“A diorama is a combination of one or more models in a believable setting that tells a story, sets a mood, or creates a charged atmosphere.” IPMS Definition

“Dioramas are so interesting because they combine so many elements in different forms. You are basically telling a story without words. It’s like silent movies, except you don’t have anybody moving.” Sheperd Paine


(Dioramas in order of completion … scroll down for the latest)

Ethyl’s Service Station (1/17/18)

SCENE: An old desert service station on Route 66.

A badly matched background for the scene but playing around with using photos from the Internet as backgrounds illuminated on our 32″ Omen HP monitor.


Desert Patriot (1/25/18)

SCENE: A patriot lives isolated in his house trailer on the top of a mountain in the desert.


Dino World (2/3/18)

SCENE:A happy family (in the 50s … the Fraim family!) is on their way to Dino World just over the hill. Little do they know that two dinosaurs have escaped from Dino World and wait for them on the other side of the hill. One is on the road holding a sign for Dino World that says “Left 300 Feet.”


Jack Fraim Dealership  Project

 We’ve been in touch with the Culver City Historical Society for information on the Fraim car dealership in Culver City, almost directly across the street from the MGM Studio. A diorama based on this location of the Fraim car dealership in the mid-1950s. The project is composed of four separate dioramas inside the overall Fraim Dealership project. All the dioramas are really built around Fraim Dealership in the NE corner of the 20″ x 30″ double foam board. The other sections are 1) MGM backlot across the street from the car dealership in the SW corner of the diorama 2) the Starlight Jazz Club in the NW section of the diorama and 3) a train track cutting through the most SE corner in the diorama. Some boys playing on the tracks. (I’m one of them).

The Starlight Jazz Club (2/19/18)

(NE Section of Jack Fraim Dealership Project)

Chico Hamilton is one of the most famous of Los Angeles’ jazz musicians. He was born in 1921 in LA and it is now the mid-50s and he has formed his famous Chico Hamilton Quintet. The Quintet are appearing at the Starlight Jazz Club. It’s early in the evening before the show and a new Lincoln Continental is in front of the club. It is new and shiny, unlike the weathered club. Perhaps it is the owner of the club? Via a small bluetooth Nano Cube speaker inside the club, we can a record playing of the music of the Chico Hamilton Quintet. All scratch built. The club started as a small box from Hobby Lobby and the walls are weathered paper from Hobby Lobby. The door is from Grandt Line HO. The original windows in the large double door with the transome above it have been boarded over per the club’s policy “What happens at the Starlight stays at the Starlight.” The car is from Oxford Die Cast Limited. Parking lot was printed from asphalt wallpaper downloaded from the Internet. The sign Appearing Now was created in Page on the Mac. The jazz club sign and the album cover were downloaded from the Internet. Shrubbery and tree from Woodland Scenics. Background photo of the night sky downloaded from an image on the Internet and projected onto our 32” HP Omen monitor. Shot in High Dynamic Range with a Leica V-Lux 3. Not happy with the lighting and thinking of shooting another scene in night time lighting using a Litra Light with a blue filter on it and a diffuser sitting about ten inches over the club like a moon.

Taken with blue lighting filter from a Litra Lite about 10″ from the NE section of the photo.

One side of club featuring an advertisement for Chesterfields by Bing Crosby

Another side of club featuring a poster for Miles Davis’ Indigo Moods

Drain the Swamp! – (2/26/18) See the Drain the Swamp Blog on this site.

“Drain the Swamp” in March/April 2018 IPMS Journal

The Suspension of Professor Galaxy (3/7/18)

See our blog on this.

I Think I Can Team (3/9/18)

See our blog on this.



“They were thrown under the bus.”

“Killing two birds with one stone.”

“That train has left the station.”

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

“Birds of a feather flock together.”

“A penny for your thoughts.”


Premiere of Killer Raccoons 2! (3/17/18)

Dedicated to my friend Travis Irvine and his movie Killer Raccoons 2! This diorama envisions it opening at the famous Graumans Chinese Theater in Hollywood where many famous films have premiered.

The Real Battlefield (3/20/18)

Irish Spring (3/24/18)

The Green Light (4/7/18)

See our blog on this. Read the The Green Light notes behind this diorama.

The Last Dinosaur (4/13/18)

See our blog on this. See The Last Dinosaur in the Gallery section of the June 2018 issue of Fine Scale Modeler.

Desert Witness (4/22/18)

See our blog on this.

History of the Greyhound (4/29/18)

See our blog on this.

Deep State Swamp II (5/11/18)

See our blog on this.

Witness (5/14/18)

See our blog on this.

Green Giant Pea Spill (5/16/18)

See our blog on this.

Chasing Bullitt (5/19/18)

See our blog on this.


Escape Route (5/22/18)

See our blog on this.

Sign in the Mountain (5/29/18)

See our blog on this.

Trump/Kim Resorts (6/13/18)

See our blog on this.




The Cabazon Dinosaurs – Current Aerial Google Map of the scene. Photos of the site area on Google Images. Perhaps the most famous California tourist stop. Perhaps the symbol for California tourist stops? History of the tourist stop in relation to the restaurant it was associated with. The symbolism of an American tourist trap. How this goes to the heart of the American experience. There is a Burger King next to the great dinosaurs (as one would suspect if one were suspecting fast food restaurants close to scenes like this). The Burger King seems a good addition to the two Cabazon dinosaurs a few hundred feet behind the restaurant.

The Stone Hut (Webb School, 1967) – Interviews with Webb School Class of 67 members. Creation of a small diorama from class member memories based around Lawrence McMillin and his classes taught at the Stone Hut.

CIF Playoffs – A bus goes across the vastness of the California desert.  On the bus is the Webb School of California football team in 1966 as they travel to the far-eastern rim of their league for a championship game in the California high school finals. The vastness of the California desert on a 2’ x 2’ ¾ plywood Birch board.

New River Mining Company – Model on 2’ x 2’ base. The drama of a coal mine? What could possibly be dramatic about this? Anyway, a beautiful model in n-scale I’ve got in the studio. Modeled after an original mine. (See photos of original prototype of the mind as well as the hillside it was attached to in The Mine files). The symbolism of a mine, though? Taking valuable things out of the earth? Mother earth? An invasion by the male symbol of culture against the female symbol of earth. The scene needs to capture this conflict, expressed at the top of popular culture in January of 2018. Male invasion of the feminine.

Atomic Café – From the brilliant models of Downtown Deco.  It is the least risqué of all the amazing model structures from Downtown Deco. For once, a master modeler has taken his art into a series of incredible structures in that world outside the usual happy towns of traditional model railroads. The founder of Downtown Deco has created a series of structures from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Bars and strip clubs. Crumbling cafes and greasy restaurants. Charity places. Pool halls. The things the big scale model makers never model. I’m ordering some homeless people to put on the sides of the café. The café needs to be anchored by these people. It is the brilliance of this model maker and seller that needs to be honored in some diorama in HO scale. A brilliant little model from the leading master in realistic world buildings Downtown Deco.

Glitter Gulch Casino – The nickname for the famous Fremont district of downtown Las Vegas in the 40s and 50sA diorama built around the animated miniature neon sign from Miller Signs. A desert casino. A huge casino off of I-10 into Palm Springs. Highway 10 modeled next to the casino perhaps. Much in same environment as Cabazon Dinosaurs diorama above.

The Flamingo Bar – Built around an animated miniature neon sign from Miller Signs. The bar has a Polynesian Tiki bar look to it. Modeled after the famous Kahiki supper club in Columbus, Ohio. Homage to my uncle Lee Henry who founded the Kahiki. But this is a bar in decline. The exterior of the restaurant has a faded (weathered) pinkish color. It has seen better days. It seems on immediate analysis in the shape of a great ship of some distant, ancient South Pacific deep within our dreams. A romantic, nostalgic place in our memories. Immediately it has a historic, symbolic shape to us. It is a shape we have in memory somehow. The image of an ancient ship. Remembered at some deep level of personal archeology. Mixed in my own memory of the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California. Using a sign from the leading maker of animated light miniature signs, Miller Signs. Here, a light goes around a sign pointing towards the promise of the Flamingo Bar. Supposed the Kahiki of Columbus had been transported to the California Desert somewhere off I-10 in the Coachella Valley. The great pioneer of American Polynesian restaurants is located in the California desert. Right around Cabazon between the two great mountains.

The Last Dinosaur – An idea that came to me while walking around Michaels. Within the large entrance sign proclaiming in huge letters “Last Dinosaur Park” a father and son looks at the last dinosaur on a heavy chain behind an iron fence. There is some deep moat between the dinosaur and the father and son. Meanwhile, at another place in the diorama – inside or outside the Last Dinosaur Park – a mother and daughter observe two baby dinosaurs hatching behind some rocks. The birth of the baby dinosaurs contradicts the message of Last Dinosaur Park. Modeled in the large O scale as the people are O scale. There is a sign on the gate in front of the dinosaur the father and son look at that tells of an alternate history. We realize we are somewhere in the future when we read this sign. It tells of a great war between dinosaurs and mankind and how it is good that this war will finally be over with the last dinosaur. See our blog on this.

The Dioramist – Thanks to my son Chris for this idea. A diorama of a person building a model diorama in his shop. One can see, on closer inspection, that the person in the diorama is also in the process of the creation of a diorama. This person is me. A type of “out of body” experience diorama. Like the scene of Nick’s from Gatsby when he is in NYC and both an outside and inside observer to the events of the present world. As Nick says “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” Maybe something with the paradox of the Escher lithograph “Drawing Hands.” The creator in process of creating himself/herself.

The Swamp – A murky swamp dominates the front of the diorama out of which we can see all types of swamp critters poking their gross heads out of the swamp water. Alligators, prehistoric creatures. The swamp, though, is not in the middle of some jungle but is in a city. A large plain building is near the swamp and the creatures in the swamp come and go from the building. Or, perhaps the swamp has been drained and the only thing left we can see in the diorama is the Lincoln Monument (like historic photo below).

Historic Photo of Washington DC from the 1900s – The Beginning of the Swamp!

When Smooth Jazz Came to Berkeley – A diorama showing the change in format for the famous KRE radio in Berkeley, California in the 1980s. See our post about this in our Smooth Jazz blog on this site.

KRE Radio Building in 1941

The Real Battlefield (3/18/18)

(Diagrams for this and the below diorama in a Page file on our Mac) A football field turns into desert in Iraq. The football goalpost changes into a bombed out building somewhat resembling the football goalpost but another version of it altogether. The goal of the battlefield on the left is winning a game. The goal of the battle on the right is winning one’s life.

Two Theaters (3/18/18)

Theater of Operators / Theater of Operations. Inside Oscar night and Academy Awards Ceremony on the left half of the diorama. A theater of operators. On the stage in front, are two gigantic Oscars on both sides of it. On the right side of the diorama, a bombed out inside of some movie theater in the middle east. On its stage, two grand images of the nation’s dictator have been toppled. The standing Oscars on the left appear as toppled the statues of a dictator on the right. Use of figures in the scenes? Or, no figures? Maybe it is the scene after Oscar night events when audience has all left and trash piled up. And, on right, the soldiers have just left the theater after destroying the idol on stage.

Close Encounters of a Boy (4/16/18)

After completing The Last Dinosaur, we took a break for a few days but our mind started working again on a new diorama. A monthly contest for the IPMS was to create something from TV or the movies. I went through a number of my favorite movies. I saw Sunset Boulevard for about the tenth time the other night and there was a big desire to do one of the two famous scenes from this film. One is the seventh most memorable scene and quote from all movies when Norma Desmond says, “I still am big, it is the movies that have gotten smaller.” The other quote and scene from the film is the one where Norma Desmond comes down the steps of her mansion at the end of the film in a state of delusion and says, “I’m ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille.”

Two of my favorite scenes from all movies. But there were problems. I simply could not find a good Norma Desmond doll that looked anything near what I saw in the movie. And, I wasn’t up for trying to create one. My role as a dioramist, it seems to me, is to create contexts for characters and not spend a lot of time on creating these characters if they can be obtained elsewhere. And Norma Desmond simply could not be obtained elsewhere. I thought of working with a 3D modeling company like Shapeways to create a Norma Desmond doll but my heart was not in creating dolls but places to put dolls in.

* * *

I shuffled through a number of those lists on Google of the top of everything. I Googled the top film scenes of all time and top TV scenes of all time. I Googles the top quotes from film and TV as there is always a connection between powerful dialogue in a scene and a powerful scene. A few of my favorite films like The Year of Living Dangerously and Witness were difficult to pull diorama type of scenes from. Besides, I wanted to test out the new LED strip from Amir that had the remote control for all types of lighting effects. At around $7.00 it was not difficult to justify putting into a diorama. And, I also wanted to put the new Anker Bluetooth speaker into the diorama.

After a lot of searching on Google for best scenes, moments and quotes from movies and TVs, after thinking back to the scenes that stuck in my mind for a diorama, I began thinking of Close Encounters of a Third Kind. I remember that I was never all that impressed with the film. Certainly, it’s special effects were spectacular and Spielberg produced another blockbuster. Yet I never was a huge fan of it. However, I started thinking that the scene when the aliens are communicating with music (of all things) with lights of the mothership flashing might utilize the Amir light strip and the Anker Bluetooth. In fact, the viewer of the scene could even be handed the remote device to operate the lights of the alien craft.

The scene would be on a large base for a diorama. I envisioned a 2′ x 2′ plywood board. At the SE corner of the board, a young boy in O scale (1/48) would be standing on the top of a hill that reaches its peak in the SE corner of the diorama board. The left, front and right side of the board would be built up so that steep hills surround the scene the boy looks at below. Then, a change of scale figures as N scale figures are positioned around a large alien craft that is emitting flashing colors of lights and this strange type of classical computer music. The craft sits at the top North part of the diorama with many N scale figures around it, many wearing white lab jackets. They stand on some old airport runway with cracks and weeds running through it. Desert surrounds the runway. Small N scale vehicles and structures are seen surrounding the huge alien craft. We’ve decided to use the Area 51 UFO AE-341.15B as our model rather than attempt modeling the alien craft from Close Encounters. Anyone really interested in seeing how the alien craft exactly looked can visit the Smithsonian Institute and see the scale model Spielberg built for the film.

* * *

To sum things up, we have a perspective directly behind a young boy standing on a ridge in the SE corner of a scene. He is looking down into a type of cove in the desert at a strange event. A great alien craft sits at the north part of the cove/diorama. It is flashing in many colors and music is coming from it. A crowd of white-jacketing people stand on the old runway in front of it. It is not at all what he expected when he thought about alien contact and all. It was difficult not to think about it these days.

So, perhaps one might say, the viewer obtains the same perspective (shot) as someone observing this key scene from Close Encounters of a Third Kind. Or perhaps more specifically, observing a new scene in life based on this scene. The scene is inspired by Close Encounters. At the same time, it also goes its own way by suggesting that the film perspective in Close Encounters was not the only perspective. It does this by not attempting to create again the scene from Close Encounters. But rather, to add to the scene and show how it might have evolved into a new type of scene for a new time in history. A movie scene from 1975 compared to scenes from 2018. The hopes and fears of people almost half a century later. In other words, this diorama we’re called Close Encounters of a Boy is seen not as a replica of Close Encounters but rather a type of modern criticism, comment and story based on it. A story based in this particular diorama scene.

* * *

The greatest dioramas, it seems to me, are also the greatest first scenes in novels or films, or any stories in/of life. Biographies. Autobiographies. Memoirs. Journals. Virtually any story. So much depends on this first scene that sets up the context of the story and then the action in it. All dioramists are part of that group of media ecologists out there. Many followers of Marshall McLuhan and his ideas and theories about the power of unseen things in life. Like media. First and foremost, it seems to me, a great diorama presents a slice of media ecology on a piece of plywood. Of course, this is hard to do … if not impossible. Yet, I think that many of the great artists of the world will try to understand and rise to this particular challenge.

Here, being inspired by a famous film scene to go beyond this scene and not duplicate it but transcend it with a new scene. Based on the original movie scene. A scene that pays respect to the old movie scene but at the same time honors the (media) interests and perspectives of young people today. A young boy stands in the hills above the scene, looking down at the entire event/production. And, yes, perhaps, somewhere tonight, a young boy (or girl) stands on some hill of life, looking down on some strange event below. Perhaps some secret government event like the boy in this diorama looks at.

Some event that has answers to their future. If they could only decipher the messages in the scene.

* * *

The two-time periods are fused in the form of our O scale figure of a boy looking down upon the scene below in N scale – two forms below O scale. By using the different scales, we test the viewer’s sense of perspective. In order to hide the distance of the boy (our) perspective from the SE corner of the diorama.

In the end, this diorama envisions a young boy in the hills above events such as in the film Close Encounters. But here, a new, modern event of alien contact is being witnessed. By a boy in O scale and by the viewer 5 to 10 inches away from the O scale boy in the diorama. Like the boy, we peek in at the strange events in the cove below. The flashing lights and the strange music. The music in this diorama from the famous Japanese composer Isao Tomita who composed “Close Encounters of a Third Kind” some of his most incredible music over his illustrious career. This is the music that plays from the Anker Bluetooth inside the alien spaceship. The music from my iPhone Music Library. The remote-control switch controlling all types of lighting and colored lights of the alien craft. Just with the lights put inside the plastic alien craft with the music on. It seems like an interesting project.


NOTE: Part of a journal we’ve kept about a new form of dioramas. Currently, the journal is 35,000 words long. It is about this new form of art in dioramas. Their symbolism via posts and blogs to our Midnight Oil site as well as the contents of the journal (tentatively) titled Image Studios.