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.