Build: Jungle Vivarium - Royal Python. - Reptile Forums

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Old 10-07-2013, 09:42 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2010
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Smile Build: Jungle Vivarium - Royal Python.

Since being lazy and opting just to post finished pics of the vivarium, I've had quite a few PM's asking how I did certain things in the build so I've decided I'll do a proper build thread that will hopefully be helpful to people looking to try a similar theme as I've seen quite a few people asking about or attempting jungle temple themes as it appears to be quite a popular style of choice.

This build was done in a Vivexotic VX36 which is slightly bigger than their original range, or rather, gives a bit more height which is quite nice as it gives you a bit more room to play around with.

So... Let us begin!!

1. The first thing you're going to need is a vivarium. Generally I hear having an enclosure to build in is a great way to start a build off :P If you're lucky, you might do what I did and find an almost new one on eBay for £20 10 miles away from where you live. But seriously... look on eBay!

Ta-daaah! One freshly transported and cleaned out vivarium ready to rock. Complete with token Buddha that was found at The Range (£3.99 when I was there. Definitely worth checking out).

But now comes the most important part. Planning! I really cannot emphasise this enough that for a more complex build, really know what you're wanting to do otherwise you're going to end up spending a LOT of money on wasted materials. It's okay if you have money to burn, but it can also be very frustrating when you can't get what you want because you're still not sure yourself what it is you're exactly after. So, before you do ANYTHING go forth and plan, plan, PLAN!!

So, in this instance I had a couple of reference pictures I'd found on the internet, plus I had sketched up a couple of diagrams as unlike my gecko build where I wanted things like hides incorporated, this was to purely act as a decorative interface that might just provide an interesting surface for my Royal to climb over now and then. Knowing what I wanted also meant I also had a good idea on how much I'd need materials-wise and as a result only used 2 small pieces of Kingspan (from B&Q) for the whole build.

2. Measure your board to fit and appropriately cut to size. This can be done with a hot knife, but to be honest a basic saw will work just as well as the beauty of Kingspan is that you can sand edges to a smooth finish. Once you're done that, peel the foil off (I only did this on one side) and in this case, I drew on some rough plans to give me an idea of what I was wanting. I knew I wanted my Buddha as a centre-piece as a sort of temple idol so this was my starting point as this would likely be the focal point of the whole piece.

3. For carving of Kingspan I heartily recommend the use of a rotary tool. It doesn't need to be super fancy and a basic 'craft drill' can be picked up off of eBay for around £15. This allows for incredible precision detailing at a good speed but if you DO use this method, you WILL need eye protection and some form of mask as using a rotary tool breaks down the board into almost like a gritty powder which gets everywhere and can really irritate your eyes/lungs if you get it in there. Safety first!!

It doesn't take long before things are starting to take effect. By this point, I had stopped to allow glue to properly set and in the interim, I made a series of flower planters using cork bark tube, clay, artificial plants and a grit/PVA mix. They were very straight forward to make and a more detailed guide to the planters can be found here.

Once these were made, I decided to get an idea of how the whole thing might look with things in place but at this point is it important to note that NOTHING is glued. I did however seal a piece of lino to the bottom of the vivarium and then sealed off the edges using an appropriate aquarium safe silicon. This was to give me increased protection on the bottom of the vivarium from generally scuffing and scraping as well as increased protection from water damage. This has been installed BEFORE the build was added, meaning that the lino sheet seals off the ENTIRE bottom of the viv, including under the build itself.

4. After many bamboo skewers and adhesive later, we're pretty much finished with the back panel (or at least the main part of it) and it can now be glued into the vivarium. In this case I also used a bead of expanding foam around all the edges to seal it in, trimming it back to make a neat edge after it had dried. I've also attached the light cage and fitting to the lid (which is still removable at this point) to get an idea of where the ceramic bulb is going to be in proportion to the build although it's a good idea to ensure that your build is still going to be a reasonable distance away from any source of heat. I also made any necessary alterations such as reducing the size of the Buddha plinth as once it was in the viv on the full back piece it was apparent that it was much too big.

By now I've also made changes such as cut out a suitably rocky looking chunk as this will accommodate a branch across the top as a climbing area for Dave but will also add to the illusion of an overgrown jungle. I've also added on the side panels. I hummed and hawed for ages on this one and in the end decided to stick with a simple rocky look for the sides.

IMPORTANT NOTE!! Make sure you leave yourself space between the edge of your build and the front of your vivarium!! You need to leave a minimum of an inch to allow for grouting plus any wires you want to run down if you haven't already planned for them as you run the risk of your build interfering with the front of the vivarium. Especially once you've grouted it as it adds at least a few more mm onto the overall size.

