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


Diorama Design at 2019 NMRA British Region Convention

I spoke to a small but enthusiastic audience of model railroaders at the NMRA (National Model Railroad Association) British Region Convention in Aberdeen, Scotland on September 28. The talk was titled ‘How to Maximize the Visual Impact of your Layout’ and was based on concepts discussed in my book, Diorama Design

I began the clinic by pointing out that dioramas and model railroads have a lot in common, as discussed previously on this blog. Making this point was a prerequisite for the success of the talk, and everyone seemed to acknowledge the similarities. It was interesting to see that most of the attendees described themselves as ‘artists’ rather than ‘engineers’ when it comes to model railroading. I went over the Design Process and the Seven Principles of Design, showing how these concepts can be applied to the world of model railroads. 

A good barometer of how well you connect with your audience is the number of questions you get at the end of the presentation. I fielded over twenty minutes of questions, which took us well past the end of the allotted timeslot. 

It’s always great to connect to an audience that’s sincerely interested in the subject matter, and with dioramas and train layouts being such close cousins, a connection was definitely made!

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

-Ivar

Small Worlds Tokyo to open in 2020

The world’s largest indoor diorama theme park is slated to open next year in Tokyo, Japan. This massive display will include a combination of real and fictional dioramas. Real world locations will include Towns of the World, Kansai International Airport, a Space Centre, and Tokyo. Fictional locations will be based on popular manga and anime series such as Sailor Moon and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

The dioramas are reported to be in 1:80 scale and the facility is to cover a total of 8,000 square meters. Some of the miniatures will be operational, including aircraft that fly and spacecraft that lift off. 

The facility will be located in the Ariake District on Tokyo Bay and is scheduled to open in Spring 2020.  

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

-Ivar

Diorama accessories for 1:12 figures from TW Toys

Large scale figures are popular with fans of sci-fi and fantasy cinema, games, and world history. Many are sold as finished pieces already assembled and painted, while others can be found in kit form. More often than not, these figures are displayed as discrete items on a bookshelf. But for those who want to go a step further, Twelve World Toys has just announced several new products of interest. 

The company is releasing two items in September: a Stone Lanterns Diorama (stone lanterns are uniquely Japanese and would suit a samurai diorama); and an Abandoned Diorama, which consists of a damaged concrete pillar and rusted steel fence section. 

Scheduled for release in December is an Abandoned Steel Scaffolding display. It comprises an A and a B section which can be arranged in various ways to suit your preference. A display like this would be perfect for a Batman or Spiderman figure. Also coming in December is a Watertight Door with bold yellow stripes, which would provide a good background for a nautical or sci-fi subject. 

So if you want to take your 1:12 figures to the next level, check out these upcoming releases from TW Toys. Available at Hobby Search

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

-Ivar

Diorama Design presentation at Scotland NMRA Convention

I’ll be delivering a clinic at the NMRA Convention in Aberdeen, Scotland on September 28, 2019. It’s titled Maximize the Visual Impact of your Layout and will draw on concepts outlined in my book, Diorama Design (available in ebook and print formats at Amazon).

In case you’re not familiar with the National Model Railroad Association, it’s the largest organization devoted to the hobby and has a worldwide presence. The British Region of the NMRA is hosting the event, which takes place from the 27th to 29th of September.  

Whether you prefer to build model railroads or dioramas, the concepts I’ll be discussing apply equally. I discussed the similarities between the two hobbies in a previous post.

The convention is open to everyone from 10am to 4pm on Saturday the 28th, so you can attend on that day even if you’re not an NMRA member. The cost for non-members will be £5 at the door. 

The exact time of the clinic will be confirmed at a future date. Visit http://convention.nmrabr.org.uk/ for more information. Hope to see you there!

-Ivar


Aircraft Carrier Flight Deck Diorama from Sweet

Japanese manufacturer Sweet Aviation Model Division has released a Navy Flight Deck Set in 1:144 scale. At first glance, the product is a simple diorama base replicating a WWII Japanese aircraft carrier deck section. What makes it interesting, however, is the included aircraft elevator which can be set flush with the deck or in a lower position. This offers some interesting diorama possibilities, and fans of Tora! Tora! Tora! and Midway will have a field day. Ambitious diorama builders could even add a lower deck. 

The level of detail on the diorama base appears to be very good, and a full set of decals is included. A6M Zero kits and diecast replicas in 1:144 scale are readily available from a variety of manufacturers (including Sweet), so populating the flight deck won’t be an issue. N scale figures from model railroad suppliers (which range from 1:150 to 1:160 depending on the manufacturer) could be incorporated as well. 

