This WW2-Era Soviet Diorama Is an Genuine Work of Art
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Who doesn't like a good diorama? Here at IE, we are no exception, and this WW2-era simulation of the Soviet invasion of Berlin is absolutely outstanding.
If you want to replicate this for yourself, here is a simple — if not a tad long — guide to building your very own. Hold tight, this is going to be a lot of work (but thoroughly worth it).
But first, you will need some things before you get stuck in.
Tools and equipment needed
- T34/85 1:35 scale model tank
- 1:35 scale WW2 civilians
- CAD plans for buildings
- Dolls House building parts (windows, doors, furniture, roofing, etc.)
- Mock Dolls House flooring materials
- Wooden display bases
- Lollipop sticks or plastic rods
- Laser cutting machine
- MDF or cardboard
- Balsa wood
- Wood glue
- Masking tape
- Modeling knife
- Modeling tools (file, etc.)
- T-shaped profiling
- Oil paints and thinner
- Weathering powders
- Length of plastic I-beam for models
Step 1: Plan your diorama
The very first step is to plan your diorama — obviously. This particular one has been designed to replicate the Soviet advance into Berlin in the dying days of WW2. For this reason, it has simulated period German buildings, roads, etc., and a Soviet tank.
You can either build the main pieces using cardboard, plastic-card, or similar material or, as in this case, design the buildings in CAD and laser cut them from MDF or balsawood. You can find the CAD plans for this particular diorama here.
Attention to detail is key, so look at as many source images as you can. The creator of this diorama has gone to great lengths to imitate the paving, streetlights, architecture, etc., that he feels is representative of Berlin at the time.
This particular diorama will also be split into three main scenes, each to be mounted on its own wooden pedestal. You can complete as one single piece, or as many sub-pieces as you like.
Step 2: Remove the tank parts and begin to assemble the tank
With the diorama planned, we'll start building our diorama by assembling and painting the centerpiece — the T34 tank. Remove the sprues from the box and begin to carefully liberate the pieces from them.
Trim off mold lines and file down as needed. use pliers and a modeling knife to do this as carefully as possible. Some prefer to paint the parts while they are still attached to the sprue, but this is completely up to you.
With the tank assembled, as per its instructions, you can begin to customize it. For this diorama, the T-34 will be equipped with anti-RPG "Slat" armor. Use wide staples, or similar material, to fashion and attach mounting arms for the netting, as shown above.
For reference, the finished piece will look like the below image.
If you want to replicate it on your diorama, you can either copy this example or search the internet for real-life images from the Second World War. The choice is completely yours.
For painting the tank, we have a dedicated tutorial to just that. For brevity, we will gloss over this section.
Step 3: CNC laser cut your buildings and other features
Next, after you have either designed your own buildings or loaded the supplied CAD files, the next stage is to CNC laser print them.
Alternatively, you could build from cardboard/plastic-card or use off-the-shelf models, or even 3D print some to the same scale. The choice is completely up to you.
Once cut, dust down and otherwise tidy up the laser-cut shapes. Use a mixture of files, modeling knives, and rotary tools to make short work of this.
With that complete, begin to assemble your piece as needed. Try to keep in large sections but do not glue floors into place, or the building's main walls to the bases. You will be removing and painting them ad hoc later.
Use wood glue for this purpose. You can also add more details by hand, like brick and blockwork, etc.
With the buildings assembled, you can also make window panes, and other features out of balsa wood (or equivalent). The more detail you add now the more realistic and believable your final diorama will be.
With the buildings completed to your particular requirements, you can now begin to paint them. Add thick stipple effects, etc., to simulate a real building as needed.
Use an airbrush to paint larger sections of the external elevations, as needed. Be sure to mask off any areas, and features, you don't want to be painted between colors.
Do the same for internal walls too. Obviously, being homes and used buildings, the internal surfaces will have a variety of tones and decorative features like coving, etc. Let your inner interior designer wreak havoc here.
You will need to build main roofs yourself too. You can either cut strips of balsa wood or use other materials like matchsticks to assemble as needed.
For added realism, you could study architectural plans as reference material for how roofs, like Mansard roofs, of this period, were constructed.
Once assembled, paint the rafters, purlins, and such using a dark brown color. Heavily water down the paint and apply a "wash" over the wood to give them an aged feel. Alternatively, you can use thinned-down oil paints too.
You can apply to all areas or just those parts that you plan on keeping exposed.
Next add lining boards to the inside rafters of the roofs and roofing tiles to the outside, as needed. Depending on the number of exposed building elements you want, either fully tile or leave exposed.
Continue until the roofs are completed to the level you want, and then add in other features like windows and doors. You can either handcraft these elements or use commercial Dolls House types to the same scale.
If needed, paint the building's elements, like the roofing tiles, to match the tone needed. Internally, you can add more strips of balsa wood, or popsicle sticks, to create internal veneers.
Use oil paints or acrylic paints to tone the veneers accordingly. Drybrush features, like the roofing tiles, as needed to give them depth and add realism.
Step 4: Add floor/ceiling details between levels
With the main constructions of the buildings complete, you can now add floor levels. Make a composite structure of laser-cut balsa wood, and veneers of Dolls House — or other flooring patterns. Add a mixture of floorboards, carpets, block flooring, etc. as you desire.
Paint as needed to make them seem aged and used. Use a mixture of dry brushing and washes as needed.
If you are adding ceramic or vinyl tiles, cover strips with masking tape and paint by hand to give a two-tone effect. Or just paint them all the same shade. Make them looked aged and worn using a mixture of washes and dry brushing.
Step 6: Add effects to the street level
With that all complete, you can now turn your attention to the streets of your diorama. Add textured details like road cobbles, sidewalks, etc., and paint accordingly.
Once complete, add some weathering powders and work into the features to make them look old and worn.
Spray paint larger sections, where needed, like the internal ground floors of the building or sidewalks. For concrete features, use a variety of shades of light blues and greys to add depth and make them look realistic.
Step 5: Add weathering effects on the buildings
Once happy, you can move on to some basic weathering effects on the buildings. For water staining, add small dots of black paint along with the vertical features of the building likely to get exposed to things like rain — like windows sills.
Then begin to spread the paint out to give a stained appearance on the features, as needed.
Keep your brush nice and wet when doing this and use a technique called "feathering" for best results. Mix things up with a variety of blacks and browns to really bring the buildings to life.
Do a similar technique on the inside walls too. Obviously, staining will occur from things like tobacco smoke, rising damp, and mold, etc.
Once the aging process has been completed, you can now begin the final assembly of the buildings. Glue into place on the bases, and use set squares and spirit levels to ensure the buildings are perfectly erect.
If you want to make your own windows, you can do that now using balsa wood/matchsticks, and strips of clear plastic. Alternatively, use commercially available alternatives. In all cases, paint the frames to match the rest of the building.
Add other features like hinges, handles, etc., as needed.
Step 6: Add more internal details
For internal features, like period radiators, use a mixture of lollipop sticks and small lengths of shaped wood and glue them evenly along with the sticks. Alternatively, use commercially available ones or 3D print them, of course.
Pipework can be simulated using cut and shaped lengths of copper wire or paperclips.
In the roof spaces, you can simulate years of dust and neglect using shavings of wood, etc., and glue into place using pigment retainer or clear uPVC glue.
With stored furniture in places like the roof space, paint them as needed, and then be sure to add a layer of fine dust powder to give them the appearance of being dusty.
Once you are happy, glue the furniture into place. You can make your own books using a small rectangle of cardboard, and prize apart the layers using tweezers. Paint the outside surfaces to make them look like old old books. Once complete, add them haphazardly in roof spaces or wherever you want.
For other details, like artists' easels, make them using lengths of matchsticks, or cut plywood, and darken their appearance using oil paints one again as you did for the roofing timbers.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can even paint your own mini-paintings to add to the easels or hang on the walls of your little diorama homes.
For old oil tubes, take a length of the lollipop stick, squeeze the end flat, and cut off. Then paint them as needed.
You could add more paintings, buckets, mini-pencils, canvasses, etc. as needed to make an artist's studio like this one. Go crazy.
For other rooms, paint and age furniture as needed. You might find it easier to use commercially available Dolls House products for this. Add chairs, tables, dressers, etc.
For tablecloths, you can take a length of paper, soak it with PVA glue and water, and drape it over a table. Leave to dry and paint/drybrush alter. Add other details like coffee cups with coffee using black/brown wash.
If you want to add other furniture that you can't find, like coatstands, you can make them yourself using a plastic profile, Insert it into a drill, and "wood turn" it using a modeling knife. Add copper wire lengths to form the arms and legs after.
Try to think about how each floor would be used in real life. For example, the ground floor levels would likely be commercial premises, like cafes, restaurants, shops, etc., with the upper floors purely residential.
Step 7: Add more details to the exteriors
Once you are happy with the interiors, you can return to the outside of the buildings. Add more building detritus to the streets, and sidewalks in much the same way as the roof spaces.
Use shavings, dust, and sand to any corners, and flat surfaces were needed to give it a war-torn feel. Alternatively use commercial "building material" weathering powders.
Fix everything into place using special fixative or clear PVA glue.
If you haven't already, you can also stick your buildings to their wooden display bases, if needed. Varnish all exposed areas once complete.
Once the varnish is complete, you can continue to add more details like brown dust and rust to places around the diorama, as needed.
Step 8: Add your tank to the diorama and people
With the building street effectively complete, it is now time to add our tank to the diorama. Add lengths of copper wire to the middle track wheels of the tank as shown below.
Decide where you want the tank to stand, and then drill matching holes into the street. Match up the copper wire lengths and drill holes, and glue the tank into its final resting place.
With that complete, you can now begin to add some actual people to the diorama. Source period human models to the same scale, paint them up as needed, and add them to the diorama.
You might want to include things like Soviet soldiers, German civilians, and Allied personnel like war correspondents, etc. You could even add lurking German soldiers/snipers, etc. if the mood takes you.
You can make flags in a similar fashion to the table cloth you complete earlier and paint as required.
Continue to add more details to add to the story as you see fit. Add animals, other features, children, toys, pests, etc., until you are completely happy with the final look. You could even add battle damage to the tank, or walls of the buildings, as well as, other neglect like peeling paint, etc.
The choice is completely up to you. With that, your WW2 diorama is basically complete.
Now all you need to do is find somewhere prominent to display it. That was a lot of work, well done you!
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