5. Every lost jungle temple needs massive tree roots overhanging the rocks and plinths. It just wouldn't be a jungle temple without them! Don't believe me? Go ask Google, I dare you to find a jungle temple without at least one massive tree in there :P

This part can be tricky so BE PATIENT! Practice if you have to, but whatever you do, don't try to rush. What you're going to need is a couple of bamboo skewers, a piping insulation tube and a can of expanding foam. The first thing is to cut a few pieces of the tube and secure them roughly where you want your trees to be and then you're going to use expanding foam to very carefully draw on lines of 'roots' over the foam and trailing down over your temple.


No really. Don't do what I did and decide to do this at silly o'clock at night in a spur of the moment stroke of genius and forget to wear gloves. Also make sure that the bottom of the viv is covered with paper (cut to shape if needs be) and that any surround area is appropriately protected as if you get expanding foam on things like carpet, walls etc or anywhere else you WEREN'T intending on it going, you're never going to get it off. Especially if you leave it until after it's cured. No really. I get death stares every time my mum comes into my room now as I have hard patches on the carpet.

But you should end up with something that looks a little like this...

Allow the foam to cure properly. This will likely take a good couple of days but when it's all done you can give it a bit of a trim to make it a bit more 'tree-like'. I for one got rid of any blatantly bulbous looking parts or any parts that looked too smooth. If you use a sharp snap-off knife, you won't need to trim much at all and it should cut very easily.

When you're absolutely sure you're done, now's the time to start grouting. In order to retain detail, thinner layers are best but you will need a helluva lot more. Grab some tester pots of paint from your local DIY store and use a different colour on each layer of grout. If you make each layer very different from the last you will clearly be able to see whether or not you have missed any spots on the layer before. It's long and boring and tedious but take your time. If you get sloppy with the grout layering you'll just compromise the integrity of the whole build and all that hard work will have been for nothing!

6. Whilst the grout is drying (and it's best to leave it all a few days to make sure it's properly cured) you can add detail to you Buddha statue if it needs it. For example, whilst a great price, the statue I bought was very glossy and detailed. Which is great! But it just didn't fit in with the rest of the build, especially when the grout was giving it lots of rocky detail. On my very last layer of grout, whilst still wet, I covered all the 'rock' parts of the build in play sand which meant that when the grout had dried I ended up with a fantastic grainy feel on my stone, but my Buddha looked nothing like it! So, how do you make a shiny resin Buddha match a sandy stone-effect? It's simple, slap some PVA on the Buddha and put it in a tub filled with sand. Leave it to dry and then knock off the excess sand and you should be left with something that looks very different....

Voila! One Buddha that is now starting to look a bit more worn and weather beaten. Don't worry about losing too much detail but if you want to define any of it such as around the eyes etc then you can use a cocktail stick and carefully scrape away the sand.

7. Once everything is grouted and ready to go, it's time to paint! Make sure you know what type of rock you're wanting to replicate and if possible go and get yourself a sample. Rocks are anything but boring and grey and you'll be surprised what colours you'll see in them when you scrutinise one up close! I was going for a light sandstone type of colour as I wanted it to contrast with the greenery and dark substrate I'd be using, as well as being complementary to Dave's colours. So in this case, I started with a brownish base coat. I didn't want it TOO dark, but at the same time still dark enough to give deeper recesses a reasonably shadowed look.

As you can also see, I've base coated the back of the vivarium and tree roots in black. As much as anything, this gave me a good contrast base between my temple structure and everything else. At the same time as base-coating my temple I did the same with the Buddha. This meant that my Buddha would be the same colours without the need to try and replicate colours, ensuring that I would have a seamless match between the components.

After this base-coat I applied a very dark brown wash over all the 'stone'. This pulled out a lot of the grainy detail, particularly in darker recesses. From this wash I could then start to build up dry brushing layers which was done using various shades, based on my sample stone. In this case I was using yellows, fawns, even some peachy shades before finally dry-brushing in a layer of white.

How to dry-brush.

By this stage I have also been adding base layers to my roots and the back of my vivarium using deep browns for the roots and dark greens for the vivarium. This was to complement the theme as well as 'finish' the build without looking half-done with pieces of vivarium interior showing through as I really wanted to make the viv look like a window into another place.

A piece of cork-bark is a great reference piece of painting wood and I ended up using washes and various layers of dry-brushing in order to bring a multitude of colours to my roots, much as a real piece of wood would have. Various shades of greens and yellows were also stippled onto the back of the vivarium (where there was no build) to really enhance the feel of a dappled jungle enclosure.

