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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After more than a year of planning, wondering, dreaming, I've finally started my 3D background. I have a 6ft 120g tank with frontosas. They need as much room as they can get. So here were my requirements:

-Be able to install the BG without completely breaking down the tank, or at least in just a few hours (no place to put the big fishies for longer than that)
-BG should not take up too much room
-BG should hide my equipment
-BG should look as natural as possible

I decided to make four panels, each one weighed down with a large, relatively flat rock at the bottom. Styrofoam at the top will be carved and painted with Drylok to match the rocks, and will hide the equipment. The rocks I'm using are 15-25 lb each. I anticipate that the sections will still float, but not too much. Luckily I have an acrylic tank, so the top of the tank should keep them in place (I hope). I bought a large roll of paper so that I could measure and plan everything out beforehand. The background ranges from about 1/2" to 2 3/4" thick. Because I knew it would be thin in places, I backed each section with a 15"x18" thin piece of acrylic. Pieces in each section are all glued together with Gorilla glue. I bought everything at large, box DIY stores. I'm not done yet, but will be by this weekend. And now for pictures! (Sorry for the low quality pics, I'll have better ones later). Well, I can only post links. Whenever I follow the directions for posting pics, the URL gets messed up. Here you go....

Tracing pieces onto styrofoam (I used three layers of 1" thick styrofoam)


Background layout with all the styrofoam cut out (I haven't carved a place for the returns yet)


And, some of my mess ups and debris.....


I have since carved the foam and started painting, but matching the rocks is turning out to be quite the challenge. I'll keep you all posted as I go along.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Alright, I've finished carving and painting the thing. For carving I just used a steak knife and sand paper. Tried many tricks to get the styrofoam color to match the real rock. I even remembered a technique that I heard of at the Seattle Aquarium when they wanted a new exhibit to look realistic--paint on the algae!

Here's a pic of the whole background, but it looks funny because the styrofoam was painted to match the rock when the rock is wet:


Here's one section with the rock wet and lit from above. You can see the return at the top:


A closeup of the return (I angled the two of them so the actual returns will be hard to see from the front):


And finally, the artist's palette:


I'm hoping to install it on Saturday, and will post pics of the whole setup then.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Yesterday was the big day. The background pieces did float, which in my case was great. It allowed me to wedge them in under the top and make them sit nice and flat against the back. The fish are still getting used to it. I took away some of the bigger hiding places, so the fronts would be more visible, but added many small ones for the smaller fish I added (Neolamp. leleupi, Juli. marlieri, and Tang. irsacae).

Here's the before:


Fish in coolers during the installation (also switched out some sand and rocks, and buffed the front):


Tank with background and brighter lights on:


In retrospect, this took about three times longer than I thought it would (partly because I'm a perfectionist and had to keep fiddling with it). I would definitely find a large, sturdy table to work on next time, instead of trying to do most of it on the floor (my aching knees and back!). I'm happy with the combination of real rock and styrofoam. Mostly, I'm just glad it's finally done. Let me know what you think!
 

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Very nice! Tank looks very nice. :thumb:
 

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hmmmm, I'm thinking TOTM! Beautiful! :thumb:
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Thanks for the comments. As soon as I finish cleaning the algae up I'll post it to the Your Tanks section.
 

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Excellent looking tank and great job on the background!
I don't know if you mentioned this, but how did the spray paint work out? -Looks like it did a great job! :thumb:

I have to tell ya' -the picture with the fish in the coolers, the towels, the buckets had me LMAO! It's a familiar sight! :lol:
Again, great job and hopefully you win the TOTM award!
 

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ElectricBlueMan said:
looks great. how much does a project like this typically cost?
I don't what that one cost, but I spent $178 today at Lowe's getting everything for mine, and yet, I gotta go back tomorrow because I need 1 more piece of styro, lol, hopefully, mine will look half as nice :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I didn't keep close track of my costs (I'm in denial), but I would guess it was around $200. The big rocks added a bit more than all styro would have been. And now I've ordered some magnets and aquarium epoxy to keep the pieces flush against the back (they want to lean forward an inch or so). I knew this way wouldn't be a whole lot less than the ones you buy, but I couldn't figure out how to get a prefab one that was skinny and that would hide my equipment.

The spray paint worked great for giving it a light coat of texture. I already had the light tan stuff, and just bought the green. It's subtle, but it makes me feel better.

I'm having fun watching my leleupis swim up and down the background as though it was just an extension of the ground.
 

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kriskm said:
paint on the algae! And finally, the artist's palette:
I love the way your BG turned out! I have a couple of questions:
1. What color is your DryLok?
2. Did you add any colorant?
3. Did you use the drylok first?
4. Is the Krylon waterproof, will the fish pick at it?
thx
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Thanks for the compliment! Let's see....
1. And 2. I used white latex-based Drylok and added buff and black powdered cement colorant to get the right colors. I had three layers of "rock" and I made each one further back a little darker, to make them look a little further away. I've read that you can also use the liquid cement colorant to dye the Drylok.
3. I painted with two coats of Drylok first. Looking at it really closely, I see that I still missed a few little spots here and there. It's thick stuff, and tough to get into all the little cracks and crevices. After the two base coats, I went back with some lighter and darker Drylok, thinned with water, to highlight the edges of higher spots and shadow lower spots.
4. After I was done with the Drylok (gave it a couple of days to dry), I put on a very light coat (barely there) of tan krylon fusion spray paint, and then a few hours later a very light coat of the green. Lots of people have used krylon fusion for painting returns and intakes and what not, so it has been found to be pretty safe for the aquarium, as long as you give it time to dry (I gave the super light coat a couple of days to dry).

Important note: I took out the bristle nose pleco I had in this tank when I added the background. I have read of plecos being able to scrape the paint off and leave bare patches. No more plecos for this tank! My other fish have not disturbed it so far.
 

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Thx so much for answering my questions, I've started mine, but like you, am a perfectionist, so this is the 3rd go, this one I'm liking and now with the info, I can move forward, yours looks outstanding! thx again =D>
 

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Your efforts paid off big time, it looks really cool. I bet your visitors just go on and on about it. I can't wait to get started on mine now. The only thing is I have 9 tanks lol and 2 of them are in the 240 gal size. the rest are 110's, 55's and 40's. I can almost feel my back screaming already lol. :drooling:
 

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i'm curious and new to cichlid-forum.com. *** had cichlids before and just recently upgraded to a new 90g tank :). im probably going to be in the same boat as you. ( thinking, researching, dreaming) about a background. Now to get to my question. When you took your fish out to put in the coolers, how long did it take to install the BG and how did you mount the Bg? (silicon??) If it was silicon how long was it to dry?

thank
 

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Looks really nice. What kind of styrofoam did you use? I have done a few bg and used the regular strafoam sheets. Have not seen any purple styrafoam. 8)
 
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