Category Archives: Design & Construction

A Different Fate (1:72, 1:600)

In the twilight days of WWII, Japanese aircraft manufacturer Kyushu Hikoki K.K. completed two prototypes of a remarkable interceptor called the Shinden. Featuring swept wings, a six-bladed pusher propeller and canards on the forward fuselage, this innovative design held great promise as a deterrent to the B-29 bombers which had begun high altitude bombing of Japan. However, the Shinden wasn’t put into production in time to fulfill its intended role.  

This forced perspective diorama presents a ‘what if’ scenario based on the Shinden entering service sooner and changing the course of the war in the Pacific. A lone Shinden prepares to pounce on Enola Gay, the B-29 bomber tasked with dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. 

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 book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Mirage (1:24, 1:200)

Returning from a treacherous sortie in North Africa, a battle-weary Junkers JU-88 pilot sees something . . . someone . . . in the desert. She looks like a girl he once knew. He briefly considers asking a fellow crew member to confirm, but decides against it. It can’t be her. 

Mirage is an exploration of how far the eye can be pushed to accept forced perspective. Ordinarily, forced perspective dioramas contain larger scale elements at the front and smaller scale elements at the rear. Here, the differently scaled elements are equidistant from the viewer when looking at the diorama head-on. The illusion of perspective is strongest when viewing the diorama from the girl’s side, as in the photograph.

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 book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Black Squadron (1:121, 1:144)

The Death Star trench, as seen in the climactic battle of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, is a unique visual which sets the sequence apart from all other dogfights in cinema. The trench is one long blur for the most part, looming dangerously close to Rebel X-wings and Y-Wings as they conduct their attack runs. It gains even more menace as Darth Vader’s squadron moves in to intercept. How do you translate this into a static model?

Well, you could build a very long miniature set, like the special effects crew did for the movie. Or just model a short section of the trench, which Bandai offers in kit form. But that doesn’t do justice to its limitless length, or capture the photographic motion blur which smooths over the intricate details of the trench on film.

I decided to use forced perspective to convey the vast length of this architectural marvel. Scratchbuilt trench walls recede in scale to a vanishing point in the distance. To give the impression of motion blur, I made simple ‘streaks’ with no details. Vader’s ship is a Revell kit and the two slightly smaller scaled TIE fighters are from Bandai. The total length of the trench is 38cm (15”). 

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 book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Yavin Flypast (1:72, 1:144, 1:270)

In this scene from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Rebel X-Wings and Y-Wings fly past the planet Yavin on their way to intercept the approaching Death Star. Here we see the Rebel attack force assembled together for the first time, and anticipate the thrills of the coming battle. So important was this shot to George Lucas that he revised it for the 1997 re-release of the original Star Wars trilogy to take advantage of the latest advances in computer generated special effects. 

This is a forced perspective diorama using vehicles scaled from 1:72 to 1:270. I decided to show the X-Wings with their S-foils in attack position—the definitive look for the X-Wing.  

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 book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar

Contemplating Gotham (1:35, 1:700)

The Batmobile is back. This is the same 1:35 Bandai kit which I used in Batmobile Winterscape, a large tabletop diorama featured in Diorama Design. Now repurposed for a more compact wall-mounted display. 

A white metal Batman figure joins the Batmobile against a forced perspective backdrop. LEDs were used for lighting. The case is acrylic and birch wood. 

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 book, Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.

-Ivar


Buzzing the Castle (1:72, 1:500)

Low level flying has a visceral thrill for both pilot and observer, since the speed of the aircraft is emphasized by the proximity of the ground. Here, a Spitfire Mk.IXc buzzes a castle in the English countryside. Buzzing is what pilots call a low level pass, especially when it’s directed at a specific person or place. 

I used forced perspective to fit everything into a compact box diorama format. The Spitfire is a 1:72 Eduard ProfiPACK kit, and the 3D-printed castle is around 1:500 scale. 

This diorama is the second half of a matched pair which I built concurrently (Evening Kill being the other half). Buzzing the Castle was originally going to be a daytime scene with no lighting, but when I put it next to Evening Kill, it didn’t quite match. So now it’s a moonlit scene.  

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

Evening Kill (1:72, 1:144)

The logbook for Erich Hartmann, greatest fighter ace of all time, shows that a few of his kills took place very late in the day, after 19:00. This diorama depicts what it might have looked like.

The box diorama format gives plenty of control over lighting, which was important in achieving the right ambience for this scene. The sunset effect was created with tinted acrylic strips back-lit by an orange LED. 

