Tag Archives: plastic model

Diecast replicas, instant gratification, and the vanishing art of model kit building

Today I had an interesting conversation with the manager of a local store specializing in aviation related merchandise. This store just underwent a major revamp. The most striking change was a huge increase in the amount of floor space devoted to ready made diecast aircraft replicas. This section was not only expanded, but also moved to the front of the store. In contrast, the plastic kit section was shrunk down in size and relegated to the back of the store.

When I asked about this change, the manager confirmed that diecast replicas were outselling kits by a huge margin. He went on and on about the quality and fine detail on these replicas and how much they’ve improved over the years. I pointed out another trend, which is that people are losing the patience to build kits. He agreed with this but didn’t seem concerned.

In our world of instant gratification, it should come as no surprise that fewer and fewer people are building model kits. Instant gratification has become a core Western value, and you can see it in the short-term planning that corporations use, the tactical (rather than strategic) mindset of politicians who can’t see past the ends of their own noses, and the effects of technology.

Communication technology is probably the biggest cuplrit in training ordinary people to expect instant gratification. While everyone blindly praises the uninterrupted 24/7 contact which digital telephony has enabled, no-one seems to have noticed the ugly side effects.

For the first time in human history, verbal conversations are being replaced by snippets of text. These text messages are to face-to-face conversations what finger paintings are to a Rembrandt. They’re devoid of poetry and depth, not to mention basic punctuation. Instead of witty banter, we have emoticons. No wonder children are so easily addicted to smart phones. These devices are a grammar-free playground of reassuring smiley faces, ideally suited to short attention spans. As our minds are remapped to favour brief, careless messaging over communication with content and substance, we are reverting to our preschool selves.

The other danger of this new technology is the way it undermines our mental focus. A mobile phone conversation is invariably conducted while running for the bus, ordering at a restaurant, or doing any number of other activities. So only a fraction of the user’s attention is focused on the conversation. This is akin to an Olympic sprinter running a race while trying to tie a shoelace at the same time.

Harried urban drones like to flatter themselves as multitaskers. Although the term “multitask” sounds full of promise, the hard reality is that the human brain is akin to a one-CPU computer. We pretend to multitask by switching frantically from task to task every few seconds, only raising our blood pressure and shortchanging the task at hand. We ignore the fact that the human brain is simply incapable of concentrating on more than one thing at a time.

So back to diecast replicas. For those lacking the motor skills or hand-eye coordination to build a model kit, there’s a place for these products. But most of the time, they’re a cop-out. The buyer is taking a shortcut to the end result, not realizing it comes at a cost. Gone is the joy of artistic creation, with all its ups and downs, and that sublime moment at the end when you can proudly display something you made with your own hands. For those who thought about building a kit and succumbed to the instant gratification of the diecast option, it’s a choice they’ll eventually regret.

-Ivar

 

Kitbash case study: Troop Transport

This is one of my first kitbashes. I was satisfied enough with the end result that I kept it in my collection and still have it after all these years. The front is the main hull section of the Rio Grande Runabout from Deep Space Nine, and the back consists of the service module and engines from Mattel’s Space: 1999 Eagle Transporter.
front-view
Mattel’s Eagle was impressive in size but hopelessly inaccurate. Despite my attempts to upgrade it from toy to scale replica, I was never able to get it to look like an actual Eagle. So I eventually ended up cannibalizing it for parts to create an original design.
rear-view
The Runabout kit which was available at the time had the right shape to complement the parts I was going to use from the Eagle. (I was never a fan of Deep Space Nine; in fact, it was probably the least memorable of all the incarnations of Star Trek. It lacked the magic Star Trek ingredient, which is having a starship capable of zooming around the galaxy to a different destination each week.)

So by combining parts from two unremarkable products, I came up with something which I was much happier with. I didn’t prepare so much as a sketch before beginning the build, and wasn’t really sure how it would turn out. But everything blended together fairly well, helped by judicious detailing and a uniform coat of spray paint.
The most challenging part of the build was the rear landing gear. A fair amount of strength was needed to support the weight of the model. My solution was to form both the left and right gear from a single steel rod. I ran it width-wise through the aft section and bent it into shape on each side. The landing pads were taken from a Lunar Models Jupiter II kit (the old vacuform kit which preceded the injection molded Moebius kit by many years).
side-view
The hull section of the Runabout was given a new cockpit canopy: a single piece of clear plastic bent to shape and silvered on the inside, suggesting an optical shield to guard the crew from radiation (not to mention it saved me from having to scratch build a canopy interior!). I also carved out a front landing gear bay on the underside of the Runabout’s hull and added the gear along with a vertical thruster.

The Troop Transport’s lack of windows reflects its utilitarian function. It’s designed to carry a large complement of troops and is devoid of any of the luxuries you’d find on a passenger craft. Entry and exit is through a door at the rear of the ship. Essentially it’s a space-going V-22 Osprey.
top-view
Having assembled and painted the Troop Transport, I put it aside and called it a day. But after displaying it on the shelf for a while, I realized the overall white paint scheme was a bit bland. Some bright red decals and a touch of weathering would give it more visual punch. Having just picked up a bottle of Solvaset decal setting solution, I was eager to see what it could do. So I applied some spare decals over various nooks and crannies. To my amazement the decals conformed perfectly regardless of how irregular the surface was. Solvaset is one of the stronger decal setting solutions and not all decals perform equally well with it. But in this case everything turned out nicely.

-Ivar

Arctic Rescue (1:72)

The Royal Canadian Air Force’s CH-149 Cormorant can operate in the most severe weather conditions, making it ideal as a search and rescue helicopter. The Cormorant’s striking yellow and red paint scheme cuts a sharp contrast against the wintery white background of this scene—a welcome sight for this pilot who had to bail out a long way from home.

The Italeri kit was outfitted with a scratchbuilt winch, extra interior/exterior detailing, and aftermarket decals. To give the illusion of spinning rotor blades, I replaced the kit-supplied blades with clear acrylic disks cut to shape.

Dioramas which show aircraft in flight usually prop up the model with an all too visible rod, which detracts from the realism of the scene. Here, the support rod is concealed in the cargo ramp.

The cliff was sculpted from a single piece of blue insulation foam using a hot knife. The parachute is an acrylic half sphere which was melted to a natural wind-blown shape in the kitchen oven.

-Ivar

Kitbash case study – Eagle Gunship

While completing my Eagle Crash diorama, I decided to show the passenger pod door of the crashed Eagle ajar, suggesting that the door had been forced open due to electrical failure. This required buying a second MPC Eagle kit to obtain a “spare” door, after carving away the original door (the door is molded into the side of the passenger pod). The timing was right, since MPC had just re-released their Eagle kit with a much improved decal sheet which I was also able to put to use.

Having updated the crashed Eagle to show the door ajar, I was left with a box full of spare parts (almost enough to build another Eagle). I decided to try my hand at a new design. And so began the design and construction of the Eagle Gunship. But first, a bit of background on the Eagle.

The Eagle is the all-purpose workhorse of Moonbase Alpha, carrying passengers as well as freight. The producers of Space: 1999 never made its military capabilities very clear. In Season 1 of the series, Eagles were occasionally shown firing lasers from a point on the underside of the Command Module. And in Season 2, at least one Eagle was fitted with a retractable laser turret housed in the forward Service Module. These enhancements were obviously added as afterthoughts to facilitate specific storylines writers had come up with. Space: 1999 suffered from a notorious lack of consistency in terms of the technical features and capabilities of Moonbase Alpha and its associated hardware. The series would have benefitted from a technical guidebook similar to the one shared by Star Trek writers to ensure consistency.

Nevertheless, the Brian Johnson-designed Eagle remains a classic in the annals of science fiction, and the real star of Space: 1999. Fictional spacecraft often forego realism for visual appeal, but the Eagle succeeds on both counts. The design is practical as well as aesthetically pleasing, with a modular approach which invites customization. So, leveraging the strong DNA of this classic design, I decided to create an Eagle variant designed specifically for warfare.

The Eagle Gunship is armed with two forward mounted laser guns and two guided missiles. It features main and auxiliary forward propulsion engines, vertical jets for liftoff, and fixed landing skids set wide apart for stability. Access is via a door at the rear of the Command Module. The Gunship’s compact size optimizes the thrust to weight ratio and makes the ship difficult for the enemy to locate and track.

In addition to parts and decals from the MPC kit and landing skids taken from MPC’s Darth Vader’s Tie Fighter kit, the Eagle Gunship build utilized sheet styrene, sheet acrylic, Apoxie Sculpt, aftermarket resin missiles, and various odds and ends from the parts bin. The decals didn’t behave like regular decals. The film was thicker than normal and didn’t respond well to Solvaset. However they came out okay and were quicker than painting.

Nose Subassembly

Engine Subassembly

I had to make some changes to the design during construction. The two spars behind the Command Module were originally conceived as being much slimmer, but more surface area was needed to support the engines, fuel tanks, vertical jets, and maneuvering thrusters. So the spars ended up being wider than originally planned.

When the model was initially completed, it was front-heavy and leaned forward on the landing skids. Adding two auxiliary engines at the back of the ship (made of lead) made the model balance nicely.

After finishing the Eagle Gunship, I realized that it would make a great addition to the Eagle Crash diorama. It’s close enough visually to the other two Eagles to blend into the scene, and different enough to make viewers take a second look.

-Ivar

The beauty of model kit box art

From my earliest model building days, I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful box art on model kits. A quick search turned up the above photo of the box art from a kit I built as a kid. This illustration captures all the excitement of modern naval technology. The Enterprise is a commanding presence, carving a frothy white wake in an ocean of gorgeous blue. An A4 Skyhawk streaks overhead, reminding us that this is no ordinary ship, but a mobile airfield. So powerful is the illustration, I instantly recognized it out of hundreds of photos in the search results, even though the model is long gone.

Not all box art is created equal, and there’s obviously no relationship between the quality of the illustration and the quality of the kit itself. Some excellent kits come in poorly illustrated boxes, and vice-versa. Japanese kit manufacturers usually get it right on both counts, with well engineered kits in finely illustrated boxes. I find Tamiya’s box art to be exceptionally good.

Not all types of kits get the same artistic treatment. For a long time, science fiction kits were the poor cousins of the box art world. AMT and MPC, which brought us subjects from Star Trek, Star Wars, Space: 1999 and other iconic sci-fi shows and films, always had cheap looking box art. MPC’s Eagle was a mess on all counts: one of the most inaccurately mastered kits ever produced, in a really ugly box!

Things have improved for sci-fi modelers, now that we have premium science fiction kits from companies like Fine Molds and Fujimi. The Star Wars line from Fine Molds features top notch box art. I especially like the box art on the Y-Wing kit. And Fujimi’s Spinner from Blade Runner also comes in a nicely illustrated box.

Some box art is so good, you could cut it out and frame it if not for the type that covers the illustration. And some of the top artists in the field, like Roy Cross, Jack Leynnwood, Kihachiro Ueda and Shigeo Koike, have had their box art republished in prints and books. Koike’s website at http://shigeokoike.com/en features some of the masterful work he’s done for Hasegawa and Fuji Heavy Industries. If you’ve never heard of any of these artists, it’s because they generally aren’t permitted to sign their names to their box art illustrations. The kit producer will argue that they want to promote the kit, not the artist, although I see no reason why they couldn’t do both.

If we think of the model building experience as a journey, then the journey begins when walking into a hobby store and seeing a new kit, or spotting it online. An attractive package will naturally generate more sales, and marketing departments know full well the importance of capturing the prospective buyer’s imagination the first time he sets eyes on a new kit. It can make the difference between winning and losing the sale.

The worst thing a kit manufacturer can do is have no box art at all. Anyone who’s ever bought a resin garage kit is familiar with the curiously anticlimactic experience of receiving their kit in the mail, unwrapping it, and being confronted with a plain cardboard box devoid of any graphics at all. Or a splotchy black and white photocopy stapled to the box, which is worse.

Of course it would be asking a lot to expect a garage kit producer to be a gifted professional artist as well as a good mold maker. Garage outfits are usually one man operations, and few people are that multi-talented.

What’s harder to excuse is mass producers of kits who make bad decisions when it comes to box art. Remember when Airfix offered kits in plastic bags? The only visible artwork was a tiny piece of folded cardboard stapled to the top of the bag! You had to really want the kit badly to stomach such cheap packaging. Even worse, you’d be left wondering if the unprotected parts would still fit together when you got the kit home. Without the protection of a cardboard box, parts could come off sprues and get damaged or lost. But then quality has never been a priority for Airfix.

In the age of online shopping, one reason people still enjoy walking into a hobby store is because it’s like entering an art gallery full of illustrations of your favourite planes/cars/boats/spaceships. The poster-size box art on large kits beats squinting at tiny website photos hands down. Shrink-wrapped kits are even better, adding a glossy coating which makes colours pop (and reassures you that no pieces are missing).

With few exceptions, kit producers prefer to use paintings of the “real thing” rather than photographs of the completed model for their box art. Paintings are better at generating interest for a potential buyer because they exploit his interest in the actual subject, which is the reason he’s buying the kit. And a painter can place the subject in a dynamic scene, whereas a photo of the completed kit will always look static and dull in comparison.

Compare this photographic box art from Testors to the illustrated art from Revell:

F_104C_Testors_523_48th

115267-10401-pristine

It’s the same subject in the same scale, but the illustrated package is far more appealing. And being human, we assume that what looks good on the outside will transfer to the inside. So most people will prefer the Revell kit, other things being equal.

If you have a closet full of old kit boxes and you’re about to move, you may be contemplating throwing them in the recycling. But instead, consider cutting out the front illustrations and keeping them. You can discard the rest of the box, and still have all that beautiful artwork when you arrive at your new place.

-Ivar

3D printing is going mainstream

The sign that convinced me that 3D printing has gone mainstream was a newly opened retail store which I spotted downtown the other day. This store is the first I’ve seen offering 3D prints of . . . people! So instead of going to a professional photographer to have your photo taken, you can now walk into this store and have a figurine created of yourself. It starts with a full body scan and ends with a 3D replica of you, in the scale of your choice.

When I saw a 3D printer being used to create a mask in a Mission: Impossible movie a few years ago, I assumed it was pure science fiction. But just as Star Trek’s communicators made the leap from science fiction to fact, so too have 3D printers.

My first question after walking into the store was what material they use to print the figurines. I was told that most of the figurines on display were made of gypsum powder, but plastic is also available. My second question was if they could print objects other than people. The answer was yes, but not at the store. For that, I’d have to contact head office.

Of course, there are already online 3D printing services like Shapeways which offer custom printing. But there are lots of esoteric services available online which cater to extremely small markets. The fact that a retail store now offers this service indicates that the market is big enough to justify a bricks and mortar presence. This means that demand is increasing.

You can also buy your own 3D printer. At this point in time they’re extremely expensive, and would only be justified for someone constantly making prints. Prices won’t come down that quickly because the market for these machines is limited. They’re specialty items, unlike LED TV sets or DVD players, which dropped dramatically in price because of high consumer demand.

The mainstreaming of 3D printing is a significant development for diorama artists. No longer are we faced with scratch building items which aren’t available in kit form, or overpaying for resin garage kits. More choice is always good, and diorama artists will benefit.

-Ivar

Thunderbird 2 and the “kits versus toys” conundrum

There is usually a clear dividing line between plastic kit manufacturers (like Tamiya) and toy producers (like Hasbro). As far as I know, Tamiya has never produced a toy and Hasbro has never produced a scale model kit.

But some companies make both kits and toys. Bandai, Aoshima and Takara Tomy fall into this category. The quality of kits produced by these firms tends to be less consistent than you’d find with a dedicated kit manufacturer. This isn’t surprising given that their primary target market is children.

It goes without saying that five-year olds have a vastly different set of criteria than adults do when it comes to hobbies. Some five-year olds like to put their prized possessions in the sandbox. Others like to chew on them. I’ve yet to see any adult modellers taking part in either of these activities (if you know an adult fitting this description, please take them to a psychiatrist immediately).

Takara Tomy recently introduced both a large toy of Thunderbird 2 from the new Thunderbirds Are Go TV series, as well as a “Real Kit” of the same subject in 1:144 scale. The former product is aimed squarely at five-year olds. It features opening sections, moving parts, a detachable pod with Thunderbird 4, and built-in sounds. This seems to be a well thought out product which kids should like.

The 1:144 Real Kit, however, has some shortcomings:
1. The kit is hard to distinguish from the toy. In fact, eBay listings for the two products are so similar that it’s hard to tell one from the other.
2. It is a snap together kit with a choice of stick-on markings or waterslide decals. These features indicate that the product is aimed at novice modellers.
3. Like the toy, the kit features a removable cockpit roof. This creates a huge gap at the bottom of the roof and ruins the scale look of the kit. Authenticity was obviously not a priority in the design of the kit.

Considering these compromises, it’s clear that Takara Tomy rejected the idea of a serious scale replica. Instead, the company attempted to create a product that would appeal to both children and adults. This was a mistake for two reasons.

First, the Real Kit is not sufficiently different from the toy in price or appearance. This may result in the two products cannibalizing each other’s sales.

Second, the Real Kit was designed under the assumption that most Thunderbirds Are Go viewers are kids. This fails to take adult viewers into account, who grew up with the original Thunderbirds series and are now enjoying the new reboot as a trip down memory lane. Many of these returning viewers are experienced modellers willing to pay top dollar for authentic kits of their favourite subjects. They have fond memories of the original Thunderbirds series and still admire all its wonderful hardware.

