Category Archives: Artistic Musings

Special delivery

Bicycle couriers have a rich history. Over the past century, they’ve delivered pretty much anything that will fit on the front or back of a bike without making things unduly stressful for the cyclist. Able to weave through slow moving traffic with agility and grace, the bicycle courier will often arrive at his destination well ahead of his motor vehicle driving counterpart. 

So it was a pleasant surprise to see this specially outfitted bike in Budapest, Hungary, proudly displayed in front of Miniversum, one of the largest miniature model exhibitions in the world. If you were lamenting the fact that your diorama doesn’t get out much, lament no more. The technology exists to show off your diorama wherever you can find a bike path. 

Miniversum is a beautifully detailed model layout featuring famous sights and landmarks from Budapest and Hungary (and a bit of Austria and Germany). About a hundred trains run through the display, which includes 600 buildings in 14 towns, and a total population of some 5,000 miniature figures. It was constructed by 50 modellers over a 10-month period and opened in 2014. 

Miniversum is a must-see for diorama and model railroad fans of all ages. Details can be found at www.miniversum.hu. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Ditch your smartphone and build a diorama

The smartphone is the latest in a long line of technologies which have transformed the way we communicate. Television, personal computing, video games and smartphones have made our lives more convenient and more entertaining. They have also shortened our attention spans. By forcing our brains to adapt to increasingly condensed communication, they permanently change the way we process information . . . for the worse.  

The more accustomed we become to the technological shorthand of texts, likes, and swipes, the more trouble we have with anything that requires more time and concentration, like reading a novel or creating a work of art. This is why bookstores and hobby shops have been vanishing from the retail landscape over the past few decades. So few people have the patience to read a book or dedicate themselves to a hobby, that retailers are running out of customers. 

We naively assume that if something is harmful, we’ll be warned. But the medical community only addresses illnesses which it has permission to address. This is why television sets, computers, video games and smartphones carry no warning labels. The profits which technology companies and media giants generate are more important than your health or mine. 

Television was the first mass market technology to degrade our attention spans. Cinema had already condensed storytelling from 500 page novels to two-hour movies. But TV was the real game changer, because it brought movies into the family home, and people could immerse themselves in it all day long. Television condensed storytelling even further than the cinema. An hour-long format became the standard for drama and variety programs, and a half-hour format was used for sitcoms. And woven into these programs were commercials, which could tell a story in as little as 15 seconds.

The Internet was the next major technology to alter the way we communicate. Emails replaced letters. So instead of receiving a card for your birthday, you now get an email with an animated gif (and you wonder if the sender was too cheap to buy a card and mail it). Unlike television, which is passive, the Internet is a two-way medium. Its impact on the way we process information is thus twice as powerful, because it trains us to both send and receive information in a specific way. 

The effects of television and the Internet pale in comparison with the smartphone. This is the ultimate Attention Deficit Device. Its market growth has been astonishing, and in some countries, smartphones are more common than potable water. 

The smartphone mobilizes the Internet. Liberated from the desktop computer, we can now indulge our social media habits wherever we go. We’re on our phones all day long, whether shopping, eating, driving to work, or walking in the park. Why are they so addictive?

Every time you receive a notification on your phone, your brain releases a feel-good chemical called dopamine. Pretty soon, you become accustomed to this never-ending parade of dopamine hits, which are just as addictive as the nicotine in cigarettes.

The result is that people never put down their phones, because they experience withdrawal symptoms if they do. And the longer they spend on their phones, the more their brain adapts to process the brief, shallow and impersonal messages they send and receive. The human attention span is being shortened to accommodate the smartphone paradigm. And no-one seems to mind making this personal sacrifice to the clever little device glued to their hand. Smartphones are running the show. 

But this is the inevitable march of progress, you say. Well, that depends on how you define progress. At some point, you’ll need to have a face-to-face conversation with an actual human being, care for an infant, or do something else that requires more than a few seconds of your attention. This is where the trouble starts. Suddenly you don’t have the patience for it, because your brain can only handle one-line text messages. And a face-to-face conversation may not provide the dopamine hits your phone does, so the downward spiral accelerates. Pretty soon you start to avoid real human interactions. What kind of progress is that?

So although it may be fun to text, swipe and tweet all day long, be aware of the Faustian bargain you’re making. In return for convenience, entertainment, and ego stroking, your little plastic Lucifer is rewiring your brain, shortening your attention span, and making you anti-social.  

