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

Whimsical Titanic port scene diorama

Hong Kong based Suyata International Co. has created a unique, stylized diorama kit featuring the Titanic, which tragically sank on its maiden voyage in 1912. 

The scene depicts the Titanic leaving port, capturing the mirth and optimism of the occasion with a cute, cartoon-like depiction of the ship and harbour. The architecture of the port buildings takes inspiration from the Art Deco style, with strong geometric shapes rendered in soft pastel colours. Suyata is to be commended for breaking out of the straightjacket of realistic model kits. Their alternative interpretation of this famous subject is a positive step towards the acceptance of the diorama as an art form—an ongoing debate which I discussed in a previous post.

Suyata’s kit includes a waterline Titanic model measuring 15cm (6”) long along with port buildings and a somewhat incongruous steampunk style dirigible. The modeller will have to add their own sea surface to complete the diorama. 

-Ivar

Battle for the Reichstag diorama

Italeri recently announced a new 1:72 scale diorama kit depicting the momentous event in WWII when Soviet forces overran the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany in the spring of 1945. The taking of this landmark building symbolized the defeat of Germany by Allied forces at the end of the war, as the building was the seat of the Reich parliament.

Italeri’s kit includes the building itself in laser cut MDF, along with decals, 32 German infantry figures, 32 Soviet infantry figures, a T-34/85 tank, and an 8.8cm Flak 37 with 7 crew figures. The generous supply of supporting accessories will allow the modeller to create a truly epic scene of this famous battle. 

Battle for the Reichstag is one of many historical diorama kits offered by Italeri in its Battle Sets product line. I covered their gladiatorial combat set in a previous post

The kit is due in the first quarter of 2021. 

-Ivar

Dioramas in Film – The Cooler

William H. Macy plays a cooler—an unlucky individual whose mere presence is bad luck for casino patrons—in director Wayne Kramer’s 2003 flick about an old school casino. Macy’s character finally sees his luck change when a cocktail waitress, played by Maria Bello, shows romantic interest in him. 

Dominating the lives of both these characters is the ruthless casino owner, played by Alec Baldwin. In a pivotal scene, Baldwin’s character gets a visit from his mafia handler and is presented with a diorama of a new casino which will replace the existing one. He isn’t too pleased with the proposal.

The new casino showcased in the diorama is architecturally rather plain. It doesn’t seem like much of an improvement over the existing casino, and looks dated. Perhaps this was done intentionally to emphasize the casino owner’s frustration with the proposal. Without giving away too much of the story, it’s worth noting that this is one of the few times a film diorama undergoes a change during the course of the movie.

-Ivar