The choice of 1:144 scale results in a diorama of modest dimensions which can easily fit on a small bookshelf. No need to buy a bigger house once the project is finished! 

In addition to a catchy name, Sweet has an interesting approach to packaging. Their products often feature manga style renderings of young female officers, mechanics, and assorted mascots attending to flight prep duties. The insouciant box art capitalizes on the popularity of manga in Japan and shouldn’t be construed as targeting a younger market. Sweet’s products are intended for intermediate to advanced modellers, and the company is in fact known for producing some of the finest quality 1:144 aircraft kits available. 

More information and photos are available on Sweet’s US distributor website at http://sweetaviationmodels.com

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

-Ivar

Space: 1999’s Eagle Transporter flies again

Round 2 Models has just announced an upcoming injection kit of the venerable Eagle Transporter, the iconic spacecraft from Space: 1999. The 1:72 model will be approximately 36cm (14”) in length, making it slightly larger than the 30cm (12”) versions which have been released over the years by companies such as MPC, Warp, and Product Enterprise. Pre-production renderings show that Round 2 has taken care to faithfully reproduce the correct proportions of the Eagle.

It’s been 44 years since the debut of Space: 1999, and the fact that new tools of the Eagle are still being produced is testament to the staying power of this timeless spacecraft. Given that Round 2 just released a 1:48 Eagle Transporter a few years ago, the demand for Eagle kits is evidently stronger than ever. For a subject to be offered in multiple scales by the same company, it has to be extremely popular. 

Some fictional spaceships become famous because they’re associated with a hit show or movie. Star Trek’s USS Enterprise is a good example. Regardless of its own merits, it’s always going to have a fan base due to Trek’s immense popularity. This isn’t the case with the Eagle. Both seasons of Space: 1999 generated mixed reviews, and for many, Brian Johnson’s special effects were the most impressive thing about it. The Eagle stands on its own merits. 

A big part of the Eagle’s enduring appeal is its clever blend of the mechanical and the organic. On the surface, the ship is all machine: modular sections bolted to a tubular frame ‘backbone’ which runs the length of the ship. A straightforward, utilitarian design with no superfluous design flourishes.

But on a subconscious level, we perceive something organic. In designing the Eagle, Brian Johnson wanted to give the ship an insect-like appearance, and he succeeded. Its tubular frame  gives the impression of an exoskeleton. The landing gear struts flex like the legs of a grasshopper. And the command module’s two viewports at the front of the ship look like eyes. These organic design elements lift the design of the Eagle above the ordinary.

The Eagle is a practical spacecraft. The design is based on recognizable, real world technology. It uses nuclear propulsion, something which already exists today. Unlike the Enterprise or Millennium Falcon, it doesn’t travel faster than light. It doesn’t attempt to stretch the laws of physics. 

The landing gear are set wide apart to provide stability on take off and landing. The vertical thrusters are where you expect them to be to provide lift. A bit of poetic license has been taken with the fuel tanks, which are too small to provide enough liquid propellant for all but the shortest journeys, but this is a minor quibble. The interchangeable pod amidships allows the Eagle to perform a variety of roles, transporting both passengers and freight. I wonder if Brian Johnson took inspiration from the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane helicopter of the 1960s, which accommodates interchangeable payloads. 

Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane

The sound designers of Space: 1999 decided to give the Eagle a recognizeable jet turbine sound. So when it’s flying, it sounds like any jet aircraft you might see at the airport. This again constitutes poetic licence, since the Eagle is rocket powered, but it helps establish a sense of familiarity. 

The ultimate test for any fictional spacecraft is how good it looks when it’s flying. The Eagle takes to the air in a flurry of moondust as its vertical thrusters power up. This is much more visually interesting than the anti-gravity drives common to science fiction vehicles, which give no visible indication as to when they’re operating. 

The Eagle banks and rolls like an ordinary aircraft, even in space. Although not technically accurate, this is a convention which most science fiction shows and movies have adopted, simply because audiences are used to seeing aircraft flying in the earth’s atmosphere. However, the Eagle’s lack of anything resembling wings gives it a unique look when in flight. 

One thing the writers of Space: 1999 got right was coming up with plenty of stories in which Eagles ran into trouble and crashed. These sequences were done entirely in camera with models flown on wires through elaborate miniature sets, and still stand today as some of the finest crash landings ever filmed. Few computer generated effects can match the visceral thrill of an Eagle crack-up. The most spectacular sequences occurred in Season Two, where Eagles could be seen careening into dense forests with flashes of pyrotechnics. My Eagle Crash diorama was inspired by these scenes.    

In many ways, the Eagle has always been the true star of Space: 1999. It successfully melds present day aerospace concepts with an optimistic look towards the not too distant future. 

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