I thought I'd also show you some of the "tools" I regularly use.
The best investment ever has to be my pastry mat. It's non-stick so I can roll the fondant icing out without having to dust with exra icing sugar, and the non-slip backing holds it in place. Easy to clean and rolls up for storage, gee, I could make a living spruiking these things! Apart from a few cutters, and proper piping tips and bags, the rest of my "equipment" is non-specialist - just bits from around the kitchen. I also use a lot of toothpicks (to colour icing), skewers (for all sorts of job) and empty egg cartons and baking paper (to help prop up icing bits that are drying).
As for icing, I've found that the Orchard white icing that can be bought at the supermarket (just over $4 (aussie) for 500g) is actually more economical and much easier to work with than the "professional" icings that I've tried. (I usually end up using about 2 1/2 to 3 boxes of icing, more for larger cakes). I don't skimp on colouring though, I only use Wilton gel colours because I find them far superior to the others I've tried. (I have not been paid to plug any of these, just so you know. You can pay me retroactively if you'd like *wink*)
Now that you've seen the tools, here's a quick "behind-the-scenes" of how I put this Thomas the Tank Engine cake together.
The body is put together using two "sheet" style cakes (lamington pan sized), one loaf cake trimmed, and one small round cake for the head. The caboose is made up of trimmings from the loaf cake and one sheet cake. I didn't notice this at the time but I should have carved the loaf cake lower because I gave Thomas a bit of a "humpback" appearance. I used ganache for filling and for "glue".
Cover the whole thing with ganache, let set, then cover with a layer of ready-to-roll fondant icing tinted to suit. Unfortunately, I was rushing this cake a bit so the end result had a few "cracks" and marks, but the overall effect is still distracting enough that most folks would (hopefully) not notice the imperfections too much.
Add on features and evrything else using more coloured fondant icing.
He looks a bit like a scary toothless old man at this stage!(Please don't be offended if you are toothless, or an old man, I don't think all toothless old men are scary)
Very pleased with how I did the wheels. See how they are only "half-wheels"? But reflected they are whole!
I know it's not an extremely detailed post, but I hope that it's given you a bit of a glimpse into how I go about making a novelty cake. In my net-travels, I found this site that gives you a step-by-step on how to cover a Thomas cake using buttercream.
Have a great weekend :)