All posts by Ivar

Second Anniversary

The release of my new book, Diorama Design, marks the second anniversary of Creative Dioramas. It’s now available on Amazon in both ebook and print formats.

Diorama Design is a practical guide to design theory for modellers who like to build dioramas. I explain key design concepts and show you how to apply them, using actual dioramas as case studies. Diorama Design will teach you how to think like an artist and increase the visual impact of your dioramas.

If you’re a regular visitor to this blog, thanks for your continued interest. Feel free to browse the catalogue of previous posts in addition to whatever’s on the home page, and use the search box if you’re after a specific topic. Here’s looking towards Year Three!

-Ivar

Diorama Design is now available on Amazon

I’m pleased to announce that my new book, Diorama Design, is now available on Amazon in both ebook and print formats.

Diorama Design is a practical guide to design theory for modellers who like to build dioramas. I explain key design concepts and show you how to apply them, using actual dioramas as case studies. Diorama Design will teach you how to think like an artist and increase the visual impact of your dioramas. Fully illustrated with colour photographs.

-Ivar

Charming minimalist dioramas from Platz

The Miniature Animal series from Platz puts a unique spin on the diorama. These tiny, carefully composed vignettes of domestic cats at play have a unique look, owing to the tall base and single background wall framing the main subject.

What makes these dioramas so refreshing is their very zen-like design. Like a Haiku poem, each scene is stripped to its bare essentials. Although obviously aimed at animal lovers, these products are an excellent case study in design for all diorama artists. Too often, dioramas are crammed to the brim with enough bric-a-brac to fill a small attic. The spare composition of the Miniature Animal series shows what can be achieved with a few elements precisely arranged for optimal aesthetic effect. Truly an example of “less is more.”

Most pre-assembled dioramas come with three walls, in an attempt to create a panoramic background. This type of design is visually clumsy due to the sharp 90° creases where the side walls meet the back wall. Platz has solved this problem by eliminating the side walls altogether. The single back wall is spare and elegant. It works remarkably well.

The Miniature Animal series is available through HobbyLink Japan at https://hlj.com/.

-Ivar

Announcing my upcoming book on dioramas

I’m currently putting the finishing touches on a new book. The focus of this book will be optimizing the visual impact of your dioramas. Whether you’ve built a few dioramas or are just starting out, this book will show you how to think like an artist and take your dioramas to the next level.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may be wondering if the book is simply going to catalogue the posts I’ve written here. I can assure you that the content is all new and hasn’t been covered on this blog. I’ll also be including lots of photos which haven’t been posted before.

The book will be about 75 pages in length and will be available through Amazon. It will be illustrated in full colour. Stay tuned!

-Ivar

Revisiting SHADO Yards

This is a follow-up to my original post on SHADO Yards from May 24, 2016. This diorama features moving parts, so I’ve decided to show what it looks like in motion. It was inspired by the 1970s TV series UFO.

SHADO Yards is half diorama, half model railroad. I had long thought about building a model railroad. But I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied with a conventional layout using off-the-shelf rolling stock, and decided I wanted to go with a science fiction theme instead. So the “train” in this diorama became a launch pad, which carries a factory fresh Interceptor from the assembly building to its launch position. I realized it would be less expensive to use an electric motor with a chain and sprocket drive, rather than a DC or DCC equipped locomotive, which would require an expensive controller. As you can see from the video, the transport mechanism moves at a constant speed.

The video also shows off the lighting to good effect. The sound effects were added in post production.

SHADO Yards

-Ivar

Dioramansion prefabricated displays from PLM

PLM has just announced new products in its Dioramansion series for upcoming release: Savanna, Western Ruins and Halloween (August), and Skating Rink (October). These full colour displays are intended to be used as backgrounds for children’s dioramas and include a base and two backdrop walls, each measuring about 10x10cm. Notice I said two walls, not three. The base has been rotated so it’s a diamond instead of a square, so only two walls are needed to create the background. This is a clever design twist which reduces the number of vertical creases in the background. There’s still one crease where the two walls join, which works fine for interior scenes, but not as well for outdoor ones.

