Tag Archives: diorama

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

Death Star Attack Diorama from Bandai

Finally, a diorama kit of the climactic trench run scene from Star Wars IV: A New Hope. Modellers have been scratchbuilding dioramas of this scene for years, using Death Star tiles (resin castings depicting segments of the Death Star surface) from garage kit producers. But this is the first mass produced injection kit of the subject to come to market. Bandai’s timing is quite leisurely: it’s been 41 years since the release of the groundbreaking film that started the famous sci-fi franchise. 

To keep things to a manageable size, Bandai has rendered this kit in 1:144 scale. There have been several releases of 1:144 Star Wars vehicles in the last year or two, and if you were wondering why anyone would need a 1:144 X-Wing when it’s already quite compact in 1:72 scale, here’s the answer. 

The attack on the Death Star was the pièce de résistance of John Dykstra’s revolutionary special effects sequences which helped make A New Hope a cinematic milestone. This scene showcased the capabilities of the new Dykstraflex computer controlled technology to its fullest, making a lasting impression on sci-fi fans everywhere. So brilliant was the trench run scene that it’s been copied a number of times, both within the Star Wars franchise as well as in other films. 

Since this kit is coming from Bandai, modellers can rest assured that it will meet the highest standards in terms of accuracy and fit. It will likely be engineered to go together quickly and easily, requiring no advanced modelling skills. 

The design is well thought out, with a laser cannon tower balancing the X-Wing on the opposite end. The diorama will be small enough to fit on just about any bookshelf. 

The only shortcoming of the kit, based on the initial publicity photos, is the visually clumsy support post for the X-Wing. Supporting a flying vehicle with a plastic post puts a dent in the overall realism of the scene. With a few modifications, the vehicles could be hung from wires for a cleaner look. For Star Wars modellers who haven’t yet ventured into the world of dioramas, this kit is the perfect opportunity to make a go of it. 

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

Scaling things down with GEO Craper

Everyone loves big models. Much like the biggest sculpture in an art gallery, the sheer size of a 1:24 aircraft or a 1:16 tank immediately commands our attention. But sometimes it pays to go small, especially for the diorama artist. 

Which brings us to the diminutive GEO Craper series of urban terrain modules offered by Nihon Takujo Kaihatsu . . . in a very modest 1:2500 scale. Each interconnecting module measures 6cm square and can be combined with other modules in a variety of ways to create unique cityscapes. The modules come pre-painted and ready to go out of the box. 

GEO Craper product categories include Basic Units (dense clusters of urban buildings), Landmark Units (famous Japanese structures such as Edo Castle and Tokyo Tower), and Extension Units (highways, industrial complexes, etc.). 

You may be wondering what use a 1:2500 cityscape would be when it’s so far removed from common scales like 1:72, 1:48, etc. There are in fact several ways these modules could make their way into a diorama. 

One application would be for fans of Japanese cinema and television who want to put their Godzilla or Ultraman figure in an urban environment. Everyone knows Godzilla is huge, so enough said. Ultraman fans know that this superhero has the ability to change size at will. This enables him to square off against any size of opponent he is likely to meet. So a medium size Ultraman figure will look just right towering over a GEO Craper cityscape. You could also pair him up with whichever monster of the week suits your taste and create a battle scene. 

Another application would be a forced perspective scene with an aircraft in a larger scale flying over the GEO Craper cityscape. 

These are just a few examples but you get the idea. GEO Craper products are available through HobbyLink Japan. 

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

Diorama sheets from Hakoniwa-Giken

A few months ago we looked at a series of backdrops by Coastal Kits, which are designed to provide modellers with an easy way to simulate the look of an aircraft in flight. The photorealistic backdrops feature a blur effect to simulate motion. Of course, backdrops can be static as well. For modellers interested in creating a static scene, a new series of paper backgrounds from Hakoniwa-Giken might fit the bill. Measuring 90 by 60 centimetres, these photorealistic backdrops can be used to showcase aircraft, spacecraft, and even model trains.