Takara Tomy would have been much wiser to follow the example of FineMolds, whose Star Wars kits set a new standard in quality for sci-fi subjects. Their enormously successful 1:72 Millennium Falcon which I discussed here is a case in point. The FineMolds Falcon was a rarity: a mass produced, high quality sci-fi kit aimed squarely at experienced modellers, with no compromises made to attract younger modellers.

In addition to compromising the quality of their kits, companies like Takara Tomy, Bandai and Aoshima also do a disservice to modellers by associating kits with toys. This tarnishes the image of scale modelling. Buying a kit from one of these companies is a bit like buying a stereo from a guy with a van parked in an alley.

But at the end of the day, having an average quality kit of the new Thunderbird 2 is better than nothing. Given the relatively low demand for sci-fi kits, we have to take what we can get. So if you decide to pick up Takara Tomy’s new Thunderbird 2, be prepared to do some extra work to get it up to standard. The basic shape of the kit looks accurate enough, and most of its shortcomings can be overcome with a little care. Just make sure to throw out the stickers. Or even better, mail them back to Takara Tomy with a note stating that scale modellers don’t use stickers!

-Ivar

Taking it to the next level: the diorama as an artistic progression from the model kit

In a previous post, I commented that most diorama artists start out as plastic model kit builders. Then at some point in their evolution as a modeler, they progress to dioramas. This is the typical path for most diorama artists, and for good reason.

Plastic models are the three-dimensional equivalent of paint by number kits in the world of painting. When you buy a paint by number kit from a craft store, you get a board or canvas with pre-marked outlines indicating areas to paint. Each area has a number corresponding to a paint colour to use. And all the required paints are included in the kit.

With a plastic model kit, much of the work is already done for you as well. All the pieces that go into the model are pre-formed; you simply snap or glue them together and then paint the model. Detailed instructions are given, with numbered steps guiding you through the assembly process. There is also a painting guide included with the instructions. Much like paint by number kits, plastic model kits are an easy way to get into the hobby for an aspiring artist.

More seasoned hobbyists will go a step beyond the basics. The experienced kit builder will not only paint the model, but will also weather it to enhance the realism of the finished product. The more advanced paint by number artist will mix colours and create skillful transitions from light to shadow, creating a much finer result.

After successfully completing several dozen plastic kits, the kit builder may wish to take on a new challenge. This could involve modifying a kit (for example, converting a Spitfire Mk1 to a Mk2), or adding something to it (for example, scratch building a landing chute for a Vulcan bomber, as shown in the photo at the top of this page). Kitbashing, in which parts from several models are combined to create an original result, is another option for the experienced builder. Other modelers will want to go a step further, creating an entire scene which incorporates one or more plastic kits. And so goes the evolution from kit builder to diorama artist.

The word “evolution” connotes progress, and I think it’s the right term in this case for several reasons. First, creating a diorama requires the artist to use his creative imagination and come up with a scene he wants to depict. Second, it requires that he apply design principles to maximize the visual impact of the scene. Third, it requires knowledge of specialized modeling techniques, such as miniature landscaping. None of these skills are needed to build a plastic kit out of the box.

Dioramas aren’t the only evolutionary path available to the plastic kit builder. Some modelers go on to create original works from scratch. A miniature ship or plane can be carved out of a block of wood, or crafted from other materials (large museum miniatures are usually custom built, since there are no commercially available kits of the subjects in sufficiently large scales). Other modelers want to see their creations perform the same functions as their real life counterparts. So for those who aren’t content with a static helicopter, they can build a radio controlled one that actually flies.

The path that you take in your evolution as a plastic kit modeler will depend on your personal interests and skills. Will you sculpt original pieces out of a block of wood, build aircraft that actually fly, or create compelling scenes in miniature as a diorama artist? The choice is yours.

-Ivar

Lag time (or, why it takes so long for some kits to be released)

The introduction of a new model kit based on a subject from a movie is an eagerly anticipated event for many hobbyists. I remember when MPC released its Millennium Falcon kit back in 1977, coinciding with the release of the first Star Wars movie. MPC’s marketing department was on the ball and capitalized on the movie’s success by being quick on the draw with the release of the kit.

Not all kit releases are timed as perfectly as MPC’s Falcon release. The same subject was released by FineMolds nearly three decades later, in 2005. The FineMolds Falcon, although late to the game, was a dramatic improvement over the MPC kit. It featured the usual high level of accuracy and detail associated with the FineMolds brand, in correct 1:72 scale. The MPC kit did not even specify a scale, and Star Wars aficionados have enjoyed debating the scale of the kit since it was released.

