Tag Archives: museum

The Beauty of Birch

The vast majority of diorama artists revere absolute realism as the ideal to which one should aspire. This is natural when coming to dioramas from the world of plastic modelling, where we are taught to paint and weather surfaces to enhance their verisimilitude. 

Architectural dioramas place more emphasis on shape than realism. For the architect, conveying the three-dimensional form of a building or site takes priority over conveying the actual look of the finishing materials. A case in point is this diorama of a 2012 update given to Tartu University’s Narva College in Estonia. The entire diorama is rendered in natural birch wood. 

The trees in the foreground—simple birch cutoffs—are especially well done, giving the scene a flowing, sculptural quality. Topographical variations in the landscaping are approximated by layering thin birch panels on top of one another. The diorama does a good job of leveraging the versatility of birch wood. Personally, I would have left out the orange figures, as they don’t really fit the aesthetic of the scene, but that’s a minor point.  

The end result is a diorama which not only fulfills its intended purpose of conveying the form of the proposed addition, but succeeds as a work of art in its own right. The diorama can be seen at the Museum of Estonian Architecture in Tallinn.

-Ivar

A Life-Size Tintin Diorama

The Museum of Original Figurines (MOOF) in Brussels, Belgium boasts a wide variety of figures and displays ranging from Batman to Tintin. 

The Adventures of Tintin was a series of 24 comic albums created by the Belgian cartoonist Hergé. Tintin is one the most famous comic strip characters in Europe.

One of the highlights of MOOF is a life-size forced perspective diorama of Tintin and his dog Snowy being chased by an airplane. Tintin and Snowy are three-dimensional sculptures and the plane is a two-dimensional cutout. All are rendered in pastels to mimic the look of the original comic strip. Tintin is in a very dynamic pose which heightens the tension of the scene. The flapping of his jacket as he runs is especially well done. Snowy seems more interested in Tintin than the plane, but he’s still cute. 

This diorama shows what you can do with just three simple elements. There’s no background scenery at all, which puts the focus entirely on the characters.   

-Ivar

A multimedia diorama in Quebec City, Canada

Musée du Fort is an undiscovered gem in Quebec City, Canada. It’s located just a few steps from the Chateau Frontenac in the heart of Old Quebec. Walking up the stairs to the second floor of the building, visitors enter a small theatre. At the front of the theatre is not a stage, but a large diorama spanning the width of the room. When the lights go out, a film is projected on the screen behind the diorama, recounting famous battles between English and French colonialists at Quebec City in the 1700s, which would eventually lead to the formation of Canada in 1867.

The diorama, built by Tony Price, is nicely rendered and populated with model ships and figures. Battles are simulated with flashing lights and synchronized sound effects, and various areas of the diorama light up as the story progresses. Although the diorama doesn’t feature any moving parts, the special effects are impressive and the overall experience is memorable.

I talked about the benefits of incorporating light and motion in dioramas in a previous post. Supplementing a diorama with a film takes that approach to a whole new level. The diorama/film combination is effective because it melds two complementary art forms. The diorama provides three-dimensional physicality, and the film provides light, motion and sound. The strengths of each art form work together to make a connection with the audience.

Many diorama artists believe that a good diorama should tell a story, as I discussed here. With the aid of film, Musée du Fort takes diorama storytelling to its peak. See http://www.museedufort.com/en/ for more information. Well worth a visit.

-Ivar

Visual sleight-of-hand with forced perspective at Museo de la Miniatura

Before the age of computer generated special effects, movie makers used several tricks to make the most of miniature photography. One of these tricks is called forced perspective. This technique exaggerates the apparent depth of a scene by placing large scale objects near the camera and small scale objects farther back. For example, placing a 1:10 scale miniature tree close to the camera and a 1:20 scale tree further back increases the apparent distance between the two trees.

Forced perspective compensates for the limited depth of field of cameras (the range of objects in a scene which are in focus). Without it, a miniature set depicting a large area, such as a battlefield, would be very deep, and it would be difficult to keep everything in focus.

On a recent trip to Guayaquil, Ecuador, I stumbled across Museo de la Miniatura. This museum houses a series of dioramas illustrating the history of Guayaquil. The dioramas are a few metres wide and over a metre high, and have lighting that changes as a pre-recorded narrative is played over speakers. What impresses me most about these dioramas is their masterful use of forced perspective. Although not designed for filming, these expertly crafted dioramas employ forced perspective to inject more visual depth into a confined space.

One of the dioramas is pictured above. Although you might not realize it from casual observation, the train tracks are not parallel, and the models near the front are larger than those in the back. This creates a scene of much greater apparent depth. Due to the need to create miniatures in multiple scales, forced perspective is more time consuming for the artist than creating a standard diorama with everything rendered in one scale. But the end result is brilliant.

I used forced perspective back in my film student days, creating a set of three landing pads for a spacecraft touchdown scene. By making each landing pad in a different scale, the scene had much more apparent depth, and it worked better. This project was done entirely on 16mm film and all special effects had to be done in-camera. With forced perspective, I was able to keep everything in focus.

The near total reliance of today’s filmmakers on computer generated effects has a downside, in that much of the ingenuity which used to lend magic to filmmaking is now all but obsolete. Techniques like forced perspective aren’t needed when you have software that takes care of everything.

It’s nice to know that at Museo de la Miniatura, the magic of forced perspective is alive and well.

-Ivar