Detailing your Lothlorien Mallorn Tree
Terrain Building Article
By Neldoreth (aka revolutionary) - November 19, 2007

Lothlorien as depicted in the movies was very richly detailed.


I had a look through the Building a Mallorn Tree article as well as the Building Lothlorien Elven Structures article and remembered that there was a lot missing still as for construction of that tree. I promised I would do some more articles, and this is the next one. I still plan to do one more based on specifically constructing Galadriel's house, but we will see how much demand there is for it.

So, this article will focus on the little details. Everything from detailing the flet surfaces, to building bridges, to detailing the base of the tree. Also, it will outline the best way to put stairs up the tree. Putting stairs on is surprisingly difficult to do well.

Required Equipment and Tools

Building and Fixing Flets to the Tree

The first thing to do after building and painting the mallorn tree is to build and detail the flets. It is worth noting here that I am assuming that you are using the same design as I did that allows structures to be removed from the flet surfaces for playability. Because of this there are two things you have to consider. First is that the floor of each structure will have to be the same size (or slightly bigger) that the flet surface. The second thing is that the flet surface will have to be detailed nicely because it will be exposed during play.

The structure has its own floor, which sits on top of the detailed flet surface. Because the floor of the structure is slightly larger than the flet floor, it can be removed and replaced with ease.

So, first you have to decide on the shape of the flets. I would recommend that you pick rectangles with curved edges and circles for mose of your flet floors. They are easy, aesthetically pleasing, and they facilitate figures pretty well. They also make your life easy by allowing you to build structures with similar floors. Once decided, these shaped should be cut out of MDF board.

Next you have to decide where to put these structures on the tree. Typically the large flets/structures go over the branches against the trunk of the tree, while the smaller ones go out on the end of the branches. Once you decide where the flet surfaces will go, you should then cut and detail the flets. Once they are details (and base coated) it is time to fix them in place.

For detailing the flets, I used some images that I pulled off of the extended edition DVD set. These flets were the ones that Aragorn and the Fellowship (minus Gandalf) chatted with Haldir in the extended edition of the Fellowship of the Ring, but I figured they would resemble the flet floors in Calas Galadhon proper.

Images from the extended edition of the
Fellowship of the Ring give great viewsM
of the flet floor as seen in the movie.

To reproduce the type of floor seen in the movie, first I traced the flet itself onto some black thin cardboard. Then I sketched out a design inspired by the movie designs. Once I was happy, I cut it out and glued it onto the flet floor. After the glue is dry it can be painted and then further detailed by glueing some leaf litter onto it.

The flet floors, once painted and detailed, look pretty close to
their movie inspiration. Also in the picture is the bridge that
is used to connect it to the trunk

To fix the structures in place that are going to be out on the branches I used bamboo skewers . First figure out about where the skewers need to go in order to old up the flets. Then, drill holes into (but not all the way through) the branches where the bamboo skewers will go. Then, put the bamboo skewers in the holes. At this point, I eyeballed the height that they should be and simply snipped them with wire cutters where I thought they would hold the surface level. If you get it wrong, simply remove the skewer that is too long (or short) and try again. Once you are sure it is in the right place, glue it down with the all purpose white glue.

In this picture you can see the bamboo skewers that were
used to hold up the flet floor.

For the structures that sat against the tree trunk it was a lot easier. First, I held the surface in place against the trunk and over a branch until it was in the place I wanted it. Then I simply marked where against the tree the surface would need to be fixed. Once that was done it was easy to use bamboo skewers to hold up the surface against the tree. First, I drilled a couple of holes in the trunk where the flet should rest, then I stuck a bamboo skewer in there and glued it. At this point the flet surface could rest on the branch and the two bamboo pieces. Once I was happy with its position, I glued it all in place.

As you can see here, the flet floor is help up by the bamboo skewer, which is the bottom layer in the picture. The second and third layer are part of the flet that is fixed to the tree, and the fourth layer is part of the structure that sits on top of the flet and can be removed.

Once that is all done, the tree itself (not including the structures that will go on it) is nearly done. All that is left is adding the stairs and the bridges, which I will go through in the next section.

Stairs and Bridges

The stairs were cut from MDF
and sanded (remember to wear
a good respirator! MDF dust
is cancer causing!)

