Top 5 Things for Successful Dioramas

A diorama, in my opinion, can be one of the hardest pieces for a modeler to work on. One must put a lot of effort and resources into building a scene, and of course, the larger the base typically the more complex it is. This is probably one of the reasons I don't see very many of them on show room floors. There are a lot of things the modeler has to get right in order to produce a successful diorama, and I've compiled a few of them into a short list. Let's see if you agree with me.
Here we go...


5. Vegetation. 

Unless your scene takes place within a ruined city-scape, than avoiding the use of foliage is almost impossible. There are a wide range of resources available to recreate trees and bushes, grasses and flowers, and some are better than others. In my old days, I used to think a little static grass and lichen would suffice, but its fair to say I was just kidding myself back then. Smaller amounts of vegetation can be recreated quite easily with static grass, or stiff brush bristles, but if you're looking for an acre or two of forest or jungle, it gets a little tougher. If you're going to include plants, they must look like plants. Its at that point where investing in some aftermarket plants will come in handy, unless you want to painstakingly scratch build your own. Fredericus Rex and Kamizukuri are probably two of the best photo etch paper foliage manufacturers out there. They can help you. 

Vietnam diorama containing very well done jungle foliage - via NAM Models

4. Varying the Groundwork.

Look outside and you'll see, for the most part, the environment changes a great deal even across relatively small spaces. Though the vast plains of the Russian steppe are an exception, its always nice to see a diorama that uses different features in the landscape. Take a look at the picture below. The builder has made use of so many different elements - foliage, dirt, rocks, water, and elevation. Yes, elevation helps move the eye about the scene, calling attention to certain areas. There is a time and place for flat and barren, but I prefer more interesting landscapes...


More photos can be found HERE

The most interesting feature in a diorama may be water. I can't go a day on Facebook without seeing a diorama that includes a water feature. Most of the time, they are fantastically done and I get jealous, ready to throw in the towel. If you can nail water, then you've pretty much got it made in the diorama department. I've only done water a handful of times, to a result I was somewhat pleased with. But what I'm capable of currently doesn't hold a candle to this example...
Water allows you to add so much more to a scene, almost a whole other dimension. Its an eye catcher for sure, especially if you submerge something in it. It doesn't even have to be that much water, but if you can vary the ground work, even with a puddle or two (as in the Vietnam diorama above), it will go a long way. If you can figure out water, it'll take your diorama to a whole new level, one I haven't quite reached yet...


3. The Characters.

This is probably the easiest thing to do, but one of the most important. A diorama is a basically a snap shot of an event. Within that snap shot are the characters playing out the scene. Characters can be anything from armor to figures depending on what you're trying to depict. Arguably, its the models within the diorama that have to be the most well represented. I can't say how many dioramas I've seen that have failed to capture my attention because the models fell short - exposed seams, silvering decals, etc. Having outstanding ground work marred by a mediocre tank will fall flat every time. It just won't look right. Like a child learning to walk, its best to crawl first. Nail the modeling basics first - construction, painting, weathering, etc - before diving into a more complex diorama.
Why do I say this?....

2. The Blend.

Because everything in the scene must blend seamlessly. Each aspect must be given the same amount of attention. All the elements must flow from one character to the next. Whatever state the ground work is in must be transferred to the models in the diorama. If there is mud on the road, the tracks of the Sherman should be muddy. Conversely, there should be little mud if the tank is rolling through a grassy field. If water is a prominent feature, make sure items are wet that need to be so. Too many times I've seen vehicles look out of place because their state didn't match their environment. If you look at the pictures above, you'll see what I mean. Look how the dirt and mud of the jungle floor essentially goes all the way up to the troops themselves. Blending all the aspects together makes for a good diorama.

1. The Story Line

All dioramas should have a clear story line of some kind. It can be simple, like the several you see above, but it has to be obvious. Getting the composition right is first and foremost important because you don't want viewers looking at all your hard work scratching their heads and wondering what the heck is going on here. Randomness just doesn't have its place in a diorama. You don't want to depict a dramatic battle scene and have one lone Panzer Grenadier standing to the side with his MG42 slung over his shoulder. That just wouldn't make much sense. Know your story before you build, and don't be afraid to amend a few things as you go. If you have a good story, be sure to tell it right.


So, that's it. My top five list of things that can really make a diorama pop. I will say that I haven't nailed all of these aspects, but I'd like to think I'm improving. I believe that these are always my goals going in to a build, though some remain elusive (water), I'll just keep practicing until I can get them down.
I hope you enjoyed the read, and if you've got anything to add or even disagree with, feel free to comment and let me know!

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