Copyright 2002 T. Sheil & A. Sheil All Rights Reserved
Scenes, Dioramas and Vignettes
For Model Railroads and Porcelain Villages
(This is a collection of various articles and instructions. It contains good, basic information and examples which can aid in making a better miniature scene.)
You need not make permanent scenery to enjoy realistic, appealing scenes. You can create the most appealing vignettes easily, for temporary train layouts, Yule tree villages and any other place where you are making a "miniature world."
Granted, permanent scenery allows you to do all sorts of wonderful things to make a lasting, realistic scene. In that milieu, you can adapt and and every piece to make the scene. Quick and fast scenes don't give you that luxury. Often, you are using pre-made items and placing them "on the fly," You do not have the time or luxury of repainting, converting, or otherwise altering the pieces you use. Nonetheless, your temporary vignette can affect viewers as powerfully as a well-made permanent diorama.
Most of the things you need to know you have already learned. The most essential techniques are taught in grade school art classes!
Back in the late 1700s, German toy makers turned the toy soldier from plaything to art. They created the expected military figures in bright uniforms and the standard poses of the time: marching, kneeling firing, standing firing, standing at attention, charging with bayonet or spear, swinging sword or other hand-held weapon, marching on horseback, and charging on horseback. In the 1800s, the Germans expanded this to include camp scenes and other military activities, from making fortifications to camp kitchens. They also used their toymaking skills to produce figures in other genre. There were Roman processions, holiday parades, coronations, and even religious festivals all made just like the toy soldiers. The Germans pretty much originated scenes and vignettes in miniature.
Years later, this concept expanded in the toy soldier world. In the first part of the 20th Century, you could find every type of soldier plus such varied things as Indian Tiger Hunts with everything from elephants and mahouts to tents, gun bearers and the tiger himself. Britains Ltd. Had continued this tradition for many years. However, it was model railroading that moved the scene-making from play battlefield to the miniature civilian world.
The early days of toy trains saw many accessories. There were every kind of railway signal and sign. Soon followed tin-lithographed stations and depots, and then houses and bridges. Several toy soldier companies began producing railroad figures for the Standard Gauge railways of the time. In fact, a few train makers commissioned figures of their own. These generally included train crewmen, station personnel and passengers. The variety soon increased to city folks. Skiers, skaters and others who were not necessarily part of the railway scene.
The majority of those early railway figures were cast in lead alloys and painted in bright enamel colors. They were sold "ready to use". All the train buff had to do was place them on his layout. Like the trains themselves, they were considered toys.
Things changed considerably after World War II. Most of the lead soldiers were being replaced by plastic. Several of the toy soldier companies either converted to the new medium, or left the business. The interest in scale model railroading resulted in more realistic figures cast in plastic. These were sold unpainted. The idea was that they were to be used in permanent scenery. Loose figures were looked down upon by "serious" model railroaders, despite their continued use by many a toy train operator.
In the past decade, an entirely new phenomenon has taken the forefront. Well-crafted porcelain buildings appeared on the market, intended for Yule decorations. Along with them were assortments of figures and other accessories. People loved them. The well-decorated structures allowed for a colorful, eye-catching village that could be set up temporarily. It wasn't long before the O Gauge folks seized on these buildings both for holiday train displays and permanent layouts. The new porcelain buildings have much in common with the lead figures and tin buildings of the 1920s and 1930s. They allow people to set up a pleasing scene just by placing figures and structures.
As nice as the porcelain buildings are, few realize just how well they can be used to make superb vignettes. The art of the "instant vignette" was almost lost due to the interest in permanent dioramas created by skilled hobbyists. However, it is far from gone. The tricks for making a quick-and-easy scene are here for all to enjoy.
Scale modelling is notable for its insistence on scrupulous adherence to scale. Many of us have worked scale at one time or another. We now the "rules" of scale modelling. Rule #1 is that all pieces involved in a model be of the exact same scale. That is fine if you are doing scale work.
What we are doing is Tinscale - the blending of various items of different scales to create a diorama. Tinscale is almost entirely art. It is a visual technique rather than a scale in itself. Tinscale uses tricks of the artist to produce the kind of scenes that evoke a mood and feelings. It is more like painting a picture than building a replica. Therefore, we can blend items of different scales to create a more striking image than would be created using scale model techniques. Our method is more subjective than objective.
