Guess the scale of this diorama

This diorama of a 105mm howitzer framed by two jeeps and a C-47B appears very finely detailed. The figures in particular are impressive. And look at that beautifully done panel wash on the aircraft. Can you guess the scale? There’s a clue on the left side of the photo.

The diorama is part of the permanent collection at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels, Belgium. It looks like a wartime scene, but the plaque informs us that the Belgian Air Force utilized the C-47B between 1947 and 1976. The C-47B is the military version of the venerable DC-3, which revolutionized air travel after its first flight in 1935. The C-47B was used to transport freight and troops, and even tow gliders. Including all variants, over 16,000 units of the aircraft were built. 

I had the pleasure of taking a DC-3 flight from Boston to Provincetown, on the east coast of the US, many years ago. It was without a doubt the loudest aircraft I’ve ever flown in! I remember how close the arc of the propeller blades came to the fuselage.

Some people are nervous about flying in prop planes, but the DC-3 is one of the safest aircraft you could ever fly in. With its generous wing area and relatively light weight, it remains flyable even in the event of both engines failing. The plane’s impressive glide ratio means that a pilot can land it unpowered with no trouble at all. Even better, the DC-3 didn’t have a single computer on board, so bad software was never an issue. Just don’t forget to bring your earplugs.

The diorama is full scale . . . if you look closely, the handrail of the second floor walkway is just visible in the bottom left corner of the photo. 

For tips on how to optimize the visual impact of your work, see my book Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

A 1:1 scale diorama at Autoworld Brussels

An inventive display in Belgium’s largest auto museum showcases three great racing cars of a bygone era: a 1971 Bizzarrini AMX / 3 Spyder, a 1954 Jaguar D-Type, and a 1953 Porsche 550 Spyder. It breaks convention with most automotive museums, which simply line up row after row of cars and provide nothing more than a small plaque with a few brief details about each vehicle. 

This full scale diorama invites us to go back in time to the golden age of car racing. Peer into the shadows behind the cars, and see the specialized tools mechanics used to keep these machines in fine tune. Look up and see the crowds eagerly waiting for the cars to come screaming around the bend on their next lap. This is a perfect example of how a diorama can breathe life into its subjects. These cars are no longer just three random vehicles, but stars in a show. 

For tips on how to optimize the visual impact of your work, see my book Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Leia & R2 Paper Theatre

New from Ensky is a paper diorama kit which recreates a pivotal scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As Imperial troops board Princess Leia’s ship, she hurries to upload the plans of the Empire’s recently completed Death Star into R2-D2’s memory banks. These plans will ultimately provide the Rebels with the information they need to gain victory over the Empire’s new weapon of terror.  

Like a three-dimensional haiku, Ensky’s offering is remarkably succinct, distilling lots of visual content into a compact piece. Six plates of die-cut cardboard are spaced apart to create a sense of depth, capturing the look of the long, narrow set in the movie through forced perspective. 

This is one of many paper dioramas offered by Ensky. For modellers who want to expand their repertoire beyond plastic kits, these products are worth a look. 

For tips on how to optimize the visual impact of your work, see my book Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Tunneling for the Munich Underground

This diorama, built over 30 years ago for the Transport 86 trade fair, is on display at Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum in Munich, Germany. The museum contains three large halls of historical and present day transportation exhibits, focusing mainly on cars, trains and other ground vehicles. 

The diorama depicts the construction of the U4 and U5 Munich subway lines in 1979. Rendered in 1:50 scale, it portrays both the surface and below-ground levels of the construction site. The depiction of multiple levels not only increases the exhibit’s educational value, but sets it apart from the vast majority of dioramas, which show just a single level. 

The caption explains that an innovative construction technique was employed in the building of the metro lines. A compression chamber was created underground to prevent groundwater from entering the work site. Compared with the conventional approach of lowering the water table to keep the work site dry, the compression method simplified construction and ultimately reduced the total cost of the project.

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Flugwerft Schleissheim in Munich

Part of the complex of buildings which make up Munich’s Deutsches Museum, Flugwerft Schleissheim boasts an impressive collection of full size and miniature aircraft displays spanning the history of German aviation.

A diorama of a WWI airfield features Fokker D VII fighter planes of Royal Prussian Fighter Squadron 18 lined up in front of the hangar at Montoy-Flanville, a former commune in northeast France. The squadron was stationed there from June 14, 1918 until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.

The plaque accompanying the exhibit tells us that Lieutenant August Raben was Squadron Leader, and that the planes were painted red and white to make it easier to distinguish them in aerial combat. Individual aircraft bear the personalized markings of their pilots. 

The diorama artist canted the aircraft lineup at a pronounced angle to the perimeter of the base, making the scene much more visually dynamic and avoiding the dull grid-style layout often seen on museum displays. The wingtip-to-wingtip arrangement of the aircraft makes them come across as a single visual element: a dramatic red swoosh which immediately draws the eye into the scene. 

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Paper Dioramas from Terada Mokei

The vast majority of diorama artists, myself included, come from the world of kit modelling, so it’s natural for us to populate our dioramas with plastic and resin kits. But there are many other materials to choose from. 

A case in point is Terada Mokei, the brainchild of architect and designer Naoki Terada. Using innovative die-cutting techniques, Terada has created a series of paper diorama kits in 1:100 and 1:50 scales. They depict scenes ranging from a tranquil day at the park to a Gemini astronaut spacewalk. 

Although paper kits have been around for a while, they’re usually designed as scale miniatures. A paper kit of a building, for example, typically comprises pre-cut sheets printed with photorealistic images of its exterior walls. These kits are suited to replicating subjects which have large planar surfaces and fairly simple geometry, but their limitations become apparent when more complex shapes are involved. These types of paper kits are the poor cousins of injection molded kits, offering slightly less realism at a lower cost. 

