Dioramists: Modeling A New World?

The Starlight Jazz Club (part of the LA Ford 1950s dealership diorama project)

NOTE: Before reading below, press play on the music at end of this post … then scroll back up to here to start reading it while Chico’s Stella By Starlight is playing in the background.


By John Fraim

The power of production in our modern culture of consumption.

This is the basic duality symbol model making is all about.

The power of personal production aligns model-makers with other artists, musicians, filmmakers and craftspeople.

There are various levels of production in making models. A large part of model makers build from preformed kits. The group divides into cars, planes, ships and military modeling to a large extent. Within these large classifications are breakouts of year limit for the models as well as various scales and competition categories. Master modeler class. Youth class. There are many breakdowns of model categories with a large model organization like the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS) which I recently joined. Within the categories there are various degrees of building models from adding of “kitbashing” a model with a mix of parts from another/other models.  Some of the top modelers are often scratch builders of a large part of a model: casting their own pieces; cutting plastic strips and pieces of balsa wood together.

The Suspension of Professor Galaxy

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Perhaps the most creative group of modelers today are a new group of diaramists, or scene makers.

his article is about the display. For other uses, see Diorama (disambiguation).

Near life-size diorama of the Monpa people at the Jawaharlal Nehru Museum, Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh, India

The Exhibition Lab’s Gorilla diorama at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
The word diorama /ˌdaɪəˈrɑːmə/ can either refer to a 19th-century mobile theatre device, or, in modern usage, a three-dimensional full-size or miniature model, sometimes enclosed in a glass showcase for a museum. Dioramas are often built by hobbyists as part of related hobbies such as military vehicle modeling, miniature figure modeling, or aircraft modeling.[citation needed]

The power of personal production and creation is employed at full power when one considers creating a diorama.

I Think I Can Team (At Winter Olympics)

Dioramas have been around for a long time as modelers have been placing their models in a particular contextual environments for years.

Yet a new form of diorama is emerging that mixes personal, social, cultural, historical and media elements together.

At the same time, a diorama that utilizes modern technology within it. Like Bluetooth speakers or LED lighting.

Dino World

Its interesting that there is such a strong connection between dioramists and film set designers, art directors, cinematographers, directors and screenwriters. Generally, all filmmaking relates to creating these powerful images/scenes within the viewer/audience’s mind. Leading edge diorarmist go further than the world of filmmaking and show a strong link within their dioramas to the social, cultural and psychological events of the times.

The key images of the present world attached to the key elements of this present world. An image attached to thing. The work of a true artist. The new artist of the modern world. Dioramic Modeling. A new word encompassing a fairly broad category within the world of the IPMS that has so many segments in it.

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Yet the ultimate goal of a diorama (it seems to me) is not to define a story but rather to suggest a story. A great diorama suggests an evocotive image in Act I not a defining image in Act III.

In effect, a great diorama is what Marshall McLuhan would have defined as part of “medium cool” calling for the viewer’s participation in the media … in the diorama scene.

Much of the pathway to these new types of dioramas has been already carved by diorama artists such of Francis Glessner Lee of Harvard and Gregory Crewdson of Yale. Lee created a set of approximately twenty diorama scenes involving crimes with clues in them. The dioraramas are still used ast CSI training tools. And Gregory Crewdson has expressed his own type of dioramas in elaborately staged and lighted photographic scenes. Some, taking days to set up.

The great dioramas and dioramists ask questions rather than provide answers. They provide clues rather than answers in their dioramas. They expand outward rather than contract inward. They require two-way interactive communication/participation (digital media, Internet) rather than one-way broadcast communication (TV networks, newspapers, magazines).

It is in the interaction of the “cool” media of these new types of dioramas that new worlds are modeled and shaped. The diorama allows its creator to play out in three dimensions something that he/she needs to let out to the world. In the form of a miniature scene in some particular scale most likely.

Ethyl’s Service Station

MGM Backlot Activity (part of the LA Ford 1950s dealership diorama project)

Desert Rat

Bedroom View – Francis Glessner Lee

Gregory Crewdson “Untitled” (staged photographic scene)



(John is working on a book – white paper? – related to the above)


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