Survival is behind the tendency for the human eye to recognize things in this order: movement, color and shape A thing that is moving is of more immediate importance than one that is still. Color sets an item apart from other things around it, followed by shape. The reason we do not recognize shape before color is simple. Shape may be obscured by the environment, but color always stands out.
A common application of visual principle is camouflage. If you look at photos of real vehicle which have been camouflaged, you notice the natural colors used. You may also have noticed that these colors do not follow a regular patter, not do they coincide with the shape of the vehicle. They are random-looking swiggles and splotches. The idea of camouflage is to allow an item to blend in the surrounding colors AND to conceal the shape of the item. This is why camouflage always follows random and irregular patterns.
Our eye tends to notice stable objects which appear as if they are moving, or about to move. For instance, we would notice a crouching tiger faster than a sleeping one. Imminent motion catches our attention more than total immobility.
In planning our vignettes, it helps to remember the motion - color - shape pattern, and our tendency to note imminent motion before static immobility. We can use actual movement, such as a train, to draw our viewers into the scene. Color and shape can be used to guide the viewer's eye around the scene in a pattern of our choosing. Likewise, when using static objects in our vignettes, we can carefully place things that appear to be moving, though they are inert. For instance, a running or walking figure, though actually static, invokes the human sense of imminent motion.
The artist uses color and implied motion to draw the viewer's eye across a painting. He want people to scan the whole thing. Good use of color and shape will bring a person's eye around the entire image. Just as the artist uses paint for this, we use miniature objects.
A good idea, when beginning a new vignette, is to remind yourself of the movement - color- shape pattern of recognition, and the ideas of imminent motion and total immobility. Through implied motion our static objects gain a "speed," of sorts.
We have a survival instinct that reacts whenever anything is not as it should be. In wild places, something that is not right could imply danger. Change from the norm is a caution, and it has kept people safe. In our miniature world, the same instinct can call special attention to a vignette. Likewise, it can distract us from the real meaning of a scene.
One often sees a unique manifestation of this instinct at train displays. When people look at scale scenery, they almost always pick out any element that is awry. This is because they know they are looking at a replica of the real world, and so subject it to the same scrutiny as full-size reality. The same instinct "shuts down" when looking at a non-scale scene, such as one might expect on a classic tinplate layout. People know from the start that the tinplate world is not a precise replication, but an approximation. They overlook differences and "flaws" because they accept that this is a fantasy.
Tinscale uses this difference. People know immediately that what they see is not an exact scale replica, so they unconsciously shut down the instinct to look for wrong things. In a sense, their eyes excuse what they see. This is how an O Gauge train can be accepted as fitting in a scene with buildings and miniature figures from other scales. It allows us to blend large and small to make a wonderful vignette. The same people would notice a slight lapse in scale for a scale diorama.
Perception of fantasy allows people to enjoy action-adventure movies without questioning every stunt. They know that in real life, a hero would be seriously hurt if he jumped from great heights or was close to an explosion. This is excused, since action movies are unconsciously accepted as fantasy. The same people would be dismayed if a movie purporting to describe reality showed such exaggerations.
Though Tinscale is a work of fantasy, we do not abandon reality. By maintaining an eye for realism, our vignettes have all the more impact. People do not expect to catch delightful glimpses of reality in a fantasy work. When they see a scene that shows an aspect of reality in the right way, they are enthralled by it. The right way is the way that evokes an emotional response.
Have you ever wondered why Victorian era motifs are so popular? People associate the Victorian era with a more polite, safer society. Since that era of history is long past, they already know the outcome. Unconsciously, knowing that the Victorian Era ended peaceably, they are more likely to associate it with a safer, simpler time. Those who like to study history know that it was as turbulent as any other era, although the troubles were not so close to home. Most people's acquaintance with Victorian times are Dickens novels, old architecture and a handful of events covered in high school history classes.
The fantasy of a safe Victorian Era combined with the fantasy of a Tinscale diorama create a favorable feeling. It is enhanced by including a few little things which coincide with the era: a gentleman tipping his hat, for instance. Of course, the Victorian scene need not be 100% historically accurate. In matters of history , some minor lapses are allowed. Accepting the scene as fantasy, they might accept a town crier or other anachronism. It is all in how you set up your scene.
