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Malcolm: The Last Dinosaur

The Last Dinosaur

“Latest blog below on dioramas. About one I’m doing now. Political stuff lurking in it. But mainly cultural criticism of American branding and marketing everything. Politics is little more than ‘messages’ in the great ‘medium’ of the culture at a particular point in history. Here, this is experienced through the perspective of a 1950s tourist trap on Route 66. Our family went to a lot of these in the 50s. Working to complete the diorama. My most ambitious yet.” John Fraim (3/28/18)

A few months ago, I was going through the model section at Michaels and discovered a family of O scale people and two baby dinosaurs coming out of their eggs.  Maybe O scale in size. The silver eggs about six feet large with two purple baby dinosaurs with long necks coming out of the eggs. Rising a scale twelve feet or so into the air. I bought the family and the baby dinosaurs. I went back to the studio and wrote down an idea for a diorama based called The Last Dinosaur. The father and his son would be looking at the “last dinosaur” behind a great iron fence over 30′ tall. A gothic black bottom to the fence and a steel upper part with a sign on it that says, “Beware of Live Voltage.” Off to the side of the diorama, the mother and her daughter look outside the gates of the area that area that holds the “last dinosaur” at the hatching of two baby dinosaurs. I left things pretty much at that and went on to other projects.

In the meantime, I created a number of small dioramas in no more than a day or two. I also spent half a day on the Boxdiorama site reading about all the modelers on the site and looking at their work. I bought and read two modeling books during this time: an out-of-print book by Ray Anderson called The Art of Diorama (1988) and a current book on dioramas Building Dioramas by Chris Mrosko (2014). Except for larger projects (the I Think I Can Team and Professor Galaxy, everything was done with the quick syncopated improvision of a jazz piece. Most done in a few hours. Some days, two or more made. I wasn’t willing to spend months on a project like many of the master modelers I’ve learned about in the past few months. I needed to create quick pieces at this time it seemed to me. I certainly had no patience for one project that took six months or a year to complete. I considered the ideas I had for dioramas (expressed on the Diorama Page of this site). I wrote them down and put them in the second part of the Diorama Page. The dioramas I completed were in the first part of the Diorama Page. In order they were created so that a particular visual chronology might be possible.

But The Last Dinosaur was never far from my mind. I couldn’t understand its perpetual attraction but knew that many symbols were involved in the whole vision of The Last Dinosaur diorama. I’ve documented this strange artistic voyage began last January in over 34,000 words in a journal tentatively Image Studios. Much of the journal tracks the posts on this Midnight Oil site in January, February and March. It has a title page with a lot of things battling for inclusion:


Diorarmas: Synesthesia & Synchronicity

Diaramitcs. Modelogy. Media sculptures. Miniature Zeitgeists.

Jungian Psychology.

Individual / Collective Psycho Dioramas

Historical Exploration/A Personal Anthropology?

New Art Forms & Genres?

Production Versus Consumption

Dioramas As Works of Art? Museums?

Dioramas As Tools For Discovery?

“Hands to work. Hearts to God.” (The Shakers)

This title page was written two months ago and I would be able to refine it more by now. But no time to go back and correct the journal now. Just time to add to it. And, little time to do this with the new dioramas being built and the ones waiting to be built. An artist has a particular “palette” to work with (materials assembled at a particular time). I have boxes of collected things as well as the ideas for dioramas like The Last Dinosaur. I consider this my palette.

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In the back of my mind, all this time, large project like the Jack Fraim Ford diorama and the Berkeley jazz station diorama are still in mind. Along with ideas for the other dioramas in the idea stage. All the time playing around with scales and various methods of storytelling with dioramas, using the latest technology such as high dynamic range photography against downloaded background images downloaded from the Internet as well as Bluetooth sounds and the latest LED technology.

The type of diorama we’re creating does not fit into any of the standard categories. A few months ago, I joined my local chapter of the International Plastic Modelers Society (IPMS) and went to their big annual show in January and then a meeting in March. The IPMS does not seem to have a lot of interest in dioramas but my little diorama “Drain the Swamp” was accepted to be in the Gallery of the IPMS Journal so I was pleased with this development. But at the meeting of the Columbus chapter of the IPMS, it was obvious that kit modeling particular areas such as military vehicles, airplanes, ships and cars were the major areas of interest for the club members.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the greatest diorama creators were collected on the website Boxdioramas. This site features the work from the Military Miniature Society of Illinois. This was the much closer to the type of dioramas I was interested in then the IPMS. Yet it was frustrating because it seemed a requirement for box dioramas was the ability to create figures. Almost all the great dioramists were experts at modeling figures. I stay away creating figures and simply buy ones from Woodland Scenics. I model most things in HO scale of 1/87th (8′ to an inch) because the faces are no more than a blob as it is impossible to get the detail of the master modelers who create in 1/24th scale. I need to keep my figures small to hide the fact they all have blank faces.

