Lighting Ideas

      Perhaps the next frontier for toy train hobbyists is lighting on the layout. Of course lights in buildings and lampposts are still great ways to illuminate our pikes, and by adding theatrical techniques and basic landscape & architectural lighting practices, we can have a nice glow from within the layout, especially when balanced with ambient room light. Lights tucked behind bushes and rocks can fill in a shadow and add a little sparkle. Lights placed behind buildings can also fill in dark spots with a great deal of light depending on the size and numbers of lights used.

      On my latest animation project with the lions, "footlights" are tucked into the front edge of the mountain. Any use of a light placed behind an object would only be successful if the area is usually viewed from the front. You never want the bare bulb and socket to be visible. In the gold mine area, lights are placed behind the paper buildings and under the elevated track. This light is subtle but it fills in the shadows. The little cave with Sylvester and Tweety is illuminated with a couple lights tucked up in the corner. These lighting techniques aren't enough to completely illuminate the layout, but they do provide a certain "glow" from within. Reflectors can be cut, with regular household scissors, from disposable aluminum baking pans and pie plates. The reflector not only reflects the light and heat, but it also prevents any light from peeking though the lichen or natural floral material placed in font of it. The side of the reflector that faces the viewer can be painted a color that matches the material that covers it.
      With the elephant bath animation project, lights placed under the rocks that surround the basin shine through the clear plastic and reflect on the ripples in the water. At the train station, the platforms and auto train dock have lights concealed under the overhang. The gas pumps have lights under the roof over the island. The pond near the animal preserve has a large light that shines into that basin through the clear plastic. (The basin is the clear plastic blister packaging from an inexpensive shower head.) The ski slope has lights under the roof, the carbonation tank of the Coca-Cola factory is illuminated from beneath, and the carousel has lights under the canopy.

      Just remember to always have an air space around a light, never use lights that get too hot to hold between your fingers, and follow all the necessary safety precautions and electrical codes.

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