Building Lothlorien Elven Structures
Terrain Building Article
By Neldoreth (aka revolutionary) - June 12, 2007

The city of Lothlorien was never done justice n the movie! Even so, it was inspiring enough to trigger this project!


There are a number of pictures such as this in the
galleries on the extended edition DVD. This article
will show in detail how to build a structure similar
to the one on the bottom left corner of the picture.

After building the Mallorn Tree in the Mallorn Tree Construction Article it is time to start building some structures to put on it. There are a huge number of variations in structures that were built for the movie. The best place to go for reference pictures is the Lothlorien miniature gallery on the extended edition of the Fellowship DVD.

One of the most common, interesting, and simple to build is the angled roof style structure. It is the type that is pictured to the right, in the bottom left corner of the picture. These buildings typically have an awning and an entrance that protrudes from the side of the structure. That is the style of structure that we build in this article.

Just as a note, this project is definitely one for the veteran terrain builder. It isn't that the concepts are difficult to grasp, or that the methods are hard to implement. It is purely because it is a huge project that will take a long time to complete. That is, after putting in hours and hours of work you won't have anything to show for it. As such, motivation becomes and issue. Seriously, it took me six months to finish this project in its entirety and I did cut corners here and there to even get it done within that time frame! That being said, this project can be scaled down to a smaller tree with fewer buildings!

Finally, this article is not a step by step guide on how to build a single style of structure. It is a general description of how these things are made. It is up to the reader to decide on the details of the project, while using this article as a reference. As such, I provide no templates or exact measurements.

Required Equipment and Tools

Building a Basic Structure

The first thing to do is define the size, shape, and style of the floor. The whole structure will be built around the floor. To build the floor all you have to do is cut a rectangle out of MDF board. It adds an aesthetic appeal if you curve the short ends of the rectangle, which are the openings of the structure. These floors will vary in size depending on the size of the structure, but all of mine are about 11cm long and 6cm wide.

One thing to watch out for here is the size. It is very easy to cut one that is too large. I myself have two complete elven structures that were simply too large for the tree and so never made it through to the finished product! The reason for this is because the roof itself extends far beyond the edges of the floor, and so, although the floor may fit the context of the tree, when the structure is finished you may notice that it is too large... And that is the worst. To finish the structure and find out it is too big!

Once the base is cut, it is time to define the shape of the roof. I do this by drawing one half of the roof on a piece of thin card. I only draw half because I can't for the life of me draw two identical curves. So, I draw half of the roof and use that as a template to trace an entire roof.

Using the half of the roof that I drew, I trace one complete side of the roof. Then repeat and you have all the roof pieces you need and they are perfectly symmetric!

Once you have the two sides of the roof traced, cut them out and grab that masking tape. This part of the process will make sure that we get the curved parts of the roof just right. That is the one key to Lothlorien terrain: the curves. It is also the one bane to terrain builders like me who much prefer straight walls with hard edges... I guess I am human, and humans like geometry. Maybe if I was an elf my life would have been easier... but I digress...

The pieces are cut and ready to be put together. Get your masking tape ready!

The first thing to do in assembling the structure is to tape the top of the roof together. Although taping the top together seems somewhat obvious it is very important at this step. We will use the taped top along with the base of the structure to produce the curved sides of the building later, so it is important to do it well. Stick a pice of masking tape on one side, put the pieces together and then fold the tape over. The tape won't fold all that well where the curve is great, so you will have to cut the tape in those spots to make folding easier. You don't want ridges or creases here or it will make the shingleing process more difficult.

Folding the tape over just right!

Once the pieces are taped together at the top, we need to put a strip or two of tape on the inside near the bottom. This step is absolutely essential, and I wasted countless roofs before I figured it out. Okay, not countless, but at least three! Putting the tape here will ensure that the glue does not soak into the thin card when attaching it to the floor. If the glue does soak in, then the roof will bend where it is attached and the roof will not curve. The mechanisms behind this will become more obvious below.

Once the tape is in place the roof is ready to be attached to the floor section. The process can be tricky, but it is well worth the effort. First, open the roof pieces and insert the MDF floor where it should attach to the roof. This should be somewhere in the area where you put the masking tape: near the bottom of the roof. Next, hold the floor in place by putting some pressure on the parts of the roof that extend below the floor. The floor should stay in place thanks to the somewhat rough quality of the masking tape. Be carefull not to apply too much pressure here though, you don't want to bend the roof sections. At this point you should adjust the floor to the perfect position.

