Scenes In Miniature (Oct, 1940)

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Scenes In Miniature

Hints on constructing small dioramas for home decorations, window displays, and advertising or educational purposes

IF YOU were able to visit the New York World’s Fair, you must have been impressed by the lavish use throughout the entire exhibition of large and small dioramas or miniature scenes. In almost every building these have been used to portray outstanding events, methods of manufacture, historic places, and all kinds of information in vivid, colorful, three-dimensional form.

Whether it was an old-fashioned stagecoach stopping before an inn, a modern Coast Guard vessel on patrol, a blast furnace in operation, a series of historical views like the “Forward March of America,” or something as huge as the “City of Light” and “Railroads in Action,” these scenes were startling in their reality. They were illuminated by hidden lights, and some even showed the same scene under various lighting effects, such as dawn to dawn—all so beautifully done that you felt you were looking at a Lilliputian world. These dioramas imitate life far better than any picture because there is depth to them. Their natural power to attract attention has made them extremely popular for window displays and advertising, and as permanent exhibits in museums, schools, and libraries.

As you looked at them, you may have wondered whether you could build similar models on a small scale as ornaments or for advertising or educational purposes. You can. By using the methods shown in the accompanying illustrations, you will find it comparatively easy to duplicate scenes like those just mentioned, or others of your own choosing. Bear in mind, however, that the sketches and measurements are examples chosen to show the general principles of the art and are not intended to be copied in their entirety for any one diorama. Details vary in each case. You will notice that there are two kinds of dioramas, one with a square or flat background and the other with a curved background. The latter is used when the effect of distance or a far horizon is required. The former is more appropriate for objects closer at hand.

After you have decided upon the subject of your first diorama—and it is suggested that you make the first one rather simple— begin with a baseboard or floor. It can be of thin three-ply wood. Cut it to shape, square or semicircular, as required by the subject you have chosen. If it is semicircular, drill the holes for the wire frame. In either case, a piece of wood must be beveled off and placed beneath the base as shown to give the desired incline.

Next, the background is put on the baseboard. It is either plywood, for the square type, or wire screen and papier machce for the spherical type. Be careful to leave enough space for the frame of glass and wood. When this work has been completed, you may start to place the scenery and subjects inside.

It must be remembered that all the subjects making up the scene should appear to have depth. A feeling of distance must be obtained. The objects in the foreground are always larger than those in the background, and the colors closest to the eye are always the brightest. All subjects must be . cut so they slope toward the rear to give the correct perspective.

A few of the materials you can use are illustrated, but many other odds and ends will come in useful. Model airplane cement is suitable for all gluing purposes.

Ordinary plate glass, together with cardboard, wood, dowels, or strips of wood, form an excellent frame for the finished diorama. It’s a good idea to place a length of felt between the glass and the set to prevent dust from getting in. The frame may be glued and nailed directly to the base, and the top may be left open to allow the glass front to be removed. Provide a secure fastening at the top.

The lighting is easily arranged. Ordinary Christmas-tree or radio pilot-light sockets may be used. Avoid, however, pointed Christmas-tree bulbs, which are likely to show below the frame. Various colored lights will give different effects and indicate the time of the day. It is even possible, with the use of a small motor and a suitable rheostat, to have the lighting change automatically.

Reflectors should be used with all lamps. The center lights should be tilted backward for best results, and the other lights set at any angle you wish.

Two methods of making the subjects move are also suggested in the drawings, but these, too, should be attempted only after considerable experience has been acquired in constructing dioramas.

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