Originating from the Italian Latin word ‘contornare’, the definition of the noun contour is; “an outline representing or bounding the shape or form of something, a way in which something varies, especially the pitch of music or the pattern of tones in an utterance”.
Creating contours from a topographic map is a fundamental element in modelmaking and something that takes a lot of skill and understanding. Indicating slopes and variations of a terrain and how a building sits and relates to its surroundings, is a necessity in translating an architects concept.
And, working with contours can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. There are several methods to successfully making a physical model where contours play a significant role and this is where our years of expertise at Capital come in.
Each method needs to be considered carefully, depending mostly on the size and scale of the model. But also, practical things need to be taken into account like the weight of a model, especially if it is being regularly transported for example. These factors will determine which materials we choose to use.
Stepped contours consist of cutting out multiple layers of material such as card, veneer, MDF and ply, and then laminating them together to form the landscape. Choosing the thickness of the material to give the correct step for each change of contour is crucial. Usually the steps are every 1m. For instance at 1:500 scale, each 1m step would be 2mm and at 1:1000 scale, each step would be 1mm. For larger scales, you could make the steps every 0.5m.
Laminating a lot of contours uses quite a lot of material and can make a model very heavy. On a heavily contoured site, we would normally cut out every 5th contour on 5 sheets of material. So that the first sheet will have contours 1,5,10, the second sheet 2,6,11 and the third sheet 3,7,12 etc, and so on. These would be laminated up in order to give a hollow construction to a hill. This particular method works best on more solid materials like MDF and ply.
If a smooth contour is required, it is sometime easier to start off with the stepped contour method and then sand down and fill the edges of the laminations. If the area is covered in texture, you don’t have to go too far with this. Road and paving areas can be overlaid with a cut out of the road area to give a smooth surface. (See Race Track picture below for example).
These days, most contours are laser cut from a CAD file on a computer. Using a CNC machine, they can be cut from a solid block of material giving a stepped or smooth finish.
However, it can still be done using traditional methods if all you have is a printout of the area and a knife.
For example the contour Model below was all hand cut out of 1mm cork sheet using a scalpel and laminated up to form a solid hill. This model is at 1:500 scale with contours at 0.5m steps. The road was cut 1 layer lower to form a pavement curb edge.
Whether using new technologies or traditional methods we’re very proud of the contour models we produce and our mission is to always accurately portray our clients’ visions – whatever it takes!