Route 66 (note color of pavement and rough – unlined – edges of the road and the surrounding desert, mountains always in the background)

I took the ideas for The Last Dinosaur yesterday and began playing with it. It seemed that the symbolism of the diorama was more than I thought before. Now, the family was gone altogether and it became a symbol of the old tourist traps along the Route 66 I travelled with my family in the 50s. The scene is somewhere in the Southwest desert, 300 miles from Los Angeles as a sign by the highway in the diorama says. A huge sign dominates the diorama. It is a sign for the tourist trap that attempts to lure drivers to see the dinosaur. There is a small parking lot and a souvenir shop. One car is in the parking lot and a sole person looks at the dinosaur behind the massive iron fence. The car is a brown and tan Chevy from the mid-50s. The souvenir shop has seen better days and is cracked on the outside with crumbling walls. There is a sign posted on the iron fence to the right of the man looking at the dinosaur. It reads: “Malcom is the last dinosaur. The world is finally free of these demons we’ve battled for years.”

Basic Layout/Compostion – The Last Dinosaur

Today, I laid out the major components of the dioama on a piece of plywood. The “last dinosaur” is in the NW quadrant of the diorama while the hatching dionosaurs are in the SE quadrant. The souvenir shop is in the SW quadrant and a parking lot, Route 66 and some hills separate the old dinosaur and the new ones.

There are things to gain from modeling dioramas in HO scale. More landscape can be incorporated into the diorama. The danger is that too much landscape will be incorporated. There needs to be a balance. Many of the larger dioramas are seen from a distance. In The Last Dinosaur, the viewer is looking down on this space from about 75′ (scale) feet away or 8 – 10 inches. Looking at a piece of earth 200′ by 100′ from about 50 to 75′ over the diorama. Hovering like a drone. Tring to make out what this diorama (symbol) is trying to tell us. There is that sign on the iron fence written about the world being free of these “demons.” What type of world are we in? A parallel one that started in the mid-50s? When there was a great battle with dinosaurs? What about a sign on the highway that reads: “Repent! The Dinosaurs Are Coming Back.” And, in the bottom SE part of the diorama, the two hatchlings dinosaurs buried to anyone’s view so far in the hills near the “last dinosaur.”

Malcolm The Dinosaur Brand

Malcolm Brand Used In the Big Highway Sign

Of course there is the irony of the scene only the viewer can see. Yet beyond the irony, the diorama seems a tribute to America’s grand roadside salesmenship. In order to do this, I felt it necessary to create a particular logo for the tourist trap. I shot a photo of the dinosaur against a neo orange background with my iPhone and edited it in the Pro Camera App. Then I pasted it into Page on the Mac and created the large roadsign sign with the image saying: “You’ve Arrived! The Last Dinosaur.” In effect, the viewer is the one who has really just arrived. The logo of Malcolm the dinosaur is repeated on materials around the tourist trap. The Last Dinosaur diorama continues to evolve.

Branding Around the Tourist Trap

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What genre of diorama is evolving in all of this? Is a new genre called for? Or does this all fit into some form already out there? It is an unusual form of diorama creation. Not based on building model kits but scratch-building things or using premade object if appropriate. A trip to Michaels, Hobby Lobby or JoAnne’s Fabrics is becoming much more interesting than trips to hobby stores. The kits come from the hobby stores. But scratch-building materials come from the hobby/craft stores above.

The type of diorama that’s been evolving is not one based on building kits but rather arranging objects – both purchased and created. In the situation of The Last Dinosaur, it is using palm trees from Woodland Scenics, a dinosaur from the German company Schleich, a man from Woodland Scenics, a parking lot from a German company I’m just using for planning only, a car (purchased from the Train Station here in Columbus). The fence materials from Hobbyland store in Columbus. The scenery mostly using Woodland Scenics materials but also desert sand from the European company AK. Bushes from a stick-on sheet from another European company.

Just what form (genre) of dioramas are we making?

Are there genres in dioramas like there are in films and literature?

Should there be?

All questions, questions and more questions.

But for now, I’ve got to go down into the basement and see if the flat black and aluminum paint is dry on Malcom the dinosaur’s large fence.

It contains the “last dinosaur” but there is much outside of it that it cannot contain.

The branding of the “last dinosaur” is one thing the fence cannot contain.

It cannot contain the branding (soon) of the young dinosaur hatchings we view in the bottom SE corner of the diorama.

Not long from now, we might revisit the scene in the diorama to find a sign that says: “You’ve Arrived! The First Dinosaurs.”

There will be a cute diorama scene featuring the two new baby dinosaurs.

But will they in fact be captured and put into a tourist trap?

Little way for this to happen.

And perhaps these two little new births are about to stir things up in the diorama world of the scene?




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