by Phil Lister
One of the most interesting aspects of figure modeling, is creating a diorama or realistic setting for them. While there are many different techniques and materials to use, I have found that Styrofoam insulating material works great. It�s easy to cut into different sizes and shapes and even comes in different thicknesses. I go to my neighborhood home improvement center and buy the long 24" X 8' X 3/4" sections and that usually will last me for several good size projects. The stuff I buy is pink, but sometimes it�s blue. This corresponds to the "R" or insulating value, and it does come in different densities. The denser the better. Foam works great for stone walls and floors. It�s also ideal for rocky terrain and cave walls. You simply cut the foam to whatever size you may need and using a hot wire cutter, Dremel tool or soldering iron carve or cut irregular patterns, grooves or mortar lines into it.
Say you want to create a stone wall and floor for your latest Dracula figure:First, determine the size and shape of your base. Then, cut the foam to the desired size. Using 5 minute epoxy or Elmer�s white glue, attach both the floor and wall section together. : When the glue is dry, begin by first carving or cutting the horizontal mortar lines. This is the easiest way to start, since the line pattern is consistent. Next, carve or cut the vertical lines, but stagger or alternate them into a stone pattern. Next, take a ball of aluminum foil and roll this all over the "stone". I also use a Dremel fitted with sanding drum or a cone-shaped grinding bit and bounce it all over the foam to create irregularities in the surface. Make these irregularities rather deep. Now for the messy part! You�re going to need some DURHAM�S WATER PUTTY. This stuff is sold at most home centers and hardware stores. It comes in a 1lb can, a 5lb can and a 55 gallon drum! No kidding! It�s a fine yellowish powder that when mixed with water, hardens into a kind of plastic which is as the label says "Rock Hard"! You�ll find it where they have the plaster and joint compound. Mix according to directions, except, I will usually mix it a little on the thin side, but not too thin! This makes it easier to brush it on. Using a 1 �" or 2" paintbrush, apply the mixture over the stone. Cover the entire area thoroughly. Now this stuff sets up fast, so work carefully but work as fast as you can! If it starts to thicken in the bowl, I will wash it out in the toilet bowl to make sure I don�t clog the narrow sink drains! Be sure to mix plenty of water with it to dilute it good! You don�t want a clogged toilet drain! While the coating on the foam is still damp, sprinkle some powdered Durham�s onto the stone surface for texture. Before the Durham�s sets up completely, go back and re-carve any mortar lines that may have been filled in when you applied the mixture. Let the whole thing dry good overnight. Determine your color choices and go nuts painting!
As I said, while there are many different ways of creating stone or rock, this method provides you with a very convincing look. Best of all, it�s very lightweight yet rather strong!
1. When cutting, rub some paraffin wax onto the saw or knife blade. This keeps the foam from jamming and crumbling.
2. For gray stone, begin by basing it in black or dark gray. Then dry-brush using a lighter shade of gray working up to an off white. Air-brush some dark lines tracing the mortar lines. This adds a very interesting look and makes the mortar lines look darker.
3. If you can�t find DURHAM�S WATER PUTTY, you can use gesso, or acrylic modeling paste. Both items are available at most art and craft stores.
4. I use a Dremel machining bit or a soldering iron to cut mortar lines. Make sure you have plenty of ventilation when melting it with a soldering iron. DON�T BREATHE THE FUMES!
THEY ARE TOXIC!
5. When assembling sections of foam together, use round toothpicks. These work great to reinforce the joints and help hold the parts together until dry.
The Gremlins in the Garage webzine is a production of Firefly Design. If you have any questions or comments please get in touch.
Copyright � 1994-1997 Firefly Design.
Diorama: A Tutorial, Part 1 of 4
Personally one of the most frustrating parts of toy photography is finding an appropriate setting to place my figures. Regardless of whether one hunts high and low for a setting, or uses compositing to merge toys with background plates, there is always a compromise. I had come to peace with the idea of living with this compromise, then I came across a game changer: the diorama.
If you are not familiar with the term, a diorama is a scaled down but otherwise accurate model of a scene in the real world. If you have ever seen a model railroad layout with all of its scaled down landscapes, buildings and town folk, you know what a diorama is.
Dioramas come in all shapes and sizes. Some are very simple, and some are incredibly complex. The complex ones can take weeks or even months to make, and cost hundreds of dollars in material. But simple dioramas can be made in just a few hours. Not to mention that in these social distance global pandemic times, they’re a great way to create new worlds without having to go out in public.
This series of posts will serve as a tutorial for making a simple diorama that will act as a setting for a scene that is hard to recreate any other way. The diorama should be able to be completed in an afternoon, and cost only a few dollars in parts and materials.
Without further ado, let’s begin.
A confidence boost
We are all different people with different artistic skills. If you are someone who doesn’t feel they are not good building things and painting things, and find the idea of building your own diorama intimidating, let me reassure you I had the same reservations.
I personally consider myself to have relatively poor fine motor skills, so I don’t consider working with tools and paints something I am good at. This is based on 45 years of life experience. If someone suggested a year ago that I would be making my own dioramas, and they turned out half-decent, I would have laughed in your face.
Then I stumbled across a channel on YouTube called Black Magic Craft. It features a Dungeons & Dragons DM that builds practical elements (tiles, houses etc.) for his D&D campaigns. When I saw how simple, and forgiving, the techniques were, and the amazing results he got, I decided to give it a try.
My point is that if I can do it, odds are you can, too. You never know until you try.
Before building the diorama, the first step is to decide what to build. I had purchased a Silent Bob action figure, and it arrived just as I was starting to think of a new diorama. Silent Bob is famous for hanging out on the side of old brick buildings. This is a screen shot from one of the movies he is in:
It is a fairly simple scene, and would make a decent beginner project, so this tutorial will recreate this scene. Since I already have a Silent Bob figure, I just need to build the wall and ground.
The next question is how accurate do I want to be? The wall is pretty simple, but it has some unusual details. I like the two-tone grey, and the horizontal line between the two tones, so I will include that. I am not crazy about the dark grey vertical element, so I think I am going to leave that part out.
Also, the painted sign on the wall is likely outside my abilities to paint in real life. So I am going to add my own graphic as an element in Photoshop. Also, by keeping the wall generic, I can use it in other shots.
Tools and materials
If you want to follow along, you will need some tools and materials.
Tools you will need:
* Sharp utility knife
* Straight-edge ruler
* Optional but helpful: carpenter’s square ruler
* Paint brushes
* Fine tip Sharpie pen (any colour)
* ballpoint pen (any colour)
Materials you will need:
* Paint: matte black, matte dark grey, matte white acrylic paint, (optional: burnt umber)—I use the Apple Barrel brand, which comes from Walmart, and costs less than a dollar a bottle. So any cheap craft paint will do.
* White glue: Any white glue will work. I use Elmer’s White Craft Glue, and Aileene’s Tacky Glue. Just ensure that it dries clear.
* Tin foil (optional)
* Matte Mod Podge (optional)
* Masking tape
* 1/2 cup sand
* Insulating styrofoam board, 1″ to 2″ thick
* Cardboard—almost anything will do, like from that pile of Amazon boxes you have lying around from all your recent quarantine purchases. (If you don’t have any, you can use more foam board.)
The foam is the tricky bit to explain. What you need is XPS, or extruded polystyrene foam. This is the foam that is used for insulation in construction products, and often comes in pink or green. You don’t want the styrofoam made from compressed pellets that often comes in electronic packaging. The pellets do not hold impressions, and get everywhere. The extruded polystyrene sticks together when cut.
I get my foam board from Lowes. The annoying thing is it comes in 4′ x 8′ boards, which is way more than I need. On the upside, that board costs $25-35 USD depending on thickness, and I can make a couple dozen dioramas with it. Foam products are not universal, so if you don’t live in North America you will have to find your local equivalent.