In the 1920s and 1930s, electric trains were thought to be "realistic." They were far from scale models in any sense of the word. People of that time were more familiar with railroads because they had a more intimate relationship with them. Everyone travelling more than ten miles travelled by train. The railway station was the center of activity in town. Its schedule set the schedule for the town's activities. People saw trains up close. They knew them well. So how could these same railroad-savvy people call the old Standard Gauge trains and accessories "realistic"?
Again, they accepted that these trains were toys, not scale models. The toy trains had some of the motions and details of real trains. They had a basic resemblance to trains. Having subconsciously accepted that these toys were not intended as scale models, they overlooked differences while focusing on similarities. The item looked and worked in a manner like the real one, even if its dimensions were not proportionate. That was enough to be viewed as "realistic."
Though people mentally forgive lapses in scale, they will not accept blatant errors. You cannot have 2 1/4" figures fixing the roof on an HO size house meant for 3/4" tall figures. You can place that house far in the background, and have 2 1/4" figures well into the foreground. That is but a use of perspective. We need to blend scales in a manner that works with reality, even if the blend itself is unrealistic. Viewers will forgive just so much in any piece, even fantasy.
Life has a motion. Our scene is static. Aside from an occasional animated piece or blinking light, everything on our display is motionless. It does not move. We create the illusion of motion by doing as the artist does: use elements of shape and color to move the viewer's eye across the scene.
Take a street scene, in any era. Walk down a busy street. Many people are moving, but some are standing in one place. The strolling couple, the postman, the man hurrying to catch a bus, the average folks walking to various destinations all move. Each moves at a different pace. Strolling folks move slowly, the postman moves in a routine manner, and the hasty fellow moves quickly. Other folks move at their own pace, a sort of "medium speed." Moving people are characterized as much by whom they as as the speed at which they move.
The woman who is window shopping, the pushcart vendor, the street musician, the traffic cop, the people at the bus stop are all staying in one place. If two people meet while walking, they stop to talk. Their stopping is a more temporary type than that of the folks waiting for the bus. They are more temporary than the pushcart vendor. Thus, we have different "speeds" of stopping.
Vehicles move at different paces, too. The old horse cart wit ha load of hay moves at a walking pace, while the fire wagon races through town. A man on horseback will move slowly if going about town, but hastily off on the road. Cars move faster than horses and people. The street sweeper moves slowly, the family car at average speed, and the fire truck races. Remember that some items are stopped. A parked auto is at a dead stop, while one at a crossing or street light is stopped only briefly. Fire trucks at a fire are stopped, but their stopping has a hastiness to it. As with vehicles, there are different speeds of moving and "speeds" of stopping."
Example: Cars at a crossing get more attention than those that are parked, because we mentally associate the parked cars as inert, while the stopped car implies imminent motion and perhaps a bit of impatience. Impatience is akin to haste, so that even a car that is stopped can imply speed. It is a sort of "interrupted speed."
Cars placed in the street attract attention because we assume they are driving. Parked cars get less attention ,and only stand out if they are part of a special scene or are somehow "out of place."
If you run a train or other animated item with your scene, its speed is important. You must mate the right speed with the overall pace of the entire scene, or the piece of the scene where it works. A very slow moving train might work for scale model railroaders, but not Tinscale. You need to pick up the pace enough to satisfy the eye, but no so much as to outpace the scene in which it works. Accessories ought not all be at the same speed. For instance, if you have an animated ski lift, it would be slower than the train. Real speed and the implied speed in static scenery have to be matched.
The Japanese sage Musashi spoke often of knowing "...the timing of things, their rising and falling." We must do the same in order to create scenes and vignettes which inspire appreciation in viewers
The human eye perceives near things as large, and distant things as small. Mentally, we expect this. It is crucial when mixing scales that we appreciate what is called "perspective' - the size relationship as affected by distance. Here we are using depth perception to mitigate differences in scale and proportion.
A good general rule is never to have a larger scale figure behind a smaller one. The larger the scale, the more it stands forward; the smaller, the more it stands rearward. In most cases, the pieces with greatest differences in size are furthest apart. Between those extreme are pieces with the least differences. The mid-range figures generally are placed closest to the forward or rearward ones that are closest to them in scale.
For example, you have a 1/87 house on a hill way to the rear, and a 1/32 figure in front. Now, if you have a 1/43 car and a 1/76 car, the larger model is placed behind but closer to the 1/32 figure, while the 1/76 car is placed closer to the houses. In this case, our perspective from near to far moves in four steps: 1/32 to 1/43 to 1/76 to 1/87.
