Famous for its distinctive delta wing, the Saab J 35 Draken was the first supersonic European fighter aircraft. It entered service in 1960 and continued to serve as late as 2005. Inspired by a beautiful example (J 35J s/n 35541) at the Estonian Aviation Museum last summer, I decided to make the Draken the subject of my next project.
The goal was to create a scene that not only showcases the sleek delta shape of the Draken but also conveys a sense of speed and perspective. I opted for the same 2.5D approach previously used on Zero and Gripen.
Two Drakens were carved out of 3mm styrene. Panel lines were drawn with a fine marker and a base coat of yellow was sprayed on. Details such as shadows and canopy reflections were added with brush paints and markers. I previously used shadows on The Real Winner and found that they not only lend depth to the subject but also help ‘sell’ the scene.
I decided not to associate these aircraft with any particular air force. The events of the past two years have made it clear that most countries are no longer sovereign democracies. When governments all march in lockstep towards a globalist dystopia, the colours of their flags no longer have any meaning.
For the background, an aerial landscape photo was modified in Photoshop to create a blur effect. The perspective was adjusted to match that of the two aircraft. The photo was mounted on a yellow acrylic plate which was fastened to a frame of translucent gloss brown acrylic. As a final step, the Drakens were attached to the photo.
This is the smallest 2.5D piece I’ve made so far, at 30cm (12”) in width not including the frame.
The Real Winner is my third 2.5D work. It measures about 33cm (13”) in width. After finishing Gripen, I wanted to create something that would really emphasize the natural beauty of acrylic. The grey pavement strip has a high gloss finish, the blue background is semi-gloss, and the blur effect of the crowds in the background was obtained by scribing textures onto the back of a translucent acrylic strip. The motion trail, or ‘whoosh’ behind the car is translucent matt blue acrylic. Both the blurred crowds and the whoosh create implied movement, a technique discussed in my bookDiorama Design.
Preserving the natural lustre of the various acrylic strips lends visual vibrancy to the finished piece. As you walk past it, the light plays on the surfaces and gives the impression that everything is in motion.
To create a sense of perspective, the layers in the composition are stacked, so each layer is a different distance from the viewer. The grey pavement strip is at the front, followed by the flag, the car, and the background.
Racing aficionados will recognize the Ford GT40 driven by Ken Miles in the 1966 Le Mans race. With a name like that, he was destined to be a race car driver! The 2019 James Mangold film of the race, which is called Ford v Ferrari in North America and Le Mans ’66 in Europe, inspired this work. If you’ve seen the film, you probably know why I call this piece The Real Winner. It’s a ‘what if’ depiction of Ken Miles crossing the finish line in a clear first place victory, which is what should have happened at the end of the race. The moment in the film when Miles is cheated out of his win by a combination of corporate machinations and arcane racebook technicalities will strike a chord for anyone who has had a major professional accomplishment unfairly dismissed.
The GT40 sports a striking colour scheme featuring Gulf Oil’s light blue and orange shades. These colours remind me of the art deco pastels of South Beach architecture in Miami, USA. They’re a signature component of the GT40 and its racing legacy.
This diptych is my second 2.5D work. It portrays the Gripen multirole combat aircraft from two vantage points. It’s often difficult to choose the perfect angle to frame a subject. The beauty of the diptych is that you get to choose two angles. The classic front three-quarter view creates a strong sense of perspective and captures the thrill of an aircraft flying towards you. The overhead view showcases the Gripen’s graceful delta wing shape and signature canards.
Like Zero, Gripen is made of styrene and acrylic. I sourced opaque green and brown acrylic sheets for the background plates with the intention of preserving the natural sheen of the material. However, I ended up repainting them because the colours weren’t the right shades.
The exhaust effects were created with translucent acrylic. The sand coloured plate which ties the two halves together is a clear acrylic sheet with a coloured paper backing. This preserves the natural gloss of the acrylic.
You may have noticed that the aircraft have no markings. Like most modern combat aircraft, the Gripen usually wears low visibility markings which are not only lacking in colour but also rather undersized. I decided to omit the markings since they have little graphic value. I leave it to you to decide which air force these Gripens belong to.
Gripen is Swedish for griffin, a mythical creature that is part lion and part eagle. The JAS-39 Gripen entered service with the Swedish air force in 1993 and features the familiar Saab delta wing design previously used on the Draken (dragon) and Viggen (thunderbolt). The Gripen has enjoyed commercial success and is in use with half a dozen air forces around the world. Like its predecessors, the aircraft has a short takeoff roll that enables it to operate from highways and other improvised airfields. Its modular design lowers maintenance costs and should ensure a long service life.
What sets the Gripen apart from other modern jet fighters is the canard control surfaces at the front of the aircraft. Saab is one of the pioneers of this technology, and they previously employed it on the Viggen. Apart from providing aeronautical benefits like increased control and maneuverability, these small aft mounted wings give the Gripen a style all its own.