PLM’s products offer the young modeller an accessible path into the world of dioramas. They remind me of the dioramas at the Lego Store—colourful and not too fussed about realism—and are aimed at a similar demographic. By adding some action figures or toy vehicles to a Dioramansion, a simple diorama can be created in minutes.

PLM’s Dioramansion series is highly recommended for young modellers and is available through HobbyLink Japan at https://hlj.com. A great introduction to the world of dioramas.

-Ivar

Diecast replicas, instant gratification, and the vanishing art of model kit building

Today I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a local store specializing in aviation related merchandise. This store just underwent a major revamp. The most striking change was a huge increase in the amount of floor space devoted to ready made diecast aircraft replicas. This section was not only expanded, but also moved to the front of the store. In contrast, the plastic kit section was shrunk down in size and relegated to the back of the store.

When I asked about this change, the manager confirmed that diecast replicas were outselling kits by a huge margin. He went on and on about the quality and fine detail on these replicas and how much they’ve improved over the years. I pointed out another trend, which is that people are losing the patience to build kits. He agreed with this but didn’t seem concerned.

In our world of instant gratification, it should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer people are building model kits. Instant gratification has become a core Western value, and you can see it in the short-term planning that corporations use, the tactical (rather than strategic) mindset of politicians who can’t see past the ends of their own noses, and the effects of technology.

Communication technology is probably the biggest cuplrit in training ordinary people to expect instant gratification. While everyone blindly praises the uninterrupted 24/7 contact which digital telephony has enabled, no-one seems to have noticed the ugly side effects.

For the first time in human history, verbal conversations are being replaced by snippets of text. These text messages are to face-to-face conversations what finger paintings are to a Rembrandt. They’re devoid of poetry and depth, not to mention basic punctuation. Instead of witty banter, we have emoticons. No wonder children are so easily addicted to smart phones. These devices are a grammar-free playground of reassuring smiley faces, ideally suited to short attention spans. As our minds are remapped to favour brief, careless messaging over communication with content and substance, we are reverting to our preschool selves.

The other danger of this new technology is the way it undermines our mental focus. A mobile phone conversation is invariably conducted while running for the bus, ordering at a restaurant, or doing any number of other activities. So only a fraction of the user’s attention is focused on the conversation. This is akin to an Olympic sprinter running a race while trying to tie a shoelace at the same time.

Harried urban drones like to flatter themselves as multitaskers. Although the term “multitask” sounds full of promise, the hard reality is that the human brain is akin to a one-CPU computer. We pretend to multitask by switching frantically from task to task every few seconds, only raising our blood pressure and shortchanging the task at hand. We ignore the fact that the human brain is simply incapable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time.

So back to diecast replicas. For those lacking the motor skills or hand-eye coordination to build a model kit, there’s a place for these products. But most of the time, they’re a cop-out. The buyer is taking a shortcut to the end result, not realizing it comes at a cost. Gone is the joy of artistic creation, with all its ups and downs, and that sublime moment at the end when you can proudly display something you made with your own hands. For those who thought about building a kit and succumbed to the instant gratification of the diecast option, it’s a choice they’ll eventually regret.

-Ivar

 

Hydrocal plaster diorama kits from Dioramas Plus

US-based Dioramas Plus was formed in 2008 by Randy Pepprock, who is known for his Downtown Deco model railroad buildings. Dioramas Plus is unique in offering kits with hydrocal plaster castings rather than injection or vacuform styrene parts. Hydrocal is a lightweight casting plaster which holds detail well. In addition to hydrocal parts, most of the kits also include laser cut wood doors and window frames.

Like MiniArt’s Dioramas Series kits, Dioramas Plus kits are aimed squarely at the armor modeller. And as with MiniArt, the kits allow the diorama artist to customize the scene by adding their own vehicles and figures.

