Category Archives: Artistic Musings

Third Anniversary

Today marks the third anniversary of this blog. The more I write about dioramas, the more I discover that there’s no end to how much we can learn and develop as modellers and artists. For myself, moving to forced perspective dioramas has opened up a new world of possibilities. I plan to continue exploring this technique and see where it takes me. 

My book, Diorama Design, has been out for a year now and is selling well. You can find it on Amazon in both ebook and print formats.

Whether you come to this blog regularly or just once in a while, I wish you continued success in your growth as an artist. Happy diorama modelling!

-Ivar 

Dioramas in Film – Goldfinger

James Bond returns to this blog with a look at the Fort Knox diorama from the 1964 movie Goldfinger. The diorama appears midway through the movie. The titular villain has assembled the top mafiosi from around the U.S. to brief them on his daring plan to raid the gold depository at Fort Knox. They gather in Goldfinger’s lavish briefing room, a superb set designed by Ken Adam with strong Frank Lloyd Wright influences: a vast horizontal expanse of luxurious woods set off with stone walls and a massive fireplace. 

Goldfinger begins the briefing by flipping a switch on the side of a pool table, which rotates upside down to reveal a large control panel. He brings up a wall-size aerial photograph of the Fort Knox vicinity and begins to explain his plan. And then comes the highlight of the scene: a section of the hardwood floor slides aside and a huge diorama of Fort Knox emerges on a motorized lift. 

The diorama is the focal point of the scene. It’s fully lit, while the surrounding actors remain in the shadows. Goldfinger points with a pool cue at various elements of the diorama as he outlines his strategy to break into the most heavily guarded bank in the world. 

The Bond villains have always been known for their elaborate lairs. These locations are generally big, visually striking, and outfitted with all manner of technological contrivances. And Auric Goldfinger is no exception. He takes great pleasure in dazzling his guests, maintaining an unerring air of superiority as the master villain in the room.

There’s one man in the scene who is unimpressed by Goldfinger’s presentation: James Bond. We find out that 007 has been watching the briefing from a hidden vantage point underneath the diorama. It’s quite amusing, if not entirely believable, when we see Bond’s eyes behind the Fort Knox model, and none of the characters notice. Bond’s irreverent lurking completely deflates the grandiosity of the scene and robs Goldfinger’s presentation of its dignity. Once again, 007 gets the better of a criminal mastermind.  

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

Dioramas in Literature – Moonraker

In a previous post, I wrote about the diorama featured in the Robert de Niro film Ronin. Dioramas occasionally make an appearance in pop culture, and the one in Ronin was notable in that it was central to the theme of the movie. 

I was pleasantly surprised to come across the term ‘diorama’ in another espionage tale—not a movie this time but a book: Ian Fleming’s Moonraker. In this instance, the diorama is not manifested physically, as in Ronin, but the word is used as a literary device. The passage can be found in the ‘Dead Reckoning’ chapter: 

Out at sea, in the early mist that promised a hot day, the South Goodwin Lightship could just be seen, a dim red barque married for ever to the same compass point and condemned, like a property ship on the stage of Drury Lane, to watch the diorama of the waves and clouds sail busily into the wings while, without papers or passengers or cargo, it lay anchored for ever to the departure point which was also its destination. 

This passage showcases Ian Fleming’s writing at its most poetic and evocative. He’s flipped the script: dioramas are usually an example of art imitating life, but here, it’s life imitating art. 

So how did Ian Fleming become acquainted with dioramas? The most likely explanation is that during his work for Naval Intelligence in WWII, he attended briefing sessions in which dioramas of strategic military locations were used as visual aids. Using aerial reconaissance photos as source material, dioramas were often constructed to help formulate a sabotage plan, bombing run, or other military operation. Being able to visualize the target of the operation in three dimensions was vital to successful planning. 

Although literature critics often peg the Bond novels as pulp fiction, I suspect they do so more out of disdain for the politically incorrect nature of Bond’s character, rather than objective and unbiased evaluation. When Fleming created the original gentleman superspy, the term ‘politically correct’ was still decades away from infecting western culture. The 1960s gave us books and films which were intended as pure entertainment . . . a far cry from the subversive media of today. This is one of the reasons that era remains beloved by so many.  

Fleming’s output lacked consistency, but his better works compare favourably to the top authors of the espionage genre. Aficionados of Bond books tend to agree that Moonraker is among his finest works.

