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Some Thoughts on Dioramas

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It is always interesting to hear how someone else approaches creating a scene. While I do things from a somewhat different perspective, you have some splendid ideas; AND your creations are GORGEOUS. Thanks for the insight.

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Awesome writeup!  I'm a fair way off from creating dioramas, and certainly won't be doing one for a competition anytime soon.  However, this is awesome info for that specific arena and just fans of the hobby in general.  Very informative and well structured.  I'd like to suggest adding The Rise of Fantasy by Juan J Barrena (I got my copy from Nocturna Models) to the list of books.  It has some general painting tips but is primarily oriented at vignettes/dioramas.  Lots of good info about composition as well as step by step walkthroughs of 7 of Juan's incredible dioramas/vignettes.


edit: grammar

Edited by hammer570
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Great write-up, Kris!


I'm a huge fan of dioramas and vignettes, it's what I'm most passionate about in this hobby. I paint up single figures regularly for usage in my D&D games, but my true love is to tell a story with every figure and that usually entails me building a vignette or diorama to do this, at the very least I like to do a scenic base for a single figure even to be used in games.


Would love to hear other pro artists thoughts on dioramas/vignettes composition as well if they feel like coming in here and adding their two cents.


For me, I try to follow what Kris says and keep things compact as that's been the biggest hit to me when I've gotten feedback, keep figures to odd numbers and make the entire piece as compact as possible. Make the story easily understandable so that you don't have to explain it other than the title. 

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Simple is key.  I always try to use as few figures as possible to tell the story.  Mainly because I don't want to have to paint that many figures, and secondly because adding too much overly complicates most stories.  I also love using some of the same colors in my bases as I do in the figures because I feel like that helps tie everything together.


Technically this:



Tells a story!  1 figure!  It can be done.  ::):  Though usually for the dio category, I'd try to use at least 3 figs.  Regrettably, everyone keeps moving my single fig stuff to dio...sigh.  ::P:

I like using triangles and an odd number of figures as well. I love using levels.  Building up can be a good thing, as long as the vertical elements find a way to draw the eye back down to the action.  I studied a lot of paintings in HS/college, so eventually I get a sense for composition and what works. Looking at sculptors like Bernini and Canova can give some good composition hints- they try to convey motion.  I stalk CMON as well.  people come up with some great ideas!


it's hard to visualize sometimes the best way to limit where a viewer's eye goes.  Whenever you're plotting our compositions, try to figure out where your eye might wander and find a way to create a line or barrier that limits escape or pulls the eye back.  I'll often use trees, but I curve the branches down over the scene, so even though they go up, they draw the eye where I want.  If you're creating a rocky scene, point your rocks towards where the action is. Overhanging elements or not containing them to the square/circle/confines of the base itself can help create a more natural-feeling scene. Be wary of base size- smaller is sometimes better.  Too large a base and the figures get lost.  I think of it like a camera panning waaaay out.  When we get close, our brains wake up.  Too much empty space and we're watching settlers crawl across the great plains and impatiently waiting for the action to begin.


Also, post WIPs on the forums!!  Everyone loves to help out with things like color and composition, so use the resource of the brains around you!  It's one of the reasons I like posting WIPs, because I get great advice/perspectives on things and people see what I wouldn't otherwise have noticed.

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Thanks for this Heisler!

(Did I get you thinking for this post? Did I enable????? ::): )



How to Build Dioramas; Aircraft, Armor, Ship & Figure Models. Shepherd Paine, Kalmbach Publishing


Lords of Lead! I used to love looking at Shepherd Paine's stuff, starting with all the little blurbs he did for Monagram Models waaaay back in the day!


Dioramas like this:



Where he gave directions and explanations caused me to try and replicate his stuff!

There was an excellent guide on how to paint faces in those directions too, have to see if I can find any of those, and I had most of them...

post-14271-0-26300500-1462585923_thumb.jpg (Just saw that and had to add it....)

edit 2 (Just saw that one of those old 4 page color sheets went for $25 on ebay!!!!)


Started a life long liking of dioramas.... But the whole Idea of doing them with Fantasy minis is still pretty new....


I know that there were more books from him as well, because when I worked for B&N, I used to gaze at them....



Edited by knarthex
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Very though provoking write up!  I'm just now feeling confident enough to try to do small dioramas/vignettes.  I'm currently kicking myself in the face for having so much open space on the top of the Aztec-ish one I'm working on (my first!).  I'm having thoughts on the story as well in my head.  

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Over on giyomuSan's WIP thread, you said:

When you are dealing with how many minis to use I have a couple of rules of thumb.

1) Go with an odd number, for what ever reason our minds like odd numbers they look more natural.



I have one I'm working on that includes 2 figures - a knight fighting a dragon.   Based on this rule, it seems like I should add another figure, but that seems like it would detract from the story I'm trying to tell. 


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3 minutes ago, kristof65 said:


Over on giyomuSan's WIP thread, you said:


I have one I'm working on that includes 2 figures - a knight fighting a dragon.   Based on this rule, it seems like I should add another figure, but that seems like it would detract from the story I'm trying to tell. 



From a composition viewpoint, groups tend to work best with odd numbers, particularly three. But in a combat vignette I would say that you have two groups, each of one figure, so you should be fine.


Note that composition "rules" tend to be a bit contradictory and are all subject to local variation anyway. From the description, it's pretty likely that your figures are looking at each other, which satisfies a "rule" that you should have some idea what figures are looking toward. You will likely have one large and one small figure, which gives you dynamic imbalance. With luck you will have the figures at opposite corners of the base, which tends to be more pleasing than opposite sides (or the same side). You might have leading lines from the neck-line of the dragon and pose of the sword.


I could go on.




The short version is that there's not really anything wrong with a two-figure combat scene.

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Totally on board with Doug on this point. Nothing wrong with a two figure combat scene, it has action, direction and story. Although a third element could be added, it does not necessarily need to be a figure, it could be something decorative that is not going to overpower the other two pieces. Groups don't always have to be characters sometimes an object can fill the role as well.

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