43 - HOW--TO--DO--IT

How to do it…

I receive a lot of questions of how to do different stuff

when building a diorama.

I always explain the techniques I use when I describe the different dioramas in this website, but it might be a little difficult to sort everything out (after all there are a lot of pages) and I have therefore decided to answers some of the most asked questions here.

Please understand that these answers are not purported to be the only correct - they are simply a description of how I solve different problems

There is a zillion ton of information on the net and I recommend searching the internet for any question you have on

modelling or diorama building.

If you want to learn more about  my dioramas,

please visit the different dioramas on this website.

If you still have questions, please do not hesitate to ask.

Making realistic explosions and fire

The most frequent question I got is

how to make a realistic explosion in

a diorama.

I know that many want to try, but are

thinking that this is too difficult.

Well, in my opinion: It’s not.

I use the same ingredients in every

explosion I have made:

Chicken wire


Cellophane (sometimes)

LED lights



The chicken wire is to make a cage

around the explosion site.

On this cage I place the cellophane

(if needed) and the cotton.

It is very important to have as much air

inside the cage as possible because

of the heat from the lamps.

The most common faults in my opinion

is to use

too much cotton,

too much colour and

too little lights.

An explosion is all about lights.

White lights at the core and colour lights (yellow/red) at the edges, together with black smoke.

I always use LED lights, because they emits less heat than other light sources. 

Battery operated lights are too weak to give the right light source and I therefore always use LED lights directly connected to 110V or 220V outlets

Even if LED emits less heat than other lamps, it WILL PRODUCE HEAT.

You should therefore never leave the lights on unattended.

Of course there are variations from explosion to explosion and I think the best I can do is to show some pictures from some of the dioramas.

#1  “Hans Ulrich Rudel and his Stuka”  page 08

The light is a 3W 220V LED. I did not have a chicken wire at the time I made this diorama and used a more (unnecessary) solid mesh. In hindsight, I used too much colour on the cotton. It would have been much better with less yellow/red. I did not use any cellophane.

#2  “Operation Bodenplatte”  page 29

There are two P-47 being blown up in this diorama. In both cases I used a 220V 3W LED lamp.

One of the planes was hit in the engine department with a 20mm grenade. This explosion is supposed to look like a grenade explosion.

The other plane (below) was hit in the centre fuel tank and exploded with a lot of burning fuel.

I needed more colour on this explosion and used yellow and red cellophane under the cotton.

The cotton was sprayed with a little grey/black colour.

#3  “The day of the Typhoon”  page 34

In this diorama, a German tank is hit by a rocket and blows up.

#4  “Kurt Knispel – the tank legend” page 39

In this diorama a Russian tank is hit and blows up.

#5  “The U2 incident, May 1960”  page 41

In this diorama a SA-2 missile is fired at the U2 airplane.  I used a 12V halogen lamp which I inserted in an acryl plastic tube to illustrate the blast from the rocket engine

#6  “The Cutlass Ramp Strike (1955)” page 45

The aircraft had a high-speed skid along the edge of the carrier and the explosion/fire come both from the plane and the broken fuel tanks spraying the deck behind the aircraft.

I therefore had to make two “explosions” (or “a long one” if you want) and used all together eight 220V LED lights to create the burning inferno on the deck.

#7  "Heinkel He-177 Greif"  page 48

The starboard engine is on fire

#8 "Deadly Nocturnal Encounter"  page 51

A Lancaster bomber is shot down over Germany. The starboard wing is on fire

For explosions, please also see page 54: - "F-100F MISTY over Vietnam"

and page 57:  "MiG-21 vs F4 Phantom"

How to make battle damages on a plastic model


Never try to melt the plastic to create damage. Melted plastic will always look like melted plastic.

The skin on any plastic model is far too thick and can never illustrate the real skin, either on airplanes or vehicles.  It should therefor never be shown as part of a damage.

Let say you want to make a hole in a 1/72 scale aircraft and the plastic in the wing or fuselage is 3mm (1/8in) thick.

3 mm on a 1/72 model means 20,6 cm (8 7/64in) in real life. If you use this as the edge of the hole, everyone will see that this does not look realistic. A Tiger Tank would be proud of having armour like this.

What I do is making the hole a little bigger than planned.

Then I use the thin aluminium from a tube with bacon cheese (or anything else that can be liberated from the fridge). This can easily be cut with a scissor to form a new skin around the hole. It is very easy to sculpt exactly the way you want it.

Remember also that aircraft fuselage and wings always has ribs on which the skin is fixed. You always have to consider if you should put in ribs in the opening you are making. Ribs can be made from a thin styrene sheet of from the metal in an empty tin can (which is thicker than the metal in the bacon cheese tube)

Always use CA to glue the metal to the plastic. Don’t worry if the metal has a different colour than the model – it should always be painted later.