The placement is affected by the space in which you have to work. Having six inches between the smallest and largest scales requires more care than having two feet. Should the scene involve pieces scaled between the extremes, "stepping down in stages" as described above does much to enforce the illusion of proportionate distance.
Perspective and distance stand together as a major consideration in producing effective vignettes with offscale elements. They can also play a key factor when working in a single scale. That which is placed rearward, when working in one scale, tends to be less conspicuous than that which is forward. Use the rearward to enhance the forward. It is much like a backdrop, or background,to the nearby action. Although you may wish to include key scenes further back, most of your overall scene will focus its main action to the foreground.
While placing items directly to the rear of larger scale pieces works, there are time it can be less than convincing. To make perspective work, you need enough real distance. If you place a very small figure to the rear of a large one, you need more distance than if you were placing a moderately smaller thing. Often, our scenes do not have enough real depth to "pull it off." An alternative is to create lateral distance. The smaller figure need be placed only an inch or so rearward, provided it is at enough lateral distance. For instance, if a figure is two inches back and six inches to the site, the image of perspective can work as well as if the figure were six or more inches directly to the rear. A slanting perspective allows you to gain the image of distance when depth is at a premium, while length is plentiful.
The use of a divider can also help with perspective (see the section on Lines). Something as simple as a roadway, narrow waterway or railroad track can do the trick. It should be placed between forward large scale items and rearward small items. If possible, the line should not be spaced evenly between them. Each case is unique, so decide if a line is better placed closer to the forefront or the rear in your particular scene.
Our eyes are trained to segregate anything that appears to be separated by a line. When we draw a line around something, we isolate it from other things around it. This is something you have probably learned in art class. Unconsciously, we separate those things which have a line between them.
Using this piece of psychology, you can so separate parts of your miniature world that they remain distinct. A separation can minimize the conspicuous incongruity of different scenes. For instance, if one scene used a larger scale than another, they might be uncomfortably obvious if placed together. Separate them by a road, railroad tracks or fence, and the incongruity fades. Psychologically, the viewer separates them as "different" before even noticing they difference in scale. He has accepted the difference before he is challenged by the differing scales, and so minimizes or even ignores them.
Our everyday world provides myriad examples of lines, either natural or man-made, that separate places and their function. The saying "the other side of the tracks" refers to poor neighborhoods. Often, different neighborhoods are clearly delineated by very real ines, be they railroad tracks, a fence, a river or a particularly notable street. Fences and walls are deliberate tools for separating one area from another. What happens on one side of the fence tends to differ from that on the other. Inside the fence is a factory, outside is the street. The factory is an industrial zone which looks very different from the normal activity in the neighborhood beside it. . For instance, in our Yule Village, the Blue Lighthouse was separated from the Victorian Village by a short distance and railroad tracks. Those tracks may have well been a high wall, for the effect they have! The semi-scale Village was so distant from the totally offscale Lighthouse area that people did not find their presence on the layout incongruous. Likewise with the New Village with its 1/48 scale buildings, and the Diner in a whopping 1/32 scale. Separation by tracks was enough to create a distance and differentiation. Viewers knew they were observing different scenes, and so were not put off by disparate dimensions of the vignettes. In the separated park of the Victorian Village, the wall separating 1/32 Policeman from the 1/40 playground scene helped overcome great disparity in size, despite their close proximity.
Lines work with psychology to allow people to separate things, and thus frees them from the unconscious need to demand congruity between those things. They can mitigate anything from scale differences to differences in theme, era, etc.
Typical lines include:
The real world is simpler than we think. To get more realism, one needs to understand that most of the key elements in everyday life are so simple we overlook them. Little details make a difference, even in pure Tinscale. We are not abandoning reality, after all. We are using it to evoke a positive reaction in viewers.
Human nature does not change much throughout the eras, but certain customs and mannerisms do. Thus, when doing vignettes from other eras, it helps to have a bit of background information on everyday life. For instance, the Victorian Era was more formal, even in everyday life. There were polite forms of address for casual encounters on the avenue. Likewise, that era was more class-conscious than we are today. Class was a greater issue in Britain and Europe than in America, yet even in the US it was much more visible. The wealthy spoke to the trades, middle, working and poor class only as it befit them. It was common for the lesser classes to show more deference to those of means and those with professional titles. Doctors, clergymen,. Architects and other educated individuals were treated with greater respect. There were also formalities between men and women. A man was expected to tip his hat to a "lady." Lady was generally meant, in this specific case, to be any well-dressed woman.
