I decided to compose this tutorial on building a diorama because I feel the need to stress to other modelers that this can be a fun and rewarding experience. It can also be done in a way that doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to do. A diorama can be produced using many inexpensive items that I will point out as this article progresses. I guess you could say that this is a little insight to the “Traindamage Way”
I decided on a theme for this particular diorama long before the construction process began. In this instance, I chose to do a highway overpass crossing over a single mainline with service roads on either side and a high embankment behind. I was hoping to add a little variety to my photo taking and I figured a setting such as this would do the trick nicely.
I began this diorama by prefabricating the essential structure, the overpass itself. I was pondering a way to construct one of these without purchasing one. What I devised was simple. I work at a wholesale food commodities warehouse and we receive pallets of goods shipped on well packed pallets. I happened to notice on a large pallet of tortilla chips there were corner supports made of 12 layer-thick, folded cardboard. Gazing at their potential, my mind scrambled to visualize how I could use these somehow. I came up with the idea to cut them (with a hacksaw) and fuse two halves together to create the initial highway support structure of the overpass. I then prepped the surface after the two halves were vertically bonded and I then applied two colors of paint. I chose a light almond tone and a light gray to result in the correct color of concrete. I was content with the outcome of the color and proceeded to then add the highway within the concrete foundation. For this, I used 1/8th inch black foam board that can be purchased at nearly any retail store for a couple of dollars. After I cut the roadway to size I painted the surface a weathered asphalt gray. I then added the appropriate road fog lines and center divider stripes. Some dark gray paste directly on the center of each highway lane weathered the road correctly. I then added guard rails made from scale cut wire and considered this part of my project complete. I carefully measured the pilings I made from wooden dowels that I painted the same color as the overpass itself and then glued the pilings to supports underneath the overpass and set the entire model aside to dry.
Now for the diorama itself. I began by finding the proper base. In this case, I used a heavy duty press-board shelving sheet that was also to be discarded from the store where I work. The width looked good as well as the thickness. I know a lot of modelers elect to use extruded foam insulation board, which is great material by all means. However, I decided on this heavy board because where I live we experience high winds, ( pretty much year round), and I was worried that my diorama may take to the air and wind up in another state! After cutting the board to a desired length, (about 3 feet), I prepped the surface by cleaning it with warm soapy water. After it dried, I took a sharpie marker and marked the location of the railroad tracks. This helped me visualize the diorama before it was built. After I decided that I was satisfied with the location of the rails, I began on the scenery. I realized that I must first create the embankment that would be the main focal point of this diorama. Finding material for the embankment was not much in the way of a chore either. I will remind the modeler here that ANY packing Styrofoam WILL work to create believable scenery foundations. It can be used in thin layers, stacked like a cake to achieve the desired height or it can be used in larger sections. I decided to use foam blocks I had acquired in the recent purchase of a household appliance. I found that I had lucked out and had enough of the foam blocks that they spanned the length of my diorama. I proceeded to glue them with Elmers White glue to the surface of the board,(never use caustic glue products or aerosol paints or lacquers with foam as the acetone and other caustic ingredients in these will fiercely attack and melt the foam). After letting the foam dry overnight, I retrieved a hacksaw blade and began to cut the embankment surface at a 45-degree angle along the entire length of the diorama. With this being done, I cut a 3" X 3" square from a sheet of styrene and painted it using the same colors as mentioned before to achieve the desired look of concrete. Again using the white glue, I applied the slope abutment to the location that I elected for the overpass placement. This can be seen in the first photograph.
The next step involves preparing the foam surface for rock outcrops. I had to think this over a bit, because I didn't want to just randomly glue boulder size rocks to the surface of the foam. That would look rather unrealistic, don’t you think? I decided they should be countersunk into the scenery. This, I feel, is an EXTREMELY vital point to amplify. To create the look of rock and boulders as outcrops, I decided to create divots or dimples in the foam to strategically place the rocks. To do this I used a stemmed torch lighter and held the flame a good 6 inches away from the surface of the foam. This gave off just the right amount of heat to dimple the foam surface. (Be very careful not to hold the heat too close as it WILL destroy the foam.) I randomly dimpled the entire surface of the foam embankment.
Once I was satisfied with the random pattern of the inverted surface pocks, I proceeded to the next stage. This is where I prepared the foam embankment surface. I use Acrylic paints very often in all of my modeling endeavors. And in this case, I chose a bottle of a sandstone tan color acrylic. I poured a generous amount of the paint on a pallet and then brushed it on the entire surface of the foam embankment being careful not to get paint on the concrete slope support. The reason I choose to paint the entire surface of the foam embankment was to conceal every inch of underlying stark white foam that might show through and disappoint our finished scenery. Here is the view of the painted foam . With the paint still wet, I LIGHTLY sprinkled on a thin layer of sand. Living right on the coast of the Pacific, I have an endless surplus of natural sand at my disposal. this comes in handy for many of my projects. The sand in this capacity being applied to the foam gives the surface a rough-toothed texture that will compensate later for holding scenery and effects into place.
I'll note here that I had to prop the diorama base vertically upright at this point to get an even layer of the sand to adhere to the foam surface
Now that the sand has dried overnight, I’ll work on the placement of the boulders in the divots that I created previously. This is probably the best time to show a photo of the materials I elected to use for this diorama. I just took a stroll around the expanding housing project where I live and gathered some of the natural local materials.
I sifted and divided the materials to be used later in this project in different capacities. I then selected the rocks I thought would work the best for the embankment. I carefully poured a sufficient amount of white glue into the prefabbed divots on the foam. Again, I had to set these rock outcrops in place with the diorama board in an upright position. It was important at this point, to give the entire diorama ample time to dry, so I walked away from it and let it dry for about 4 days. When I was satisfied with the security of the rocks in their placement The fun was knocking at the door as it was now time to begin scenic-ing the embankment (my favorite part) and probably the readers too.