Making Scenes

Casanova’s in Carmel, California – Carmel’s “Most Romatic” Restaurant – Photo by John Fraim (2007)

I’ve been absent lately as I’ve taken time off from my hectic pace of creating dioramas to writing about them. Have started writing a book titled Making Scenes: New Directions in Dioramas(I thought of calling it Making A Scenebut with the “A” in the title, it was too much attached to a noisy, obnoxious verb rather than a descriptive noun. In effect, it is about crafting one’s own 3D model into the world in the form of an old art form called diorama. It investigates the history of what once started out as a French picture viewing device in the 1820s. Certainly an early version of the cinema. The book suggests the art form of diorama continues to develop today, continuing to utilize its central connection to so many of our main arts: painting, photography, cinema, video arts, model-making, sculpture. The connection to psychology and symbolism as I suggest in the book.

I’ll continue to pass along parts of the book in progress to our Midnight Oil readers. Perhaps I’ll interrupt my writing to go back and make another diorama? One in the shop right now needs a final version of what (has turned out to be) has been a mock-up for the final diorama of Witness. The diorama can be viewed on the Witness page on our site. The Witness diorama is one great diorama of mine right now that I consider my best and most creative. It attempts to create a box effect in a diorama outside the box.

I write about it in the book. I need to go back and do it over in wood rather than the cheap foam core I made the first mock-up of the model in. (The water in the Plaster of Paris I put on the foam core to make my scenery has made the plaster rise above the foam core board and take on a fragile, brittle form that will crack if you look at it in the wrong way. Everything else is incredible in the model. The forced perspective of the scene was a new way of approaching perspective outside the confines of a box diorama. I wanted to display it so see its effects on the viewer. I was very excited about the potential of the diorama to provide a forced perspective by using four different scales in the model).

Below is a section of the book where I write about a strange event/device called an Eidophusikon. It plays a part in the early history of dioramas and still plays an important part in an art form close to diorama. But diorama is such a mixture of definitions over the years – from scenes in natural history museums, shoebox projects of grade school kids, a base for models – that today no one really knows much about this art form. It is branded most closely to a children’s project. Yet the form has far greater potential today, as a particular hybrid new art form. Perhaps a combination of art forms as my book suggests. Anyway, from our section on the Eidophusikon and its position (somewhere) in the strange, murky history of the diorama family tree.

Be great to hear any comments.

Best to all.




Eidophusikon Performance


A piece of performance art thought up by the English actor David Garrick and created by 18th-century French painter Philip James de Loutherbourg. It opened in Leicester Square in February 1781. Described by the media of his day as “Moving Pictures, representing Phenomena of Nature,” the Eidophusikon can be considered an early form of movie making.

The effect was achieved by mirrors and pulleys. The Eidophusikon consisted of a large-scale miniature theatre that attempted to create the perfect illusion of the moving aspect of nature in sunrise scenes, sunsets, moonlight images, storms and volcanoes from all over the world. Sound and music effects were part of the effect. The sound and light effects of the Eidophusikon, compared with the shows of this time were specially inventive for their realism.

These scenic effects were first created on a small-scale stage set when Loutherbourg exhibited the Eidophusikon in London in 1781 with immediate success. More than 100 paying spectators could be seated in the room in which it was displayed. The stage area in which the spectacle was performed was roughly 7’ wide, 3’ high and 10’ deep. The effects were produced by means of lights, gauzes, colored glass and smoke. Musical accompaniment was provided by a harpsichord.

Among the scenes presented were views of London and other cities, a storm at sea (ships, figures, and the like were moved by a system of rods and pulleys) and a scene from the poet Milton of Satan arraying his Troops on the Banks of the Fiery Lake, with the Raising of the Palace of Pandemonium. Gainsborough and Reynolds were among the artists who were impressed by the Eidophusikon. Loutherbourg ran it for several seasons, then sold it to an assistant, who took it on a provincial tour.

New Modern Theatre Company

While the Eidophusikon is rare and almost extinct today, the ideas of it were been taken up by Robert Poulter in creating his New Model Theater. The artist has taken the medium of toy theater as a starting point and written and designed original productions that use movement, light and sound to create new theatrical experiences in miniature.

Ann Bermingham on the Eidophusikon

From the best article ever written on this device by UCSB professor Emeritus Ann Bermingham.











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