AK Interactive Carving Foam

Based in Spain, AK Interactive is known for its wide range of modelling tools and accessories, paints, and related products. I recently had an opportunity to try out their 8mm carving foam, which is going to form the base of a new diorama I’m working on.

The foam is an artificial product that is similar to balsa wood in terms of weight and softness (you can dent it with a fingernail), but more brittle. It can be cut, sawn, and shaped with a minimum of effort. For large cuts, I found that a fine tooth saw gives more predictable results than a knife. For sculpting, wooden or metal hand tools and high speed motor tools work equally well. The material is soft enough that you can sculpt it by dragging a wooden spoon across the surface. Sculpting with a high speed motor tool creates lots of fine dust, so a mask and goggles are recommended. 

AK recommends white glue and cyanoacrylate adhesive for gluing. I’ve found that white glue creates a sufficiently strong bond when gluing the foam to itself. I haven’t had to resort to cyanoacrylate so far. 

One drawback of the product is that it only comes in 8mm and 10mm thick sheets, so if you want to sculpt something thicker, you’ll need to glue several sheets together. This leaves visible strata that need to be covered with putty or some other coating before painting. 

Stay tuned for my next post, which will feature a look at the lunar landscape base that I’m sculpting out of AK carving foam.

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – Iron Man 2

The 2010 sequel to Marvel action flick Iron Man sees billionaire inventor Tony Stark battling the U.S. government, rival technology mogul Justin Hammer, and Russian scientist Anton Vanko. 

A pivotal sequence in the film begins with Stark dusting off his father’s old diorama of the 1974 Stark Expo. This massive diorama is scanned and converted to a holographic version, which reveals something quite interesting: the buildings are arranged to represent a new element discovered by Stark senior. As it turns out, the new element is a suitable replacement for the rare palladium needed to power Stark’s failing heart implant.   

To say that this diorama has an essential role in the story is an understatement, because the secret contained within it saves Stark’s life. In terms of its importance to the plot, the Stark Expo diorama ranks among the top dioramas I’ve covered in the Dioramas in Film series. 

-Ivar

Paper craft diorama kit from Kato

Kato is one of the largest model railroad companies in the world, with a vast selection of products (mainly in N scale) ranging from rolling stock and track to buildings and scenery. New from Kato is a diorama kit picture book aimed at beginners who want to make a diorama but aren’t sure where to start. 

The kit includes the following:

  • Paper kit (iron bridge, railroad crossing, fence, dock)
  • Paper craft (vehicles, farm equipment sheds, etc.)
  • Slope pier for unitrack track
  • clay
  • Nanoplants mixed green
  • Flower (yellow)
  • Gigaplants Medium Green
  • Hardwood trunk (small) (2)
  • Paints (blue, white, brown)
  • Speed bond
  • Instructions
  • Diorama-kun picture book
  • Single track overhead wire pillar
  • Curved track R183-45 ° (1)
  • Diorama base
  • Line fixing screw

The product description indicates that the finished diorama will be about the size of a postcard. This makes me wonder if Japanese postcards are larger than the ones we use in the West. The kit is targeted at hobbyists aged 10 and older and is available at Plaza Japan.  

This product is an interesting sideline for Kato. Although compatible with its Unitrack line, the diorama can be built as a standalone item and doesn’t have to be integrated into a railroad layout. It could serve as an introduction to both dioramas and railroad modelling. 

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – 633 Squadron

With superb aerial photography and a rousing score by Ron Goodwin, 633 Squadron (1964) is one of the great WWII aviation flicks. The titular squadron consists of De Havilland Mosquitoes tasked with destroying a heavily guarded rocket fuel plant in a Norwegian fjord. 

About two-thirds of the way through the film, a briefing is given to the squadron crews in preparation for the mission. It is here that we see a large diorama of the target, which is used to explain the mission objective. The camera tracks along the length of the diorama as it takes centre stage and the pilots huddle around. 