Forced perspective was used to increase the apparent distance between the aircraft. The Messerschmitt Bf109G is 1:72 scale and the Yak-9 is 1:144. 

The Black Tulip is a masterstroke of aviation graphics and is especially effective when paired with the winter camouflage scheme on this late model 109. I wonder who designed the Black Tulip . . . was it Hartmann himself, one of his trusty mechanics, or someone else? 

This diorama is the first of a pair which I’ve been working on concurrently. The second will feature another legendary fighter aircraft of WWII: the Spitfire. 

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

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

Scratchbuild case study: Phoenix

The Phoenix is an original design I came up with for a teaser promoting a feature length screenplay I had written called Test Pilot. Although the screenplay was never made into a film, it won a Toronto International Film Festival screenwriters’ competition.

The Phoenix is a lifting body design inspired by experimental NASA craft such as Northrop’s HL-10 and M2-F2. If you remember the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, one of these craft was featured in a spectacular crash landing in the show’s title sequence.

Lifting body spaceplanes were developed to demonstrate the feasibility of unpowered re-entry from space using a piloted craft which could land like a conventional aircraft. These craft were never put into operational use, but they paved the way for NASA’s Space Shuttle, which utilized unpowered re-entry. The Space Shuttle had a career spanning 30 years, from 1981 to 2011. It was originally to have been replaced by the Lockheed Martin X-33, but that program was cancelled due to technical problems. The latest potential replacement for the Space Shuttle is Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser, a diminutive lifting body vehicle which could fit into the Space Shuttle’s cargo bay if the wings were folded. Time will tell if the Dream Chaser program will prove successful.

Using sheet styrene to build the Phoenix resulted in an origami style design with lots of sharp corners. If I were to do it all over again, I’d add some sculpting clay to smooth out the shape. The canopy glazing was frosted to eliminate the need to detail the cockpit interior. You can just make out the pilot’s white helmet if you look closely.

The rear landing gear feature solid rubber wheels (radio control aircraft parts) and the front landing gear wheels are from a 1:32 MIG-21 plastic kit. The engine is also made up of pieces from the spares box. The Phoenix is quite heavy due to a solid block of wood in the interior which was the attachment point for the support rod used to position it during filming. The model appeared in three shots in the video teaser: a static hangar shot, an in-flight shot showing the ship in a flat spin, and a lift-off shot which used a dry chemical fire extinguisher to simulate the exhaust blast.

Since the ship is designed to operate in the Earth’s atmosphere, it has to be streamlined to minimize friction. This means no Star Wars-style detailing like you’d see on a Y-Wing or Millennium Falcon. I applied a two-tone orange paint scheme to add some visual interest to the wide expanse of flat surface, and weathered the nose and underside of the ship to suggest scarring from the intense heat generated during re-entry.

Like many designs, the Phoenix looks better from some angles than others. The rear three-quarter view is probably the best, as it shows the massive engine bell with surrounding detail and the rear landing gear.

-Ivar

Scratchbuild case study: Mantis

The Mantis is a 1:12 scale VTOL aircraft I designed and built for a short film called Last Flight. The film was the final project for a filmmaking course I took several years ago.

mantis-front

Utilizing a sheet aluminum skin over a framework of copper tubing, the Mantis features spring-loaded landing struts and a vertically mounted fan to generate dust on touchdown. To stay within budget, found objects were used wherever possible. The engine bells are lighting shrouds from a camera supply store, and the main engines are hairspray cans. The one area where I spent a bit more money was the landing skids, which are solid milled steel.
mantis-rear-three-quarter

Film models are vastly different from typical display models. They’re designed to fit the requirements of a specific scene, so the emphasis is on function. The main requirements for the Mantis were going with a large enough scale so that the camera would hold depth of field during filming, and making the fuselage big enough to accommodate an electric fan. Filmed with an overcranked 16mm Bolex camera, the fan did a good job of blowing dust (cinnamon from the kitchen cupboard) all over as it touched down on the landing pad, and the scene came out looking fairly realistic.

Given the tight project deadline, I didn’t have time to detail the model. But as special effects guru Brian Johnson once said, “with all that smoke swirling about, you can get away with murder!” I used cinnamon instead of smoke, but close enough.

mantis-top

There was of course a pilot figure seated in the cockpit for the filming of the scene. I upgraded the cockpit later using an Italeri kit so the Mantis would make a respectable display model. As for the design of the ship, I saw it in a dream. I don’t remember what the rest of the dream was about, but I sketched out the basic shape as soon as I woke up, and worked out the details later. The sharply angled nose looks a bit like a Praying Mantis, hence the name.

-Ivar