How To: Intro To Dioramas (Definition, Composition, And Design)

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Hey guys! In this video, I explain my philosophical “artistic theory” as applied to vignettes and dioramas. I love all kinds of scale modeling but at the end of the day- when I finish an AFV, I’ve got to at least put it on a bit of groundwork before I think it’s complete.

Vignettes and dioramas are very similar. If the definition of a diorama is just a 3D scene designed to transmit information to the viewer- wouldn’t a vignette qualify? One can almost use the term interchangeably until you roll into an IPMS competition. They have some definite qualifications to graduate beyond a vignette to a “true” diorama.

In my opinion, the only real difference is the amount of “story” that is portrayed to the viewer. This often involves figures- the “human element” that play the role of characters in that story. That being said, if one were to build a burned-out StuG in a ruined Berlin with no figures insight, the lack of a human element in what should normally be a bustling city center should be a story in and of itself.

Anyway- let me get into the elements of design in case you missed them in the video:

Line: Often used by the artist to portray a sense of movement through the work. Figures running and pointing, tanks with loaded suspension and antennas bent as they drive headlong into the wind. All can create interest that directs the viewer’s eye through the scene.

Shape: The brain likes to classify a scene into basic shapes. We want to keep this as subconscious as possible, we don’t want things to be too obvious, too parallel, too symmetrical, and too “perfect”. Even if it is a tree and a bush, we don’t want them unnaturally far apart from each other like a kid that doesn’t want their peas and mashed potatoes to touch. Especially when we could have them overlapping and obscuring each other, stacking shapes to only hint at their true form is a great way to layer interest and build depth, pulling the viewer into the work. The brain also likes triangles, and the line of the eye will follow that triangular shape in a cyclical pattern. A rectangle? Not as pleasing, the eye will scan it like reading a book.

Color: Now all of these are specific to the idea of a relationship between the modeler and the viewer through the medium of the work. So the question should be, “how can I use color to pull in interest and force the viewer to look where I want them to look?” For example, if putting a small child standing in front of a giant tank might not grab enough interest in a busy scene- try to make all the colors of a scene drab and dusty- then give that kid a red jacket. Bright colors like red are often used by artists to immediately pop out the subject of the work and pull in the viewer. Just like you don’t want to use a lot of “full strength” color, pure white, pure black- if you use something like a pure red, use it very sparingly and with purpose. Yes, a lot of Coke cans make sense in a Vietnam or Modern diorama. But use them as a color pop to draw attention to something as opposed to just scattering them around. Color can unintentionally distract if you’re not careful.

Textures: This is great for us because we can use actual texture! Unlike a 2D modeler, we can create 3D effects to represent all kinds of things, dust, water, plants, mud, smooth, rough, all of it- if the texture is there, it will catch the light naturally, you don’t have to try and replicate these textures with artistic tricks. Like color, use that texture to break up “negative space” and add interest, draw in the viewer with some depth, and make the scene feel real.

Value: This could probably also be called “Shade”. It is like color modulation from an artistic perspective. Use it to capture the light, lighting can be used to provide a level of realism and also like a spotlight on a theater stage. Darker values are shadows, they should be used in logical places, lighter values are highlights, they too should be used in logical places. Values can be specific to color (light brown and dark brown earth which we often associate with dry dust and wet mud), objects (light and dark parts of a tank showing how the light interacts), or with the overall scene (dense, dark forest or bright, barren desert). All about balancing a believable level of contrast and interest to pull in the viewer.

Space: “Positive” and “Negative”. This can simply be described as an area with an object or subject as opposed to an area without. The biggest thing to pay attention to is the negative space. Try and fill it with interest for the viewer to help keep them engaged. Various textures, different colors, little manmade shapes (discarded equipment, debris, etc.). A lot of negative space with no interest begs the question, “Why?”. Why even include it if “nothing” is there? Even a cobblestone street can have a manhole cover. And even a manhole cover can be propped open to hint at its subterranean purpose.

All about the illusion of scale and aesthetics. Up next: Story. See ya!

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