Tag Archives: diorama

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

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

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

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