Here's some of the concept work that should have been done at the start - so there was a hiccup in animation work, because this needed to get done asap.
It took me a lot longer than expected - first, I mapped out the town, and what buildings needed to be in it. I did tons of research to figure out what kind of buildings this town should have - and what kind of town it was. Our fictional Creek is a small-fry of a town in Colorado - no silver boom town, for sure. It also has families and children, not hordes of prospecting men - it was the place that Ruth's parents chose for a better life than the city for their family. Therefore it's probably an agricultural hub - a town where farmers get supplies and sell their wares. Such towns cropped up outside of the boom towns, to feed the growing population. So Creek has a all of the essentials, as well as a few of the non-essentials, meaning that it's met with some success. It lasted for at least 20 or so years, which was quite a feat, since many towns failed sooner than that.
The only thing I'm not entirely sure if it's accurate is the small houses at one end of town - I'd presume for migrant workers, farm hands, etc. I could find few resources on that kind of housing. :/ There's also a boarding house as well as a few other buildings on the side, not along this main drag, but they won't be making an appearance here.
Once the layout was decided, I went and researched the individual buildings. Every building here is based off of one or two real-life examples, found in old photographs and newer photos of ghost towns. INFINITELY helpful in this was The Townsmen from a Time-Life series on "The Old West", and Colorado Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Sandra Dallas (Photos by Kendal Atchison) I tried to give it some visual variety, even though many of the buildings share a similar architectural style (cheap, fast, build-it-quick-style that is!) They even made pre-fabricated buildings back then, only some assembly required (which the little houses are based off of.) But figuring out and drawing all of these structures took faaaaaaar longer than ever imagined. I have a newfound respect for architects and people who draw buildings often - as well as realizing I should probably do it more myself.
Once it was planned out, I put the map and the individual buildings (as well as their side views) into Google Sketchup, to make a rough model of the town. Despite the sometimes clunky/frustrating controls, sketchup is pretty intuitive, and quick for something like this. It even lets you set the direction, and the time of day - and will project the appropriate shadows, This is TERRIBLY helpful!
I was also able to put in little rough figures for Ruth and Virgil, to figure out the scale and frame up the shots, so I know where to make backgrounds from.
I took a series of screenshots from sketchup, zooming in to out, so that I could make a background with warped perspective - warped so that, when I zoom along it, it should look actually accurate. I printed it large scale, traced the rough outlines onto watercolor paper, then set to redrawing the buildings to give them proper detail. Then, I used ink washes for the shadows.
It's currently unfinished, but this is as far as I needed it to be for the certain segment I was working on.
Many more backgrounds to go, but you'll see them in the end!