Dioramas in Film – The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead is a compelling novel about the politics of creativity. It follows the tumultuous career of a visionary architect who refuses to compromise the integrity of his work under any circumstances. Rand exults the nobility of the independent thinker over the conformist mentality of the collective.  

The 1949 film adaptation of the novel, starring Gary Cooper as architect Howard Roark, successfully condenses the story into a feature length format. The latter half of the film concerns a housing development designed by Roark (but credited to architect Peter Keating), which falls victim to creative meddling by the developers. A diorama of the development provides the visual touchstone for a tense scene between Keating and the developers. 

 

The diorama showcases the purity of Roark’s original design. It’s true to the modernist aesthetic, free of ornament and ostentation. Like most architectural models, it appears to be constructed of card stock and foam. The diorama is of considerable size, and the camera pans luxuriantly over it as the scene plays out. It also serves as a reference point for later developments in the film—we see that the finished project doesn’t live up to the original design. 

The Fountainhead takes its place alongside other films featuring architectural models that I’ve discussed: The Cooler, Die Hard, Darkman, and Quo Vadis. Diorama artists can take inspiration from these supersized works, which show what can be done with a generous budget. 

-Ivar  

Space: 1999 launch pad from Sixteen 12

The 1970s TV series Space: 1999 is fondly remembered for its outstanding special effects, which were well ahead of its time. One of the iconic visuals of the show was the launch pad used by Moonbase Alpha’s Eagle transporters. (The venerable Eagle is one of the great sci-fi spacecraft designs of all time, and the subject of a diorama I discussed here.) 

Sixteen 12, which specializes in limited edition replicas of Gerry Anderson subjects, has announced that pre-orders for their new electronic Space: 1999 launch pad are now open. The company decided to scale the launch pad for a 13cm (5”) Eagle to keep it down to a practical size. This necessitated launching an entire line of compatibly scaled Eagles, which are available separately. The vast majority of Eagle replicas have averaged 30cm (12”) in length over the years, but at this size, the launch pad would be impractically large. The pad features working landing lights as well as a motorized extending boarding tube, and comes with an Eagle and moonbuggy. It would make a great start to an Eagle diorama.

The launch pad is a striking design, featuring a bold orange cross centered on a circular platform. The perimeter of the cross is punctuated by landing lights. The pad is an elevator. It descends to Moonbase Alpha’s underground hangar, where the Eagles are kept. An Eagle is placed on the pad using a crane. The pad then rises to the surface, and crew members board the Eagle using a telescoping boarding tube. 

The few episodes of Space: 1999 where we see the Eagle hangar reveal an interesting anomaly. Keen eyed viewers may have noticed that exterior moon surface shots show most of the orange part of the pad (three legs of the cross) emerging from the hangar, but interior hangar shots show only a rectangular section of the pad in motion. So on its way from the hangar to the surface, the pad mysteriously changes from a rectangle to a cross. This is one of the biggest continuity errors of the show, leaving us to wonder how it escaped the watchful eye of special effects director Brian Johnson. 

Putting this minor quibble aside, the launch pad remains one of the visual trademarks of Space: 1999. Thanks to Sixteen 12, fans of the show are finally able to get an accurate replica of the pad that won’t take up too much space on the bookshelf.  

-Ivar

A really big model of the USS Iwo Jima

One of the defining characteristics of an aircraft carrier is that it’s massively huge. So it’s fitting that a miniature version of something so massive would also be suitably big. This 1:72 scale model of the USS Iwo Jima, on display at the Estonian Aviation Museum just outside Tartu, doesn’t disappoint when it comes to size. 

Custom built by Scale Reproductions of Foley, Alabama, USA, this miniature is about three and a half meters (12’) in length. It appears to be made of multiple materials, including wood and various plastics. The chosen scale allows the use of off the shelf kits for the aircraft showcased on the flight deck. An aircraft carrier is of course only as good as the planes it carries. The Iwo Jima initially had a complement of 30 helicopters and eight AV-8B Harrier II VTOL jets.

