Tag Archives: diorama

Thunderbird 2 (1:2500, non scale)

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.

-Ivar


Tunneling for the Munich Underground

This diorama, built over 30 years ago for the Transport 86 trade fair, is on display at Deutsches Museum Verkehrszentrum in Munich, Germany. The museum contains three large halls of historical and present day transportation exhibits, focusing mainly on cars, trains and other ground vehicles. 

The diorama depicts the construction of the U4 and U5 Munich subway lines in 1979. Rendered in 1:50 scale, it portrays both the surface and below-ground levels of the construction site. The depiction of multiple levels not only increases the exhibit’s educational value, but sets it apart from the vast majority of dioramas, which show just a single level. 

The caption explains that an innovative construction technique was employed in the building of the metro lines. A compression chamber was created underground to prevent groundwater from entering the work site. Compared with the conventional approach of lowering the water table to keep the work site dry, the compression method simplified construction and ultimately reduced the total cost of the project.

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Flugwerft Schleissheim in Munich

Part of the complex of buildings which make up Munich’s Deutsches Museum, Flugwerft Schleissheim boasts an impressive collection of full size and miniature aircraft displays spanning the history of German aviation.

A diorama of a WWI airfield features Fokker D VII fighter planes of Royal Prussian Fighter Squadron 18 lined up in front of the hangar at Montoy-Flanville, a former commune in northeast France. The squadron was stationed there from June 14, 1918 until the end of the war on November 11, 1918.

The plaque accompanying the exhibit tells us that Lieutenant August Raben was Squadron Leader, and that the planes were painted red and white to make it easier to distinguish them in aerial combat. Individual aircraft bear the personalized markings of their pilots. 

The diorama artist canted the aircraft lineup at a pronounced angle to the perimeter of the base, making the scene much more visually dynamic and avoiding the dull grid-style layout often seen on museum displays. The wingtip-to-wingtip arrangement of the aircraft makes them come across as a single visual element: a dramatic red swoosh which immediately draws the eye into the scene. 

If you want to learn more about how to optimize the visual impact of your work, you might like Diorama Design. It’s available on Amazon and Apple Books.

-Ivar

Dounreay Nuclear Reactor

Dounreay Nuclear Reactor is an exhibit in the National Museum of Scotland which combines elements from the creative disciplines of architectural modelling and sculpture. It was completed by artists Kate Williams and John Lloyd in 2007.  

The tag tells us that the piece is “kiln cast using uranium glass lit with ultraviolet light.” Uranium glass, as its name implies, contains a small percentage of uranium which causes it to glow under ultraviolet light. This is an extreme example of using a material which is apropos to the subject. It’s a bit like making a model of the moon out of a moon rock. 

The otherworldly green glow of this eye-catching piece is a reminder of the controversy which surrounds nuclear energy. Promoters of the technology champion its ability to dramatically reduce air pollution when compared with traditional energy sources like coal and petroleum. On the other hand, detractors point to the environmental calamities which resulted from accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima.

Depending on your views regarding nuclear energy, Dounreay Nuclear Reactor can be seen as either a celebration of scientific progress, or a warning against the hazards of technology. Either way, it’s a compelling hybrid of artistic techniques. The work is not only a thought-provoking representation of its namesake, but a symbol of nuclear technology and all the questions it raises. 

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.

-Ivar

No Way Out (1:35, non scale)

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.

-Ivar

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

Eschewing realism for artistic impact

There’s an unwritten rule among modellers that dioramas must appear realistic. It’s so entrenched in the community that abandoning realism is never even discussed. Every modelling magazine features realistic builds of miniatures, and every contest includes realism as an evaluation criterion. Let’s examine dioramas within a broader context to see if this fixation on realism is warranted. 

Dioramas are a visual art form, like painting, sculpture, and photography. And most visual art forms have gone through various periods, each with different aesthetic standards. The great Renaissance painters, for example, were known for perfecting a technically brilliant style which stressed naturalism, down to precisely calculated vanishing points to create perspective, and atmospheric effects to mimic haze.

Next came the Baroque period, which was also realistic, but with a greater emphasis on dramatic lighting to accentuate the subject. Baroque artists often chose to depict action scenes and capitalize on the drama of famous historical events. 

Everything changed in the 19th Century when a group of French painters decided that they wanted to interpret what they saw a different way. They were more interested in capturing the essence of a scene, and felt that the standard naturalistic approach to painting actually detracted from achieving this goal. These painters came to be known as the Impressionists—an accurate description considering what they wanted to achieve. Compared to Renaissance and Baroque paintings, Impressionist works appeared distinctly unrealistic, because they didn’t attempt to duplicate what the eye sees. 

Later developments in the world of painting broke away even more completely from the classic Renaissance and Baroque styles. Cubism, as exemplified by Picasso, was still somewhat representational but portrayed its subject from multiple angles simultaneously. Picasso wasn’t interested in what the eye sees, but rather chose to portray a subject by taking it apart and putting it back together (figuratively speaking), with astonishing results.  

Many of us are familar with the works of great painters from these artistic epochs, and can appreciate how these artists encourage us to see things in different ways. But we rarely apply any of the various visual styles from the world of painting to our dioramas. 

Part of the reason for defaulting to realism is that the elements we use in our dioramas are accurate scale miniatures of cars, planes and ships. The vast majority of commercially available plastic model kits are designed to reflect the shape, proportions and details of their full size counterparts. So by starting with realistic elements in a scene, the rest of the diorama tends to follow suit.

Now there’s nothing wrong with realism, but it’s not the only approach. Not all paintings are cubist, so why should all dioramas be realistic?  

In order to break out of this paradigm, we’d need to select elements for a diorama which aren’t intended to be realistic. The chrome plated aircraft in the above photo is one example. These types of objets d’art were popular in the Art Deco era of the early 1900s. If you started with this plane as the focal point of your diorama, it would probably inspire you to create a very different kind of diorama. 

Making an artistic leap of this magnitude might be a bit much to do all at once, but you could start by taking baby steps. Rather than making an entire diorama in a different visual style, focus on changing one or two elements. Let’s take vapor trails as an example. I’m currently working on an aerial scene which includes a B-29 Superfortress. Although this is a prop plane, at high altitude, historical photographs frequently show vapor trails behind the aircraft. The standard way to model these is with cotton batten. It’s the only material that comes close to capturing the fluffy, translucent quality of atmospheric condensation. But it’s also a cliché. So I decided to use a combination of solid materials, sculpted by hand, instead. The result is less realistic than cotton batten, but it has more visual impact due to being unexpected and unique. 

Picking the right genre can also help. Science fiction is a good choice for stepping beyond the bounds of realism, since the vehicles are fictional. No-one knows really what the ‘real thing’ looks like. And when your scene is set on a different planet, the trees and bushes can be purple and pink. You’re able to break free of the constraints of realism. When I built Eagle Crash, I used aquarium plants for the vegetation and added a scratch-built tree that doesn’t look like anything you’d see walking through the park. It was refreshing to be able to let my imagination take over and not worry that something might look ‘unrealistic.’ 

So don’t feel constrained by the bounds of what looks realistic. Think instead about how to maximize the visual impact of your diorama. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results. 

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


Arctic Rescue finds new home at Greenwood Museum

Greenwood Military Aviation Museum (GMAM) in Nova Scotia, Canada, has curated my diorama Arctic Rescue for its Search and Rescue themed display area. GMAM is celebrating its 25th anniversary and features an air park of finely restored aircraft dating back to WWII, as well as numerous interior displays and artifacts. 

GMAM is a stone’s throw from Canadian Forces Base Greenwood which began as an RAF station in 1942 and was home to iconic warbirds like the Lancaster and Mosquito. CFB Greenwood has grown to become the largest operational airbase in Atlantic Canada. 

Art is meant to be shared. The satisfaction of completing a creative project is certainly a reward in itself, but most artists appreciate the opportunity to be able to display their work publicly. I’m delighted that the CH-149 Cormorant miniature in Arctic Rescue can now be seen in the company of its full-size rotary-wing cousins like the museum’s Labrador and H44. And if you visit, you may be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the full-size Cormorant at nearby CFB Greenwood, where it’s currently operational. 

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


Photography as a building aid

It’s natural to wait until your diorama is completed before taking pictures of it. After all, the finished product is what people want to see. But there’s a case to be made for getting out your camera before everything is finished. 

I’m in the final stages of completing Mirage, a diorama featuring WWII Germany’s versatile Junkers JU-88 medium bomber. I decided to take some photos before mounting the acrylic window which will cover the front of the diorama. Without a polarizing filter, reflections from acrylic and glass can be an issue when photographing your work. 

When I reviewed the photos I’d taken, a number of flaws came to light which I hadn’t noticed before. I wondered how I could have missed them. 

The camera, I realized, was like a second set of eyes. It enabled me to see the diorama differently, revealing imperfections which went unnoticed before. I can think of two reasons for the camera’s unique ability to do this. 

The first reason is that our eyes are permanently set in wide angle mode. We can’t ‘zoom in’ on subjects. A camera’s field of vision, on the other hand, can be varied. Close-up photographs allow us to more easily study separate sections of a diorama, one at a time. When all our attention is focused on a very small part of the diorama, it’s harder for flaws to escape scrutiny. 

The second reason is that looking at something in three dimensions presents the eye with more information than when looking at the same subject in two dimensions. When looking for flaws, this can be a liability, because some of the information is superfluous. The photograph distills what you see into a simplified two-dimensional form. This makes it easier to pick up mistakes in your work. In other words, flaws which were ‘buried’ in a three-dimensional view are laid bare in two dimensions. 

Before the days of digital photography, taking pictures was a much longer process. You had to buy a roll of film, take your pictures, and get everything developed and printed at the photo shop. The whole process could take several days, with the result that photography tended to be reserved for special occasions. But with the instant turnaround conferred by digital cameras, the bounds of conservativism in picture taking have been forever broken. I’d venture that photography has actually become too accessible, as evidenced by that modern day cultural aberration known as the selfie. 

To paraphrase Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard, technology can be a benefit or a hazard. That goes for cameras as well as replicants. So put your camera to good use, and when you’re nearing the end of your project, take pictures of your work in progress. Don’t skimp on coverage. Get several angles and plenty of close-ups. You may be surprised at what you discover, and once you fix the things you missed, you’ll have a better diorama. 

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