Work table with various design tools.

Anatomy of a Diorama

diorama guy diving

Below in the depths of One Kendall Square is a brand new cozy little bar called State Park—the newest venture from the geniuses behind Hungry Mother. Amongst the pinball machines, shuffle board table and 80’s beer signs is a rather large diorama of beach goers and campers at Hungry Mother State Park.

outside state park

I had the great privilege to be a part of the team that brought this baby to life. Rachel Miller Munzer (owner), Heather Mojer (owner), Christine Rankin (SP architect/interior design consultant) and myself (professional craft maven), all of whom have no real diorama experience to speak of, got together weekly to figure out how to tackle 6ft long space. After hours of YouTube video watching (there’s a million of them), article reading and beer drinking under our belt, we were ready to dive in. Three months later we emerged, hands caked in spray mounted green turf, ready for our masterpiece to be placed into the rectangular hole in the wall of one of the dining rooms.

 Here’s how we did it.

diorama mockup

First we made a very (very) crude test model, at size, so we could plan out where everything would go. The box is less than a 1ft deep which posed a great challenge when dealing with the forced perspective (Heather’s catch phrase).

diorama schematic

Christine was a great was a great asset to have around by mocking up schematics to help us work out our depth issue.

foam sheets for diorama

Next we stacked sheets of foam, used for insulation, to create the physical landscape. The foam then had to be carved out using a hot wire cutter (is this thing really $40?! Looks like it was made in someone’s garage from cast-off Radio Shack parts). This tool was worth its weight because it made carving foam a dream (when it worked) Thanks Peter Senopoulos!

color blocking diorama

We then hot glued the pieces and primed the whole thing with black acrylic spray paint. We then blocked out the water, beach, and hillside with blue/gold/green paint.

diorama trees

While all this was drying, we were busy making trees (yes, all those babies are handmade). This consisted of store bought branches ( and our hands) painted with Hob-E-Tac (well worth the price), dipped in various shades of turf

diorama background painting

At my studio, I was painting the back of the box to create more depth (forced perspective) and add a sky.

diorama in progress

diorama detail fishing

After all that preparation, we were finally ready to get to the fun part. We spray mounted the landscape and put down grass and sand and added a bank of Play Doh rocks (Thanks Ahuva) Finally our scene was coming together and it was time to add some life!

Charles RO

Early on we had gone to the Malden, apparently the miniature capital of America, to procure some folks that would live in our scene. First stop was the Hobby Bunker, home of military themed diorama splendor. Want to recreate Sherman’s march to the sea? This is your place. Then it was off to Charles RO, which boasts “America’s largest train store”. This place was a diorama gold mine! They had every kind of person we would need; hikers, swimmers, campers and bears! We even got a set of teeny tiny beer bottles.. this thing is going in a bar, after all.  Upstairs is a gigantic model train display with 4 moving trains, which only runs on Saturdays*  To give us a great deal of intimidation inspiration.

*or any other day if you are David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with their kids.

diorama detail

For our more off-kilter needs, we went to a German company called Preiser, maker miniature figures for any occasion imaginable, to find our more racy beach goer (can you spot her?)

IMG_3690 IMG_3691 diorama detail

And so into the scene, every one went . There are people swimming, diving exercising, camping, fending off bears, fly fishing, tree climbing, sun bathing and of course getting wasted while fishing in the lake.  Heather’s Step Dad made the house for us. And various other people chipped in along the way.

diorama swimmer

Last piece of the puzzle was to put in the water. We used Water Effects mixed with blue acrylic paint. This stuff is really cool and really looks like water.

finished diorama

Voila! Our diorama was complete. It was very exciting to see it in the wall, lit from the top.

We hope you come in and see it sometime. Have a shot and a beer while you are there. Also the fried chicken will blow your socks off!