The novel bears little similarity to the film. Although both stories take inspiration from the world of astronautics, the plotlines are completely different. The titular craft in the novel is a military rocket based on Cold War era technology (a forerunner of the modern ICBM), whereas in the movie it’s a manned space shuttle. And while Fleming’s original story maintains a sober tone throughout, the movie vacillates between campy humour and grim realism. The producers never figured out if they wanted to make a comedy or a drama.  

James Bond will return (to this blog) in Goldfinger.  

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

Small challenges

When I first got into building plastic models as a boy, I assumed that the most challenging kits were the really big ones: an aircraft in 1:18 scale or a battleship in 1:350. Something about the sheer size of these kits seemed daunting.

This assumption is no longer holding up very well. I’ve recently switched to smaller scale dioramas, and am discovering the challenges which are unique to smaller kits. 

The first consideration is anatomical: the size of our hands. Once you’ve reached adulthood, this is a constant. So the smaller the part, the more difficult it is to work with. This is true for all stages of the construction process: cutting the piece off the sprue, trimming the flash, sanding it, painting it, and gluing it in place. If you’ve ever had a 2mm long part do a flying leap off the end of your tweezers and disappear in a shag rug, you can relate. Although large scale kits have small parts as well, losing one isn’t usually a deal breaker, because it will be a detail part rather than a main component. 

The second consideration is that the smaller the kit, the more difficult and time consuming detailing becomes. Painting canopy frames on a 1:32 aircraft is easy. In 1:144 scale, not so much. To achieve a good level of detail on a very small kit often requires extensive modifications made with special materials and tools.  

Small kits present challenges to manufacturers as well. Errors in the size and shape of parts become more noticeable as the size of the kit decreases. And there is the simple fact that styrene parts can only be made so small. This is why antennas on 1:200 scale aircraft are always too thick. 

Errors in accuracy are especially problematic with decals. A decal which is 2mm too wide will look fine on a 1:24 scale aircraft, but will appear cartoonishly oversized in 1:144. Manufacturers frequently make errors in the size of the decals provided with their kits, and even aftermarket decal companies get it wrong. I’m currently working on a 1:200 scale Junkers Ju-88 which came with 1:144 decals! I ordered aftermarket decals for the kit which were advertised as 1:200 scale, but found that even they were too large. Since decals provide such a big part of the visual impact of a kit, they need to be the right size. Seems like common sense, but as they say, sense is not common. 

Part of the problem with small scale kits is that they tend to be marketed at kids. These kits are at the low end of the price spectrum, within reach of the junior modeller’s budget. This explains why the Ju-88 I’m working on is a snap-fit kit. With kids as their target market, manufacturers assume they can get away with inaccuracies. What they may not realize is that kids don’t build plastic models any more. They’re too busy playing with their phones. 

So it’s clear that very small kits have their own unique challenges. At the other end of the spectrum, large kits are beyond the budget of many modellers. Somewhere in between is where most modellers find the happy medium. This explains the popularity of midrange scales like 1:72 and 1:48 for aircraft and 1:35 for armour. These scales are large enough that a magnifying glass isn’t needed to put them together, and small enough that they don’t break the budget. But if you’re up for something different, try a small scale kit.

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

A visit to Reptar Aviation Museum

Reptar Aviation Museum in Szolnok, Hungary features one of the finest aircraft collections in Eastern Europe. The main hangar spans the complete history of flight, while the outdoor area focuses on warbirds from the Cold War era. A long row of MIG jet fighters begins with a MIG-15 and ends with a MIG-29. Also included are two immaculate F-104 Starfighters, some enormous MIL helicopters, and a variety of other aircraft from Russia and Eastern Europe. 

Several incarnations of the MIG-21 — the most produced jet fighter in history — are on display. Perhaps the finest example at the museum is a silver MIG-21 in Hungarian Air Force markings, number 9512. This perfectly restored warbird, sporting four rocket pods, is parked at the far end of the outdoor exhibition area in a custom built blast pen. 

Another distinctive MIG-21 at the museum is Red 1904 of the Sky Hussars aerial display team, sporting an eye catching mustard yellow finish. It is known as Cápeti, a reference to a French cartoon called Sharky et Georges (in Hungarian, Cápali és Cápeti).  

Aviation modellers will delight at the large dioramas on the ground floor of the main hangar. And not to be missed is the wreck of a WWII Ilyushin IL-2M dredged from the ocean floor. If you ever wanted to model a crashed aircraft, this display is an excellent visual reference. Something you don’t see every day!

The easiest way to get to the museum is by train from Budapest. If you catch an IC train, the ride takes about an hour and a half. Once you arrive in Szolnok, it’s a short cab ride from the train station to the museum. For more information, see https://reptar.hu/en/. 

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

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