A brass dragon takes flight

Keith Newstead’s steampunk dragon is a marvel of craftsmanship. This whimsical creation is on display at the Museum of Puppetry Arts in Tallinn, Estonia (add link). Although the focus of the museum is on traditional dolls, some of the exhibits veer off the beaten path, like this one.

This miniature dragon shows what can be accomplished when building from scratch with a single material. Brass has a warm glow and can be buffed to the desired level of gloss. It is a fairly soft, easily workable metal and comes in sheet, rod, tube and solid block, making it quite versatile. Brass has long been a favourite of model train builders. 

While Newstead’s works would stand on their own as static displays, many of them are animated. Geared down electric motors bring these creations to life, adding an extra dimension of visual interest.

-Ivar  

Sea surface diorama base from Yamashita

Yamashita Hobby is a manufacturer of warship kits focusing on 1:700 Japanese WWII subjects. The company has just announced a new product for September 2020 release which will be of interest to naval modellers. 

The ‘3D Sea Surface Diorama Board’ is a ready-made one piece base designed to work with a 1:700 warship. The appeal of this product lies in the amount of time it can save the diorama artist in creating a realistic ocean surface for a naval diorama. 

The most popular technique for creating an ocean surface is with a solid, sculptable material which is built up on a flat support and then painted the appropriate shade of blue. The problem with this approach is that it fails to capture the translucent quality of water. 

The more ambitious modeller will use two-part casting resins to achieve a more realistic effect. Dye can be added to the resin to create a very nice translucent look. This approach is time consuming as it involves building up the surface gradually with multiple layers, as resin can crack if poured on too thick. I used several layers of resin to create the river surface for Drug Runners.

Yamashita’s new base will provide a realistic translucent ocean surface right out of the box, saving the modeller a ton of time in creating an attractive naval diorama. Details at HobbyLink Japan.

-Ivar

The Beauty of Birch

The vast majority of diorama artists revere absolute realism as the ideal to which one should aspire. This is natural when coming to dioramas from the world of plastic modelling, where we are taught to paint and weather surfaces to enhance their verisimilitude. 

Architectural dioramas place more emphasis on shape than realism. For the architect, conveying the three-dimensional form of a building or site takes priority over conveying the actual look of the finishing materials. A case in point is this diorama of a 2012 update given to Tartu University’s Narva College in Estonia. The entire diorama is rendered in natural birch wood. 

The trees in the foreground—simple birch cutoffs—are especially well done, giving the scene a flowing, sculptural quality. Topographical variations in the landscaping are approximated by layering thin birch panels on top of one another. The diorama does a good job of leveraging the versatility of birch wood. Personally, I would have left out the orange figures, as they don’t really fit the aesthetic of the scene, but that’s a minor point.  

The end result is a diorama which not only fulfills its intended purpose of conveying the form of the proposed addition, but succeeds as a work of art in its own right. The diorama can be seen at the Museum of Estonian Architecture in Tallinn.

-Ivar

Gladiatorial combat diorama from Italeri

Italeri are set to release a 1:72 diorama of a Roman era gladiatoral arena, complete with figures. The product is scheduled for a September 2020 release and is the latest in a long line of 1:72 battle sets from various historical periods offered by Italeri. 

For anyone who enjoys Roman epics like Ben-Hur, Quo Vadis, Spartacus and Gladiator, this diorama is sure to please. Components include a circular stadium made with laser cut MDF, an arena fence, spectator seats, animal cages, two chariots, and dozens of injection plastic figures. The arena is approximately 43cm in diameter when assembled.  

More ambitious modellers could use the arena as a starting point for a broader scene with additional elements. The possibilities are endless. 

-Ivar

Review of Forced Perspective Dioramas

My new book, Forced Perspective Dioramas, has just been reviewed by Indies Today, a leading editorial reviewer of fiction and non-fiction books. The book received a four star rating. The review is reproduced here:

Whether in a museum or any other setting, detailed dioramas grab the attention of all who see them. It is fascinating to examine a well-conceived scene in miniature! In this book, Ivar Kangur details a practice commonly used in artwork but far less frequently in dioramas: forced perspective. By means of using forced perspective techniques, a diorama creator can give depth and perspective to their handiwork.

Despite being a relatively short work, all necessary considerations are provided for creating realistic depth in the models, from determining the proper scale when composing the subjects to the proper use of lighting. In the first half of the book, a number of examples are given of how forced perspective is used to enhance and add realism to artwork, architecture, photography and film. Much of the second half of the book consists of forced perspective diorama examples, including photographs that show the components and final product. These examples provide a detailed and visual explanation of the process that makes even a novice like myself feel like they could craft a competition-worthy diorama.