Now that the concept is established , and the tools and materials are collected, construction of the diorama can begin. Starting with the wall, which is made out of the foam board. Not wanting to be wasteful, I want to make the wall just slightly bigger than what I need to fill the camera frame.
I start by measuring the Silent Bob figure:
Note that I am going to be working in centimeters. You can work with inches if you want. However I find working with base 10 numbers much easier. If you want to work with inches, just know that 1 inch = 2.54 centimeters (though for mental math use 2.5—measurement accuracy isn’t super important here; hand-waving and estimation often suffice).
Silent Bob is, basically, 18cm tall. I want to leave some headroom in the final shot, so I’ll make the total wall height 24cm high. If I use an 3 x 4 format for the final image, the wall needs to be 32cm wide.
So our first official action is to cut out a 24cm by 32 cm piece of foam.
Note that if you are like me and are not super confident in your ability to cut straight lines through thick foam, simply add a bit to the outside edges to account for any slop in the cut. Also ensure that the bottom side uses the factory edge of the foam to ensure it is straight. The bottom side is the only part that needs to be perfectly straight. The rest of the edges will be out of frame, so how it looks is irrelevant.
Determining the brick pattern
Making bricks are easy. They can simply be drawn in with a pen. It doesn’t matter the colour of the pen, since that will be covered up by paint. What matters here is the impression left in the foam by pressing the pen along it when the brick pattern is drawn.
Looking at the photo it looks like Silent Bob is 20 bricks tall. Since he’s 18cm tall, that makes an annoying decimal. To make life easy I am going to make our diorama use bricks sized to 1cm tall.
In reality, bricks can be any shape and size you want, however to make life easy I tend to make my bricks twice as wide as they are tall. So our bricks will be 1cm x 2cm.
Drawing the bricks
Begin by drawing the horizontal lines. I do this by starting at the bottom edge and marking up every 1cm until I get to the top. Doing this on the left side, right side and middle will ensure the lines are really straight.
Then using a ruler and the fine Sharpie, draw a line to connect those dots.
I am told the purpose of the fine sharpie is that the ink melts the foam a bit, allowing the pen to go deeper into the foam. You want this to be at least a millimeter deep, so don’t be afraid to make two or three passes with the pen on each line.
When all the horizontal lines are drawn, the vertical lines can be added. If you look at the reference photo, the bottom row is concrete, not bricks, so on my diorama I am going to leave the bottom row unmarked.
Starting on the second row, measure horizontally every two centimeters. Repeat the process for the top row. Then start drawing vertical lines between the rows, skipping every other row.
When finished you should have alternating rows, one of brick, one blank. Don’t worry if you made a mistake during this. They may not even be noticeable in the final product (I made several, see if you can spot em). If they are noticeable, then just remember that we’re creating a diorama of an old brick building. Old buildings have stories. I just make my mistakes a part of my building’s story, giving it more character.
Now go back to the third row, and measure out every 2cm, offset exactly halfway between the lines on the second row. So if the first row had marks at 0cm, 2cm, 4cm, etc., the third row would have marks at 1cm, 3cm, 5cm, etc.
Repeat this process on the second row from the top. Then draw in the vertical lines, skipping every other row. The pattern should end up looking very brick-wall-ish—like this:
Enhancing the bricks
This gives us a nice brick pattern with fine lines. I like a slightly thicker line between my bricks. To accomplish this I take a ball point pen, and trace over each line. The wider pen nib serves to widen the lines.
When I trace the bricks, I often round the corners to make the bricks look older. I may also add a few extra lines that look like cracks. Don’t be too exact. Bricks age differently, and the randomness you add by not being exact just sells the idea that these are real bricks.
That is enough for one post. We have a brick wall, but it isn’t pretty. Part 2 will cover how to seal and paint the bricks. I’ll also cover how to put on that horizontal wall detail.
Parts 3 and 4 will cover making the ground, and finally adding in some finishing touches to crerate extra realism and bring everything together in one final piece that is ready for the camera.
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Once upon a time Dave stepped out of the box and created something new. That worked out in his favour so he kept going. Now he is the founder and creative force behind Studio Dave. True story. Check out his new YouTube channel.
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Introduction: Make a Diorama Using Foam
Make a picture perfect Diorama using Extruded foam from your local hardware store and some modeling supplies! This diorama is 1:87th scale, or as it's better known, HO scale.
Extruded Foam Sheeting (Hardware Store)
Thin Wood Sheet (Masonite scrap, plywood)
Modeling Grass (Hobby Shop)
Modeling Trees (Hobby Shop)
Green Paint (I used Latex wall paint, however better paints are available)
Ready-made Road (Hobby shop)
Ready-made Building (Truck depot in HO scale from local Hobby Shop)
Glue(either Scenery Glue from Woodland Scenics, foam glue from a craft shop, or Liquid Nails from a hardware store)
Accents(cars, telephone poles available at Hobby Shop)
You can find the Grass, Trees, and Ready-Made supplies at most craft stores or Hobby shops. I got my supplies from a local hobby shop. If you want to order the supplies online, A good site is www.modeltrainstuff.com. They provide tons of materials for dioramas and model train layouts. Browse scenery and different scale buildings to match your dioramas needs.
Foam Knife (Woodland Scenics, Hobby shop)
Sandpaper (rough grit for terraforming, fire for sanding wooden base, hardware store)
Hot Foam Cutter (Hobby Shop, Craft Store)
Step 1: Base Foam Layer
Lay the foam sheet on your workbench and use your wood sheet as a template to cut it out. Use the glue to attach the 2 pieces of material.
Step 2: Layout Building and Road
Layout your building and roads to match what you would like for your finished product. Outline them with a sharpie so that you don't remove any foam where they will be, or add foam where they will be.
Step 3: Terraforming
Now that there is an outline for the buildings, we can shape out our terrain to what we would like. For this Instructable, I am going to have a downward slope on the opposite side of the road from the building and a hill behind the building. Using a Hot Foam Cutter will make the process quicker, but isn't necessarily needed. After shaping with the cutter, use sandpaper or a wire brush to scrape away the terrain to a natural feel. Vacuum this up often as the foam creates a huge mess if unchecked.
Step 4: Paint the Town Green
Using some green paint, thoroughly cover the foam terrain. Use a normal brush and make sure you get into all the cracks and dips so that no white (or blue) foam is able to be seen. There is no need to paint where the building or road will sit, but overlapping them will result in a cleaner finished product.
Step 5: Time for Grass
While the paint is still wet, cover the terrain with modelers grass. A good tip is to use an old spice shaker. This will help keep the flow of grass steady and even. Cover only where you painted. Use other types of grass and dirt if desired to change the terrain texture.
If you want your grass to stand the test of time better, you can use scenic cement from Woodland Scenics. I use this product heavily on my layout, so I had extra cement sitting around. Spray it in a spread pattern on your grass from about 2 feet away. Do this with the diorama on a shop floor or outside to that cement that misses the diorama doesn't ruin your floor.
Step 6: Roads and Buildings
Once the grass is on the terrain, it's time to put the buildings and roads back onto the diorama. Add glue to the back of the roads using a paint brush. Stick them to the diorama and weigh them down if needed. To get blank pavement like in the parking lots of the diorama shown, simply flip the road over and treat the bottom as the top and vice versa!
Adding the building is a simple as placing it where it belongs. You can glue the building down if you so desire (I did not because I was borrowing the building from my model train layout.)
Step 7: Final Touches
Now that the major components are finished on the diorama, the next step is to add trees and other accents. These can be found at most hobby shops. It is possible to construct your own trees using kits or natural materials from around your house, but ready-made trees are available. Adding cars and telephone poles helps to set the time era that your are trying to replicate.
You can use these skills to build dioramas of any kind and any size.
The final picture is a picture of my model train layout, which contains the same style of terrain that is shown in this instructable!
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