What’s refreshing about Terada Mokei’s dioramas is that they’re not designed to be scale replicas of their full-size counterparts, but interpretations of them. Mokei’s approach might be labelled reductivist, after the art movement of the 1950s which was dedicated to simplifying form and colour in painting and sculpture. What’s more important, however, is that the kits don’t try to hide the fact that they’re made of paper. Instead, they leverage the unique qualities of this material: its texture, the precision with which it can be cut, and its fragility.   

Mokei dioramas are very much akin to origami sculptures. Both are based on a minimalist aesthetic and celebrate the delicate beauty and sculptural possibilities of paper. Although we tend to think of paper as something simply to write on, Mokei demonstrates that it can be much more. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Dounreay Nuclear Reactor

Dounreay Nuclear Reactor is an exhibit in the National Museum of Scotland which combines elements from the creative disciplines of architectural modelling and sculpture. It was completed by artists Kate Williams and John Lloyd in 2007.  

The tag tells us that the piece is “kiln cast using uranium glass lit with ultraviolet light.” Uranium glass, as its name implies, contains a small percentage of uranium which causes it to glow under ultraviolet light. This is an extreme example of using a material which is apropos to the subject. It’s a bit like making a model of the moon out of a moon rock. 

The otherworldly green glow of this eye-catching piece is a reminder of the controversy which surrounds nuclear energy. Promoters of the technology champion its ability to dramatically reduce air pollution when compared with traditional energy sources like coal and petroleum. On the other hand, detractors point to the environmental calamities which resulted from accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

Depending on your views regarding nuclear energy, Dounreay Nuclear Reactor can be seen as either a celebration of scientific progress, or a warning against the hazards of technology. Either way, it’s a compelling hybrid of artistic techniques. The work is not only a thought-provoking representation of its namesake, but a symbol of nuclear technology and all the questions it raises. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

An early box diorama

This box diorama of a sailing ship, entitled Skonnertbark, is part of the current ‘Sex & the Sea’ exhibition at the Seaplane Harbour museum in Tallinn, Estonia. It translates from Norwegian as ‘schooner barque,’ a type of ship often used in the lumber trade across the Baltic and North Seas in the 1800s and early 1900s. The diorama is of modest dimensions, measuring about 40x20x10cm.

The ship model features wooden sails, an unusual choice which prioritizes artistic impact over realism. However, what’s most interesting about this diorama is the background. The outer cabinet is a simple rectangular box, but there’s a second inner box on which the background is painted. The sides of the inner box angle in towards the ship. This has the effect of muting the harsh ‘crease’ between the sides and back of the background. Rather than a full 90° angle, the artist has smoothed out the transition from side panes to back with a gentler angle. There’s still a visible join but it’s much less jarring. 

‘Sex & the Sea’ runs from August 3, 2019 to January 19, 2020. The exhibition features several box dioramas, a multimedia presentation, and other works, painting an intimate picture of life at sea.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar


Art imitating art: photographers turn to dioramas for inspiration

Issue 217 of Digital Photographer magazine features an article called ’10 Pro Ways to Use Aperture.’ One of these ways is experimenting with diorama effects, also called miniature faking. Using this technique, photographers purposely reduce the depth of field (the area of the picture which is in focus) to make photos of full-size scenes look like miniatures. 

This is a great example of synergy between two art forms, and a little surprising given that photographers long sought to maximize depth of field in their photos, not minimize it. In the early 20th Century, photographers Ansel Adams and Willard Van Dyke sought to create a movement which promoted a photographic aesthetic of clean, highly detailed images with everything in the frame in perfect focus. Thus began Group f/64, which soon attracted several more renowned photographers, including Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. The group’s name came from the aperture setting of f/64 which provides the maximum possible depth of field on a large format camera.    

Most art forms go through many phases with the passage of time, and photography is no exception. Although it’s a more modern art form with a shorter history than painting or sculpture, photography seems to have reached a point where everything that can be done, has been. Photographers have tirelessly explored variations in focus, colour, and light and shade to create images that reflect every corner of the creative psyche. 

The application of diorama effects in photography is a sign that photography has entered its post-modernist phase. Just as post-modern architects take inspiration from past eras and give them a fresh twist, photographers are discovering the benefits of a post-modern approach. Miniature faking recalls the soft, fuzzy images of the early days of photography, when photographers sought to imitate Impressionist painters. In those days, a crisp, well-lit photograph with good detail and contrast was considered unartistic. It was jarring to a public that had grown accustomed to the atmospheric, stylized pastel images of artists like Monet and Degas. 

Photography eventually broke away from its original identity as the poor cousin of painting and grew into a distinct art form with its own aesthetic. Over the span of a century, it’s gone through many phases and has reached a certain level of maturity. 

And now, dioramas are providing shutterbugs with a new source of inspiration. So in addition to art imitating life and life imitating art, we have art imitating art. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar


Fourth Anniversary

Today marks the fourth anniversary of this blog. Over the past year, I’ve shifted my focus entirely to forced perspective dioramas. Portraying vast distances in a modest sized diorama requires a lot of careful planning to make the end result convincing. I find that I’m spending more time in the design stage to ensure that things turn out the way I expect them to. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find a new audience for my book, Diorama Design. It turns out that some of the more aesthetically minded model railroaders out there have taken an interest in the Seven Principles of Design and other concepts in the book. Last month I gave a talk at the British Region NMRA Convention in Aberdeen, Scotland, to promote Diorama Design to this newfound market. The talk was well received.

Over the next year, this blog will continue to feature my own projects, new product announcements, notable diorama exhibitions, and general observations about art and design. Whether you build dioramas, railroads, or just like to read about three-dimensional art, I invite you to stay tuned for another year of Creative Dioramas. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar