Forced perspective model train backdrop – Fred’s

Fred’s been back in touch with his stunning N scale, this time he talks us through his forced perspective model train backdrop:

“Hi Al –

With this revision I had to use a kind of “relief” modeling technique in the middle ground to blend backdrop with the model.

Look in particular at tank farm: one three quarter relief tank, two one third relief, res are painted on landscape.

Buildings and freight dock are same – used front elevation from kits, but roofs are painted onto backdrop. Perspective layout was hair raising – broke all conventional rules regarding vanishing points, picture planes, scale dimunition, etc., but seems to work from most viewing points.

Most dioramas seek to limit the viewers’ point of view. But as a model layout with “walk by” access, the designer has to “frame” as many points of view as he can to minimize the number of places where the perspective is out of wack, and maximize the number of places where he can employ “distorted” perspective to great effect.

The 1/160 actual N scale often has to go out the window. What do I mean by that? Well one example would be my main street in the city, which is probably 2 1/2” wide at its mouth (near the viewer) and closer to 1 1/2” where it merges with the backdrop.

Street lights are about 4” apart at the start, but 1/2” closer together with each subsequent bay towards the backdrop, until by the time they get there, they might be only 1 1/2” apart, and of course they have to be smaller, which is why I made all my own lights.

If the main street were out in the open, it would appear to zig 30 degrees upon hitting the backdrop. Careful high rise placement in the foreground of the model preserves the apparent straightness of the main street.

The problems of horizon placement abound. The horizon on this “transition backdrop” between city and country ends of layout is higher than the distant horizon beyond the harbor. But here the viewer can stand close enough to touch it.

The harbor exists in a pocket of my house that was our original coal bunker during the 19th century, and as such is about 8 feet in from the face of the layout!

The only reason I built the rock crusher/ cement plant, with its smokestack was to place it at the end of the oil refinery and help visually “bifurcate” the two major sections of the layout.

Forced perspective model train

Forced perspective model train

Forced perspective model train

I saw a lot of requests for a better look – plan, video of entire layout so that the guys could better understand it.

Took this “at dusk,” so they could see a bit more. Hope it helps.


You can see Fred’s last post here:

N scale Factory.

Now on to Andy:

“I enjoy your posts very much.

Many good ideas. Here’s one I’m trying.

I have a small bedroom for my new layout.

I am combining HO and N to try and and get some degree of depth.

The steamer in the front is HO and the coal train is N.

Some will say ‘not prototipical’, but I’m having a ball.


Forced perspective model train

Andy is getting a lot of bang for his buck using ‘forced perspective’ – it works so well, making a small layout seem instantly larger.

Now on to John:

“Greetings from Los Angeles Al!

The commercial plants and trees can prove to be costly if you need several…

I made these planters on ether side of the door by wrapping pipe cleaners around a sharpened pencil and then pressing them into the desired shape. Then I paint then with inexpensive acrylic green and glue them into the planters .

The planters are BEADS from the craft store..then I glue them to my structures ,or where needed om my layout You can make dozens of these for next to nothing…


model railroad door plant

Now for the latest installment from Hall of Fame member, Rob, because everybody wants their cars and trucks to move on their roads too.

(His last post is here if you missed it).

“Hi Al,

Since the first Faller video, the road has progressed to grooving for the guide wire and then to plastering and painting the road surface.

For those perhaps interested in trying a Faller Road, they may find it interesting to see what my experience is. In the end, I got a fairly smooth and satisfactory road.

Now, I just need a few more vehicles to add some more chaos to the layout.


Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

A huge thanks to Rob!

And – fingers crossed – Andy will send us more pics of his project, it’s a fine looking bridge. I do like seeing the ‘forced perspective’ model train pics, and you get to play with two scales too.

That’s all for today folks.

Please do keep ’em coming.

And if you are sat there thinking you’d like to have a go at your own layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS More HO scale train layouts here if that’s your thing.

