A diorama is a scene of a particular moment in time. Typically a diorama is a miniature replica of a scene but sometimes as in the displays in a musuem a diorama can be life size. The diorama can be of a familiar or real scene or even of a fantasy or created scene that doesn't exist anywhere in the world.
And diorama making can be a terrific way to expand on a current hobby. As an example, if you make model tanks you could make a diorama to display them in.
Dioramas have many other interesting things they can display too. Dioramas can by used to explain how an eco sytsem works as in a plains diorama or an underwater diorama. Or they can be used to show a moment in time like the last stand at the Alamo or a battle between tanks.
Improvising a diorama
The only requirement of a diorama is that it depict a three dimensional scene. After that you have a lot of choices as to how you build it. You can use a simple cardboard box and a shoebox works very well for this as in this simple diorama showing a scene with a knight and a dragon. This makes the hobby of diorama making very accessible to beginners. You can start out with simple materials like cardboard boxes and sheets of paper and then you can move up to more complex and more realistic looking materials.
If you want to start out easy with a shoebox diorama like this one there is a complete step by step tutorial on how to make this diorama right here: Make a Shoebox Diorama
The important thing to remember (and take advantage of) is that fact that a diorama is a three dimensional display. So use up the vertical space, horizontal space and the depth of the shoebox.
Getting more Realistic
Dioramas get to be really interesting when they are made to look realistic. That is when they closely mimic natural scenes. The picture to the left shows a waterfall scene with a variety of natural looking materials such as water, sand, trees, grass and bushes.
This scene was made specifically for a video tutorial on how to make a waterfall in a diorama and you can watch that video here: How to Make a Diorama Waterfall
But the challenge is in making everything look as realistic as possible. How do you make the grass, the water and the trees?
You do have a wide variety of options that vary depending on how realistic you want the diorama to be and how much you are willing to spend. You can improvise absolutely everything you need from found objects and things around the house.
The best example of this is the green grass layer in the diorama and the sand layer. This can easily be made by mixing sawdust with a little bit of food coloring or paint then brushing a layer of glue onto the surface of the diorama and sprinkling the sawdust on.
And for the bushes and trees you can use bits of green sponge. The basic branch shapes of the trees can be made from real twigs.
The point here is that you can get really creative and make everything you need from found items and bits and pieces.
To get even more realistic
You can see in the picture a wide variety of manufactured terrain materials. These are part of a line of products by a company called Woodland Scenics. They lmake just about everything you could need for your diorama from grass to trees, buildings, water, rocks, cliffs and miniature figures.
These materials have been a staple of the model railroad industry for decades.
A quick overview of the Process of Diorama Making
There are of course an infinite number of ways to make a diorama and I will give you one process that works very well for making a realistic looking diorama like the WW2 Tank Battle diorama shown at the top of this page.
- You create the frame of the diorama. This is the major landscape shape and you can do this by carving foam or by using sheets of paper towels soaked in plaster of paris.
- You paint the basic colors on the landscape
- Apply the major terrain textures like grass and water
- Apply more detailed terrain textures like trees, bushes, stones etc.
The important point to note is that you start out with broad building strokes and you work your way down to the finest details. In the following video box I have a whole series of tutorials that show you all aspects of diorama making. I walk you through all the steps of the process.
Videos on how to make a diorama
Books and Diorama Kits
Here are some thumbnail images of dioramas just to give you an idea of the endless possibilities.
Links and More Resources
- How to Make a Diorama - a complete tutorial with pictures and step by step explanation of how to make a diorama including making the base, the textures, terrain, trees and more.
- Wikipedia Article on Dioramas
- Woodland Scenics Supplies on Amazon.com
- More Diorama Images