People had specific attire for different occasions. Going to dances, the theater or church required wearing one's best clothes. On all occasions, men were expected to wear a hat.
Think of these things, for they are elements that you would incorporate into a successful vignette of the Victorian Era.
Another popular era is the time from 1935 to 1950. Here again, the time was more formal than now. Children were expected to address all adults by title, such as Mister or Missus. People who did not know each other well would also use formal terms of address, and men were expected to show more formality toward women than toward other men. Though not as class-conscious as the Victorian Era, there were still formalities and distinctions. Men often wore suits to baseball games or an afternoon at Coney Island. A hat was considered essential, and a hat rack was a necessary piece of furniture. It would be placed it the vestibule or right inside the front door of any house, shop or office. Think of these little differences between that era and today.
Little things can make the difference. You do not have to do a lot of study to make a diorama of another era. All you need do is remember a few pointers about human customs in that time that differ from today. Likewise, have an eye for differences in technology of the times. The Victorian Era used gas light and required lamp lighters to turn on city lights at night. Modern times use electric street lights. Prior to 1920, many homes had no electricity and it was even uncommon in some cities.
Travel is another matter. Automobiles were infrequent from 1900 to 1915. Most travelled by horse power. From 1910 to 1925, it was common to see both modes of transportation. The railroad was the major way to travel by land until the 1940s. Air travel was far too expensive for most people until the very late 1950s.
You do not need to make an exhaustive study of the eras you replicate, unless you are planning to show these vignettes at a convention of historians. Chances are that you already know more than enough to appreciate the different customs, mores and technology. By keeping true to the era, and avoiding as many anachronisms as possible, you make a more believable scene.
One of the worst things that people do with scenes is to populate them with isolated, standing figures. You have probably seen such things in holiday displays and store windows around the holidays. Though all of the elements are in place, the miniature world looks frozen. It appears that everyone is standing still and nothing moves.
People move for a purpose. They have a destination. When they stop, it is for a reason. Aimless motion is less common than deliberate movement. Likewise, standing still just to stand is uncommon, while coming to a halt to change one's activity is common. It is important that whether moving or idle, people are placed with a purpose.
We are pretty comfortable with people moving for the purpose of getting from one place to another. We are aware that they move at different speeds, depending on the destination. But what of idle figures? Here are the things for which people commonly halt:
Window Shopping: this is a very common thing ,and tends to add an interesting element to a vignette. Of course, looking in a shop window is a fine story. People normally do not stare into the window of a restaurant, dry cleaner, salon, or other service.
Meeting a friend on the street, to converse. When friends meet, their conversation may be just a walking halt to exchange niceties, or a full stop to talk. Brief stops occur in the middle of the sidewalk, while longer conversation normally moves either toward the curb or the buildings.
Waiting to cross the street: people wait for street signals and railroad crossing. Most tend to look forward while waiting, though some may chat. Of course, if cars are stopped at the light, people immediately begin walking across the street. You don't see both cars and people halted at the same time.
Waiting for the bus, trolley, train, etc. Bus riders tend to wait standing up, in cities and places where bus service is frequent. Those in terminals and bus stations tend to have longer waits, and so may be seated or otherwise stand relaxed. Only when the bus, train or trolley gets in sight do they all stand momentarily, almost at attention.
Buying: people stop to buy from sidewalk vendors, pushcarts, new stands, etc. They tend to stand close to the vendor, a little closer than arm'sr each.
Street musicians, street showmen: these people pick a busy area, generally, and set up so as not to impede foot traffic. They may be against a building or on a corner. Some might place themselves in a park, in front of a statue, well, etc. Only on wide walkways would they position themselves in the center, always allowing for foot traffic to pass easily. Sometimes they will have a small fire going,to keep warm, if in a park.
Bums: these folks tend to huddle alone, on a park bench, in a dark corner of a station or at a street corner. You might find then under bridges or other places away from foot traffic.
Park people: those who idle in parks are doing a slow stroll, sit on park benches or look at some scenic item there, like a pond.
Events: whether skating or skiing or playing ball, people will stop to observe. Those involved with those doing the activity tend to stay close to the action, while idle observers are outside the area of action.