Like quitting smoking, it takes a lot of willpower to give up your smartphone completely. Most people will never do it. So what can you do? 

Rather than quitting cold turkey, the way to combat smartphone addiction is to gradually increase the time you spend on other activities you enjoy. As a reader of this blog, you know the solution: build a diorama. 

The process of building a diorama, from inspiration to conception and construction to completion, is intensive and time consuming. These two qualities make it the perfect antidote to the brain deadening effects of the smartphone. If you’re able, set aside a separate room where you work on your diorama, and—this is important—never bring your phone into the same room. The more you work on your diorama, the more your brain will thank you.

The feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment you get after finishing a lengthy creative project is something your smartphone can never provide. Remember the last time you finished a diorama. You felt a sense of accomplishment and pride. That’s because you reached the reward centre of your brain the natural way . . . through discipline and perseverance. In this age of technological distractions, it’s easy to forget that through the hardest work come the biggest rewards.   

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

 

 

 

Putting things in (forced) perspective

Linear Perspective

Creating the illusion of perspective (space and depth) in art has a long history. Renaissance painters are credited with revolutionizing the world of two-dimensional art by introducing linear perspective into their paintings in the early 1500s. This allowed them to realistically portray three-dimensional scenes within the confines of a two-dimensional art form. 

In a painting, linear perspective is achieved by using a central vanishing point where all lines converge. The illusion of perspective is further enhanced by reducing the sharpness and   saturation of distant objects. This mimics the effect of haze or mist in the atmosphere. 

 

Forced Perspective

Forced perspective is distinct from the linear perspective technique developed during the Renaissance. It is used in photography and dioramas (and sometimes architecture as well) rather than in paintings. In photography, forced perspective is used to change the apparent size of objects in the frame by juxtaposing them in a certain way. This is often used to comic effect. In the above photo, a thumb and forefinger have been positioned in front of the camera so they appear to be pinching a hot-air balloon. 

Since dioramas are three-dimensional, you may be wondering why a special technique is needed to enhance perspective. The answer is that dioramas have size restrictions. Let’s say you want to create a diorama of a car in 1:24 scale on a highway receding into the distance. An ordinary diorama would require a great deal of space for the highway. It could take up an entire hallway in your house. But with forced perspective, you’d be able to dramatically reduce the amount of needed space. 

In dioramas, forcing perspective is done by changing the shape of the object you’re portraying. In the case of the highway, you would accomplish this by modelling the highway in 1:24 scale at the front of the diorama and a much smaller scale (perhaps 1:240) at the back. The highway would gradually decrease in width going from the front to the back of the diorama, creating the illusion that it’s much longer than it actually is.

The benefit of forced perspective is that you’re able to achieve a grander representation of space and depth in your diorama, while still keeping the footprint of your display to a manageable size. This comes at a a price, since modelling objects in forced perspective is time consuming. There are no commercially available forced perspective model kits. A building rendered in forced perspective, for example, has to be built from scratch because it’s not square. Since it’s so labour intensive, forced perspective is not often seen in dioramas. 

I’ve recently started using forced perspective as a way to make my dioramas more visually dramatic yet compact in size. I’m currently working on a pair of forced perspective projects featuring legendary WWII fighters. The first showcases the Messerschmitt Bf109 and the second, the Supermarine Spitfire. The 109 diorama is nearly finished, and I’ll be discussing it in an upcoming post. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Give your diorama a title

Every great work of art has a title. Whether it’s Michelangelo’s David or Van Gogh’s Starry Night, titling artwork has been a tradition for countless generations of artists. 

The first function of a title is to provide a convenient way of referring to a work of art. It’s much easier to say “I really like Starry Night” than “I really like that painting by Van Gogh with the blue night sky and stars and interesting brush work.” There’s also a second very important function served by a title which I’ll get to in a moment.

Some modern artists eschew titles and instead opt to use the curious descriptor Untitled for their works. At first glance this seems like laziness, but it’s actually worse than that. The absence of a proper title is another element of the subversiveness which defines modern art. As I’ve mentioned before, modern art is an attack on traditional art and a vehicle for cultural marxism. It is  political and social critique disguised as art, and its main purpose is to destabilize the core beliefs and values of Western civilization. So when a pop art painter doesn’t title his work, he does it for the same reason that he flouts all other artistic traditions.

Looking to the world of literature, writers no doubt enjoy coming up with the perfect title for their new book. After all, words are their specialty. They’d probably scoff at pop artists who call their works Untitled and simply write them off as illiterate.

Many diorama artists don’t attach a title to their work until they enter it in a contest or post a photo of it online. And some don’t use titles at all. This is most likely due to modesty: they don’t consider their diorama to be a work of art. They say it’s just a project they did over a few weekends and therefore doesn’t need a title. (By the way, if you don’t think a diorama is a work of art, read this post.)

Regardless of whether or not you think titling your diorama is immodest, here’s the second reason to title it: a title aids communication. You want your diorama to say something to your audience, and a title helps with that process. It gives the viewer extra information apart from what your diorama conveys visually. By adding written words to the imagery, it clarifies ambiguities and provides focus. It can even help tell the story.

Drug Runners is a good example of how a title can aid communication. Without the title, this diorama looks like a gunfight between two scruffy looking guys in a speedboat and what appear to be airborne infantry. Viewers may have trouble figuring out what’s going on. But add the title and everything becomes clear. The guys in the boat are running drugs and the infantry are trying to stop them. 

Titles can be long or short, and clear or cryptic. I prefer them to be short and clear. An overly long title suggests that your diorama is visually confusing and you need lots of language to explain it. And a cryptic title may be clever but doesn’t communicate as well.

Start thinking about a title for your new diorama even before you start building. It will help you focus on what you want to say to your audience, and you’ll end up with a better result in the end. 

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

New 1:350 K’t’inga and a Klingon Battlecruiser retrospective

Star Trek fans will be delighted to hear that Round 2 has announced a 1:350 Klingon K’t’inga Battlecruiser kit, scheduled for September 2018 release.  The kit is based on the miniature which appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and will no doubt conform to Round 2’s high standards of detail and accuracy.

Until now, Trek modellers interested in a 1:350 scale kit of the venerable Klingon ship have had to rely on expensive limited run resin kits. These “garage kits” tend to be relatively costly since independent producers cast the pieces by hand, which is a time consuming process. These producers also pay retail for the resin which goes into the kits, so raw material costs are high. The result is that garage kit prices are never competitive with mass produced injection molded kits. Moreover, the kits require substantially greater modelling skills, and a great deal of patience is often needed to correct surface imperfections in the parts if the quality of the resin is not up to par.

Pricing for a resin garage kit of the K’t’inga could easily run upwards of $USD 500, whereas Round 2 will be offering the kit through dealers at a suggested retail price of $USD 100. This is an incredible bargain. Moreover, the injection molding of the kit means that lighting can be incorporated quite easily (a separate lighting kit will be offered later). Full details of the release are available on Round 2’s website.

The K’t’inga is a fascinating design (as Spock would say), connecting an insectoid pod-shaped head to a delta wing body via a long tubular member. The angled down wingtips terminate in beefy warp nacelles, giving the ship a powerful, broad shouldered look. The K’t’inga’s impulse drive gives off a flickering red glow (the flicker being unique to Klingon technology) which further enhances the menacing look of the ship.

The battlecruiser from the original Star Trek series was designed by Matt Jefferies, who also designed the Enterprise. According to Wikipedia, “the D7-class battlecruiser was designed … to mimic the appearance of a manta ray,” and Jefferies wanted it to appear “threatening, even vicious.”

The K’t’inga which emerged in the Trek films many years later retained most of the original D7 design. The changes were largely cosmetic, consisting mainly of tweaking the geometry and adding surface detail to impart a better sense of scale.

The K’t’inga has made many a bold appearance in the Star Trek films. One of the most memorable was the opening sequence of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which featured three of these magnificent ships facing off against V’ger. This sequence stands as one of the finest visual tributes ever made to a Trek vessel, showcasing the K’t’inga in its full splendour to the backdrop of a rousing martial soundtrack. Although the film was a critical failure, the producers got one thing right, which was giving plenty of screen time to the iconic vessels of Star Trek. 

Modellers will have no shortage of inspiration to create a diorama featuring the ship, although working in 1:350 scale will confine this pursuit to those with lots of space!

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Admiring K’s Spinner (Blade Runner 2049)

October 6, 2017 marked the North American release of Blade Runner 2049, the long anticipated sequel to the dystopian sci-fi noir classic from 1982. The original Blade Runner was a triumph of production design, blessed with wonderful hardware like Deckard’s gun, the Voigt-Kampff machine, and of course, the spinner.

