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Diorama 101


Model and Diorama building is an area where a lot of different techniques and materials come into play and a collection of tips can be a real help.


Diorama Surface Sets The Tone For A Realistic Scene.




Making a diorama has a lot in common with model railroading, especially if you get into scratch building structures and rolling stock. It can be very gratifying to let your imagination roam and freeze a thought or dream in mid step. 


Near life-size dioramas were popular in the mid-1800s as a form of theater entertainment where the audience, often as many as 350, were rotated around successive dioramic scenes.


Today, the scale has been dramatically reduced by scale modelers, but the scenes still hold their fascination to audiences who enjoy seeing them from all angles. A convincing diorama scene starts from the ground and goes up from there. 


Diorama From The Ground Up:

The groundwork of any model scene, largely composed of dirt-like material is not scale dependent. Most dirt, plant and weed representations in smaller scales need finer grades of material than their larger counterparts. The Process is divided into seven steps:


1.) Decide on the scale of your model. This is a key decision because dioramas believable to the extent that it looks real. The larger the scale, the more detail you can include.


2.) Collect the materials you will need including a board for the base. In addition you will need white glue, fine grain Celluclay (paper-mache) or Hyrdocal, water, card stock, different sizes of sand and gravel, flocking material static grass and a few twigs and sticks.


3.) Prepare the base plate. It may be a piece of wood or glass. Anything that is flat, won't bend easily and has nice-looking edges will do, the rest is pretty much up to your taste. Make sure he edges are looking fine and pleasing - it's the edges that will remain seen. You may want to frame the base when you're dealing with a deep surface. The size of the base should be carefully matched to your planned setting. A common novice error is starting with a base that is too large for the concept and then trying to add things to it to make it look "busy" after your original scene is complete.


4.) Build up the topography of the diorama. This requires some planning. The most fundamental thing to do when working on a diorama is to follow a theme or idea. Even if you think you have got the concept, try to develop it as much as possible, working out the details of the scene.


5.) Use Styrofoam, architectural boards and Celluclay or Hydrocal to form your terrain. This will give the impression of weight instead of simply placing the vehicle on the groundwork of your diorama. Try to build your diorama working from the back to the front. Start with the “background” trees or buildings. The smallest objects should be placed the closest to the front. Use glue or putty to secure the objects.


6.) Before the Celluclay has dried (it takes about a day, apply sand and gravel where there won’t be grass or vegetation. Fine sand for the road and coarser gravel for steep banks where the grass won’t grow. Try to press the sand and gravel a little into the Celluclay. Now let everything dry. The next day go over and secure the sand and gravel using a paintbrush and diluted white glue. Now let it dry for two days.


7.) Now apply vegetation and finer ground details, there's a ton of stuff that exists. For example, Woodland Scenics produces a lot of materials that can be used, and these can be found in a well stocked model railroad shop. In general, though, it is best to locate and use regular organic items. They will look better, since they are more realistic. Some of the items that Woodland Scenics

makes are static grass, dirt, sand, rocks bushes, and trees. They also produce a strong liquid glue

that can be sprayed onto a scene, gluing everything in place. 


After the surface is again dry add static grass using flock material mix with a little static grass white glue and water until I get a wet-mud consistency. Add also a few drops of sand or buff color to take away the gloss of the static grass. Apply to the diorama as lumps and patches of grass away from heavily trafficked surfaces.


10 Tips Make Detailing Dioramas Realistic

  1. Pick a model you would like to build based on detail and your modeling aspirations.

  2. Research the subject itself through the Internet and libraries where you can find historical references with lots of pictures.

  3. Develop a plan and sketch the scene. As you draw you will find ideas seem to flow onto the paper.

  4. Now that you have the kit and a rough idea of the scene you intend to depict select a base size and material.

  5. Rough in the terrain using Plaster of Paris, Hydrocal or putty. Usually these scenes are small enough so a frame won't be necessary.

  6. To model trees for your scene, start by going for a walk and watch for weeds that have the shape of a miniature tree. and then coat their "limbs" and leave base with dried spices (parsley, Thyme, Oregano) from the kitchen cabinet or Dollar Store.

  7. Use modeling clay to carve scale stumps and fallen limbs for your scene.

  8. Add your own ground cover from dried and crumbled (a kitchen blender works fine) and then spread on your painted groundwork.

  9. Use digital cameras, your computer printer and cardstock to create man made structures and damaged building sections.

  10. Consider bringing your scene "to life" by adding a model railroading smoke generator for a still smoldering effect.

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