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Scale panoramas

Mike McFadden uses shadow boxes and forced perspectives to render grand scenes in a small space
RELATED TOPICS: DIORAMAS | SHIPS
FSM_Uboat_01
Revell’s 1/72 scale Type VIIC U-boat is at the center of Mike’s shadow-box vignette, “Wolves’ Lair.” But, although he superdetailed the sub, that was only the beginning of a stunningly complex display.

In the April 2018 FineScale Modeler, Mike manages to model the U-boat pens Germans built on the French coast, massive outpourings of concrete that housed the submarines and their construction, fitting, and maintenance in seaside bunkers that were virtually bomb-proof — all in a scene that depicts hundreds of feet of subject material in a shadow box that would fit on your kitchen table.

This is business as usual for Mike, whose shadow boxes and forced-perspective dioramas have amazed FSM readers for years. For example, our May 2012 Reader Gallery featured a centerfold image of a waterfront D-Day staging area with boat landings, landing craft, railway, cranes, and a variety of vehicles and buildings, not to mention harbor waters, with 1/76 and 1/87 (HO) scales producing a forced perspective that condenses a huge scene into a tabletop tableau.

Mike makes it look easy. But the following in-progress photos show that if you’re going to try something like this, you’d better bring plenty of supplies and skills — modeling, carpentry, and electronics — for the journey.


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A block of clay serves for a work stand as Mike solders rails of stainless-steel wire.

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Tools of Mike’s trade include a handy bending tool.

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Rails and periscopes take shape.

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Steel and brass rod dress up the U-boat’s tower and wintergarten.

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An aftermarket deck gun from Griffon comes as its own multimedia kit.

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Mike begins erecting walls of the U-boat pen by coating styrene sheet with acrylic gel medium, sectioning it with a knife, then stippling the surface to replicate coarse concrete.

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Effective painting and weathering make the walls convincing.

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Mike lays out the scene in Foamcore within the box.

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FSM_Uboat_10a
Wiring for interior lighting laces the outside of the shadow-box’s core.

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FSM_Uboat_11a
An electric motor runs a working overhead crane on the ceiling of the enclosure; a worm gear drives the crane assembly traversing the space.

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The crane’s girders are scratchbuilt from styrene strip and structural shapes.

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The water is applied in layers of Woodland Realistic Water and Water Effects, with ripples of acrylic gel medium.

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The box of the diorama is the core within the box containing the wiring and motors. The outer box has a finished facade; Mike kept the top and front removable for access.

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Detailing the U-boat: Mike drilled out the limber holes; cables are ship-modeler’s thread; the netting is bridal tulle; and the torpedo-loading rig is a kit from CMK. Figures in the background are in smaller scales to exaggerate their distance.

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Scratchbuilding and superdetailing efforts pay dividends in the look of the wintergarten and the opened hatch aft.

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The working crane adds movement to the shadow-box scene.

More McFadden: Mike’s FSMology:


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Mike McFadden’s “Das Boot” ranges from 1/35 to 1/144 scale to create its perspective.
(Sept. 2001 FSM)


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“A night to remember” depicts the sinking of the RMS Titanic.
(Jan. 2010 FSM)


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D-Day preparations are in full swing in the portrait Mike provided for FSM’s Reader Gallery.
(May 2012 FSM)


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“Drama in a shadow box” uses four different scales to portray late-war street fighting.
(Oct. 2014 FSM)

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