When I first heard about the FineMolds Falcon release, my first thought was, “Wow, it sure took them long enough.” But FineMolds actually did something very clever.

The price differential between the two kits is considerable, even with a few decades’ worth of inflation factored in. The result is that they are not in direct competition with one another. The MPC kit was clearly aimed at kids and teens with little or no money. The FineMolds kit, on the other hand, was targeted at advanced modellers with generous budgets. The funny thing is, even though the markets for the two kits are distinct, the person buying them could quite often be one and the same. If you were a teen when Star Wars was released, and bought the MPC kit back then, there’s a good chance that you’d be willing to upgrade to the FineMolds version several decades later. My guess is that this is exactly what FineMolds planned.

The FineMolds Falcon has been so successful that Revell is now re-releasing it under their Master Series label. It will still be manufactured in Japan by FineMolds but will have revised packaging and English instructions.

It’s less clear what Bandai was thinking with their recent release of 1:72 models of the classic X-Wing and Y-Wing. Chances are, anyone who wanted a 1:72 scale kit of either of these subjects would have picked up the FineMolds version by now. Price, accuracy and quality for both brands are similar. There just isn’t that much difference between them. Bandai will also be releasing a 1:144 Millennium Falcon, which has been done before by FineMolds as well. How Bandai will be able to turn a profit on these “me too” products is a mystery. A much better move would have been to produce a 1:48 Y-Wing to complement the FineMolds 1:48 X-Wing. This would have filled an empty niche in the market.

When Episode 7 of Star Wars comes out this December, a newly designed X-Wing will grace the screen. It looks good—smaller and sleeker—and can be glimpsed in the teaser trailer for the film. Fortunately, Bandai has made one good decision, which is to launch a kit of the new X-Wing just before Episode 7’s release in December. Unless the movie is a complete disaster, this kit will be a guaranteed cash cow. The new X-Wing will be followed by a kit of the new TIE Fighter, which looks like a lot like the classic TIE but with an inverted colour scheme. This kit should be popular as well.

-Ivar

Making the transition from models to dioramas

Many modelers are content to build an out-of-the-box plastic model kit, display it on a shelf, and call it a day. Some will go a step further and buy aftermarket parts to improve the accuracy of their model or modify it. And those who are even more ambitious will kitbash a model, creating something new out of one or more out-of-the-box kits.

If you enjoy going a step or two beyond the basic out-of-the-box build, chances are you’ve thought about creating an entire scene to showcase your latest model(s). Welcome to the world of dioramas.

The diorama is a miniature slice of reality depicting an event or its aftermath. It is limited by only two things: your imagination and your skill at translating vision into reality. You can create a scene taking place on land, at sea, or on another planet. You decide what characters, vehicles and buildings will populate the scene, and what event will be depicted.

Most diorama artists have no shortage of imagination. The real challenge is translating your vision into a finished diorama. This sounds simple but can be a challenge for artists of all stripes. When George Lucas was deciding which of his Star Wars movies to film first, he realized that 1970s-era special effects would not do justice to all the scenes he had envisioned for the saga. He started with Episode 4 because it had the least demanding special effects, which could be achieved using the technology of the day.

To render your vision to its fullest potential, you must not only be a good craftsman, but make the right artistic decisions as well. Every work of art starts with an idea. Then the idea is usually fleshed out as a design. This could be as simple as a pencil sketch, or as complex as a computer generated 3D model. Some diorama builders skip this step, and run the risk of ending up with something that is awkwardly composed and visually weak.

For myself, I’ve found that the more dioramas you create, the better you get. As you become familiar with the diorama form, you learn to see what works and what doesn’t. Most artists go through a learning curve. There are, of course, exceptions. Orson Welles made his most critically acclaimed film, Citizen Kane, at the beginning of his career as a filmmaker. Reflecting on his career in his later years, he liked to joke that he started at the top and worked his way down. But he was an exception.

The mistake many diorama artists make is not realizing that they are creating a work of art. They see themselves as hobbyists and balk at the term “artist.” But if you don’t see yourself as an artist, you’re handicapping yourself from making progress. Your dioramas may be well crafted, but no-one will see them as art unless you do. So stop being modest. You don’t have to start hanging out at the art gallery and using words like “iconicity.” But having a basic knowledge of design principles is useful. Brush up on these and it’ll make a big difference to your next diorama.

-Ivar