This is the first of a series of two-and-a-half-dimensional (2.5D) works which I’ll be covering on this blog. I call these pieces 2.5D because they have more depth than a two-dimensional painting but less than a three-dimensional diorama.
The Mitsubishi Zero represented leading edge fighter aircraft technology when it entered service at the beginning of WWII. Its lightweight construction and flush riveting were innovative features that gave it excellent speed and maneuverability. Combined with its long range and low speed landing characteristics, it was the ideal aircraft for Japan’s aircraft carrier based operations.
Zero was inspired by a technical illustration in an aircraft book. I’ve always been drawn to the aircraft’s bold red, white and black colour scheme. I worked within this palette when adding the rising sun, the horizon lines, and the lettering. The aircraft is cut out of thick styrene sheet and the sun is acrylic, coated with two-part resin for a high gloss finish. The horizon lines are steel.
This is a fairly large piece, measuring 88cm (about 35”) wide.
This diorama will be a familiar sight for readers of my book Diorama Design. It was originally created as a daytime diorama which worked with available light. I decided to modify the lighting design to make it suitable for nighttime viewing.
Some additional illumination was given for Obi-Wan Kenobi and his friend by recessing a string of pot lights into the base. There was just enough room to drill between the figures and make four small holes. I set the LEDs in place with a dab of clear epoxy and fed the wires underneath to join up with the existing circuit.
The next step was to balance the brightness of the various LEDs. R4’s main light was a bit too bright so I toned it down with a drop of red acrylic paint. The pot lights were muted with a dab of white.
As I discussed in a previous post, dioramas lend themselves to tinkering. Whenever you come up with a better way to convey what you want to depict, it’s time to make an upgrade.
If you’re interested in the fine points of lighting dioramas, there’s a chapter on it in my book Forced Perspective Dioramas. It’s available on Amazon.
Introduced in the late 1960s, the Harrier ‘jump jet’ was a major breakthrough in military aviation. It was the first jet fighter capable of taking off and landing vertically. This unique ability made it ideally suited to carrier operations as well as land based close support roles. Whereas a conventional fighter squadron could be grounded by knocking out a runway, the Harrier was immune. It could operate from a field clearing and land anywhere a helicopter could.
To this day, no other aircraft has been able to duplicate the Harrier’s success. The new F-35B, which weighs twice as much as the Harrier, rarely exercises its vertical take-off capability due to the massive fuel expenditure required. Due to this limitation, the F-35B is referred to as a STOVL (Short Take-Off Vertical Landing) aircraft. Close, but no cigar.
I was able to see a Harrier do a vertical take-off one autumn many years ago at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. It was an unforgettable sight.
The Sukhoi SU-57 is a Fifth Generation aircraft which represents state-of-the-art fighter design. Although it has yet to be sold to any foreign buyers, this scene shows what it would look like in Estonian livery.
Most dioramas are constructed on a horizontal base. This makes sense for a military or automotive scene because the vehicles interact with the terrain. But when we see an aircraft in flight, it’s usually framed by the horizon. The ground isn’t important, so I left it out.
For tips on how to optimize the visual impact of your work, see my book Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.
Gerry Anderson’s classic series Thunderbirds captured the imagination of many a young boy, and we watched mesmerized as the Tracy brothers piloted their wondrous vehicles to the scene of a disaster to save the day. The most distinctive of these was Virgil Tracy’s Thunderbird 2. This green behemoth was International Rescue’s heavy duty transporter, able to carry specialized equipment in an interchangeable pod. With its forward-swept wings and beetle-shaped fuselage, nothing in the skies (real or imagined) looked quite like TB2.
The beloved program was rebooted in 2015, featuring state of the art special effects and updated vehicle designs. One of the biggest successes of the new Thunderbirds Are Go is the reimagined Thunderbird 2. It’s still big and green, but the new design is less bug and more machine. Christian Pearce, Senior Concept Artist at Weta Workshop, gave TB2 some well thought out nips and tucks to bring it into the new millennium. He beefed up the engine nacelles for a more muscular, broad shouldered look, and flattened the roofline for a sleeker overall profile. These tweaks give Thunderbird 2 a fresh look while still staying true to the spirit of the original design.
This forced perspective scene shows Thunderbird 2 on its way home after another successful mission, trailing exhaust plumes as it passes over a city.
For tips on how to optimize the visual impact of your work, see my book Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.
This forced perspective scene was inspired by the classic TV series UFO. Pursued by one of the alien craft, Straker and Ellis have taken refuge in an abandoned factory. The saucer hovers ominously at the far end of the factory, blocking the only escape route.
The shimmering blur effect of the spinning UFO, which I recreated here with the help of a low rpm electric motor, was one of the signature visuals of the series. The superb miniatures created by special effects director Derek Meddings and designer Mike Trim gave the show a sophisticated look which put it in a class by itself.
This diorama is the second I’ve built which is based on UFO. The first was SHADO Yards.
If you like to build dioramas and want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available in both ebook and print formats at Amazon.
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.