You probably never thought of these things. Most folks don't. They take it all for granted, which is reasonable, as it is such a normal part of everyday life. Nonetheless, it pays to pay attention. Look at your street, your town and the neighborhood as if you had never seen them before. Watch what people do. It will provide the kind of information that makes a more acceptable vignette
Also, learn a little of the customs of earlier times, should you seek to replicate another era. Understanding formalities of bygone times allows you to make scenes which are all the more believable. You do not have to make an exhaustive study. A brief look at the facts will suffice. After all, this is not rocket science! It is storytelling with miniatures.
There are things which are more than mere images of the past. They are symbols as well. These can be used with greater impunity, since the symbol overrides a degree of the literal historicity. Here we look at a few icons which can be used more easily.
The icons of which I speak are not the great symbols, but smaller, simpler ones. Some have a deep meaning, others are the items we associate with everyday life. They are essentials, a thing which everyone knows.
Icons catch attention. They can be used to add mood, attract attention and otherwise spice up a scene
Below are examples drawn from several categories.
People Icons are better know as Character Figures. Here are some examples:
Fictional and Legendary Character Icons:
There are a lot of them - here are a few related to the Winter Holidays:
We recognize each of these icons because they represent something. Having connotations beyond their everyday meaning, they are more conspicuous to the eye. They can be used to highlight a scene, move it along, or create a story all of their own. Remember, Tinscale works with the human eye. It is important to recognize things which are more likely to draw attention, and use them to our advantage when making great vignettes.
It is a rule that the present may contain many items of the past, but the past cannot contain most items of the present. Some things change more rapidly than others with time. A modern town can have modern buildings alongside Victorian homes, since houses do not change. However, a modern street would not have folks in contemporary attire sharing the sidewalk with folks in Victorian garb.
This is not to say that old clothing styles do not appear in modern times. A group of carolers might clothe themselves in older garb, as a group. A play might be Victorian, and thus Victorian figures are used as actors. Placing a single Victorian figure on a street with modern folks cannot be excused as an actor going to work. You would have to explain his presence to viewers, since the scene itself would not tell that tale. A good vignette always tells the story on its own, without explanation from other sources.
Victorian figures could also figure as a contingent in a modern parade, provided they are not the only contingent. The same goes for using Revolutionary War , War of 1812 / Napoleonic or Civil war marching figures. I must note here that many American marching bands use a Napoleonic era type of uniform. Marching Napoleonic bandsmen could easily be adapted to use as parade figures. Again, isolated figures from these eras would look ridiculous in a modern scene. Tolerance for the presence of such an anachronism would be limited.
Our perception of eras fogs with a growing distance in time and place. In other words, the longer ago it happened, the less sharp our concept of contemporary things. We miss little anachronisms easily when more time has elapsed since then and now. So it is that one might be able to slip a Civil War Caisson into our Victorian village without raising much fuss. One could not slip a Model T into that scene, however. Our blurred vision of the past has its limits.
Autos: Most men are familiar with autos as to the type and year of manufacture. The presence of modern autos is pre-modern eras will certainly raise a red flag.
Trains: Most people know that diesels are modern, although few know when the Diesel Era began. Diesels switchers began showing up in the 1920s, and streamliner trains in the 1930s, while mainline diesels did not start their careers until 1939. Steam locomotives ruled before 1939 and well into the 1950s. The diamond-stack and quaint type locomotives were icons of the 1800s, while those of the 1900s had plain smokestacks and accouterments.
Prior to 1900, passenger and freight cars were all made of wood. The "heavyweight" passenger car remained in use from the 1920s until the present, while smoothside and streamlined cars appeared in the 1930s.
Soldiers: You can actually get away with WW2 soldiers almost up to the present, especially if in full dress or khaki uniforms. But that's about it. If you plan to have soldiers on board, make sure they are the right ones for your era. The main types are
Military Vehicles: most people do not have an eye for military vehicles. Most WW2 types can be used right up to the present without creating an eyesore. If you are a stickler for accuracy, here are some pointers:
Our clothing tells a lot about us, and helps identify what we are. This is especially true of certain professions and occupations. Railway workers, policemen, firemen, soldiers, sailors and many others have a particular uniform of customary attire. Clothing not only determines the person's role, but his place and activity.