Remember that most hits by machine guns go right through an aircraft if it does not struck some heavy metal (engine or similar). These hits just make small holes, entry hole smaller than exit holes.

Exploding grenades is another matter. If they explode inside they will rip a hole in the aircraft and the skin will be torn apart from inside the aircraft.

I have made battle damage on the following pages in this website: 07, 09, 12, 29, 30, 34 and 45

I’ll show you two of the battle damages: “B-17 Crash Landing” (page 12) and “Hanna Reitsch, April 1945” (page 30)

                  Making trees and bushes


You will often need bushes and trees in your dioramas.

There is a huge selection of trees and bushes which you can buy from your hobby store or on-line. They are all very nice, but they are all very expensive.

If you want to make it yourself, there is an easy and inexpensive way to do it.

A tree or a bush is made by twisting the wires from inside a lamp cord around the wooden stick. By still twisting the wires into smaller parts, it will be branches.  By using a thicker wood stick you can make the tree as big as you want.

To get the stem as natural as possible, I used Elmer's clear School Glue, mixed with sawdust. The sawdust is important because it look like bark on the tree trunk when the glue is dry. How to get sawdust? Find some wood and use your saw. It’s that simple.

The stem can be painted by hand, but the small branches should be airbrushed, otherwise, it is almost impossible to paint all the thin wires. To get the leaves on the tree, I spray the branches with hairspray and sprinkle it with the Woodland Scenic Grass. It adheres to the hairspray and with a sympathetic look, it could be leaves. 

As always, it is only your imagination that limits the creation of trees.

An example is the tree which holds the Stuka in the diorama at page 08 “Hans Ulrich Rudel and his Stuka”

The tree should not only hold the Stuka but also hide the cables to the electric motor. I therefore used brass tubes as base for the tree trunks (instead of wooden sticks). Fixed the tubes in the diorama base, inserted the cables through the tubes and started lashing the metal wires around the brass tube to create the tree trunk and the branches. Then glued the trunks with School Glue mixed with sawdust, used the hairspray and sprinkled the branches with artificial grass. Then the Stuka was fixed to one of the brass tubes:

          How to take pictures of your model


I have seen too many nice models

photographed on the workbench, witch of

course ruin the whole picture.

Please don’t do that.

A white (or coloured) cardboard (or similar) is

a million times better than the workbench.

Many people believe that the picture taking is

very difficult.

It isn’t, but if you start reading books or look at the net, you will quickly be overwhelmed with technical terminology and apparatuses.

What you need is a camera which allows you to choose the aperture and which adjust to the light (temperature) you are using. You also need a tripod and a couple of normal reading lamps. You do not need any flash.

That’s all.

I use an ordinary Samsung NX200 with an 18-55mm lens. The aperture set to 20 or 22, which often gives a very long exposure (anything from one to twenty seconds is normal). That’s why you need the tripod. (The small aperture always gives a long exposure, but also more depth of field)

For lights, I use normal reading (halogen) lamps. Often two lamps, but sometimes 3 or even 4, depending on how the shadows appear on the model I use.

It is important to use lamps with the same colour temperature (same type of light source). For example, never mix daylight and lamplight.

You just have to adjust the position and strength of the lights until you are satisfied with the result.

I often need to correct the picture (colour, exposure etc.) and use the Windows Photo Gallery (which everyone has on their computer) for this.

I will also recommend to invest in a photo editing program (I use the Corel Paint Shop Pro X6) for removing unwanted shadows or “stains” or to past a picture into another picture.

You need this if you want to paste the model on a certain background or if you want to paste several models on the same background.

Before I got the photo editing program, I often used to hang an airplane in thin fishing treads in front of a background. That worked fine btw.

     Making the wheels flat against the ground.


Many of the models we are making have low pressure tires. This means that we need to flatten the tires against the ground.

The tires in the kit are often completely round. If you want a more realistic tire, you can either buy them as a separate aftermarket product, or you can flatten the tires yourself.

The way I do this is to press the wheel against a hot iron.

The plastic will melt against the iron and you can easily decide how much you will flatten the tires by how long you place it against the iron.

Very easy and very inexpensive.

          How to make spinning propellers


To make propeller look like it’s spinning on a static model is close to impossible. I have used a plastic disc (which always looks like a plastic disc), I have used something called PropBlur which is a thin brass plate cut to look like a spinning prop. Unfortunately, any way you paint it, it does not look like a spinning propeller, but is better than the plastic disc. I have also used steel wool to form the propeller – which was not a great success.

In my opinion, the only way a propeller will look like its

spinning is to let it spin.

There are two options: Install an electric motor or let it spin

by blowing at it.

I used an Airfix electric motor in the Rudel’s Stuka on page

08. This is undoubtedly the best method for spinning a


But there is another method which I use all the time, and

that is to lubricate the propeller shaft so it easily spins

when you blow at it (a fan, a hairdryer etc.)