The stairs are one of the hardest things to do well on the tree. When I first started I figured I had a fool proof method to do them perfectly... But I ended up having to scrap it and start over, which included having to fill some drill holes that I had made! So, although this may seem like a lot more work than it should be, trust me it is worth it.

The first thing I did was decide on the shape of the stairs. I needed something that would look good and allow figures to stand on. This is likely where my model deviated most from the movie imagery, but because I wanted the tree to be completely playable, I had little choice. So, the stairs ended up being sort of curved to facilitate a miniature's base as well as the curve of the tree. I then cut out very many of these from MDF... Make sure you have a lot of blades for your hobby knife!

I then cut out a number of pieces of thin card in the same shape as the stairs while including a little tab on the side that would connect to the tree. I needed these cardboard versions to figure out the best position for each stair. Using masking tape I placed each stair against the trunk of the tree in a spiral pattern until it reached the top. I ended up moving them around a lot throughout the process. Adjusting them a little bit up, and then down and so on until they were perfectly right. Once they were all in place I replaced them one by one with real steps.

Using the card I figured out the best place for each stair. It was a lot of extra
cutting, but it saved mondo head aches in getting the stairs into the right place!
Note the drill holes in the trunk below the stair markers that were a result of my
first failed attempt...

To fix the stair in place I used the same method as I used to put the flets against the trunck of the tree. I drilled a hole in the trunk directly under the location that I wanted the stair and place a single bamboo skewer that was shaved on one side (to make it flat for the stair to rest on) into it, flat side up. I then used white glue to fix the stair in place. To make it easy, I left the cardboard stairs in place and simply drilled underneath them. I only removed the cardboard stair when I was ready to place the MDF stair. Going one stair at a time ensured that I didn't make a mistake along the way.

The first stair is in place, as you can see, the bamboo skewer
does a good job keeping it where it is supposed to be!

Once all the stairs are in place, you are going to need to connect (some) of the flets out on the ends of the branches to the stairs or other flets that are against the trunk using bridges. This is pretty easy in general. First, I used a piece of thin card and cut it to the proper length to connect the flet surface against the trunk to the one out on the branches. I left enough length on the card so that it would be glued to each surface to make it sturdy, and then marked the parts that would be glued. I then took short strips of balsa and glued them across the thin carboard to make it look like a bridge. Make sure to leave a little gap between the strips of balsa to allow for string that we will put on later.

Here I am weaving the string along the edges of the
bridge for that extra touch of realism.

To add the final touch, you should string some string to the edges of the bridge. Make sure that the balsa is glued well, and that the glue is dry before you try this. What I found worked best was to spread glue along the string and then weave it between each board. I started at one end and worked my way to the other. Then, I went over it again weaving it over and under the opposite boards so that there would be string along the entire length.

So that is basically it for the stairs and the bridges. Although it seems simple to explain it was one of the most challenging parts of the tree for me. The stairs were easily the worst. Originally I had trid to simply put a string around the tree to mark where the stairs would go. It failed because even though the string looked like it was in the right place, the stairs, when placed, didn't quite work. Another thing about the stairs was that I didn't want to cut hundreds of them, so I made the spiral a bit steeper and placed the stairs a bit further apart. It is likely that it would look a bit better if the gradient was a bit more shallow and more stairs were used.

Detailing the Base of the Tree

I originally thought this would be the most fun of the entire project. Unfortunately after working months and months on it I was so tired and so close to completing it that I rushed through it... Still, it was nice to take some time to do it well. I used pictures from the movies to guide my actions for this phase. Taking images from the extended edition of The Fellowship I tried to copy them as close as possible.

The statues that flank the stairs, as well as a good view of
the foliage and creeping weeds that grown on them.

I was originally planning to light the tree, but I gave up on that (at least for the time being) as it was going to increase the time and cost of the project too much. At the time I considered sculpting the miniatures so that I could place lamps in their hands, however, it was going to be too much work. So, I ended up getting some Mithril Miniatures elves and simple painting them up as statues. To build the ground cover I used various flock and static grass from Woodland Scenics as well as leaf litter. It took a lot of supplies and copious amounts of white glue, but it turned out well in the end.

The base of the stairs turned out well.

That's it for detailing. Check out the other articles in the Lothlorien theme in the Articles section of the site!