Friday, December 27, 2013

"Indiana Jones" Rope Bridge, Part 1

"He not mad, lady...he crazy!" With those words, Short Round and Kate Capshaw hold onto the rope bridge for dear life in "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom." What with my last Pulp terrain piece being a cannibal's cookpot, it was time to do another equally iconic terrain piece from Pulp movies: a rope bridge spanning a chasm.

I'd been wanting to do a rope bridge for my Pulp games for awhile, but had been waiting on genius to strike. I knew the base material I would use, but not how I would make it more than a one-shot, stand-alone piece. I wanted something that could be used to span any number of chasms in games -- not attached or sized to just one set of cliffs, or whatever. I finally hit on a modular design which would allow me to adjust the height to fit whatever chasm I was planning to span. The gap would remain the same, but how high up the rope bridge was above the tabletop could be adjusted.
This craft store "Picket Fence" would be turned on its side and become the base of my rope bridge (the pointy ends trimmed off with a wire cutter). The wire that holds the fence together is bendable and holds its shape well -- making it a ready-made stand-in for Indy's rope bridge...!
The base material would actually provide me with most of the work pre-made. I'd long ago spotted the craft wood "Picket Fence" that Hobby Lobby, Michaels, and other stores sell. Turn it on its side, and scale-wise and look, it was a perfect stand-in for a rope bridge. And once I made the decision to forgo a certain aspect of my anal-retentive, perfectionist nature, I knew it would be even easier. I decided NOT to have any handholds or railings on this rope bridge. Yes, I know that in real life, any such construction would definitely have them. I was willing to give up that realism, though, in return for ease of construction. Besides, it is for Pulp games -- not a historical diorama!

The first leap of genius (I'm being generous to myself, here...!) was my decision to make the rope bridge butt up against whatever the gap would be it was spanning. Originally, I'd been thinking of something that would sit on top of cliffs, hills, or whatever. I couldn't figure out how to make it sit evenly on any type of surface. But by making it free-standing, all I had to do was shove whatever cliffs I'd be using on the tabletop up against it, sandwiching it in, so to speak. The obvious first choices would be the cliff pieces I made for my French & Indian War games from pine bark.
The top and bottom of each segment of the pillar holding the bridge ends would be made from one of these birch wood rectangles -- carved into irregular shapes, of course
Still, I was "stuck": Other than making every single gap the same height, how do I make this piece truly modular and adaptable to later tabletop setups? The final piece of the puzzle came when I decided to construct the "pillar" -- the piece that each end of the bridge would rest upon -- out of segments that could be stacked one atop the other to reach the correct height. The segments themselves would each end in a piece of sturdy birch wood -- the kind you can buy from craft stores for $1.99 a bag. Originally, I thought I'd use circles, but later decided birch rectangles would fit the shape better. The middle of each segment (the "meat" between the birch wood "sandwich") would be made up of layers of 5mm craft foam, which goes by various names in stores ("Silly Winks Foam Sheets" at Hobby Lobby). I could vary the width of each layer to represent the erosion and horizontal striation of the rock (I think that is the right term...I teach Social Studies, not Science!). The various segments would be held together by earth magnets and steel applied to the ends of the stiff birch wood tops and bottoms of each segment.
The craft foam which would provide the "layers" or striation of the rocky pillar each end of the bridge would rest upon
So, my concept was finalized, and now construction could begin. I cut a 9-inch section of the picket fence (the pack I bought was like about a yard long!), and then trimmed off the pointy ends of each fence board. This made it look more like the boards of a rope bridge. I then slid the end boards out of each terminus of the bridge. I cut four dowel segments and trimmed them to points for the four posts that would hold the bridge in place. I forced each dowel through the empty wire loop where I'd removed the boards. They fit perfectly!
Although it is hard to see, I would sit one layer on top of the craft foam and draw the outline of the next, slightly larger layer in pencil
I then made each bridge end piece by cutting out and shaping three layers of craft foam to go atop a rectangle of birch wood. The layers would get progressively wider as they went up from the wood base -- which I also rounded the ends on to give a more irregular appearance. The layers were glued together with Tacky glue, and also glued atop each birch square. Once dry, I pressed each dowel bottom firmly onto the top foam piece to mark the spot each post would be. This circle was roughly hollowed out with an X-acto knife. The hole was filled with a squirt of Tacky glue and the two posts pressed down into it so they attached to the bottom, and the layers of craft foam held them in place. Once this was done with each side, I bent the entire bridge into a pleasing, looping arc. The thick wire connecting the boards held the shape. The last two boards rested on top of the craft foam, but I figured that was okay.
This photo shows how the last board was removed from each end of the bridge, and the wire gap turned sideways. The dowel posts were then forced through the empty wire loops
Stage one was done! The next step would be to create the segments that would be stacked underneath each end of the rope bridge to raise it to the proper height dictated by the scenario. I liked the way it looked sitting on my desk. So far, so good!
Stage 1 complete! The rope bridge spans the two birch wood and craft foam end pieces, held in place by the dowel posts

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