Here the tape has been put on the inside of the roof.

By applying this pressure you should notice that the walls curve slightly outward. This is exactly what you want. Because the roof is firmly stuck together with masking tape a nice curved effect starts to show, which achieves the elvish look quite well. You will notice that the greater the curve along the roof, the less curver the sides of the structure will be. You should decide on your roof shapes with this in mind.

To keep the walls in place for now, use two or three pieces of masking tape to hold the parts that your are slightly pinching. Stretch the tape from one side of the bottom of the roof to the other. Keep it taut enough to hold the curve. Now you are pretty much done! Okay, well not quite, but the hardest part is done. Hardest, but not most tedious unfortunately.

The roof is taped along the bottom to hold
things together, and the roof walls are curved.

Once the walls are in place and the tape is holding everyting together it is time to glue it. I mean, you can't leave the tape there forever! Simply run a line of glue along the top and bottom edges of the floor and roof where they touch. This can be tricky getting the glue bottle inslide the structure, but it is important to glue it well. This glue will hold the entire structure together afterall! If you can't get the bottle into the structure, put glue along the edge of a bamboo skewer and spread it along the join. Once this is done, leave it over night to dry. During the drying time, you can put together a few more of these structures!

The glue that holds everything together!

Once the glue is dry, carefully remove the masking tape. Be careful, if you break the glue holding the floor to the roof, your will have to glue it again and wait for it to dry again! Now it is time to add some doors and awnings to the side of the structure. For this, you will have to sketch a single side of the awning. This is kinda tough because you want the side of the awning that touches the roof to actually sit flush. I doesn't have to be perfect though because the shingles will help hide small issues, but it should be close.

One way to do this is to put the building so that the opening is against the cardboard that you are tracing your awning onto and trace the curve of the roof. This works pretty well but never perfectly. You may have to simply cut out the single awning piece and see if it fits. You will likely have to do some trial and error to get it to fit just right.

The awning pieces are cut and ready to be fastened.

Use your first cut out sketch as a template, cut another one so that you will have two sides of the awning roof. This will save you from having to make another one through trial and error! You can put doors on either side of the structure, in which case make sure to cut four of these roof sides instead of two!

Once the pieces are cut, tape them across the top the same way you taped the roof. For the awning you will not be able to produce the curved sides in the same way we did the roof, so you will actually have to bend the roof sides themselves. This shouldn't be too much trouble though, because the relatively smaller awning roof is easier to manipulate properly!

The awning is taped and ready to be fastened to the structure.

Now we can attach that awning to the structure. Use a ruler to measure the centre of the structure so that you can put the awning on in the right spot. Using that as as guage, get the awning into place. Once it is in place, use masking tape to keep it there. When you do this, make sure that you leave the edge where the awning touches the roof accessible so that we can put glue there later.

Masking tape holds the awning to the structure.

Now time to glue the awning to the structure. Simply run a line of glue along the inside of the awning where it touches the roof of the structure. You need enough glue to hold it there for good, but not as much as you used on the floor. It isn't as structurally important afterall. At this point, leave the structure to dry overnight. I know, you want to get on with it, but you can! You will now have to cut hundreds of shingles so that you can finish the roof! But first, I will talk about cutting the door. Once the awning is completely dry, trace the doorway under the awning with a pencil. Then use a very sharp knife to cut it. It is actually pretty easy because all of the glue should be holding things very firmly. Of course, instead of cutting a door, you could always just paint it black later :)

More glue to keep things together!

Now the basic structure is complete. You could simply paint it now and it wouldn't look half bad. Of course, it will look much better with the details! The first step is to make the shingles required to cover the entire roof. The shingling process is easily the most tedious job I have ever done while building any terrain project. I have cut shingles in a similar way for houses (like in Bree) before, but since these buildings are all roof, they take a hell of a lot more work! I think in total I cut about 23,333 shingles for this project!