The aircraft backdrops include cloud filled skies as well as complete hangar scenes. The sci-fi backdrops include moonscapes, planets and spacecraft hangars. They can be positioned flat behind your model or, for hangar scenes, folded 90 degrees to provide both a base and a backdrop.

For those who want to go a step further, these backdrops could be adapted to a shadowbox. This would provide more control over lighting and create a more finished presentation.

Hakoniwa-Giken’s website is grouped by model type (note that the sci-fi products are under the ship section). The manufacturer provides a complete list of specifications for each sheet and links to their eBay store. Their products are also available through HobbyLink Japan.

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

Ground Blur display bases from Coastal Kits

Coastal Kits has come up with a simple and effective way to create a diorama with the illusion of motion. By mounting your model aircraft above a Ground Blur display base, the streaked photo-quality backdrop creates the impression that the aircraft is flying at high speed. This is the same motion blur effect which would be achieved by a photographer panning with a flying aircraft while taking the picture.

The bases are a foam board/plastic/vinyl laminate construction and various backgrounds are available. Although Coastal Kits shows the bases in tabletop configuration on its website, you could mount the base on a wall just like a painting, provided you had a sufficiently strong support rod for the aircraft. Since there always seems to be a shortage of space when it comes to displaying dioramas, the wall mount option is an appealing alternative. Just don’t put it in a high traffic area where visitors run the risk of knocking their heads against your aircraft model! See the Coastal Kits website for more information.

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

-Ivar

Charming minimalist dioramas from Platz

The Miniature Animal series from Platz puts a unique spin on the diorama. These tiny, carefully composed vignettes of domestic cats at play have a unique look, owing to the tall base and single background wall framing the main subject.

What makes these dioramas so refreshing is their very zen-like design. Like a Haiku poem, each scene is stripped to its bare essentials. Although obviously aimed at animal lovers, these products are an excellent case study in design for all diorama artists. Too often, dioramas are crammed to the brim with enough bric-a-brac to fill a small attic. The spare composition of the Miniature Animal series shows what can be achieved with a few elements precisely arranged for optimal aesthetic effect. Truly an example of “less is more.”

Most pre-assembled dioramas come with three walls, in an attempt to create a panoramic background. This type of design is visually clumsy due to the sharp 90° creases where the side walls meet the back wall. Platz has solved this problem by eliminating the side walls altogether. The single back wall is spare and elegant. It works remarkably well.

The Miniature Animal series is available through HobbyLink Japan at https://hlj.com/.

-Ivar

Hydrocal plaster diorama kits from Dioramas Plus

US-based Dioramas Plus was formed in 2008 by Randy Pepprock, who is known for his Downtown Deco model railroad buildings. Dioramas Plus is unique in offering kits with hydrocal plaster castings rather than injection or vacuform styrene parts. Hydrocal is a lightweight casting plaster which holds detail well. In addition to hydrocal parts, most of the kits also include laser cut wood doors and window frames.

Like MiniArt’s Dioramas Series kits, Dioramas Plus kits are aimed squarely at the armor modeller. And as with MiniArt, the kits allow the diorama artist to customize the scene by adding their own vehicles and figures.

What separates Dioramas Plus from MiniArt and other manufacturers is the build process. Working with hydrocal and wood requires specialized adhesives such as superglue and epoxy. And hydrocal is porous, so slightly different techniques are needed for painting and finishing. For the modeller venturing beyond styrene for the first time, there will be a bit of a learning curve. But there’s a benefit: hydrocal is a solid casting and is more suitable than thin sheet styrene parts for modelling walls, rubble, etc. It’s also rigid, and doesn’t flop around like a piece of vacuformed plastic.

Having used hydrocal before, I was impressed with its light weight and the ease with which it can be worked. Hydrocal is so soft and easy to sculpt that it invites experimentation—it will release your inner sculptor!

The Dioramas Plus kits are well designed and provide an excellent starting point for creating a custom scene. For the intermediate diorama modeller ready to expand their horizons and go beyond styrene, they’re worth checking out, at http://www.dioramasplus.com/site/.