8. Varnishing. Although it's possible to use waterproof grouts, I generally add a light layer of varnish at the end after all paint is dry to give me just another layer of protection against general wear and tear. I use a basic, water-based floor varnish in a matte finish and aim to use something that is advertised as low-fume. Nothing can be added to the vivarium until all fumes are cleared so make sure the viv is stored somewhere that's well ventilated and consider popping in a bowl of chopped onions to help. Warmth helps the varnish/paint off-gas so I let my ceramic run on a relatively low temperature for about a week. to help raise and then disperse the fumes.

9. Adding the decor. As well as my planters, I intended on adding one or two wall-mounted 'pots' with strands of artificial ivy as well as a branch also wrapped in ivy (and secured using V-shaped cable pins hammered into the branch). The wall pots were small pieces of cork-bark tube filled with expanding foam and arranged with ivy strands before being sealed off using a PVA/grit mix and then siliconed to the wall after they were dry. By this stage I had also added to low-lying fern planters to my planter collection in order to provide as much coverage as possible, using the same method as detailed in my previous link and I have added clumps of reindeer moss in various parts.

By now I've got a really good idea of how it's all going to look and have also added clumps of reindeer moss over parts to bring it all together. At this stage, I was happy with the placement of all branches etc as well as the ceramic bulb cage and lighting*, so whilst I was waiting for all the fumes to disperse, I made sure I had tidied up all the wires (using an excessive amount of cable clips!) and secured down the lid. Although I haven't sealed the top to allow for access should it be needed, I opted to further secure the lid through the use of a couple of wood screws in the front and back as I was noticing that the front panel was bowing a little at the top.

*I opted to use LED lighting in this build to reduce the need for another bulb and cage and to be a little more efficient. Here I purchased a white/red strip on a dimmer (from reptiles-ink, who I highly recommend) to allow for both day and night viewing at my leisure.

And after a few weeks (after some minor decorative changes were made) you can just about see Dave sticking his nose out of his cold hide. I decided to source a large piece of wood for the centre to act as a bit of a bridge between the three walls as Dave was a never-ending source of amusement by constantly climbing up the sides and promptly falling down when he tried to stretch out to the middle.

So there you have it, one ruined jungle temple complete with Buddha, masses of plants, a suitably huge log and one very contented Royal python! As stated before, planning was EVERYTHING and although I spent a little more than anticipated on the extra plants etc, this entire build and setup cost me around £175. Although part of this was down to lucking out on my vivarium, when it came to the build itself, knowing almost exactly what I wanted was instrumental in reducing wastage and maintaining positive progression with the build, without having to go back to the drawing board.

I hope you enjoy the pictures. Hopefully this will inspire a ruined temple of your own!
0.1.0 Leopard Gecko/ 1.0.0 Royal Python/ 1.0.0 Hognose/ 1.0.0 Corn Snake (dh Snow)/1.0.0 Bengal Cat

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New Projects: Gecko Viv 2.0

Last edited by Recluso; 10-07-2013 at 09:50 AM..
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Old 13-07-2013, 09:29 PM
Join Date: May 2013
Location: Ashford, Kent
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Not my taste in decor but looks fantastic!!!!! I never thought expanding foam could be used in such a decorative manner, and your attention to detail is second to none. Hope your royal knows how lucky he/she is
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Old 15-07-2013, 01:45 AM
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I'll defo be referring to this when I do my BCI big viv
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Old 15-07-2013, 02:35 AM
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Very good
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Old 16-07-2013, 09:35 PM
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This is almost exactly how i want my royal viv to look .. even down to the statue haha.. looks awesome well done!!

Mind if i borrow a few ideas?? ... when i say a few i mean all of them and when i say ideas i mean copy you 100%

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Old 19-07-2013, 08:13 AM
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Originally Posted by kopiteadam View Post
This is almost exactly how i want my royal viv to look .. even down to the statue haha.. looks awesome well done!!

Mind if i borrow a few ideas?? ... when i say a few i mean all of them and when i say ideas i mean copy you 100%

Goferit ^_^

I'm going to be doing a mini version of this build soon for my Leo as I bought a spare Buddha statue (just in case).
0.1.0 Leopard Gecko/ 1.0.0 Royal Python/ 1.0.0 Hognose/ 1.0.0 Corn Snake (dh Snow)/1.0.0 Bengal Cat

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custom build , jungle temple , royal python , ruined temple , vivarium build

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