Despite the tedium, it is pretty easy to make shingles for this. Grab a large piece of thin black card (if it is black, you don't have to base-coat it before painting!). and measure out long strips that are 4cm wide. Put a line down the middle of the strip (so there are 2cm on either side) and use your hobby knife to cut a shallow groove into the paper. Do not cut the paper completely, just enough to allow you to bend it easily. Once cut, fold it in half. Now, proceed to make a cut about from the open side of the folded paper about 4/5 of the way up. Repeat this every 3mm for the entire length of the strip.

The shingle cutting begins... But it never ends!

If you thought that was tedious, you aren't done yet! Now you have to make point on every one of those shingles that you cut. To make this as speedy as possible, cut the bottom of each shingle at a slant one way, and then go back and cut the other way. After three passes of cutting each shingle should be pretty much ready. Once done, flatten the strip and cut it along the line that you previously put a shallow groove down and you will have two strips of shingles even though you did enough cutting for only one! I used scissors and card for this because it was easy. I couldn't imagine having to do this with a hobby knife and something like plasticard!

Once you have enough shingles to cover the roof, you are ready to start attaching them to the structure. Unfortunately, you will have to make one special row of shingles for the bottom of the roof. Although you could use the shingles you already cut for this, it is not the best use of your time because you end up cutting off the bottom points to make it match the shape of the roof. For this I simply repeated the process above, except that I cut the strip to the shape of the bottom of the roof. That way it would fit perfectly! I also didn't bother cutting the points on the shingles either. Once this is done, it is time to start gluing it on!

Gluing on the special row of shingles along the bottom of the roof.

Before putting the shingles on, run your finger over them to mess them up a bit. This will ensure that they will be well defined from each other when you glue them down. Esentially this will make it look like you used single shingles to shingle the entire roof!

Put a liberal amount of white glue on the roof where you want to put the shingles and then lay them down. Be sure to overlap the shingles enough so that the singles below are slightly covered. This covers up the fact that they are not all seperate and also helps keep the water out!

Gluing on the special row of shingles along the bottom of the roof.

Also, don't bother cutting the shingle strips to fit the roof before gluing them. It is very easy to cut them to fit the edges of the roof after they are in place with some scissors. I found that it is fine to do this even before the glue dries. Doing it this way will ensure that you use those strips in the most efficient way! You don't want to waste any tedious work afterall!

After cutting the shingles, putting them in place is a cake walk!

Once done, and once the glue dries, you will notice that the structure has gone from maleable to very sturdy. This is thanks to all the hard white glue that is now holding the entire piece together. I have dropped each structure at least once and had not real damage! Don't be too crazy with them, but they will now hold up to most of the rigours of playing miniature games on them...

Now is time to add the final details to the structure. I used thin card, about 1.5mm thick, for this. I found it was the best because it was pretty sturdy, but also flexible enough. As such, it would not break if I accitentally dropped it, but just bend, which is easily fixed. What we want to do is put the natural plant-like bits in the sides of the structure just like in the miniatures in the movies, as well as fancy ridges accross the top of the roof.

The easiest way to do this is to trace the shapes of the openings on the ends of the structure, as well as the roof ridges, onto the thin card that we are using. Once the outlines are done, sketch the patterns you want to have around these outlines. Use the images from the movies as inspiration as much as possible. Once the sketches are done, cut out the pieces and make sure they fit where they are supposed to. You will likely have to employ some trial and error here as before.

Tracing the opening at the end of the structure onto thin card to make the elven details!

I tended to mkae these pieces fit snugly so that they would pretty much hold themselves in place with some white glue. Once they are all on and in place, the structure is done! Give them overnight to dry before painting them.

The structure is finally finished! Congratulations!

Painting is likely the easiest part. For colours I got the staff at the local paint store to mix a match for Vallejo's Khaki Grey as the base colour. The darker browns were Burnt Umber. After applying the base coat I painted a pseudorandom pattern of brown shingles to imitate the movie miniature and to break up the monotony of Khaki Grey. The floors were all done in brown as well. I drybrushed the whole thing with two parts Stonington Beige and one part Khaki Grey. Finally I painted the roof ridge and opening details with one part Khaki grey and two parts Stonington Beige, highlighted with white.

Now that you have finished one, go on to build hundreds! For more pictures of the structures I built, please see the Lothlorien Terrain Gallery. If you want to build a tree to put them on, see the Mallorn Construction Article. And stay tuned for the other articles detailing the completion of this project coming soon!

The structure is now complete and painted!