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Remaking scenes of world history via dioramas

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Cielo Franklin
Cielo Franklin
Cielo Franklin is a Filipino teacher at the Tagalog School of Perth. For more information contact 0424 933 632.

A Filipino in South Australia, Larry Imatani took the COVID lockdown last year as a perfect time and excuse to take on a new hobby: making dioramas. A diorama is a three-dimensional model or replica of a scene. It takes a lot of patience, imagination, artistic abilities and steady hand to make every little piece of a diorama.

Larry said that he built his first diorama when he was in college in the Philippines. The inspiration came after he had seen some examples displayed at the old Goldcrest hobby shops in Makati and after one or two visits to the Ayala Museum, which showcased around 60 dioramas of Philippine history.

Last year, he started making dioramas again with all the staying at home and nothing to do. Starting with his fascination with history, then looking at what figures are available, either in his collection or in the market, followed by researching photos and videos of certain scenes of a particular moment in history that he thinks would be great to portray, he then draws his own sketches.

“For example, the Roman Gladiator Arena which I am still working on, I’ve always been fascinated by this era and particularly the gladiators and the brutal way entertainment was done during the Roman era. I already have some 54 and 60mm gladiators, Roman soldiers, a metal Julius Caesar still unpainted. I have some Roman plastic civilians on a smaller scale of 50mm. The spectators’ figures are hard to come by. I ended up converting plastic figures from different eras like Indians from the Wild West or civilians from a 54mm nativity set and started sculpting missing arms, turbans, whatever else the figures needed to look the part.

“I also came up with something similar to the scene from the Spartacus TV Series and the scene from the Russell Crowe gladiator scene where the fighters are in a small town arena and not the big Coliseum in Rome. Then I started creating the buildings and the background painting using high-density foam, MDF boards, acrylic paints, PVA glue, sand and all odds and sods that you find in a craft store, like popsicle sticks and balsa wood and start creating my scenes. I love going to cake shops for things like Roman pillars.

“Then, after I’ve created the buildings, I then position the figures, still not all fully painted, just to test run the look and feel of the diorama. I do that several times, repositioning figures checking which spot in the diorama they would look their best.

“Once I am happy, I start painting everything and setting up the diorama until completion. I end it by adding small details like foliage, small plants, an odd branch of a dead garden plant to represent a dead tree on a smaller scale.”

Larry also says that the more ambitious his projects are, the longer they take to finish them. His Life of Jesus diorama took him three years to finally have a decent set-up, but it is still a work in progress. “Sometimes, it never ends,” he added.

Larry Imatani
Larry Imatani
Larry Imatani diorama
Larry Imatani diorama
Larry Imatani diorama

Larry said that he would love to build dioramas about Philippine History. But he tried looking for figures representing our pre-Spanish Filipinos and couldn’t find a single one. So this means that he needs to either convert or sculpt from scratch all the Pinoys in his Battle of Mactan Diorama. And that’s why he hasn’t built one yet. Other scenes he would like to do are the 1898 Katipunan revolution, the Philippine American War, the Americans’ retaking of Manila in World War II, or a civilian scene with a jeepney parked in front of a sari-sari store, for starters.

Jokingly, he said that if he wins the lotto, he wants to build a museum in the Philippines that will be free admission for kids to learn about history. Otherwise, he will eventually sell the less-favored dioramas and keep the best ones for his children and grandkids to share.

Lastly, he says, “If anyone is interested in this hobby, you need to do some research first. Start slow and start small. Do it because you really love the hobby. If you love history or want to exercise your artistic skills and want to avoid getting the COVID, this may be the hobby for you. It surely kept me sane all these months in lockdown, and I didn’t notice that it has been two years running already. I didn’t go crazy because I had a hobby that I truly enjoyed and sometimes even made a bit of money on the side from time to time.”


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Cielo Franklin
Cielo Franklin
Cielo Franklin is a Filipino teacher at the Tagalog School of Perth. For more information contact 0424 933 632.

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