 

The Harrier was ideally suited to carrier operations, thanks to its ability to take off and land vertically. Its prowess was demonstrated during the Falklands War of 1982, where it established air superiority over the numerically superior opposition. The Harrier is the subject of a diorama I discussed here. Although the F-35B which replaced the Harrier has vertical flight capability, it’s rarely used. The main engine swivels and several doors swing open on the top and bottom of the aircraft before vertical flight is undertaken, so a lift fan (separate from the main engine) can be operated. The whole procedure seems cumbersome and awkward. The Harrier used a single engine with four swivel nozzles for both conventional and vertical flight, which was a much more elegant (and practical) solution. 

This is the second vessel operated by the US Navy to bear the Iwo Jima name. It’s a Wasp Class amphibious assault ship. The Iwo Jima doesn’t feature the ‘ski jump’ take-off ramp featured on some newer carriers, which allows aircraft to become airborne with a shorter take-off roll. It has the look of a classic aircraft carrier with a completely flat deck and is based on the same general design as WWII era carriers. Commissioned in 2001, the ship is still in service today.

-Ivar

And now for something completely different

Until now, this blog has focused on dioramas populated with model kit miniatures. In addition, the completed works that have been showcased are all three-dimensional.

Somewhere between the two-dimensional world of paintings and the three-dimensional world of dioramas lies a hybrid known as the relief sculpture. The above photo of an ancient Egyptian relief shows how a sense of depth can be achieved by carving the subject so it protrudes slightly from the background. Relief sculptures are usually sculpted from a single piece of stone.

A variant of the relief sculpture, which I call 2.5D, achieves the same effect but uses separate materials for the subject and background. I chose the name 2.5D because this type of work has more depth than a 2D painting but less than a 3D diorama. Rather than incorporating model kits, everything must be made from scratch. The benefit of 2.5D is that a sense of depth is achieved with a minimum of space, so the finished piece can be hung on the wall like a painting.

In my book Forced Perspective Dioramas, I talk about how forcing perspective allows the artist to represent greater distances in miniature without making the diorama impractically large. 2.5D represents another approach to tackling this challenge.

If you’re wondering what a 2.5D work looks like, stay tuned. The next post will feature one. It’s called Zero.

-Ivar

Transparent Thunderbird 2 kit from Adventures in Plastic

Model railway giant Bachmann is reboxing Aoshima’s Thunderbirds kits (based on the original 60s TV series) in Europe under the Adventures in Plastic name. One of the highlights is a transparent Thunderbird 2 in 1:350 scale, which works out to a kit measuring 21.5cm (8.5”) in length. 

Thunderbird 2, designed by special effects guru Derek Meddings, was the heavy duty VTOL transporter which ferried vital equipment to the disaster scene in the Thunderbirds world. The interchangeable pods carried amidships were the beetle-shaped aircraft’s defining feature, making it the most versatile of all the Thunderbirds. 

The transparent moulding gives us a good look at the inner layout of the aircraft. The interior appears to be well done, with a full cockpit section and detailed engines. The kit includes a selection of ground-based pod vehicles seen in the original show, moulded in multiple colours. 

The publicity photos of the assembled kit are impressive. The transparent fuselage breaks with the familiar green skin we’ve grown accustomed to and gives the ship a fresh look—part aircraft and part Svarovski crystal.   

The Thunderbirds franchise got a new start in 2015 when it was rebooted as Thunderbirds Are Go.    The vehicle designs were refreshed and CGI was substituted for the puppets used in the original series. The redesigned Thunderbird 2 is the subject of one of the case studies in my book Forced Perspective Dioramas.

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – Grand Prix

Although many would call it a slot car track rather than a diorama, this miniature of the Monza Autodrome at the Italian Grand Prix makes a great addition to the Dioramas in Film series of posts. The diorama appears towards the end of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 classic Grand Prix. The film features such names as James Garner, Eva Marie Saint, Brian Bedford, Yves Montand, and Toshiro Mifune. It still stands as one of the finest movies about car racing to grace the silver screen. 

An announcer tells us that the Monza raceway includes a combination of a banked oval high speed track and a road setting. The length of the track is 10km (just over six miles). At the time of filming, it was one of the fastest circuits in the world. 

The diorama’s appearance sets the stage for the climactic final race of the film. At nearly three hours in length, Grand Prix is an old school widescreen epic in the tradition of Ben Hur and Lawrence of Arabia. It weaves multiple narratives together with exhilarating race footage and a memorable score by Maurice Jarre. The film is also a showcase for lots of gorgeous cars both on and off track and those cool 60s fashions that never seem to go out of style. Highly recommended (and not just because there’s a diorama in it). 

-Ivar

Interior diorama kit from Fresh Retro

Fresh Retro is releasing a 1:24 diorama kit which is the latest in their Scene In Box product line. It’s described as a fortress but looks more like a high tech factory or military base. 

With a footprint of 375x250mm and a height of 449mm, this kit will provide a sufficiently large backdrop for several 1:24 figures plus a vehicle or two. The scale is perfect for injection molded civilian vehicles, which are abundantly available in 1:24 and 1:25. It’s unclear if the kit can be assembled in multiple variations, but customizing it should be fairly straightforward either way. 

It’s evident that a great deal of design work went into the kit—in fact it could pass for a set from a sci-fi film. The walls are comprised of dark square panels combining a cross graphic with an industrial grid, and railings are rendered in contrasting blue. With three levels in total, there are numerous possibilities for telling the story of your choice. I discussed the benefits of creating topographical variety in Diorama Design

Kits like this are ideal for the diorama builder who doesn’t have the time or inclination to create a backdrop from scratch. The well thought out design makes this kit a great starting point for the artist who wants to concentrate on creating the figures that will populate the scene.  

This kit is one of a series that will be available from Hobbylink Japan in May.

-Ivar

Modular garage dioramas in 1:35

Part of the appeal of designing a diorama is the ability to arrange elements so they suit the scene you want to portray. This isn’t an issue if you’re building from scratch, but if you’re looking for a kit, most have a fixed layout which makes customization difficult. Enter Phoenix Model, who offer a modular garage diorama product line that provides design flexibility. 

These kits can be assembled in various combinations to create a single, double or triple wall diorama. The choice of 1:35 scale means that if your interests lean towards military subjects, you’ll have no shortage of vehicles and figures with which to populate the scene. Civilian vehicles will be more difficult to find; you may have to look for something in diecast in 1:32 scale.

Phoenix dioramas can be found at Amazon Japan and HobbyLink Japan

-Ivar  

Dioramas in Film – Moon

Sam Rockwell plays a mining company employee on a three year assignment to harvest energy from the moon in this 2009 sci-fi film. The lunar base from which he operates has all the comforts of home, including diversions such as a recreation area with a speed bag and ping-pong table. 

Near the ping-pong table is a a diorama consisting of several miniature buildings arranged on a bed of rocks. All the buildings are uniformly white. During the course of the movie, we find out that the diorama represents the town of Fairfax, and that Rockwell’s character has spent 938 hours building it.  

The diorama gets quite a bit of screen time in the first half of the film, but remains something of an enigma. We never find out why the buildings are sitting on a bed of rocks (presumably moon rocks, which aren’t in scale with the buildings), and we can only guess as to the significance of the town of Fairfax. 

Moon is more cerebral than most sci-fi releases of the past several years—closer to Solaris than Star Wars. The thought provoking story is backed up by sleek production design and impressive special effects. The exterior moon scenes are especially well done, thanks to the use of miniatures rather than cheap CGI. An excellent behind the scenes video can be found on YouTube.  

-Ivar

Diminutive dioramas from Lost in Space

The TV series Lost In Space was a staple of 1960s sci-fi. Many of us grew up watching the adventures of the Robinson family on black and white television sets that buzzed and flickered when you turned them on. There was no remote control, just a couple of dials on the front of the set to select channels and adjust the volume. Sometimes you had to fiddle with the antenna (‘rabbit ears’) to get a good signal. 

Moebius Models offers two dioramas that capture the experience of what it was like watching Lost In Space half a century ago. One diorama features the Jupiter 2, that iconic UFO-inspired spacecraft which I covered in a previous post, and the other showcases their electronic helpmate, who was simply known as Robot. 

The dioramas won’t take up a lot of space, as each measures only about 10cm (4”) across. The old fashioned TV set has been cleverly repurposed to serve as a display cabinet for the subjects. On the front of each set is the cover of a TV Guide, the weekly magazine that contained the schedules of our favourite programs.

The dioramas were released as part of a 50th Anniversary Lost In Space commemorative offering. They’re available at monstersinmotion.com

-Ivar