18 Responses to Forced perspective model train backdrop – Fred’s

  1. Eric says:

    Excellent work Rob the layout is certainly coming on, see you copied my hatch 🙂 Those stone retaining walls look great who makes them and are they available in N? Keep up the good work. Happy Modelling.
    Eric (Leeds) UK.

  2. Forced perspective has been used by the movie industry for over 100 years. Very well done. Looks more realistic!

  3. John Perry says:

    Thank You Al for keeping us all in the loop! I get up on work days
    Looking for your emails. They make my day!

  4. NJ Mark says:

    Thanks for all the helpful tips and great ideas. It’s a rainy day in New Jersey so it is a perfect time to go into the basement and do some model railroading. Cheers! NJ Mark

  5. Andy, you said you were having fun. That’s what this fabulous hobby is all about doing. Having FUN!!

  6. Jacob Kirk says:

    Very nice job Andy of combining gauges. I’d like to see more of your work as the layout progresses.

    You’re not alone. I’m also idoing a similar project, integrating O Gauge & HO as was posted on this site a month or so ago. I’m combining two separate layouts into one, with 3 O gauge & 4 HO trains on an elevated deck on a 12′ X 20′ platform with an industrial theme – steel industry as I’m from PGH – and including a special STEELERS TRAIN. I’m in the very early stages of laying track. Much work ahead, but I enjoy both gauges as you must also. Keep up posted.

  7. Kevin McArdle says:

    Always remember that it’s your railroad, and not every layout is ‘prototypical’, nor ‘craftsman’. What is important is to have fun.

  8. kathe kozlowski says:

    Great looking plants. How clever and inexpensive! Beautiful building also.
    Kathe, Florida

  9. Paul Schofield says:

    Andy, I’m experimenting with N as a foreground scale and with T as a background. It’s a challenge with the perspectives. That said, I’m also having a ball just trying to make things work. As someone said on an earlier post, we do this for the satisfaction it gives. If that entails modelling things to the ultimate detail (and I’m still laughing over the Bath House scene) or just putting a train on a bare circle of track, just go with it. Once you start, the only way is up. Enjoy! From Paul in Manchester UK.

  10. John Reynolds says:

    Lots of good stuff today… Fantastic idea on the plants and an outstanding video.

  11. Deano says:

    Andy, looks good to me… I thought about doing the same but in reverse at my old house.. (no room either) My PRR Z mainline was to be in the Background with Nn3 East Broadway Top Narrow Gauge (On Z gauge track) would be down in front. Pay no attention to the naysayers… Do what suits you… It’s called Creative License for a reason… Rule #1 .. HAVE FUN 😎

  12. robert dale tiemann says:

    very cool. like the water front lighting..

  13. Brian Olson says:

    What you don’t have in physical space, you can create visual space. Well done!

  14. Stephen Hill says:

    Very impressive back drop and back ground . Couldn’t understand any of it I’m afraid to say , but it looks amazing . Serious train folks here , way out of my league. I’m happy if the darn train makes it around .
    Absolutely superb engineering.

    Great idea on trees as well , stuff is expensive , always good to have insight on homemade do it yourself when ever possible .

  15. Chuck Holsclaw says:

    Fred, your layout is amazing with all the lighting and landscaping. You said once that you do not have any trains that run well. I think that I would want to to see the trains running through would just be the best thing ever. It would bring everything together and give it life!

  16. Steve Ruple says:

    Andy, your set-up the way you have it with the N gauge coal train in the back ground looks alright to me. Thank you for the video on how to wire for vehicles on a street, very impressive.

  17. Andrew Aves says:

    Fred, your layout is awesome and t is always a delight to see your posts.
    If possible please will you send a track plan, it would help me to connect the different parts of your wonderful layout.
    And as Chuck says above, I should love to see a train running.
    Best wishes from down under to Alistair, John and everyone following his blog. Have a happy holiday, merry Christmas and a very healthy 2024
    Andrew in Oz

  18. Chris Sylvester says:

    Wow Fred !!! That is such a great layout and love the dusk view with the lights in the distance definitely adds depth to the layout and the sound effects in the back ground add even more. Very cool layout!! Thank you for sharing the video and your layout. Chris from Michigan

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