces have been cut and detailed it is time for assembly. The basic idea behind building walls I used was to use the 1.5cm (1/2") pink foam for the outside, inside, and top pieces of the walls and towers. Once they are all ready I simply glued them together in place using white glue. This takes a while, but once it is done, the basic structure of the city is done! At this point it is time to build the extra bits that go inside the city. These would include the ramp up to the gate (okay, I guess that isn't actually inside the city...), the top of the lighthouse, and the shop buildings that make up the city streets. To build these structures, please use the techniques described in my Building Osgiliath Terrain article, but reducing the amount of 'ruin' to a level that would fit well in Umbar.

The city walls under construction!

Once the structure is done, it is time to do some detailing. Little things like doors, gates, building sign posts, and shop items make the city come alive! We will start first with the tower doors. The doors consists of three layers. The first is the frame of the door. Underneath that is a piece of very thin card that makes up the metal reinforcement of the door, and finally, behind it is a piece of paper to act as the wood part of the door. The most difficult part here is to simply cut out the shapes correctly. To do this I used a template! Please see the picture below for an illustration of the process. Use this very method to make tower access hatches as well.

Once they're all together, the pieces look like a door!. Use templates
to reduce the time it takes, there are many doors to make afterall!

Building signs are a great way to get some detail on the streets. They are pretty easy to do and they offer the terrain builder an opportunity to get away from making large scale terrain to paint something a bit more detailed. There are a few ways to make them. For all of them however, you must first cut a base out of balsa wood that you can mount them to. The size and shape of this depends on the style and size of the sign that you plan to make. See below for examples of some that were made for Umbar.

Signs can be made using toothpics or paperclips. When using tooth picks cut a short length of the toothpic and use superglue to fix it to the base that was made previously. You can at this point add a small support piece using a shorter length of tooth pick. Always use superglue to fix these together as it dries fast and hard! Once the tooth picks are together you are ready to cut and fix the sign in place. Using thin card cut out the designed shape for the sign and make sure to include the part that attaches to the post. use superglue to fix the sign to the post and then you are done. You can use greenstuff to add detail to the sign, or you can simply paint on the detail as I did.

Detail of a few sign posts.

Sculpting the details takes a little time and care, but it isn't all that difficult. The best pointers here are that you should have a very good idea of what you want your finished product to look like. Basically, get a picture of bananas, apples, bread, or whatever it is you are sculpting and look at it as you sculpt. The easiest stuff to do are things like apples, pears, and other stuff that ha a relatively simple shape. Things like papers, coins, and balsa constructs like tables are also quite simple. Just remember to have a good idea of what it is you are trying to produce before you start building. Google image searches are really the best thing for this type of research!

The bits and pieces sculpted from greenstuff and miliput.

Painting the City:

Painting Umbar was done primarily using paints I had lying around the house. I first undercoated everything black. For the walls, tiles, and buildings I used burnt sienna (a medium brown) acrylic paint, highlighting by a 50%-50% mix of burnt sienna and some yellowish wall paint that I had left over. The final highlight was with the yellow wall paint! It was all done with dry brishing.

Gotta love that Iron Wind
Metals Red Brown!

For the doors I used my favourite red-brown from IWM as the base coat for the door frame. The door frame was highlighted with a 2-1 mix of red-brown and ivory (aka skull white). The pattern around the doors was done with ivory. The dors themselves were done with Iron Wind Metals steel (for the steel parts) and burnt sienna for the wood parts. The wood was highlighted with a lighter brown dry brush.

All of the extra little bits were painted according to the colours in the pictures that I found. I typically just matched the paints I had at hand to the colours in the pictures and it turned out pretty well! So once painting is done you are ready for battle! That is of course if you have enough figs painted up to attack and defend it! Below are a few shots of the finished city. To see more, please check out An Hour of Wolves and Shattered Shields Umbar terrain gallery!

Inside the city walls from a birds eye view.

Detail of the inside of a tower.

The wall extending into the water. Learn to build the corsair ship here.

Some detail of the city detal!