Policeman: a common figure on streets, in parks and in railway stations is the solitary copper. He tends to stand out of the way of foot traffic, placing himself in a position to observe. If walking, the policeman does not take the center of the walkway. He prefers to observe from the sides. A policeman may carry his baton in hand while outdoors, but not when indoors. A policeman in a shop or diner is there for the same reason as everyone else, and will be posed much like the rest of the crowd. (This goes for any other uniformed figure outside its special places)
Soldier: With so many toy soldiers out there, they make a tempting addition to a miniature world. Of course, most folks don't know that there is a way soldiers appear in different places. Soldiers waiting for trains or walking through town wear non-combat attire. They only wear fatigues if working, and never wear helmets or other combat gear unless in combat, training, or performing guard duty. You might see a soldier with helmet and rifle guarding the gate of a military post, but not waiting for the train. This also applies to sailors.
Since World War I, the US soldier is expected to wear an olive green uniform, although khaki tan and even wool brown have been used. Sailors wear white or dark navy blue. For the US, vehicles are generally olive drab with white stars. Even though modern vehicles are camouflaged in the real world, you can get away with green vehicles with stars in modern vignettes. Most people do not know specific tank or vehicle types, by the way. British uniforms have been either brown or olive green for soldiers, blue for sailors. British vehicles are generally a dark forest green, although olive green is acceptable.
In civilian areas, soldiers and sailors tend to be seen at stations, and in diners or taverns. Soldiers do not shop the way civilians do, so they are unlikely to be seen in most shops, especially for services like haircuts or laundries.
Trainmen and Conductors: seen mainly in stations, train crewmen and conductors are often found on platforms. They tend to stand at the end of the platform, if in a terminal, prior to a train's boarding time. Standing or walking trainmen are at home anywhere in a station. Those carrying lanterns would be nearer the platform and tracks. Those swinging a lantern would be at the end of a platform or beside the tracks, not actually in the station.
Porters: the porter's route runs between the platform to the baggage area to the place where customers enter the station. His role is to carry baggage, and he will normally accompany passenger figures.
Firemen: firemen in turn-out gear and helmets can only be placed in three places: around the firehouse, at the scene of a fire, or heading to the fire. There is one exception: a common scene among hobbyists is having fireman rescue a cat or child from a tree.
Sanitation men: these fellows tend to work off the sidewalk, sweeping the gutter or rolling a trash bin.
Clergy: a walking or standing figure in normal attire can fit almost any street or station scene. Those in a robe or ceremonial attire are fitting near a church. A clergyman reading a book can be placed at the head of a congregation, or waiting in a station off to himself.
Formal attire: figures like these were made for wedding scenes, and are usually placed as such. You can place a man in tuxedo outside a restaurant, however. Or have a couple in formal attire walking toward a restaurant or church.
Nurses and Doctors: it would not be unusual to see a nurse in white dress walking down the block or waiting for a train. Of course, if she were holding a stethoscope or other medical instrument, she would only be in place at a hospital. The same goes for doctors. Doctors do not generally commute or stroll in their white coats with their stethoscopes. The doctor is best placed at a hospital scene.
Christmas Carolers: these look fine near a large holiday scene, such as the large Yule tree in the center of town or in front of a church. Carolers are among the very few figures that can successfully wear Victorian garb on the street in the modern era. Carolers look good near any Yuletide gathering.
Professional seamen: unlike military sailors, the professional merchant seaman is a civilian. He is most likely seen near the dock area, usually within 1000 feet of the waterside. Professional seamen are appropriate at dockside, around nautical structures such as lighthouses, and in coastal villages. Because they are civilian, you might even be able to have one or two in a city scene that is not exactly nautical.
Your vignette must tell a story entirely on its own, without any explanation or commentary from you!
Now is the time to put your miniature world together, scene by scene, vignette by vignette. This process, if followed in proper sequence, will give you a most alluring result:
1) Plan on a general theme for your world
2) Map out the vignettes and scenes that will create the theme.
3) Gather the elements you will use in the work
4) Lay out the larger items in their general positions
5) Start making your world scene at a time.
6) complete one scene before moving to the next
7) When your scenes are completed, add elements that connect them
8) Make all changes necessary at this point.
9) Double-check your work, so that each scene tells it story without the need of commentary.
10) Make your final adjustments
Perspective - larger scale figures always go behind smaller ones
Movement - Still item scan imply motion - use it to direct the viewer from scene to scene
Time - items form one era ought not be combined with items from another
Purpose - people do not move or stop aimlessly. The move to a destination, and stop for a reason.
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