Conceptual artist Syd Mead designed the original police spinner, which became a visual icon of the 1982 film. This elegant craft was equally at home on city streets and in the air. With no wings or visible means of propulsion, it could nevertheless take off and land vertically and fly like a conventional aircraft, its police flashers casting red and blue beams through the rain drenched night.

Like its predecessor, the spinner used by Ryan Gosling’s character, K, in Blade Runner 2049 is an integral part of the film. One of the most popular publicity stills from the movie features a shot of K exiting the spinner as the driver’s side door scissors shut. What’s striking about K’s spinner is its bold, angular design, which is completely different from the original police spinner.

Let’s talk a bit about automotive design. All car designs, including the earth-bound vehicles of today and the airborne versions of tomorrow, can be roughly grouped into two camps: curves and angles. Curvaceous cars, like Ferraris, have fluid, feminine lines and soft edges, while angular cars, like Jeeps and Land Rovers, have straight, masculine lines and strong angles. If you want to draw a Ferrari, you need a set of French curves, whereas for a Jeep, a ruler will do.

Most cars today fall in the curvy category because soft edges generally yield a lower drag coefficient. This means lower fuel consumption, so the approach is rooted in practicality. Most people also seem to prefer curves over angles, and this preference is so strong that they use words like “boxy” to describe angular designs. This is incorrect of course since boxes have right angles, which are rarely found in cars.

Cars are machines, so why should they appear soft, flowing and organic? We make no such demands of toasters and microwave ovens. So thought Giorgetto Giugaro, a brilliant designer who rose to fame in the 1970s by showing the world that angular cars could be beautiful.

Lotus Esprit designed by Giorgetto Giugaro

Giugaro gave us origami inspired masterpieces like the Lotus Esprit and Delorean (the latter coincidentally became a flying car in the film Back To The Future). Angular designs also made their way into the more affordable end of the market, the Fiat X1/9, Toyota MR2 and Volkswagen Scirocco being examples. Today, high performance car manufacturers tend to go either all curvy (like Porsche) or use a blend of curves and angles (like Lamborghini).

Back to K’s spinner. This fine piece of hardware, bearing the nameplate of French automaker Peugeot, is an unabashedly angular design. It incorporates a healthy dose of DNA from the Lotus Esprit and is decidedly different from the other spinners in Blade Runner 2049. The Wallace Corporation spinners, like the one which attacks K and Deckard at the casino penthouse, are devoid of any elegance or grace. Their bulbous, oversized greenhouses give them an ungainly look. This is entirely appropriate. After all, the bad guys always have ugly cars, and the hero has the coolest one.

So how did the design of K’s spinner—which we can all agree is the best Peugeot ever—come about? Production designer Dennis Gassner, in response to director Denis Villeneuve’s request for a “brutal” aesthetic, created a spinner for 2049’s lead character which Gassner calls “robust, angular, and chiseled.” K’s spinner is built on strong triangular motifs which create a bold, masculine look. Its three-wheeled chassis gives it a hint of eccentricity (as you would expect from a Peugeot). And its worn-out, beat-up exterior sets it apart from the well-maintained company cars it goes up against in the film’s climax. This is not a pampered vehicle, but a utilitarian workhorse for a detective on a budget. It fits K much the same way that the 1968 Mustang in Bullitt fit Steve McQueen’s character. These guys don’t sentimentalize their cars. They treat them as disposable tools to get the job done—nothing more. And dispose of them they do. Both the Peugeot and Mustang end up getting ditched.

As with many fictional craft, how the spinner actually flies isn’t addressed in the film. According to an article in Wired magazine, K’s spinner is powered by “a futuristic form of fusion.” This is actually plausible for such a compact vehicle, since fusion propulsion relies on solid lithium propellant, which takes up much less volume than liquid rocket propellant. NASA’s website has a good article on it. “It’s a new technology,” Gassner is quoted as saying, “since in the world of 2049 they don’t really have a lot of fossil fuels or sun to power a car.”

The question on everyone’s mind is, when are we going to see a model kit of K’s spinner? So far, all we have is a couple of diecast toys from Cinemachines (one 3” and one 6”) which are clearly intended for kids. Given that 2049 is an obviously adult film, the marketing logic behind these diecast toys is questionable.

Fujimi did a superb (if not timely) rendition of the spinner from the 1982 film, which was a delight to build. Too bad it didn’t come a few decades sooner. I wired mine with LED lighting and put it in a diorama which you can see here. Hopefully Fujimi has reached out to 2049’s producers for licensing rights and will offer K’s spinner at some point as well. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

 

 

 

Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays – Part Five

Our final installment on The Bay’s festive window displays at their flagship store in Toronto, Canada brings us to an Alice In Wonderland inspired winter scene. The dominant figure is a large rabbit, joined by much smaller figures of children dressed in white. One of the children is perched like a jockey on the rabbit’s back, reins in hand. They are near the entrance to a magical tree which features a snow-covered staircase bathed in warm yellow light, beckoning visitors to enter.

This display features the same transparent spheres containing vignettes of various characters that can be seen in most of The Bay’s displays. In fact, all but one of the five displays (the first one we looked at) has these spheres. In this scene, the spheres are perched on branches like Christmas tree decorations.

Although there is less motion in this display than some of the others, the art department has compensated for this with an animated backdrop of falling snow. This lends some movement to the scene and blends nicely with the snow covered ground.

This display is even more obtuse than the last one we looked at, inviting speculation as to what exactly it’s all about. The staircase leading into the tree is especially effective in arousing our curiosity. We wonder what’s inside. Leaving things unexplained is a great way to heighten interest in a diorama; try it in your next project.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays – Part Four

This week’s installment on The Bay’s festive window displays focuses on a circus ringmaster and his ensemble of performers. This display is notable for its palette of saturated reds. Red is an advancing colour, which means it appears to “pop” or advance towards us. Red is associated with excitement, romance, passion, and last but not least, Christmas. Gold is used as a supporting colour, embellishing the dominant red tones and giving the eye a bit of diversion.

The ringmaster is in the middle of his speech, announcing the next performance to eager spectators who are looking forward to another lavish spectacle. His right hand holds a bullhorn, and both hands are thrust upwards to grab the crowd’s attention.

Next to the ringmaster is a rotating platform with three Victorian era carriages pulled by a steam locomotive. Each carriage contains a diorama of circus performers within. On the central pedestal, several small transparent globes circle a larger globe, each containing additional vignettes of circus performers. So what we have is several small dioramas within a large one, making this a very unique display.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays – Part Three

In our third installment on The Bay’s festive window displays at its flagship store in Toronto, Canada, we have a thought provoking vignette of a white-bearded wizard gazing into his crystal ball. The ball is alive with constantly changing imagery of famous cities around the world. Positioned front and centre, this large transparent sphere is the focal point of the scene, symmetrically framed by a circular metal lattice which encompasses the entire display. Several smaller spheres containing various objects are also featured. There doesn’t seem to be any common theme to these objects. One sphere houses a steam locomotive, and another, a koala bear. They move up and down on cables, adding visual interest.

Of all the displays on show at Hudson’s Bay this Christmas, this one is the most ambiguous. It raises many questions and provides few answers. Based on the design of the lattice and the pedestal on which the globe sits, the scene apperas to be set sometime in the distant past, perhaps during the early days of the Industrial Revolution. But other than that, we know very little. Who is the mysterious wizard and what is he up to? The white beard suggests Santa Claus (minus his familiar red and white Christmas outfit), but he seems much too thin. And Santa is jovial, while this guy looks serious. If we overlook these inconsistencies, the other elements in the scene support the Santa Claus theory: the crystal ball could be a device for seeing who was naughty and who was nice this year. And the locomotive and koala bear could be toys destined for the children who were nice.

As with many works of art, there are several possible interpretations to this window display. Let your imagination fill in the answers.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

Ivar

Hudson’s Bay Christmas window displays – Part Two

Last week we began taking a look at the festive window displays adorning the flagship Hudson’s Bay Company store in Toronto, Canada. Part Two of this series brings us to a display which animal lovers will enjoy: two polar bears raising their arms in a coordinated salute to the Christmas season.

The massive scale of the bears and the large arcs made by their moving arms makes them the focal point of the display. The bears are joined by a supporting cast of other animals indigenous to Canada, which are rendered in a much smaller scale. These include a killer whale, a penguin, walrus, and two narwhals. All the animals perform their own little dance in their transparent globes, all the while rotating on a large turntable.

The entire display is ensconsed in a frosty white frame which gives the impression of looking inside a cave carved out of solid ice. The crowning touch is a video backdrop which shows scenes of the Canadian arctic. Many dioramas have static backdrops (photos or paintings) but video trumps both. Moving pictures are always more eye catching than stills.

If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like my new book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar