Model Scenery Tutorials

Comprenshive Tips. Hints And Techniques For Budget Minded Diorama Maker, Model Train Enthusiast And Wargammer

How To Add Realistic Lighting To Model Buildings

Lighting dioramas and model railroads adds life and realism to any scene. Adding animated lights in buildings includes room lights, security lights and signs.

Once you have gone through the process for one building, animating other buildings becomes a simple matter of routine.

You start, of course, with your building. It is best to draw out your lighting plan before you make it, but if you have one already built, you can easily back fit the lighting.

We will illustrate the lighting of this building in the final stages of construction.  Remaining work includes roof flashing, adding an external brass stairway and weathering.

The Skin And Skeleton

The building shown as it is above is nothing but the skin.  That skin covers a skeleton,  And it is the skeleton that is of most interest to us in this project.

The skeleton is really the internal floor plan. The rooms are walled off and lights (in the form of LEDs) are added to each room. The skeleton is inserted in the building skin,  The skeleton walls to not fit snugly against the skin.  You have to be able to insert the skeleton without damaging windows, curtains or anything else that is on the inside of the skin.

The skeleton acts as the base for any interior scenery.  What that includes depends on your desire for detail.  You can add flooring, wallpaper, doors, furniture, machinery, people and what not. Or, as I generally do, just paint the entire skeleton, including light wires,  black to eliminate any reflection. But note that I know of one modeler who uses mirrors on walls to give an image of depth.

In any case, window size and building location on your layout will have some impact on what you do with the interior.

Your building may have exterior lights over doors, security lights, lighted signs, etc. Most often you will have to drill holes through the skin through which wires will pass. Those wires will run between the skeleton and the skin down to the building base.

Controlling The Lights

The lighting plan should categorize how lights are displayed.

Random Lights – Typically the rooms in a building do not all light up or darken at once.  They light and darken randomly.  And each day the random pattern varies.

In this project each room contains a white LED that randomly turns on and off when a switch tells it that it is time for the lights to turn on or off. That switch can be manual or arduino controlled such as is done with our daily cycle program.  We test it manually before including the building lighting controller in the daily cycle network.

Constant Lights – Some lights may stay on 24 hours per day.  These include office, warehouse, and some room lights.

Periodic Lights – Security lights, signs, door entrance lights, etc  may switch on at various times.

So let’s look at that in terms of this model.

There are 4 rooms on the ground floor and 2 on the top floor. We light them randomly.  The lights are 5 mm white LEDs.

One of the rooms on the ground floor stay lighted 24 hours per day.  The night light is a 5 mm yellow LED. For programming convenience, we leave that yellow light on constantly.  During daylight hours  it is supplemented by the randomly lit white LED that is also in that room,

There are three security lights.  They turn on when the room lights turn off and turn off when the room lights turn on. These are generally 1206 smd LEDs. You can buy them prewired or solder them to magnet wire yourself. Soldering them yourself (as I do) is an exercise in self punishment. Buy prewired things.

The program that controls everything is explained and can be downloaded here. Random building lights.

Adding The Lights To The Skeleton

The 5 5mm LEDs are soldered to telephone wire.  Holes are drilled into the walls and floors through which the wireds pass.

Here is a CRITICAL hint. Don’t build the entire skeleton and then add the lights.

Add the walls to a floor. Drill  the holes, run the wires and then solder the LEDs. Test that the LEDs light.

Add the next floor.  Add the walls.  Drill the holes in the floor and walls to run wires for that floor.  Then solder the LEDs.  Test that the LEDs light.

Rinse and repeat for as many floors as you have.

Light Control Circuit Board

The control board is simply made.  It is nothing more than an Arduino Nano mounted on some perf board. Resistors connect the LEDs to the Nano.

This picture shows the board.  And this page shows the wiring diagram and how to make it. VVVV  You can get a kit here.

Connecting And Testing Lights

Connect the free ends of the telephone cables to the circuit board. The image to the left shows how I make the connections. The tips of the wires are stripped, inserted into mechanical pin headers and soldered in place.  With mechanical pin headers soldering is not necessary. But I do it anyway.

After having read the information at Random House Lights,   you know how the program works.  So bring pin A5 high and watch your skeleton lights work.

If you have exterior lights, add some temporary lights to the circuit board to check that those connections work. Remove them once you are satisfied.

Final Assembly.

Any lights on the model exterior should be glued in place.  Wires that run through the walls to the interior, for safety of the wires, should be fastened to the wall with tape .

The skeleton base should be fastened to a piece of card that is larger than the footprint of the building.  That card will be attached to the diorama surface and the building exterior dropped over it

Step one is to add the skeleton to the card base.  You can now put the building over the skeleton.  I fix the building in place with a few drops of glue. With it in place, I add the brass staircase.  And then do some landscaping.

Why do I do it this way? I treat every building as a module.  And as such, my layout is a collection of modules that are blended together by landscaping.  If at any time I want to change the layout, I can remove modules without damage.

And I can work on modules on my desktop.  I can make a forest, patch of trees, garden area or whatever without having to worry about anything on the layout being in the way. And the modules can be laid on the module top to check if I like how the final design will look. Changes are easily made back on the desktop.

.When everything is in place, connect all the wires to your control panel.  As it is, things don’t work right the first time, take your time and work through the wiring step by step.

Your building will have different wiring requirements.  Go here to see the changes that you should make.



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