Many models have a kind of propeller shaft incorporated

in the propeller, if so, just see that there is as little friction

as possible and lubricate the moving parts with graphite.

With the graphite, the propeller will have almost no friction

and would start spinning with a little help from a vent.

If the model does not have a propeller shaft, you have to

make one yourself. 

Use a brass tube and a brass rod which fit into the tube.

Place the brass tube into the model’s engine (as it should

be part of the propeller shaft) and glue the brass rod to the


When you insert the rod in the tube and lubricate with graphite, it will easily spin. I use this method on the B-17 (page11).

This blow-on-the-propeller-method is very useful if you want to take a picture of the aircraft with spinning propeller. The drawback is that the propeller is not moving when the aircraft is standing on a shelf for display.

If you want a static model with “spinning propeller”, you have to use one of the other methods.


      Scale effect - Adding white to the colours


You might have noticed that colours intensity fade the further you get away from the object. If you stand close to an aircraft, the colour might be crisp and strong, but if you see the same aircraft farther away, the colours will be less intense.

The same applies of course for scale models.

If you are viewing a 1/72 aircraft model at 50cm (20in), it is the same as looking at the full-scale aircraft from 36 meters (120ft) away

Of course this is entirely up to the modeller to decide what to do, but if you want your model to look as the real thing, you should give the scale effect some thoughts. I have seen plenty of nice models totally ruined by too strong colours

The solution is to add white to almost all the dark colours to reduce the colour intensity

The following is a good a thumb rule:

1/72 - add 15% white

1/48 - add 10% white

1/32 - add 7% white

Beware of the red colour. If you use white, it will turn pink, which is probably not a colour you want to use.

The white colour fades as well, but there is little use of adding more white. Use a little grey instead.

The greater scale you build (1/300 or 1/700), the more important it is to think about the scale effect. If you build smaller scale (1/24 or 1/32) the scale effect is less important.

But of course, I like to emphasize that it’s all up to each model maker to decide how to make his model. There are no right or wrong - If you are happy with strong colours, don’t let anybody tell you differently. I am merely pointing out some valid points if your object is to make a time-frame realistic model.

:This B-17 tail might be an example. The black in the left picture might seems nice, but is all wrong if the intension was to create a model as close to the real WWII B-17 as possible. Not only is there a scale effect on this 1/48 B-17, but all paint on a B-17 was also highly faded because it operated at high altitude and were constantly exposed to high doses of UV lights. The picture to the right is painted with black added 15% white and is far more correct.

How to photograph a model in the air

in front of a backdrop

There are several ways of placing a model in the air in front of a background.

Many years ago, I started by stringing the plane up by “invisible” lines (i.e. fishing lines) in front of the background.

It works OK but it was always a hazard to rig a stand to hold the lines.

It was also hard to get the background right, because I either had to paint the background (on a cardboard) or use a printed picture big enough to cover the whole backdrop.


Then I discovered the photo editing programs which can be used for place your model on all kind of backgrounds.

It was easy and the end result looked very good

To impose a model on a background, you need the following:

A background of your choice. You can use your own photos or you can copy one from the net (beware of copy rights)

You need to take a photograph of you model in a position that match the background.

Now, you have to paste the picture of the model on the background, but only the model, not anything else that might be on that picture.

For this, you need a photo editing program which allow you to “cut out” the picture of the model and to place it into another picture (the background)

There are several Photo Editing Software available, and not all are expensive, but you have to check that the one you choose has the features you want (I use PaintShop Pro)

When you learn the technique, it is really easy to make a nice presentation of your model.

As I have told many times: a workbench or a kitchen table as background, never give your model a fair presentation. Look at all the model magazines; they always give the model a proper background1

One thing you have to bear in mind is that many of the pictures you find on the net have a low resolution.

If you have a high resolution picture of the model, you either have to resize the background to a higher resolution, or low-size the picture of the model.

The best is to use two pictures of about the same size.

Often you need to adjust the background to make it more suitable for your model before you do the pasting.

For this you use the same editing program.

Both the Stuka (including the bomb) and the Thunderbolt was strung up by fishing lines.The backgrounds were large wall decals mounted on cardboards.

Rotating propellers are a problem when using fishing lines: the planes will not be motionless and thus unsharp.

On the P-38 picture above, I pasted two aircraft (two pictures of the same model) in different sizes and positions.

The background was a picture I found on the net.

The picture was originally without explosions so I had to add these before I put the aircraft into the picture.

I found the explosions on the net and pasted these on the train the same way I later pasted the aircraft

To make the picture of the formation of Super-Flankers I photographed the aircraft in three different positons and then pasted the aircraft separately on a suitable background, tilting the aircraft in the right position and adjusted the aircraft sizes to fit the formation.

The resizing of the models are done at the same time they are pasted on the background

To make the


do the

Cobra Manoeuvre

I had to do the following steps:

(See page 58)

I hope you liked this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacoben