Greebling and Kit-Bashing: The Easy Way to Make Intricate-Looking Steampunk Props

The Easy Way to Make Intricate-Looking Steampunk Props

You may or may not have heard the term "greebles" or "kit-bashing" before, but if not, they may sound like nonsense. Particularly 'greebles', which sounds more like the name of a small, gremlin-like creature. However, I assure you that they are very important in prop-making, and if you can master them both, you'll be able to make intricate, great-looking props in hardly any time!

Kit-Bashing

The term "kit-bashing" comes from literally bashing apart models or model kits in order to cannibalize the parts for something other than the intended use. You can read more about it on Wikipedia if you'd like, but kit-bashing is used in Hollywood all the time by professional prop-makers for films.

I'll demonstrate below, by kit-bashing some greebles!

Greebling

The word "greebles" has its roots in Industrial Light and Magic, the company that was founded to create props for Star Wars. Greebles are small things that make a larger thing look more complex and realistic. Again, Wikipedia has a good article on it, but, essentially, using found objects to make Steampunk props is often a form of greebling. Greebling being the participle form of the root 'greeble'.

Now, let's see how to put these two tools together to great effect! Remember this article about painting Nerf guns? We're going to apply these lessons to the gun from that article, which is pictured below:

How to Kit-Bash

Often in the film industry, prop-makers will kit-bash model vehicles for prototypes and such. They'll break models apart and combine them with other models to create a new effect. In this case, I just want cool-looking parts for Steampunk stuff, so I found two model kits that I thought were likely to have neat parts in them:

As you can see in the picture above, I chose a battleship model, and a train model. They're both Revell brand, because they tend to be on the cheaper side. The best way to do this is to buy bulk model parts on eBay, but I kept losing auctions for model parts, so I just bought some kits! I ended up paying more, but I just didn't have the patience for it.

The battleship kit ended up having some parts that I'll use for another project, but for this project, the train kit had some perfect parts.

Feel free to click on these pictures for more detail... They're all huge.

Once I decided what parts I wanted to use, I pulled them out and cleaned them up a bit with a sander. I cleaned off any odd plastic bits and whatnot, but otherwise left them alone. The next step was to paint them!

I chose silver because I thought it would stand out against the brass-and-black background of the gun, and it would also match the trigger.

With my parts painted and ready to go, it's time to move on to greebling!

How to Greeble

So, all there is to greebling is just putting parts onto something to make it look more complicated. In this case, I used super glue as the method of adhesion. Usually I prefer to use sturdier stuff like epoxy (or screws, preferably) but, given how visible these parts were, I had to go for a less-visible adhesive.

There's definitely an art form to determining which parts to use, and where to put them. I don't know that I'm the best person to explain such things, as I still very much consider myself an amateur in this regard. My best advice is just to look at lots of props on the internet, and try to get a feel for how things look, and what makes them look good versus bad. When you look at a prop you like, ask yourself what you like about it, and vice versa.

In the picture below, I've attached a few of the greebles and you can get a good detail shot of how they turned out:

I felt like it was a little naked toward the front, still, so I added another one. Here's the finished product:

Not the most amazing thing you've ever seen, I'm sure, but the time expenditure on this project was, counting the drying time for the paint, something like an hour. And it looks a lot more interesting than just the plain Nerf gun did.

Here's a side-by-side comparison of the before and after pictures, so that you can see them together (click on the images to enlarge):

See, a small amount of effort can really make a difference! And it certainly looks better than haphazardly-glued gears.

Now go forth and greeble!

12 Comments

Greebling is a common term among the AFOL (adult fans of lego) community. Although Lego sets are made to be interchangeable, greebling is used to describe high amounts of detail in certain spots. An example would be something like this http://www.flickr.com/photos/53907627@N08/8473093401/

where there are large patches of detail underneath the wings, or thishttp://www.flickr.com/photos/vince_toulouse/8411189026/ where you can see some greebling towards the back.

One other thing I thought I would mention is that greebles can sometimes be misused and actually take away from a model. Even on the nerf gun it almost feels that the greebles take away from it rather than adding to the model.

Nonetheless, great article, I was just reading something about greebles the other day and honestly its a pretty cool idea.

Thanks, Nathan! Yeah, Nerf guns aren't necessarily the best thing to greeble, but it was the project that I had lying around. It was more a demonstration of the idea than it was a "look at this amazing thing I made!" kind of post.

I'm glad you shared those links, though, that's cool! =)

yay, steampunk without adding cogs :) i have a whole box of scraps and plastic bits to pull from but hadn't thought of going so far away from the source material. really good article.

Thanks, that's exactly what I was going for! I'm not especially good at greebling, as I'm primarily a writer, not an artist. However, I was hoping that providing a good example would inspire others to think outside of the box. =)

A way to take that all a bit farther is to add detail to the "greebled" by paint technique. I would've started flat black, and then dry brushed the silver. It gives depth and texture.

Mikeal, you are absolutely right. However, I'm not really very good at that sort of detail work, so I generally try to get away without it when I can.

I'm about to do an article on using Rub and Buff, though, in which I'll try that technique out. We'll see how it goes. =)

Great article, thanks for the term greebling! Another good place to possibly look for model parts are thrift stores. I think a lot of kids get them as presents, never put them together and sooner or later they get sent to the thrift store when there is a room clean up.

Oh, great idea, Calvin! That totally didn't even occur to me. Man, now I'll have to keep an eye open when I go to the thrift store!

As an amateur model-maker, AFOL, Nerf modder, and Steampunk enthusiast (yup, geek.) "greeble" is one of my favorite words. I might recommend attaching the greebles prior to the priming and basecoating steps. Takes a bit more care with the masking but results in a smoother seam between the bitz and the surface. Drybrushing is also an excellent technique for highlighting details and contrast but does take more work with a brush.

As far as sanding, I highly recommend the sanding sponges, they make smoothing curved and complex surfaces easy!

Many modern Nerf blasters come "pre-greebled" with molded surface patterns and textures that don't really show up unless painted. Either a complete surface sand or a filling primer helps to smooth those out if they are unwanted.

In addition to model parts, I've also found that adding nuts and bolts (cheap from a hardward store or salvaged from thrift store finds) can quickly add a more industrial feel.

I've found sites like the Replica Prop Forum to be excellent resources for techniques and learning from others.

Excellent advice, Joseph!

Yeah, attaching the greebles first does create a better look, but it's also way more effort, which is why I chose to do them last. Though if you want them to be the same color as the surrounding area, then attaching them first has pretty much no downsides.

Sanding sponges are amazing, and I use them exclusively, rather than sandpaper.

I'm actually working on a Nerf project right now in which I'm sanding half of the gun, and then I'll paint it. That way, people can see the benefits of sanding versus not sanding, all on one gun! =)

Now that you've brought George Lucas into the picture, my attitude toward all the gadgets and gizmos affixed to all those thing-a-ma-bobs has totally changed. And to think, all this time I believed the stuff on and in those spacecraft were real, functioning levers, knobs, and tubes. Come to find out they were plastic model parts. Hmph!

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