-Ivar

The Dioramas Series of kits from MiniArt

Ukraine-based MiniArt is a manufacturer of plastic kits specializing in military subjects. Their Dioramas Series consists of a number of nicely designed 1:35 scale diorama bases, often with streets and ruined buildings, which are ideal for the novice diorama artist. These kits are intended as a starting point from which you can add your own vehicles, figures, etc. and create whatever story you want to tell. Some of the kits have figures already included.

The visual appeal of these kits is top notch. They meet all the criteria of good design, checking the boxes for symmetry and balance, topographical variation, and eye-pleasing geometry. By using one of these kits as a starting point, the novice gets a huge head start towards completing an impressive diorama. By taking care of the sometimes difficult first steps of overall layout, MiniArt does the heavy lifting and helps build confidence for the beginner.

The typical Dioramas Series kit generally contains less than 100 parts, and everything is in styrene, so no special adhesives are required for assembly. Kits include a combination of injection moulded and vacuform parts; while the latter may present more of a challenge, nothing is out of reach for those with basic modelling skills. MiniArt’s website features a helpful how-to page with photos and videos as well.

These kits are of modest dimensions. The one-piece base is generally less than a foot square, so the completed diorama will fit on an average sized shelf. Conveniently, MiniArt specifies the length and width of the base on the box cover.

Although each kit contains all the parts required to create the finished piece shown on the box, there is always room for improvement. For the artist who wants to go a step further, it would be easy to embellish the kit with realistic extras like sprinkle-on grass, loose rubble, bushes and trees. And you could place the styrene base on a nice piece of wood to spruce up the overall presentation.

Most of these kits will end up being populated with tanks and figures, and the proportions are laid out with the armour modeller in mind. One of the kits, a River Embankment Section, could be expanded to include a boat or two. And with a little imagination, an aviation enthusiast could incorporate an aircraft into one of the kits. The 1:35 scale isn’t an exact match for 1:32 aircraft kits, but the difference would barely be noticeable.

MiniArt’s Dioramas Series is highly recommended, particularly for beginners. These kits are a great introduction to the world of dioramas for those who have thought about creating a diorama, but weren’t sure how to begin. See http://miniart-models.com/.

-Ivar

 

Historical dioramas from Spain – Part Four

In this final installment on dioramas in Spain, we journey to the Castillo de Almodovar, a picturesque medieval castle perched atop a hill near the town of Cordoba, Spain. The castle is based on a roughly rectangular floor plan of 5,624 square metres. Access is via a long, winding road to the castle entrance at the top of the hill. Once inside, a long ramp takes you to the Courtyard of Arms. From here you can see a total of nine towers, the highest of which is 33 metres tall. Architecturally, the castle is a mix of Neo-Mudejar (Moorish Revival), Gothic and Romanesque styles.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a diorama of the castle within its walls, set up in the centre of a small, dungeon-like room. Projectors in the ceiling illuminate the diorama with lighting effects, re-enacting a siege of the castle, and speakers provide sound.

Displaying a single diorama in the centre of a dark room, with nothing else to distract, gives it a certain theatricality. As you enter, the diorama commands your full attention.

The diorama consists of the castle itself, the hilltop base, and nothing else. There are no figures of attacking soldiers, or armaments being brought to bear. All these extra elements are provided by the projectors in the ceiling, along with flame and explosion effects. As with the diorama from Quebec City, Canada I discussed, there’s an integration of physical and virtual elements which work together to create a complete experience for the visitor.

The Castillo de Almodovar has a long history. Originally a Berber fortress built in 760, the castle came under Christian rule with Fernando III in 1240. Beginning in 1360, it served as the royal residence of Pedro I. It underwent numerous architectural changes with each new owner. The castle was eventually handed over to the knightly Order of Calatrava and then to the Order of Santiago. The Earl of Torralva undertook an extensive restoration of the castle from 1903 to 1936. Twelve centuries after its initial construction, the castle not only still stands but is remarkably well preserved.

-Ivar