by Alan Trammel
COVID-19 is more than enough to cramp a photographer’s style. Events were cancelled, venues and parks closed, and people ruled out portraits so I needed a new creative outlet.
I have always been fascinated by dioramas in museums. Who builds those fascinating pieces? The amazing level of detail they have can be truly captivating. I decided a diorama would be a great project to build and photograph during the pandemic.
Now all I needed was a subject/theme and I didn’t have to look far. My nephews had a few 1/18 scale diecast cars sitting around so a garage diorama popped into my mind. I asked them if I could use the cars and after their usual thoughts of “what is crazy Uncle Alan up to now?” I was on my way home with a few cars.
I wasn’t that familiar with scaling but assessing these 1/18 scale cars I quickly realized this diorama was going to be pretty large. Because I live in a two bedroom condominium without a lot of extra space my dining room table was the only available real estate…good thing I never eat there.
Once I make a decision to do something I go ALL in. I immersed myself in diorama research online, watching YouTube videos and constantly brainstormed. I didn’t draw out a sketch or storyboard. I saved Google images of dioramas for inspiration and let a mental picture evolve in my mind.
I decided on a three-sided diorama with one side as a garage door façade. I constructed the walls to look like concrete blocks to shoulder height then concrete the rest of the way up. I also wanted the floor to look like concrete.
I found a Bessie Bakes gray concrete replicated backdrop for food and product photography on Amazon and it worked well as the concrete floor of a garage. It measures 2’x3’ and after laying it out on my kitchen table it seemed to be the perfect size.
Attention to detail is my middle name so I was prepared for the time necessary for accuracy in scale. I did Google searches to get the sizes of industrial doors, garage doors, windows and concrete blocks and then divided their measurements by 18 to get scaled measurements. I then created scaled templates.
Knowing that I wanted panels for the walls that could be removed providing different camera angles, led me to choose foam boards from the hobby store. After laying out the horizontal lines for the concrete blocks I used my concrete block template to hand trace each block.
I hand cut and carved the mortar joints for the look of realism. I peeled away the top layer of paper as I cut each block which gave a nice rough look.
Next it was time to cut out the doors and windows. Cutting out the door and garage door openings and then inserting actual doors back in made for a more realistic look than if I just pasted them on top of the foam board.
I wasn’t sure yet how I was going to create the glass for the windows but I knew they would need some framing. A piece of black foam from the hobby store was perfect and could also be used for the door and garage door casing.
Now I needed something to cover the corners where the wall panels meet. Concrete columns came to mind and a piece of green foam insulation board from my nearest home improvement store was the answer. I cut pieces sized to run from the floor to the top of the walls.
At this point I had all the rough pieces and wanted to get a sense of my scaling to see if it was on point. I purchased a 3.75” (1/18 scale figure) Star Wars Black Series Sandtrooper.
I laid out the wall section with doors and concrete pillars, placing the figure in the doorway. Things were looking pretty good.
Now it was time to put my artist hat on. Turning these rough pieces into diorama art took hours of painting and trial and error. YouTube is a great source for diorama painting techniques. I chose to do all my painting in my living room floor while watching TV. Here is what the starting pile looked like.
Acryllic paint is the go to paint for a project like this. It’s inexpensive, easy to use and cleans up with water.
I started out with the concrete block sections on the panels. It took several attempts before I got the layering technique down for the look I wanted.
Once this tedious work was done I decided to roll the walls.
An unforeseen problem arose after the paint dried. The foam boards warped pretty severely. At this point I had put quite a few hours in and certainly didn’t want to start over. I got my shirt steamer out and steamed the boards. After a few minutes of gentle steaming the boards straightened enough for me to place them under a few heavy books. I was able to straighten them about 95% back to normal.
Next it was on to the concrete pillars and garage door.
With so much gray between the walls, the pillars and the garage door I really needed some color. I found several pictures of garages that had safety stripes painted on the concrete pillars. Which I replicated using painters tape. This detail took several days while allowing paint to dry in between.
Now my diorama was really coming together. I still felt I needed more color inside the garage and remembered seeing some wood trim strips at the hobby store. I thought these would make great pieces for accent trim so I went back and purchased them. I also purchased some red paint as I really wanted a contrasting color.
Now it was time to start assembling the walls panels. For this type of project tacky glue is the only way to go. It’s like Elmer’s glue but about ten times as thick.
For the window glass I settled on some clear plastic packaging that was fairly rigid. I used white paint with water to give it a frosted look.
Now it was time to really get serious about the details. I decided I wanted electrical panels with conduit running to electrical outlets, light switches, fire pulls, an exit sign and a garage door opener control. A Google search provided a template for 1/18 scale outlets, exit signs, and warning signs that I printed out. Cutting these out with an Xacto knife was very tedious work.
I used spare packing foam and left over foam pieces from the wall build to make the electrical panels, outlets, fire pulls and garage door control. I painted them their appropriate colors gluing the paper templates on top.
For the electrical conduit I found some tiny dowel rods at my local craft store that I painted with metallic paint.
With all these items painted and assembled it was now time to install them. I searched for more images of electrical panels and commercial garages to see how things are laid out. I stared with the fire pulls first, then the electrical panels and outlets.
Next I moved to the exit sign and garage door opener control. I left a few of the outlets without any templates glued on to serve as junction boxes.
The last detail I decided to add was a section of industrial piping. I found a nice drinking straw set on Amazon that I thought would replicate the pipes.
I laid out the straws to run up the whole wall.
I picked the wall opposite the garage door and decided a deep blue color would make a really nice contrast.
Let’s assemble this garage!
This diorama turned out great! I set it on a raised platform made from boxes and used full water bottles set behind the wall panels to hold them up. The only thing left was to furnish it with garage accessories. The 1/18th scale is a very popular scale among diecast collectors. Ebay is full of accessory sets from toy companies and also handmade accessories from very talented artist.
Giorgetti Handmade Scale Accessories makes some really quality pieces.
Here is another Ebay find.
All the accessories really brought the overall look together.
Now I can spend 2021 photographing this garage diorama.
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