Strongholds of Fantasy

Castles, Dungeons, and other Fantasy Lore...

Dioramas and Strongholds


Below is a Modular Castle Courtyard Diorama, which is showcased further down the page.


Below is a Fixed Dungeon Room Diorama, which is showcased further down the page. 

What is a Diorama?

By definition a diorama is a scene of a particular moment in time involving objects interacting with one another.  And there are basically two types, educational and fun. 



Educational Dioramas

Educational dioramas can be easily found in museums throughout the country.  For example, imagine a scene of a wooly mammoth trapped near the edge of a cliff and a few neanderthals have it cornered with spears in hand.  This type of diorama would show and inform viewers visibly a scene of prehistoric life during a certain era in the past.  Like a picture taken in a scene that is suspended, we know the animal is being hunted, although we don't know whether the hunters will succeed in killing it or if the prey gets away. 



Fun Dioramas

Fun dioramas are for a hobby person creating something related to an interest of his.  For example, picture a model dungeon room full of crypts as a  group of adventurers descend a staircase in search of treasure, unaware of any monsters hiding nearby.  This type of diorama could be something related to role-playing or miniatures on display and is only limited to the person's imagination.  In this scene we know that the adventurers may be searching for something as they explore, but we don't know what they will find or if they will encounter an enemy. 



Dungeon Room Diorama

Below is a dungeon diorama I made based on the description above.  At the time I made this I was still experimenting with the foam and did not think of doing a video tutorial on it.  However, in the future I will surely do one.  There was no definitive plan on this, but I will write out what steps I took in producing it. 



On a two foot square of Foamular Board, Pink Extruded Polystyrene, I measured an eight inch square with a ruler and marked the lines with a black Sharpie marker.  Using a hot knife tool from a Michaels craft store I cut the piece out for the base. 

The walls, measuring three inches high, were pieced together from an abandoned dungeon project and cut to size to fit within the diorama.  So, the scrapped foam was useful after all.  The coffins were also left over pieces from the same project and happened to be the right size and scale as the miniature for the room layout.  The steps were some leftover blocks from something else that was cut out and discarded. 



Using the same ruler and marker, the lines on the walls and base were drawn for the carving detail.  A grid layout on the floor was drawn in one inch squares.  The walls had a two inch pattern with the columns in between measuring about a half-inch.  The block pattern on the walls was measured in half-inch horizontal lines, while the vertical lines were free-hand drawn and turned out well considering taking liberties with scale.   



The hot knife was used to cut the large grooves in the wall columns and the floor tiles.  The brick lines on the walls were carved out using a heated knife, bought from an A.C. Moore craft store.  After a step pattern was drawn on the side of the steps block, the excess foam was first cut away diagonally.  The heated knife was used again to refine the shape of the steps and then filed with a small metal file to a more crisp look.  The coffins were detailed similarly with the heated knife following the lines marked on them.  All the cracks on the floor were carved in using the heated knife with ease. 



After all the angle hairs were removed from the cutting process and any filing was needed, all the pieces were glued together using Loctite Power Grab adhesive.  It is thicker than Elmer's Multi-purpose glue and takes longer to dry, however it sticks and holds the piece so well, that it is very difficult to pull the pieces apart when dry.  Even right after I glued it together, I was able to pick up the one wall section with one hand and nothing fell apart, while holding it in the air for example. 




I took a small stick, a wooden skewer with the point cut off, and poked at the foam to give it the rough stony texture on the walls.  Using a hobby knife I picked at the walls and floors and chipped away pieces to give it an aged look.  After mixing a small amount of water with some flat black paint, I brushed the whole thing with a base coat.  After it dried, I took some flat gray paint and dry-brushed the whole scene.  With that coat dry I added some final detailing with some dry brushing of brown and red paint in certain spots to add to the eerie feel of the scene.  Adding the figures, which were mostly 28 mm size, complimented the room and gave it a sense of scale as well.  





Fixed or Modular Dioramas

Although dioramas can take many forms and themes when built, they are either fixed or modular in design. 



Most dioramas are fixed when built, which means they cannot be altered and are meant to be a permanent display.  Usually these static dioramas are representing a significant scene from a story in history or fiction.  For example, the battle for Helms Deep is a scene from the movie "The Two Towers", the second movie of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  In this type of diorama you would see a model of the Helms Deep fortress and the landscape leading up to it.  Regardless of the scale or magnitude of the project, it is a scene of Urukai soldiers laying siege on the fortress against the humans and elves defending it.  As great as it would look, it will be fixed or static and cannot be altered once completed. 



For the creative builder who wants to build a diorama that is not locked into a certain scene, there is the option of making it modular.  A modular diorama is dynamic, compared to a fixed one, in which it can be taken apart or added to, if necessary.  For example, a scene of a castle is a popular project to build and can take on many forms, depending on the design of the builder.  With a dynamic diorama the builder is not restricted in gluing every building down in a courtyard and can take certain walls apart and rearrange them, add more towers, or replace certain bridging components, if the first build is not satisfactory.



A modular diorama can become part of a pictorial treasure trove, where the builder can record his work in pictures and collect them into a database or diary.  In this way he can create a portfolio of his work and revisit what he has done any time without having to go back to the actual scene.  With it being modular the take-apart terrain can be stored, recycled in a future project, used as landscape for a miniature war-gaming session or role-playing campaign. 

Castle Courtyard Diorama

Below is an example of a modular diorama, I made personally from a collection of crafting projects.  It is a simple scene of the inside of a castle courtyard.  Everything in this scene is virtually seamless, but in fact modular when examined closer. 



The Courtyard, which makes up the base of the layout, is a two foot square foam board.  The making of it is explained further in a tutorial, How to Make a Courtyard out of Foam, on this website.  

The Barracks Tower on the left, also known as the Adventurers Keep, is the same building from my Adventurers Keep Project on this website. 

The Guard Tower in the back corner is from my Guard Tower Project on this website.  The walls on either side of it are actually modular. 

The Main Keep on the right is from my Main Keep Project on this website.  The turret protruding from above the main entrance is a module that can be removed, as well as the stairs leading up to it. 



Using just my workbench, I assembled the modular diorama and took a picture of it.

The background consisted of a couple of white poster boards and effectively covered up my rack of tools and other stuff lying around. 

The lighting was produced by a couple of overhead lights that were mounted to my workbench. 

I arranged the buildings and other pieces as shown.  When I was satisfied with their placement, I got my camera in position and took this shot as well as others. 



Although I did not use any figures in the scene, I think I accomplished the look I was going for.  I mainly was trying to create an eerie scene of a deserted castle courtyard.  How the light combined with the poster board and created a foggy wash over the top of the buildings was an added bonus and I was pleased with the effect.  I am not sure how natural the lighting appeared, though I also liked how the shadows gave that extra dimension to the buildings.  When the I saw the completed photos and selected this one, I felt a great sense of satisfaction when I could see how all of the components, that I made, came together.