Home > Discussion Groups > Dioramas

Message posting guidelines:

Full real names must be used at all times.

A valid e-mail address must be provided. (This is not optional)
Images must be posted at low resolution (72 dpi) and no larger than 760 pixels wide, and copyright/trade mark owners must be credited whenever reasonably possible.
4. From 20 April, registration is compulsory if you wish to post messages on the Discussion Groups. For further information, please see the following message: http://www.network54.com/Forum/message?forumid=78970&messageid=1113823195
Please read our Community guidelines before posting.
By contributing to this discussion group, you indicate your agreement to the Terms and Conditions of Use.
Posts that violate the guidelines or Terms and conditions of Use of the Missing-lynx.com discussion groups will be erased, and repeated violation of this policy may result in termination of the violator's account.

  << Previous Topic | Next Topic >>Return to Index  

Ten Commandments of a successful Diorama

April 3 2002 at 12:42 AM
WarrenJones  (no login)
from IP address

1. "Thou shalt not forsake research".

Try not to fall into the trap of "some where in france". Plan the diorama, then buy or round up your kits. I often fall into the trap of ramming in the subject at any cost and then try to make it work.

2. "Never neglect the proffesional finish on the base (edge)".

Someone once said to me " you don`t judge the base you judge the model". I won "best of show" and he recieved second place. The next show I attended he saw the light and won best diorama. Would you hang a canvas on the wall with no liner or frame?.....hardly not.

3. "Never run a straight line (building edge, road, river,etc. parallel to the base edge".

Since dioramas are technically a 3-D photo, sculpture, painting, try and avoid this and think of the "snap shot" photo. Think of a big square "cookie cutter". You hover it over the scene in your minds eye and ram it down and lift out the section from the topography.
Even if the road is 5 degrees off parallel it will look right.

4. "Consider the value of composition".

Work towards balance, not symmetry. Ever wonder why you love a picture or painting so much? It`s mainly because of composition. If you don`t understand it then find out (Sheperd Pains books) explain this well. eg: 5 figures milling around can have the same weight as one sherman. Composition or weight can also be emphasized with colour.

5. "Take into consideration how the viewer sees your work".

We are all trained to read from left to right. It`s a habit that most of us apply when we look at anything really. It`s just that we never pay attention to it.
As one approaches the diorama the first glance is a quickl overview. Then the closer inspection begins. I call it the "read". We invariably scan it from left to right.eg: You can play aginst the grain by having your figures or vehicle facing to the left. The viewer will tend to stop more often to view details. If you direct them to the right then you should have a "block' or disruption so they don`t pass through so quickly.
Use logs, cables, gun barrels, trails, pointing figures, etc. to guide the viewer through the story and point them back to a point of interest. Any good work of art has an entrance and an exit.

6. "Don`t preach two messages".

Try and keep your plot simple. Any sub-plots should support the main theme. ( Building a diorama is like directing a movie, except you only have one frame to tell your story).

7. "Avoid even numbers of objects".

When it comes to vehicles, figures, trees, large items, etc., avoid even numbers. Trust me it`s part of the "golden rule in the arts". One large tree, three small ones. 11 figures not 12. 1 figure or 3,etc. One tank or three. 39 crates not 40. 1 building, not 4. One building with 3 broken sections.
Laugh all you want but it all ties in. As you gain experience you will expound on this principle.
Avoid centering larger objects. Set them off to the side. Balance them with other features.

8. "Avoid the "pancake" diorama".

Don`t be afraid to build up the side sills of your base in order to emphasize the "cookie cutter" effect. Try and slope your diorama from the front to back. this creates depth and realism. Keep tall trees and structures in the rear. Tilt your armour in a ditch so you can see the top of it. Throw your figures off balance. ( revise them). Switch arms legs, etc. Stay away from the "statue" look. Turn the heads! Even slightly if you have to. The most simple effective way to add atmosphere to your figures is turn their heads. Tilt them down up whatever. Make sure they grip their weapons. Cut the weapon in half and re-re it back on. make sure they show weight when standing, kneeling or sitting.
Avoid the flat diorama.

9. "Thou shalt love your paint as yourself".

Learn colour. Learn what tone and value is. Move the colours through the whole diorama. When I paint canvas, my wife spanks me if I don`t. It`s the key to all the Masters. Whoops my hand slipped with the umber over here. I spilled a little ochre over there. Dump the residual green from my airbrush down there. Whoa....watch that red. Never use black! Never use White! Stay away from silver. Add a little white to every stock colour you have. Have fun, make mistakes alot and they will eventually become deliberations.
"You will never grow if you don`t take risks and turn your mistakes into positives".
Share your discoveries. ( empty the creative vessel so the new can enter in). I know good modellers that hang on to there so-called "trade secrets" and they never find the "zone" as often as they would like, simply because they become selfish in there journey and fail to trust and have faith that creativety is infinite and must be "purged" in order to refresh.
Learn colour and make mistakes.

10. "Though shalt have fun"

If your not having fun then stop for awhile. Walk away and go hunt the grounds for diorama supplies. This is where some of the most unique materials are found...Cheers.

P.S. I have as much to learn as anyone else.

Happy Modelling

Warren Jones

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

The 10 Commandments.

April 3 2002, 4:24 PM 

G'day Warren,

As a long-time dio enthusiast I was very interested in what you had to say. I knew a couple of the points you made but the others were new and logical to me. I will keep these in mind in my future dios. Thanks and regards from `down under', Steve `The crocodile hunter' Irwin. (Nah, not really!)

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Brian Tate

April 3 2002, 5:38 PM 

Your welcome Brian.

Sometimes these principles are flexible in my opinion. There are obviously many others that I`m sure you are aware of...Cheers.

Warren Jones

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Size matters - the Eleventh Commandment

April 4 2002, 5:48 AM 

Nice Warren!

I'd add an eleventh commandment: "Thy diorama shall have no unused space."

Many dioramas are too big; most could've been composed as well or better on bases that are 25-75 percent SMALLER. There should be no wasted space on a diorama. Smaller compositions improve the chances of the viewer's eye finding and studying the plot.

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Size and "unused" space

April 5 2002, 12:02 AM 

Very good comments and observations in these threads.

It makes sense to have the dio as small as possible, by which I understand to discard everything superfluous. Small is beautiful. A compact scene is like a compact poem: it tells many things with few phrases.

However, wouldn't it do some good to include a little "empty" space, a tranquil, clean section with no clutter. This advice is given in art painting. In other words, let the painting have some "empty" spaces too, where the eye can rest.

But, I don't know if the dio is different from a painting in this respect. Perhaps the dio should be as compact as possible, but still not crammed with too much stuff.

Balance is the key, isn't it.

What do you think?

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Of course...

April 5 2002, 2:29 AM 

..one can use empty space to bring in an atmosphere or a feeling. But actually there has to be something on that space, at least ground. Therefore detail that spot a little better than other spots that arent that open, even if its just bare ground or grass.

The reason this is more common in paintings is because of their two dimensional world. You can always use perspective and forced perspective in paintings.

The times one can succesfully use forced perspective in a 3D diorama are few. If one make a shadowbox on the other hand, forced perspective can be used very succesfully. This as the maker can controll the viewers view totally.

Janne Nilsson

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

I feel both methods work

April 5 2002, 6:55 PM 

The principles of dioramas are the same in many respects to the flat. In fact dio`s are tougher because one must try and maintain composition in the " round".

I can`t remember where I saw the definition of "diorama". It said " a story in the round with a painted backdrop" was one of them...Cheers.


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Many more Commandments

April 5 2002, 6:50 PM 

To Steve,

Yes your right. I just sort of shot from the hip on this one. Feel free to add to it. I`m sure everyone could have some input here...Cheers.

I just wanted to get a thread going in order to share and encourage the "Art Medium". The best in the world in my opinion.......next to Oil on Canvas....heheeheehh.

Warren Jones

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Advices from Havamal!

April 4 2002, 9:20 AM 

Wise words Warren!
I have some to add that Ive discovered during the years.

Always start with the idea.
Then start getting the models and figures that will tell your story. Do not make a model and then start thinking: Hm, maybe I should place this in a diorama.

Keep sure the clothing are apropiate to the climate in the scene. Dont mix figures in a shirt with figures in winter gear if it isnt in the plot.

Keep natural open spaces free. Dont put in details because some spot looks empty. If it is a empty spot of gras, dont put barrels or boxes there. Concetrate on detailing the gras and ground on that spot.

Always make sure your figures are actually grabing the items they hold in their hands.

Always trim down the scene as small as you can without compromising with the story. Dont use anything that isnt necessary for the story unless it acts as background or props.

Never let facts and physics tear a good idea apart. Unless its obvius or ridiculous. Always claim artistic license in the same way as in the old Monte Python sketch with the pope and Michelangelo.

Dont let parts of or the whole background dominate the scene like a big tree or a building five stores high.

Blood should be darkbrown or if its very fresh, dark dark red. A drop of paint is all it takes to drain a 1/35 scale figure.

Make sure that the finnishing levels are the same for ground, figures, models etc. The worst finnish will draw all the others down.

If you start doing a diorama whith a really neat idea, it wont take long to discover that somebody else have done it much better than you ever will. (GO AWAY MURPHY)

Always look at everything twice and think what they would look like in 1/35 scale. Or whatever scale you prefer.

Just my two kronor.

Janne Nilsson

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Ever try a mirror?

April 5 2002, 7:00 PM 

Very good advice! This is why I love " The Art of the Diorama". It`s the multi-medium, sculpture, paint, etc. all in one.
Ever try looking at your work in a mirror? You can solve many problems this way. Simply because you see it as someone else would...Cheers.


 Respond to this message   
Gray Creager
(no login)

sometimes rules are made to be broken.

April 5 2002, 5:27 AM 

not disagreeing with your rules... but sometimes, to deliberately violate a rule can lead you "way out of the box", in a good way. here's Barry Gazso's attempt to stretch the rules a bit (from the Archer Transfers website's gallery - http://www.archertransfers.com/Bracketed.html)

Gray Creager
asicsuccess@86yahoo.com - "86" the 86

PS - there's nothing wrong with your monitor! the diorama is painted entirely in Black and White

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Very nice indeed!

April 5 2002, 7:03 PM 

You are right in saying this: "rules are made to be broken" if you know how to break them in the right place,...heeheehhheheh...Cheers.


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Has anybody seen this "black and white" diorama?

April 8 2002, 6:27 AM 

In a Spanish discussion forum, it has ben asserted this dio is a computer modified photograph, in reality it would be a normal, colour, dio; it would have been altered to show the dio in B&W and its base in colour. In defence of this opinion is that the background looks like is in B&W also, not in its natural colour; and, that in one of the photos in the Archer site, you can spot a part of the base apparently in B&W, not in its natural colour. In fact, a contributor to that forum has even done the same to another model, to prove it can be done.

What do you think?


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

If anyone should know, it's me. I did it.

April 8 2002, 7:07 AM 

Hi Daniel,

I can assure you that piece was painted in black and white - well, grays actually - and it was quite a challenge. My guess is Woody at Archer took my color negatives and for the closeup shots I took where the base wasn't prominent he probably just did them in black and white. So if a little bit of the base was in the shot, it came-out B&W.


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

A pleasure to meet you...

April 8 2002, 8:07 AM 


I posted a photo of your very striking dio in our Spanish figure modelling forum, "Lilliput". I thought it was an excellent work. Some members had been talking about innovative painting effects, and I sent that as an example of something special.
As I mentioned, there were some comments on the possibility of it being a CG effect... So I thought it would be a good idea to address the issue here.
I'm glad the very author of this outstanding dio answered my call...
I will post a translation of your explanation in Lilliput.
My compliments!


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

In the age of computers...

April 8 2002, 8:39 AM 

... I can see where somebody could "massage" images. In this case, what you see is what you get. Heck, I still use a film camera.

Thanks for asking.

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

So Barry,

April 8 2002, 9:10 AM 

..are we going to see your "Blue period" next?

Im just so yellous that I didnt think of it.
This is in my mind a occasion when craft suddenly becomes art. Not that Im longing to see surrealistic or cubistic dioramas but think if someone did it and pulled it off.

Janne Nilsson

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

No blue period for me.

April 8 2002, 9:20 AM 

Hi Janne,

The next diorama I did was back to the "normal" world. You can't imagine how comforting my olive drab security blanket was.


 Respond to this message   

(no login)

really interesting!

April 12 2002, 6:53 AM 

Hello Warren,

thanks a lot for posting these 10 commendments! I really find the subject very important, and all too often the diorama is seen as a simple extention of single vehicle or figure modelling. A lot of modellers are unaware of these "rules" but often use them intuitively. It is very good however to put them on paper (or the net) clearly to get a good theorethical background. "First learn the rules so you know how to break them properly" is a quote from the Dalai Lama, I believe... Nothing better than to break the rules, but you certainly have to know what you are doing.
It is always good to see dioramas that show a successfull mastery of the basic compositional principles (who are about the same for any visual art: painting, sculpture, photography, film, ...) But sometimes it is even better to see pieces that actually play with these rules or brake them to get a special result.
For example, it is possible to put elements parallel to the base edges but still making it look natural by placing the rest with good judgement. A simple example are tank turrets facing the viewer strait while the rest of the tank is in a more oblique position.

In this diorama:
I tried to use a big element completely in the front middle of the dio (the column), something that is normally completely not done. The aim was to immediately give the viewer two main viewpoints:
1. fromt the front of the tank up to the back, with the glass window as background
2. from the back of the figures (from their viewpoint) to the vehicle, up on the shrine and the wall)

I hope to have made it look natural by balancing the dio from both viewpoints and not obscuring any important elements of the story by the column.

Barry's diorama has a very special idea and is well excecuted. However I don't find it playing so much with the rule "love your colors". Dark-light is one of the three main elements in a colour and by ruling all the rest out (thus by working only black/neutral grey/white), I find he puts realy a lot of emphasis on the importance of this rule and thus respects it very much. And that is a big part of its success, and that I find the beauty of it...

Good eleventh commendment also!

I can't think of a twelfth one right now, but maybe an additional tip to the "pancake", "base finishing" and the "balance" issues: try not to put your diorama on a flat plate. If the distance from the groundlevel to the tabletop is only a centimetre thick, it won't look right. The groundwork needs volume too, even if you have a flat steppe surface: it needs to balanc all the volumes that are on top of it. The solution is simple: just make your base as high as necessary to get a good balance. If you have a flat landscape, just make your base thicker. Even if you have a lot of different levels, don't start the lowest level right above the tables' surface. Figure painters understood a long time ago that a model on a high base presents much better, it's time armour modellers follow their lead...
Finishing your base in a style appropriate to the subject can also be a good idea.

Anyway, enough preaching, I have to learn still as much as anyone...

Best wishes,


PS: Warren, your site looks really promising, and I'd like to see more of your work soon!

PS: if anyone has some more commendments, I would be more than interrested in them!

 Respond to this message   

(no login)


April 12 2002, 7:02 AM 


I am about to finish sculpting my first cubist figure, and a surrealist dio is one of the dreams I really want to start on soon (I'm a big fan of Dali).

Stay away from these ideas!!! they're mine!!!


Of course I'm joking! It would be fantastic if someone would do this stuff. If it's before me, it can only bring inspiration!



 Respond to this message   

(no login)

No need to...

April 13 2002, 2:28 PM 

..worry Marijn.

My favorite artist is Rembrandt. Not only for his use of light and shadows but also for his use of body language.

Another one that comes to mind is Michelangelo for his soft transission.

Its my belief that a lot can be learned by studying classic art.

Janne Nilsson

 Respond to this message   

(no login)


April 15 2002, 2:53 AM 

I believe it would be really great if you could build something in the styles of these artists!

Did you see Mike Blanks' 90mm fiure at Euromilitaire or in the previous issue of "Figurines"? The face was very much inspired on a Rembrand panting by the sculptor, and it was painted likewise. Beautifull...

And how about Carravagio? His very dramatic use of light-dark contrasts would certainly make a very expressive model! His compositions are also certainly examples to follow.



 Respond to this message   

(no login)

Im not...

April 15 2002, 12:42 PM 

..sure which one your meaning. Is it:

or his White Models Cavalier:

Although Im not sure abour Mikes favorite artists, especially since he is much more knowledgeable in classic art than me. But its thanks to him I started studying them.

In addition I also use the work of Ron Volstad and Angus McBride for inspiration and trying to break down their paintings to see how they actually did when painting details, highlights, patterns and camoflage.

Janne Nilsson

 Respond to this message   

(no login)

the Cavalier

April 17 2002, 2:05 AM 

thanks for the links!

I meant the 1th century Cavalier: 2th link, third row on the left. A masterly painted piece... It is good to see how distinctive modelling styles can be.

He also inspired me a lot...


 Respond to this message   
Current Topic - Ten Commandments of a successful Diorama
  << Previous Topic | Next Topic >>Return to Index  

Terms and Conditions of Use
Report abuse