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Old 2020.10.17, 06:14 PM   #1
SuperFly
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Build your own Mini Z diorama

I guess I've reached that point in life where one no longer feels shame for totally nerding out, and with Covid bringing virtual unemployment and shutting down racing opportunities, I've had to find something new to obsess over.

Taking pictures of finished custom bodies is always fun, but sometimes finding a good background is tough. Sometimes I shoot outside, but then there will be some leaves or other crap in the background that kind of ruin the "scale" part.

Often, when I'm painting custom bodies, I have to draw the line between obsessive perfection and "good enough." I always tell myself I'm going to race it, so any flaws will blend right in after a few races. So, in that spirit, here's how to make a "good enough" diorama for Mini Z. My work for clients sometimes has rounds of revision into the hundreds, so with my personal projects, I try not to sweat the little things and accept the first or second pass at something. As I write this post, I can see half a dozen things I could improve right away. Maybe I'll get to it, maybe I won't.

I do graphic design for my day job, so I probably have access to some stuff people might not have, but the concept is pretty simple. I have an 11"x17" color printer which makes some of this possible, but one could tile letter size sheets, or go to Kinko's. I did some quick photoshop work to make a couple "scenes," an urban parking lot and a typical garage shop. Link to the files at the end.

1. Fairly standard 15.5" x 10" x 6" cardboard box. If you order a pair of shoes online, this is the box the shoe box will come in. This is a good size for several reasons. An 11x17 print will cover any surface. It comfortably holds 2-3 cars plus decorations. One of the things I end up doing a lot is scale math. For example, you can Google that a standard parking spot is 9 feet by 18 feet. 9 x 12 = 108 inches, 108 divided by 27 (mini Z scale = 1:27) equals 4. A mini Z parking spot is 4 inches wide. A typical car track width is 60". 60 divided by 27 = 2.2", so I made the tire tracks on the floor 2.2" apart. Anyway, you can apply this to anything and figure out how big it should be in Mini Z world. One of the dilemmas I'm running into is there's a lot of scale accessories available at 1:24 scale (coming in the mail) and that's close enough that you want it to work, but far enough away that it can ruin it. I'm thinking strategic placement and camera angles will allow it to work sometimes.



2. Determine which corner of the box is best for your diorama corner. One of the corners will have a glued flap, don't use that corner.



3. Cut the flaps off the box and set them aside. Leave the flap attached to the long wall you are removing, in case you want to use it as a floor surface.



4. One of the flaps you removed should fit in the gap on the floor between the other two flaps. Secure all floor flaps with packing tape, use something square to make sure your corner is square before you tape it down.




5. As I mentioned, I have an 11x17 printer, but use what you have. I prefer Spray Mount for this step, but two-sided tape could work.



6. Trim white edge of print so image bleeds all the way to the edge. Apply Spray Mount to back side of printouts. Start with the short wall, then the long wall, put the floor in last. I just fold the extra over the top and let it stick to the back side of the box, and just take scissors or an Xacto and trim off the extra.



7. Looks pretty good! At a quick glance, believable.



8. Spice it up with your own decorations. Every mechanic's shop in the 70s and 80s had that Farrah poster. Try to match the lighting for your photo so it matches the lighting in the scene. I know it's far from a perfect illusion, and if you were paying me, I'd take more time and do a better job, but it's close enough.



It helps to get the camera down to the eye height of a 1:27 person



This was my original test of the idea, I included these files as well.



Here are the graphic files, it's a 28mb .zip

edit: watch this thread, I will post some updated files, and put them in a properly sized pdf for easier printout.
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Last edited by SuperFly; 2020.10.19 at 05:02 PM.
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Old 2020.10.17, 09:26 PM   #2
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That's awesome! I've seen these types of displays on FB but never thought to just cut up a box and overlay with graphics.
We sound very similar in background and OCD. I take pride in doing the best job I can within the practical limits available to me and learned not to let defects bother me to much. After a couple weeks on the track, you never know. Most of the time, your never less than 3-5' from the body either.

I would very much like to build something like this myself. Might do a white box version as well. Hardest part for me is good lighting, I don't have setup lighting and have been relying on outside shots on a concrete pad. The focus depth usually is enough to blur the scale of the background enough so that it's not too distracting.

Great job again and good creative fun in the process! The background skin opportunities are endless...
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Old 2020.10.18, 03:14 AM   #3
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Thanks, glad you like it!

Yes, the skinning possibilities are endless, as well as the dimensional modeling that can be done on top. Thinking about things like opening one of those garage doors half way, and making backlit windows. The beauty of it is, the low time and money investment, and the ability to easily start over or make a separate, new "box". I ordered a model set that has a 2-post hydraulic car lift, an engine hoist, tool chest, welding tanks, etc., as well as some other 1:24 stuff like fuel cans and tire balancer. They might be too big, but maybe if I move to a bigger box and put them further away, it will work.

One kind of cool side effect of building this for me is a nice desktop parking lot. I usually have 2-3 cars I'm working on on my work table, and it's nice to have a clean, separate area to park them when I'm working on something else.
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Old 2020.10.18, 08:47 AM   #4
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Looks cool

Nice ideas here. I wonder what it would look like with graphics extracted from photographs of real environments rather than 3D graphics, which looks a bit too clean but nevertheless, very cool and far better than a white shelf!