Ivar Kangur provides insightful suggestions and shares a great deal of passion and expertise in diorama design. Forced Perspective Dioramas is perfect for anyone looking to add a wow-factor to their next diorama.

A subject as out of the ordinary as forced perspective dioramas can be challenging for readers who aren’t familiar with this niche art form to appreciate. This makes it especially gratifying to receive such positive feedback. My thanks to R.C. Gibson and Indies Today.

-Ivar

A Life-Size Tintin Diorama

The Museum of Original Figurines (MOOF) in Brussels, Belgium boasts a wide variety of figures and displays ranging from Batman to Tintin. 

The Adventures of Tintin was a series of 24 comic albums created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Tintin is one the most famous comic strip characters in Europe.

One of the highlights of MOOF is a life-size forced perspective diorama of Tintin and his dog Snowy being chased by an airplane. Tintin and Snowy are three-dimensional sculptures and the plane is a two-dimensional cutout. All are rendered in pastels to mimic the look of the original comic strip. Tintin is in a very dynamic pose which heightens the tension of the scene. The flapping of his jacket as he runs is especially well done. Snowy seems more interested in Tintin than the plane, but he’s still cute. 

This diorama shows what you can do with just three simple elements. There’s no background scenery at all, which puts the focus entirely on the characters.   

-Ivar

Forced Perspective Dioramas is now available

My new book, Forced Perspective Dioramas, is now available in paperback on Amazon in several markets wordwide. It’s the culmination of about a year of writing and editing, and features case studies of dioramas which I’ve built over the last three years. It’s a guide to understanding the principles behind forced perspective and how to apply them to three-dimensional art.

As far as I know, this is the first book about forced perspective that specifically caters to modellers. It starts out with a brief history of forced perspective in various art forms, and then breaks down the nuts and bolts of how the technique works. There’s a discussion of the advantages of the forced perspective diorama over the conventional tabletop diorama, and what it can bring to your projects.

The book then gets into how the forced perspective diorama is created and covers key concepts such as the vanishing point. There’s also a chapter on lighting. Seven case studies of dioramas, ranging from basic to advanced, are included to illustrate the application of the technique. 

If you want to learn how to give your miniature scenes a greater sense of depth and scale, check out Forced Perspective Dioramas.

-Ivar

Bond in Motion Dioramas

Eaglemoss has released a series of 1:43 diecast vehicle dioramas based on the long-running James Bond film franchise. These ready-made dioramas recreate scenes from the movies using a partial box diorama format, consisting of a base and two background walls. 

Usually a diorama of this type would have three walls, but with just two, it encourages diagonal placement, giving the scene a fresh look. The rectangular base simplifies shipping, but the trade-off is that there’s a crease in the background where the two walls meet. Most of these dioramas are done in forced perspective, with the backgrounds showing distant scenery which lends a sense of depth. 

The Bond movies have showcased many fine automobiles, including Aston Martins, Lotuses,  BMWs, and more. Until now, any car manufacturer getting a call from the Bond producers considered themselves blessed. But with the impending departure of actor Daniel Craig and his replacement by a female 007—an oxymoron—those days are over. 

No Time To Die is the most ironic title ever given to a Bond film, since this upcoming installment will indeed mark the death of the franchise. Bond fans will boycott the movies and box office receipts will plummet. Cars associated with future installments of the franchise will become symbols of political correctness, more likely to be shunned than coveted. 

But the Bond legacy remains, and the definitive series of films that started with Dr. No and ended with Spectre will always have a place in the hearts of true 007 fans.    

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

Announcing my new book

Last spring, I started work on my second book about dioramas. I finished the first draft in December and have spent the last few months editing the manuscript and designing the cover. 

Since completing Diorama Design in 2017, I had begun to recognize the limitations of the conventional tabletop diorama. There never seemed to be enough space to translate what I could imagine into a miniature scene that was small enough to fit on a bookshelf. 

It was then that I decided to start building forced perspective dioramas. With this technique, it’s possible to portray depth and distance without having to make the diorama impractically large. After making the switch to forced perspective, I haven’t looked back.

My first experience with forced perspective dates back to my film school days, when I made a 16mm short. Set in the future, the film’s opening scene was a forced perspective shot of an airfield with three landing pads, showing a spacecraft touching down on the nearest pad. I had seen forced perspective used in many sci-fi films and TV shows, and it was a rewarding experience to be able to apply the technique in my own film. 

Making forced perspective work in a diorama context is even more challenging than in film, because the size limitations are more stringent. Most of the progress I’ve made with this technique has been through trial and error. 

Very little has been written on the topic of forced perspective dioramas. It’s an unfulfilled niche in the diorama how-to market. So I summarized what I’ve learned from my own experiences working in forced perspective over the past three years, did some research into the origins of the technique, and wrote Forced Perspective Dioramas. It will be released this spring. 

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

-Ivar

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