Grumpy and Talentless

In a recent post, I explored the similarities of dioramas and model railroads. Having just returned from a local model railroad open house, I was reminded that not all train layouts (and model railroaders) are created equal.

Ducking through a tight doorway into what looked like a converted warehouse space, I observed a very large model railroad with lots of trains and track, bisected by a narrow walkway which zig-zagged through the layout. A few visitors had come on their own, and a few had brought their kids.

My initial positive impression, which was driven mainly by the sheer size of the set-up, turned to disappointment as I noticed that much of the track was laid directly on the layout table without any roadbed or ballast. The spartan looking track was occasionally flanked by mostly unpainted plastic structures perched on unadorned plywood, which did nothing to create even a basic sense of realism. There were some attempts at landscaping, some successful and some not.

All in all, it looked like the half-baked creation of a dull eight year old whose parents had never learned to say “no.” Hobbled by a short attention span, this easily distracted child had kept expanding the size of his layout without finishing the earlier sections he had started.

But wait you say, maybe the guys operating the layout were having a good time. Maybe they were handyman types who liked to roll up their sleeves and route wires, oil locomotive engines, etc. In other words, mechanic stuff rather than artist stuff. That would have been great. But these guys weren’t very good mechanics either. They seemed to be in over their heads, exchanging heated complaints about derailing trains, electrical glitches, and other gremlins of the model railroad world. Not a pretty picture.

What bothered me most about these model railroaders was not that they were grumpy and talentless. The worst part was that as ambassadors of model railroading, they were failures. Their open house did nothing to inspire interest in model railroading. If anything, it was like reading a list of things to avoid for anyone starting out in the hobby.

Looking around, I noticed that the kids, whose eyes should have been wide open in awe, looked bored. They were probably hoping they could cut their visit short. Which is exactly what I decided to do.

-Ivar

Inspiration

Since plastic models are the key ingredient in most dioramas, it’s natural that most artists start out building models and later progress to dioramas. This was certainly the case for me.

What then is the source of inspiration or motivating event that encourages the plastic modeler to make the transition to dioramas? There are several possible answers to this question. Let’s look at a few.

The quest for realism
Having spent several months assembling, painting and weathering your jet fighter model to perfection, you release it from the confines of your workshop and proudly bring it upstairs to the living room for all to see. And now comes the moment of truth: you place your model on the bookshelf. But something is not quite right. The woodgrain finish of the shelf is out of context, a far cry from the oil stained runway that a real jet fighter would sit on. Between a stack of books and a bunch of family photos, your model is just another knick-knack competing for space. It has entered bookshelf purgatory.

One way out of this predicament is to hang your model from the ceiling instead. But then you realize there is a better way: why not put that scrap of wood in your workshop to good use and paint it to look like a runway? With a proper runway base, your jet fighter now looks at home. It has become a logical component of a fully developed miniature environment, as comfortable in its habitat as a duck in a pond. You’ve taken a step forward in realism.

Inspiration from film and television
As a kid growing up with TV shows like The Thunderbirds and UFO, I was fascinated by the miniature sets created by Derek Meddings and his special effects teams. Who can forget the majestic pre-launch sequence of Thunderbird 2 as it emerges from its hangar on Tracy Island? Or the Interceptors rising from their circular underground silos to the surface of the moon? Great care was taken in the design and construction of these sets, and they always showed off the models in the best possible way. My first diorama was inspired by UFO. It featured a diecast Interceptor and Shado Mobile on a wood base built up with plaster and parts from a Super City building set.

Releasing your inner architect
Perhaps you always wanted to design and build a house, launch pad or cityscape. The diorama allows you to realize your dream in the scale of your choosing (and with considerably less capital outlay than the full size version). You are now chief architect, as well as engineer and contractor. And unlike an architect tasked with a full sized project, you have no committees to deal with, no permits to obtain, and no office politics. You get to channel 100% of your energy into the creative process. Not a bad deal.

-Ivar

The Wooden Wonder (1:48)

With a perfectly proportioned design combining power and grace, the de Havilland Mosquito excelled in a variety of roles. Its light birch and balsa construction made it so fast, it was virtually immune to interception. The Mosquito spearheaded many daring missions during WWII.

I spent considerable time mixing paints to get the right shade of PRU blue for this late model reconnaissance Mosquito. Even more work went into filling and sanding to bring the Airfix kit up to standard.

-Ivar

Vulcan Homecoming (1:200)

The Avro Vulcan was a Cold War era bomber designed with nuclear strike capability in mind. Easily the most beautiful jet bomber of the 20th Century, this magnificent aircraft didn’t see action until its twilight days, dropping a conventional bomb load on an Argentinian airstrip in the 1982 Falklands War.

I added a scratch built drag chute and aftermarket decals to the Cyber Hobby Vulcan. Fibre optics light up the runway and fire station, and two diecast Phantoms round out the scene. You may be able to make out the tiny Herpa airport personnel if you look closely.

-Ivar