What separates Dioramas Plus from MiniArt and other manufacturers is the build process. Working with hydrocal and wood requires specialized adhesives such as superglue and epoxy. And hydrocal is porous, so slightly different techniques are needed for painting and finishing. For the modeller venturing beyond styrene for the first time, there will be a bit of a learning curve. But there’s a benefit: hydrocal is a solid casting and is more suitable than thin sheet styrene parts for modelling walls, rubble, etc. It’s also rigid, and doesn’t flop around like a piece of vacuformed plastic.

Having used hydrocal before, I was impressed with its light weight and the ease with which it can be worked. Hydrocal is so soft and easy to sculpt that it invites experimentation—it will release your inner sculptor!

The Dioramas Plus kits are well designed and provide an excellent starting point for creating a custom scene. For the intermediate diorama modeller ready to expand their horizons and go beyond styrene, they’re worth checking out, at http://www.dioramasplus.com/site/.

-Ivar

The Dioramas Series of kits from MiniArt

Ukraine-based MiniArt is a manufacturer of plastic kits specializing in military subjects. Their Dioramas Series consists of a number of nicely designed 1:35 scale diorama bases, often with streets and ruined buildings, which are ideal for the novice diorama artist. These kits are intended as a starting point from which you can add your own vehicles, figures, etc. and create whatever story you want to tell. Some of the kits have figures already included.

The visual appeal of these kits is top notch. They meet all the criteria of good design, checking the boxes for symmetry and balance, topographical variation, and eye-pleasing geometry. By using one of these kits as a starting point, the novice gets a huge head start towards completing an impressive diorama. By taking care of the sometimes difficult first steps of overall layout, MiniArt does the heavy lifting and helps build confidence for the beginner.

The typical Dioramas Series kit generally contains less than 100 parts, and everything is in styrene, so no special adhesives are required for assembly. Kits include a combination of injection moulded and vacuform parts; while the latter may present more of a challenge, nothing is out of reach for those with basic modelling skills. MiniArt’s website features a helpful how-to page with photos and videos as well.

These kits are of modest dimensions. The one-piece base is generally less than a foot square, so the completed diorama will fit on an average sized shelf. Conveniently, MiniArt specifies the length and width of the base on the box cover.

Although each kit contains all the parts required to create the finished piece shown on the box, there is always room for improvement. For the artist who wants to go a step further, it would be easy to embellish the kit with realistic extras like sprinkle-on grass, loose rubble, bushes and trees. And you could place the styrene base on a nice piece of wood to spruce up the overall presentation.

Most of these kits will end up being populated with tanks and figures, and the proportions are laid out with the armour modeller in mind. One of the kits, a River Embankment Section, could be expanded to include a boat or two. And with a little imagination, an aviation enthusiast could incorporate an aircraft into one of the kits. The 1:35 scale isn’t an exact match for 1:32 aircraft kits, but the difference would barely be noticeable.

MiniArt’s Dioramas Series is highly recommended, particularly for beginners. These kits are a great introduction to the world of dioramas for those who have thought about creating a diorama, but weren’t sure how to begin. See http://miniart-models.com/.

-Ivar

 

The Jupiter 2: An icon of spacecraft design

More than any other vehicle I was exposed to as a boy, the Jupiter 2 from Lost in Space captured my imagination and held me in thrall. I searched in vain for a model kit of this venerable spacecraft for many years. Every time our family travelled to a new city, I’d always ask at the local hobby shop if they had a model of the Jupiter 2. And the answer was always no.

Issue #29 of Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models magazine sheds light on the mystery of the kit that never was: “Aurora actually considered releasing a Jupiter 2 kit during the 1960s but decided not to do so because they felt the simple saucer lacked commercial appeal.” In retrospect, this was possibly the dumbest business decision ever made in the history of the plastic model kit industry.

Sometime in the early 1990s, I happened to see an ad in a scale modelling magazine that brought to mind the phrase “better late than never.” It was a kit of the Jupiter 2 from a company I had never heard of: Lunar Models. I placed my order immediately and waited three long months for the product to be delivered. What eventually arrived was a plain white cardboard box with two wobbly vacuform pieces of the top and bottom of the hull, poorly cast resin landing gear, and a transparent circular piece for the engine. Given the exorbitant cost of the kit and the ridiculous wait time, I made a note to myself never to order anything from that company again.

I was able to find an LED chaser kit to animate the engine lights, carefully placing 32 LEDs in a circle and wiring everything together. My Jupiter 2 is unique in that the LEDs are red and orange, which is how I imagined the lights to appear when watching Lost in Space on a black and white television as a kid. A plain lightbulb was used to illuminate the top dome and the interior. I cut out a hatch for the battery pack in the bottom hull and positioned a push button switch to be flush with the hull when in the “on” position. The viewport and interior were scratchbuilt since none were supplied. Although the project took about ten times longer to finish than I expected it would, the results were worth it. I finally had a replica of the Jupiter 2.

The Jupiter 2 design owed a debt to the C-57D featured in the classic sci-fi film Forbidden Planet. (The name of this ship makes you wonder what happened to the C-57A, B and C . . . and for that matter, what happened to the Jupiter 1?) UFO mania was rife in the 1960s, and both the C-57D and Jupiter 2 capitalized on this. What helped make these terrestrial UFOs unique was the spinning lights on the bottom of the hull which somehow provided propulsion for interstellar travel. Those mesmerizing lights hypnotized a whole generation of Lost in Space fans, and the Jupiter 2 still retains its status as a classic of sci-fi design today.

A circular spacecraft has a certain elegance which no other design can match, because the circle is the most perfect geometric shape. It has no sides or corners. A saucer shaped spacecraft can change direction seamlessly, unlike a conventional ship, which must point its nose in the direction it wants to fly. If UFOs do in fact exist, then it would make sense that a race advanced enough to create such a craft would choose a circular design.

The Jupiter 2 was a much better design than the C-57D. It had a viewport, which was not only practical for astronauts who like to see where they’re going, but lent visual interest by making the interior of the ship visible. And the contours of the hull looked just right, whereas the C-57D came across like a child’s drawing.

I also liked the Jupiter 2’s landing gear, a tripod arrangement which was much more stable than the C-57D’s central column. If you made the mistake of landing the C-57D on a surface less than perfectly level, the whole ship would be in danger of toppling over. Although the C-57D had three boarding ramps, these were not meant to support the ship, since they were extended after the ship landed.

Designing fictional craft that are grounded in real world physics is vital if you want to broaden your audience to include not just laymen, but technically minded people like scientists and engineers. This is one reason for the widespread and enduring appeal of Star Trek.

But most movie and television producers are not big on realism, or even common sense. A frequent gaffe is not checking that the miniature of a fictional spacecraft matches the full size set, and that the interior of the ship is spatially compatible with the exterior. Looking at the Jupiter 2 from the outside, it’s obvious that a ship of its dimensions and layout would have room for just one level, since the lower part of the hull would house the propulsion system.

It should also be obvious that there would be no room for niceties like a chariot and space pod. But this didn’t stop Irwin Allen and his producers from including them in the Jupiter 2. Allen, a graduate of journalism school, had no technical savvy. Nor did he have the business sense to hire someone who did. This resulted in glaring scientific inaccuracies that plagued most of his productions.

The biggest mystery of the Jupiter 2 is how that array of spinning lights on the bottom of its hull can propel it across interstellar distances. A quick search of the Internet shows that there are almost as many explanations for the propulsion system as there are LEDs on my Jupiter 2 model, and none of them are plausible.

Oh well, you can’t have everything. Quibbles aside, the Jupiter 2 remains a classic which has stood the test of time. Although this elegant craft didn’t emerge in kit form until many years after Lost in Space was cancelled, several companies eventually got around to it. The current Moebius kit is the best of the lot, and is still being sold today. Aurora, you really blew it.

-Ivar