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The Atlas Diorama Project

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Mode for Trane

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John Fraim

I got the idea for a cross section diorama when I saw the builds of Boylei Hobby Time and Australian Luke Towan. Both superb modelers on an international scale. Luke more the traditionalist of creating unbelievably realist scenery. Boylei Hobby Time more experimental on creating fantasy landscapes and situations. 

These two as well as other incredible artistic diorama visionaries like Darry Audette and Mathew Albanese. Or, staging photographers like Gregory Crewdson. 

One might add other influences pulling at me when I create something. Carl Jung. Marshall McLuhan. John Coltrane. McCoy Tyner. Symbolism, Media Theory and Jazz. My major interests over most of my life. The ways of expressing (communicating) these interests to others. This is where the medium and media of communication entered the old picture. 

The best way for me to communicate my influences and experiences about the world to others. This is the key question I continually search to find. Through the images of photography? The scenes of a story of screenplay or key moments in a narrative. The key symbol or image of a story frozen to preserve it. The image dominating the idea of a particular narrative. A dramatic image captured. 

First, an event in a narrative rather than a stand-alone frozen scene. No matter how well the scene is constructed. How realistic it looks through the skilled hands of a modeler. Modern dioramas must incorporate the drama of film and symbolism into their creations. 

A symbolic diorama should present an important dramatic event that leads the observer of the event to reflect on the event and see things from a new perspective. The great dioramists today pull out a key symbol from all the small (yet bright and loud) stuff floating around all of us and perpetually distracting us. They make us confront these key symbols and not get distracted by all the small forces pulling on us than these key symbols. 

Modern political control is maintained by distraction rather than confrontation. Neil Postman reminded us of this important situation of the modern world in his historic Amusing Ourselves to Death

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Will dioramas ever receive the attention as artistic tools they warrant? 

Will they evolve into some new form of art in the world of AI? 

An excellent question. It asks how model making and dioramas will evolve in the future. 

Will they continue their tradition as a craft? Or, might model making and dioramas evolve into a true art?

This is a big question for modeling groups everywhere. One of the largest is the International Plastic Modelers Society. I rejoined this year after a five year absence. (Proud to say my Randy’s Donuts diorama took an Honorable Mention at the Semmex Show in Detroit last April). In many ways, modern modeling is tied to generations more than anything else. 

You can slice the demographics of model makers into a few distinct, defined market segments. Placing generational demographics at the forefront of an analysis of this might be the best way to get some sense of what might be happening today in the model-making and dioramist community. 

There is the generation that first created model railroad layouts. Their inspiration of what might be done in the hobby by the visionary model railroad John Allen and his Gorre & Daphetid Railroad in Monterey, California of the 50s and 60s. There also the builders of models when they were in grade school. I remember building aircraft carriers, destroyers, bombers, jet fighters and of course cool car models I usually customized. I would spray paint them some weird color like apple metal flack. 

Then, I’d put them up on the shelf on the wall in my room. With the others. But sometimes it got too crowded on the old shelf, and I would then take certain models out behind the garage and plant a Cherry Bomb or Silver Salute in them and then wait for the revelation around the neighborhood. It sounded somewhat like another jet from nearby Wright Patterson Air Base had broken the sound barrier. 

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There has to be a sense of drama in the particular scene, something is happening in the scene and it is up to the observer of the to interpret.

This is perhaps the major thing that separates the dioramists from modelers in general. A modeler is interested in placing the most realistic scene to a particular time in history. Perhaps the largest modelers group in the world is the International Plastic Modelers Society. I was a member five years ago but then left the group. Recently, I rejoined IPMS. 

Certainly, with little expectation of winning awards from IPMS. The top awards go to superb models and modelers. Some of these models take six months or a year to create. There is an interview with a grand winner in an IPMS National contest who spent seven years creating his model.

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Capturing an object from the past is really the objective of IPMS. These objects are sold in thousands of model kits. Most often, kits of models that have an appeal to a generation that has memories of a time in the past. Specially, memories of events in the world related to the military or various wars fought. Certainly, a worthy endeavor. Yet, in the options given the modelers in IPMS is limited by the kits offered. 

Of course, add in my early years of model building and working with my dad on his 15’ x 30’ HO layout in the basement of our home in Dayton, Ohio in the late 50s and early 60s. Those years of waiting for the next issue of Model Railroader magazine to come. Or the magazine for model car builders.

Getting back into model-making and creating dioramas. Returning to it after completing my book on screenwriting called Hollywood Safari: Navigating Screenwriting Theory (2023). It was started in 2012 when I was writing a regular column for Script Magazine and then abandoned for almost ten years. It was resuscitated by my Hollywood producer friend and leading person in the film industry Heather Hale. Thanks again Heather. 

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Getting back to the modeled cross-sections of mines from Luke Towan and Boylei Hobby Time. It was an education of creating some cross section diorama. These could always have excitement. Showing us a glimpse of what is under ground and hidden from sight. Small LED pica lights serving as lanterns in the mine shafts underground. Two versions of a cross section of a mine. Google their names to see this amazing work. 

The two mining cross-sections from these two modelers were incredible in realism. But, one might ask if realism or drama is the most important element to inject into a particular scene. 

Perhaps the real intersection of the model and diorama (model railroading) world today. There is the movement towards seeing models in creating a context or medium for a hobby. Such as the fast-growing art, craft, sport of gaming. The area much closer to dioramists than modelers. Yet, creating some of the finest models of figures in all of model-making.

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I started pondering creating some cross section diorama. But I wanted action in this diorama and not simply some scenes of a mine. As incredibly detailed the diorama from Luke Towan was.

Something of importance will happen to the observer of this diorama scene. This has to be the goal and perhaps the promise a great modern dioramist offers up.

At this time, I came across an incredible amount of information on the Atlas F Missiles. Included were detailed schematics of the inside of an Atlas F missile silo from the early 60s. Who knows the original inspiration back in time. Perhaps it is the goal of a great piece of art to attempt to convey to the viewer of this that original inspiration in art and creativity. 

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Rather than a mine like Luke or Hobby Time envisioned, I envisioned a cross section of an Atlas missile silo of the early 60s. I envisioned it at some critical time or event. 

At first, I saw it might be in possession of some radical group who have taken over an old Atlas missile site and threaten the government. The radical group believes the American government is a much greater enemy to freedoms of Americans than the government of China or Russia. 

Then, I envisioned the diorama at a fictional time in the 60s when America was under nuclear attack. The diorama scene envisions a silo in the American SW desert. One can see an explosion over the mountains. 

Ping Pong Ball As The Moon in a More Peaceful Scene

The scene is presently on top of a 4″ x 3″ box. I made a desert road and mountains in the background. Rising over the mountains is a great nuclear explosion. The explosion is created from a ping pong ball cut in half and filled with a piece of thin orange and yellow tissue paper and then stretched cotton pulled over the ping pong ball and lightly spray painted with florescent orange paint. Under the ping pong ball is a Litra cube light. It’s the second time I’ve lighted the inside of a ping pong ball for a diorama. A few years ago a ping pong ball appeared in a peaceful scene as a moon rising over desert mountains. It now is the beginning image on our Diorama Page of Midnight Oil Studios.

Vertical Front Section of the Diorama / Schematics of an Atlas F Silo

The front of the box will show a cross section of an Atlas Missile silo with the missile raised and ready to fire. A scene from the early 1960s. America has been attacked and the observer of the diorama sees things from this perspective. Will put some small Pica-sized LED lights in the silo flashing red as those inside scurry to launch the Atlas in retaliation of the nuclear strike.

The project moves ahead.

Into areas and images we haven’t seen before.

A good things though.

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