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.
The Mantis is a 1:12 scale VTOL aircraft I designed and built for a short film called Last Flight. The film was the final project for a filmmaking course I took several years ago.
Utilizing a sheet aluminum skin over a framework of copper tubing, the Mantis features spring-loaded landing struts and a vertically mounted fan to generate dust on touchdown. To stay within budget, found objects were used wherever possible. The engine bells are lighting shrouds from a camera supply store, and the main engines are hairspray cans. The one area where I spent a bit more money was the landing skids, which are solid milled steel.
Film models are vastly different from typical display models. They’re designed to fit the requirements of a specific scene, so the emphasis is on function. The main requirements for the Mantis were going with a large enough scale so that the camera would hold depth of field during filming, and making the fuselage big enough to accommodate an electric fan. Filmed with an overcranked 16mm Bolex camera, the fan did a good job of blowing dust (cinnamon from the kitchen cupboard) all over as it touched down on the landing pad, and the scene came out looking fairly realistic.
Given the tight project deadline, I didn’t have time to detail the model. But as special effects guru Brian Johnson once said, “with all that smoke swirling about, you can get away with murder!” I used cinnamon instead of smoke, but close enough.
There was of course a pilot figure seated in the cockpit for the filming of the scene. I upgraded the cockpit later using an Italeri kit so the Mantis would make a respectable display model. As for the design of the ship, I saw it in a dream. I don’t remember what the rest of the dream was about, but I sketched out the basic shape as soon as I woke up, and worked out the details later. The sharply angled nose looks a bit like a Praying Mantis, hence the name.