All posts by 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

A 1:1 scale diorama at Autoworld Brussels

An inventive display in Belgium’s largest auto museum showcases three great racing cars of a bygone era: a 1971 Bizzarrini AMX / 3 Spyder, a 1954 Jaguar D-Type, and a 1953 Porsche 550 Spyder. It breaks convention with most automotive museums, which simply line up row after row of cars and provide nothing more than a small plaque with a few brief details about each vehicle. 

This full scale diorama invites us to go back in time to the golden age of car racing. Peer into the shadows behind the cars, and see the specialized tools mechanics used to keep these machines in fine tune. Look up and see the crowds eagerly waiting for the cars to come screaming around the bend on their next lap. This is a perfect example of how a diorama can breathe life into its subjects. These cars are no longer just three random vehicles, but stars in a show. 

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

Leia & R2 Paper Theatre

New from Ensky is a paper diorama kit which recreates a pivotal scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. As Imperial troops board Princess Leia’s ship, she hurries to upload the plans of the Empire’s recently completed Death Star into R2-D2’s memory banks. These plans will ultimately provide the Rebels with the information they need to gain victory over the Empire’s new weapon of terror.  

Like a three-dimensional haiku, Ensky’s offering is remarkably succinct, distilling lots of visual content into a compact piece. Six plates of die-cut cardboard are spaced apart to create a sense of depth, capturing the look of the long, narrow set in the movie through forced perspective. 

This is one of many paper dioramas offered by Ensky. For modellers who want to expand their repertoire beyond plastic kits, these products are worth a look. 

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

Thunderbird 2 (1:2500, non scale)

Gerry Anderson’s classic series Thunderbirds captured the imagination of many a young boy, and we watched mesmerized as the Tracy brothers piloted their wondrous vehicles to the scene of a disaster to save the day. The most distinctive of these was Virgil Tracy’s Thunderbird 2. This green behemoth was International Rescue’s heavy duty transporter, able to carry specialized equipment in an interchangeable pod. With its forward-swept wings and beetle-shaped fuselage, nothing in the skies (real or imagined) looked quite like TB2. 

The beloved program was rebooted in 2015, featuring state of the art special effects and updated vehicle designs. One of the biggest successes of the new Thunderbirds Are Go is the reimagined Thunderbird 2. It’s still big and green, but the new design is less bug and more machine. Christian Pearce, Senior Concept Artist at Weta Workshop, gave TB2 some well thought out nips and tucks to bring it into the new millennium. He beefed up the engine nacelles for a more muscular, broad shouldered look, and flattened the roofline for a sleeker overall profile. These tweaks give Thunderbird 2 a fresh look while still staying true to the spirit of the original design.  

This forced perspective scene shows Thunderbird 2 on its way home after another successful mission, trailing exhaust plumes as it passes over a city. 

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


Tunneling for the Munich Underground

This diorama, built over 30 years ago for the Transport 86 trade fair, is on display at Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum in Munich, Germany. The museum contains three large halls of historical and present day transportation exhibits, focusing mainly on cars, trains and other ground vehicles. 

The diorama depicts the construction of the U4 and U5 Munich subway lines in 1979. Rendered in 1:50 scale, it portrays both the surface and below-ground levels of the construction site. The depiction of multiple levels not only increases the exhibit’s educational value, but sets it apart from the vast majority of dioramas, which show just a single level. 

The caption explains that an innovative construction technique was employed in the building of the metro lines. A compression chamber was created underground to prevent groundwater from entering the work site. Compared with the conventional approach of lowering the water table to keep the work site dry, the compression method simplified construction and ultimately reduced the total cost of the project.

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Flugwerft Schleissheim in Munich

Part of the complex of buildings which make up Munich’s Deutsches Museum, Flugwerft Schleissheim boasts an impressive collection of full size and miniature aircraft displays spanning the history of German aviation.

A diorama of a WWI airfield features Fokker D VII fighter planes of Royal Prussian Fighter Squadron 18 lined up in front of the hangar at Montoy-Flanville, a former commune in northeast France. The squadron was stationed there from June 14, 1918 until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.

The plaque accompanying the exhibit tells us that Lieutenant August Raben was Squadron Leader, and that the planes were painted red and white to make it easier to distinguish them in aerial combat. Individual aircraft bear the personalized markings of their pilots. 

The diorama artist canted the aircraft lineup at a pronounced angle to the perimeter of the base, making the scene much more visually dynamic and avoiding the dull grid-style layout often seen on museum displays. The wingtip-to-wingtip arrangement of the aircraft makes them come across as a single visual element: a dramatic red swoosh which immediately draws the eye into the scene. 

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Paper Dioramas from Terada Mokei

The vast majority of diorama artists, myself included, come from the world of kit modelling, so it’s natural for us to populate our dioramas with plastic and resin kits. But there are many other materials to choose from. 

A case in point is Terada Mokei, the brainchild of architect and designer Naoki Terada. Using innovative die-cutting techniques, Terada has created a series of paper diorama kits in 1:100 and 1:50 scales. They depict scenes ranging from a tranquil day at the park to a Gemini astronaut spacewalk. 

Although paper kits have been around for a while, they’re usually designed as scale miniatures. A paper kit of a building, for example, typically comprises pre-cut sheets printed with photorealistic images of its exterior walls. These kits are suited to replicating subjects which have large planar surfaces and fairly simple geometry, but their limitations become apparent when more complex shapes are involved. These types of paper kits are the poor cousins of injection molded kits, offering slightly less realism at a lower cost. 

What’s refreshing about Terada Mokei’s dioramas is that they’re not designed to be scale replicas of their full-size counterparts, but interpretations of them. Mokei’s approach might be labelled reductivist, after the art movement of the 1950s which was dedicated to simplifying form and colour in painting and sculpture. What’s more important, however, is that the kits don’t try to hide the fact that they’re made of paper. Instead, they leverage the unique qualities of this material: its texture, the precision with which it can be cut, and its fragility.   

Mokei dioramas are very much akin to origami sculptures. Both are based on a minimalist aesthetic and celebrate the delicate beauty and sculptural possibilities of paper. Although we tend to think of paper as something simply to write on, Mokei demonstrates that it can be much more. 

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

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

No Way Out (1:35, non scale)

This forced perspective scene was inspired by the classic TV series UFO. Pursued by one of the alien craft, Straker and Ellis have taken refuge in an abandoned factory. The saucer hovers ominously at the far end of the factory, blocking the only escape route. 

The shimmering blur effect of the spinning UFO, which I recreated here with the help of a low rpm electric motor, was one of the signature visuals of the series. The superb miniatures created by special effects director Derek Meddings and designer Mike Trim gave the show a sophisticated look which put it in a class by itself.  

This diorama is the second I’ve built which is based on UFO. The first was SHADO Yards

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