Lovely job and thanks for sharing!
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Old 2020.10.18, 10:03 AM   #5
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That looks great! Iíve been thinking about doing one myself. I did one years ago for dNanoís I had. Thatís been my avatar for years.
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Old 2020.10.18, 03:52 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Minizorro View Post
Nice ideas here. I wonder what it would look like with graphics extracted from photographs of real environments rather than 3D graphics, which looks a bit too clean but nevertheless, very cool and far better than a white shelf!

Lovely job and thanks for sharing!
These actually are real photographs I composited, cloned, and sized for the box I was using. Believe me, if I could find a great picture of the inside of a dirty, well-used garage that was shot with a 50mm lens and covered the same area at the correct scale, without any angular or lens distortion, I would. One of the things that makes this illusion work is that things are square relative to their surface, and scaled correctly. I looked up the size of things like cinder blocks, garage doors, regular doors, etc, and scaled them exactly to the scale of the cars. I absolutely could take more time and add more grime, texture, detail, and maybe I will, this was just a quick proof-of-concept execution.

For example, the cinder block wall: I created a pattern tile of cinder blocks out of a photo of real cinder blocks, but if I had used a photo of a real cinder block wall of the same size, it would show lens and angular distortion (the grout lines would bow and curve at the edges). Because everything is square, I can put a door and fans wherever I want, and when they're photographed at an angle, they complete the illusion. It's really hard to find images that are shot straight on, no wide-angle distortion, sufficient resolution, etc. Same for the oil stains on the floor; if it was one single image the oil spots and tire tracks not in the center of the image would distort. I also kind of went into it thinking I would augment the color laser prints with actual objects, paint washes, etc. I don't mean to sound defensive about this, just trying to explain my process, and why some things work better than others. One way to achieve what you are describing is photo compositing. You can see some of this with the cinder block wall as well. My original pattern is a clean, white cinder block wall. I added a layer of dirt, as well as lighting effects to give it a less uniform appearance over the whole wall. I absolutely could add more, like "exit" signs, OHSA posters, stains, chips, etc. It just takes time.

As I mentioned in my original post, I have a tendency to want to make things perfect, and as a result, some things never see the light of day, because they're never good enough to call it finished, or I get too intimidated to work further for fear of screwing it up. I wanted to call this version "good enough" and move on to either enhancing this version, or making a new one. We probably get a box this size delivered to our house once a month, and my laser printer is about 15 feet away, so there's always another opportunity for refinement.
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Old 2020.10.19, 01:46 PM   #7
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Just wanted to say, this looks awesome and will be making one. I'm completely doing things the hard way apparently.
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Old 2020.10.19, 08:28 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SuperFly View Post
These actually are real photographs I composited, cloned, and sized for the box I was using. Believe me, if I could find a great picture of the inside of a dirty, well-used garage that was shot with a 50mm lens and covered the same area at the correct scale, without any angular or lens distortion, I would. One of the things that makes this illusion work is that things are square relative to their surface, and scaled correctly. I looked up the size of things like cinder blocks, garage doors, regular doors, etc, and scaled them exactly to the scale of the cars. I absolutely could take more time and add more grime, texture, detail, and maybe I will, this was just a quick proof-of-concept execution.

For example, the cinder block wall: I created a pattern tile of cinder blocks out of a photo of real cinder blocks, but if I had used a photo of a real cinder block wall of the same size, it would show lens and angular distortion (the grout lines would bow and curve at the edges). Because everything is square, I can put a door and fans wherever I want, and when they're photographed at an angle, they complete the illusion. It's really hard to find images that are shot straight on, no wide-angle distortion, sufficient resolution, etc. Same for the oil stains on the floor; if it was one single image the oil spots and tire tracks not in the center of the image would distort. I also kind of went into it thinking I would augment the color laser prints with actual objects, paint washes, etc. I don't mean to sound defensive about this, just trying to explain my process, and why some things work better than others. One way to achieve what you are describing is photo compositing. You can see some of this with the cinder block wall as well. My original pattern is a clean, white cinder block wall. I added a layer of dirt, as well as lighting effects to give it a less uniform appearance over the whole wall. I absolutely could add more, like "exit" signs, OHSA posters, stains, chips, etc. It just takes time.

As I mentioned in my original post, I have a tendency to want to make things perfect, and as a result, some things never see the light of day, because they're never good enough to call it finished, or I get too intimidated to work further for fear of screwing it up. I wanted to call this version "good enough" and move on to either enhancing this version, or making a new one. We probably get a box this size delivered to our house once a month, and my laser printer is about 15 feet away, so there's always another opportunity for refinement.
I know very well what you mean with getting obsessed and never finishing projects (or taking forever).
You did the right thing with keeping it simple and getting it done, it does look cool.
I know it's not easy to get hold of good photographic reference, and it's possible that a photo of something complicated, on a flat cardboard box, would look more fake.
So your video-game texture approach, nice and clean, works really well.
I've seen somewhere on japanese websites some set elements, all come as printable sheet of paper to cut, to fold and glue. I completely forgotten about those and maybe I remember them nicer than what they actually were, but it could be another way to achieve a similar result perhaps with a bit more 3D effect as all those foldable bits created 3D structures, But it does sound too complicated already, I think your approach is the right one. I might make one too and give my wife another reason (as if she didn't have enough already) to wind me up.

Last edited by Minizorro; 2020.10.19 at 08:36 PM.
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