Fans of the Mosquito will delight at the opportunity to see several examples of this magnificent aircraft in action. Five airworthy Mosquitoes were featured in the movie, along with a few more that were seen taxiing or stationary. At the time of filming, the Mosquito was no longer in use by the RAF, so the aircraft were sourced from civilian operators and repainted in wartime colours. Miniatures were used only for the battle scenes involving pyrotechnics. 

I had the opportunity to see an airworthy Mosquito at an airshow in Canada a few years ago and it was a marvellous sight. It’s a classic design that is equal parts power and grace. 

The Wooden Wonder is a diorama celebrating the Mosquito that I built several years ago. It was inspired by 633 Squadron. The diorama was later destroyed by MaltaPost during shipping but I was able to salvage the aircraft itself. 

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – The King’s Man

Ralph Fiennes brings his fine acting skills to the latest installment in the Kingsman film franchise. The King’s Man (2021) is a prequel to the first two films, giving us an imaginative if outlandish take on the events leading to WWI. 

In this liberally reconstructed version of history, an evil organization headquartered in a Scottish cashmere factory plots to set the great powers of Europe against one another. Opposing this dastardly plan is Orlando, Duke of Oxford (Fiennes). 

Dioramas are sprinkled throughout The King’s Man, but unfortunately, they always take the form of set dressing relegated to the background. A few appear early in the film, and one more, pictured above, surfaces about halfway through. The dioramas are never on screen for more than a few brief moments, and are either too far away or too out of focus to discern with clarity. I found myself wishing there had been an opportunity to get a good look at them. 

One can’t help but compare this film to recent Bond flicks, as Fiennes seems to be giving us a more sprightly variation of his role as ‘M.’ Gemma Arterton, who plays his maid, appeared in a recent Bond film (Quantum of Solace) as well. Even the villains seem to be borrowed from the world of 007: they sit around a large conference table smirking fiendishly at one another and sport special rings just like their Spectre counterparts. 

While the first two films in the Kingsman franchise were firmly planted in the action comedy genre, The King’s Man is an incongruent blend of action, comedy, and sombre drama. It never seems to find a consistent tone and gives the impression that it was patched together by a committee. If you spent a day at a wedding and left in the middle of the festivities to attend a funeral, you’d experience the same emotional inconsistency that you get watching this film. 

The worst part is the ending, which treats the entry of the U.S. into WWI as something to be celebrated. This turning point in the war was orchestrated by British and American bankers who profited from the bloodshed. Thus the slaughter in Europe dragged on for another year and a half, and a small group of oligarchs succeeded in increasing their personal wealth beyond their wildest dreams. 

-Ivar

WareBi 1:24 garage diorama kit with lighting

For modellers looking to give their 1:24 scale cars and motorbikes an elegant home, this diorama kit from WareBi is just the ticket. Various kits are available in 2 and 3 parking spot versions and various colours. They’re nicely designed, with vivid graphics and well balanced proportions. Materials include card stock, clear acrylic panels on the front and sides to keep the dust out, and an LED light with cable. The kits are available at Amazon and there is a review at Rocketfin. 

Amazon describes the product as a diecast car display case, which reflects the waning popularity of plastic model kits. Today’s world is all about instant gratification—it takes time, patience and skill to build a model kit. I discussed this trend in a previous post. 

It’s a blessing in disguise that this diorama requires assembly. This isn’t due to the manufacturer’s views on instant gratification, but shipping considerations. Flat pack shipping is much cheaper than what it would cost to ship a fully assembled item. So diecast car collectors will get to experience putting something together with their own two hands. 

-Ivar

A forced perspective diorama kit from Sankei

Forced perspective kits are a rarity in the world of model building. Sankei has bucked convention with its new Miniatuart forced perspective kit of a Savoia aircraft in front of its hangar. The aircraft itself is conventionally proportioned, but the hangar is in forced perspective. The walls of the hangar decrease in width going towards the back of the building. 

The scene is inspired by Porco Rosso, an animated 1992 adventure film produced by Studio Ghibli. According to the Ghibli fandom page, “The plot revolves around an Italian World War I ex-fighter ace, now living as a freelance bounty hunter chasing air pirates in the Adriatic Sea. However, an unusual curse has transformed him to an anthropomorphic pig. Once called Marco Pagot, he is now known to the world as ‘Porco Rosso’, which in Italian is Crimson Pig.”

The tiny kit is described by Sankei as a paper craft book and comes in a 6cm (2 3/8”) square box. It goes together with basic hobby tools: a craft knife, scissors, adhesive, pins, and coloured pens. This is an innovative product that will hopefully inspire other kit manufacturers to delve into the world of forced perspective. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how to incorporate forced perspective into your modelling work, check out Forced Perspective Dioramas in paperback on Amazon and in e-book format on Apple Books. . The book begins with the history of forced perspective and its use in various art forms. It then explains the principles of forced perspective and presents practical applications, using case studies of actual dioramas ranging from basic to advanced. 

-Ivar

A cute Battle of Endor diorama

Kotobukiya has just released a charming Battle of Endor – The Little Rebels diorama based on the jungle battle scenes from Return of the Jedi, the final installment of the Star Wars saga (see this post for an explanation of why Disney films don’t count). 

Although no scale is specified, the diorama is approximately 20cm (8”) tall. It’s very well designed, with an AT-ST serving as the focal point and several stylized Ewok figures performing various battle duties. Credit for the cartoon-style look of the piece goes to the designers at Gurihiru Studios, an illustration team specializing in comics. 

The diorama is made of PVC/ABS and requires some minimal assembly. All parts are pre-painted. 

This is a well thought out product that gives a refreshing take on a beloved subject. It will no doubt appeal to younger Star Wars fans. 

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

Starring Brendan Fraser in the lead role once again, the third installment of The Mummy films was the least successful of the trilogy. Despite a compelling premise—with Jet Li as the titular antagonist—the film was a commercial and critical failure. 

The most noteworthy aspect of this 2008 dud was a massive diorama featuring hundreds of miniature soldiers on a battlefield. The sheer size of this miniature, which dwarfs the actors standing behind it, is its most distinctive feature. Although the diorama has some topographical variation, it suffers from a monochrome colour scheme and lacks a focal point. The eye wanders over the landscape looking for something to zero in on, but all we see is a carpet of soldiers. 

If you’re looking for tips on how to make your next diorama more visually compelling, you might want to check out Diorama Design, available on Amazon and Apple Books. 

Although I can’t recommend The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor for its own sake, diehard military diorama fans might want to check it out. 

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – Exodus: Gods and Kings

Released in 2014, director Ridley Scott’s biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings features Christian Bale as Moses and Joel Edgerton as Rameses. The film retells the story of Moses with the aid of state of the art visual effects that enhance the film without overpowering it. 

Following the death of his father, Rameses tightens his grip on Egypt. His chief ambition is the construction of a new city to honour himself as King. This new city is sketched out in three dimensions as a large tabletop diorama that appears in several scenes. The diorama consists of buildings carved out of wood and accentuated with miniature stone elements representing statues. The lavish materials selected for this work distinguish it from standard plywood and cardboard architectural models. 

As a representation of the city being built in his honour, the diorama symbolizes the despotic mindset of Rameses. Under his orders, the slaves labouring to build the city are horribly mistreated, driving many of them to an early grave. Rameses shows no mercy, and his ruthlessness drives the story towards its climax. 

 

Exodus: Gods and Kings differentiates itself from earlier biblical films by delving more deeply into the personal lives of the characters. Christian Bale’s Moses is an especially well detailed character, made more realistic by his weaknesses. We’re afforded a close look into his personal trials and tribulations as he undertakes his hero’s journey. 

Merry Christmas and best wishes for the holiday season from Creative Dioramas. See you in the New Year.

-Ivar