Composition is arguably the most important element in any diorama, or any work of art for that matter. It is the way all the elements are combined to form the whole. It is how ideas, and words are combined to form a well written essay. It is how ingredients compliment each other in a delicious culinary master piece. Without proper composition, the work suffers.
A diorama can be used to depict a three-dimensional, full sized or smaller scale scene or model. The word originated in France in the 1820's and means "through that which is seen". Most people should be familiar with the large scale dioramas on display in natural history museums which often exhibit stuffed exotic animals posed in their natural habitats. In a diorama or a vignette, one simply takes a model and displays it in its own environment, using elements like ground work, vehicles, or other figures to create a scene.
In scale modeling communities, it is accepted that a diorama is "a story-based display of figures or figures and vehicles on a landscaped base". Vignettes, on the other hand, do not have to tell a particular story. They can simply be a brief window of time, capturing a single image. For instance, my Micro AT-AT would be considered a vignette, as it includes ground work but no additional features to give it a story. One could argue that my more recent Yoda in the Hood is also more of a vignette than a diorama. It all depends on how you define a story.
Either way, if a diorama is to be story based, then you can see how composition is imperative. The characters, whether it is a vehicle, or a figure, must be displayed in such a manner that the story line is clear and visible. Random placement of objects on a base would be like incoherent rambling on a college paper that is due the next day. Everything must blend together, to leave no questions in the viewers mind. What is he looking at? Where are they going? What is that vehicle doing? Query's like that should not have to be voiced, the answer being immediately clear.
I have done several dioramas in my day. Not with action figures, but with 1/35 scale military figures. I was not skilled enough back then (or perhaps it was a question of will) to modify the figures to fit my needs. Instead, I based the composition of my dioramas on the poses the kit figures already had. If a guy was firing a rifle, I had to find room in my story for a guy firing a rifle, and so on. Action figures can be posed in many ways, depending on the quality of the figure. This has enabled me to change the position of the characters in my scene, very easily, without compromising the story I want to tell.
When I get a hold of an action figure, I already start to think about what I can do with him. What story can I tell? The composition starts to form, and the action figure can bend fluidly with every change I make. Then I decide on the other ingredients, like the ground work, and other figures, and it all starts to take shape. When I have decided on the final story line, I will configure the characters in the positions that I like, glue the joints and fill the seams, making them appear more life-like. Then the process of building the diorama can begin until the full tale is revealed.
Last night I spent around thirty minutes fiddling with the Master Chief and Elite Zealot, ensuring that their poses were just right, and the way they would play off each other made sense. The Master Chief, looking larger than life, standing tall over a fallen Zealot. The Zealot, reaching up in defiance. I hope you will enjoy how this one turns out!
Now, I can begin sealing and repainting these two combatants. Thanks for reading!