Saturday, June 17, 2017

Diorama Building Interview Part One with Frank D'iorio

I had a project for school that I recently completed. I had to teach myself a new skill for an end of the year project and I chose diorama building. Frank D'iorio was at the top of my list for individuals to contact for information on diorama building.  The following is a little information about Frank and the interview I conducted with him. 

Frank D'iorio, the creator of, works in Movie Visual Effects as a freelance Digital Compositor. Frank has been building diorama playsets as a way to display his Star Wars collection and started sharing his some of his home designs with the world, first with his website in the summer of 2000, and then in 2011, Frank joined the 21st century with the creation of Frank D'iorio's Diorama Workshop where viewers can enjoy "FREE" decals, blueprints, and step-by-step instructions that are great for individuals who want to build action figure dioramas in their own home for either display or as your kid's playsets.

Some of Frank's film work includes: 300, Final Destination 3, Fantastic 4, and Terminator Salvation among others. You can see his work profile over at

Since 2002, Frank has been working along with Lucasfilm, designing, and organizing all of the Diorama Workshops for all their Star Wars Celebration conventions. An opportunity that allows him to share his love for Star Wars and diorama building with kids of all ages.

Here are the questions I put together for him. I asked him to answer the following elaborately, and to the best of his ability.  Also be on the look for a second installment of my Interview Series with another talented Star Wars diorama builder very soon.

What got you into diorama building in the first place? 

I made model kits very early on as a kid like R2-D2, X-Wings, Darth Vader's Tie Fighter obviously, and I remember vividly also glow-in-the-dark monsters from the Universal Studios films, the Invisible man, King Kong, Frankenstein. So I always had that miniature creative build or knowledge of the fun of building those since I was young.

Now jump to my early 30s, when Hasbro started remaking the Star Wars action figures and after displaying them just on the shelf, I started diving into simple scenes which led to elaborate scenes which now lead to trying to reproduce as close as possible, the movie sets. So in essence the new Star Wars figures got me into the building of the dioramas

What about diorama building interests you? 

I like to display the toys or action figures out of the package, and making dioramas creates a more interesting display than just placing them on shelves.

Plus it's a little bit like making models like when I was a kid.

Why build Star Wars dioramas? 

I guess the main reason is that the Star Wars toys are the first that I bought, the ones that bring me back to my childhood, and my love for these films. Well the Original Trilogy, not the Prequels, yuck ha ha ha. I hated the Prequels even though I've done many dynamics from them. They just did not capture Star Wars for me the way the originals did. I must say that bad taste has gone away with the new movies coming out in the Disney area including Force Awakens and Rogue One which I hope to make scenes from soon, now that I've technically retired and should have more time to build again.

Have you built any dioramas outside of Star Wars? 
I have not yet, and yet is the important word because I would love to do some scenes from some of my other favourite films that have toys made for them. Maybe one day some Alien or Blade Runner or I don't know what fans would like to see.

How many different types of dioramas are there? 

That's almost impossible to answer, there are so many, I imagine a few, I can think of is miniature train settings that are like huge landscapes, realistic landscapes actually.

Then you have with some call dioramas of just having a figure, understand, but I find not elaborate enough to be actual diorama.

Then there is what I do, which is re-create as closely as possible the movie to display their figures in order to re-create the actual scene from the film.

What brands of materials would you recommend for each of the different projects you could do? 

In my case, it's not really brands, as I tend to try and find household items from dollar stores and hobby shops or Home Depot style stores so that people can easily find these materials and re-create my works at home.

Items like plaster, foam core or foamboard, hot glue, Styrofoam, knickknacks around the house and just regular latex paint.

What tips would you give novices, they wouldn't learn otherwise? 

Just have fun and take the time to build.

Many have asked me in the past years to make dioramas for them, and I told them they are very easy and can be done at home. You just have to put the hours in to do it

Sometimes, people have told me, "Oh, mine doesn't look as good as yours. I spent three hours" and I tell them that I spent 60 hours so that's why doesn't look as good. You just have to put in the time. Everyone has the skills, you just have to practice and believe in yourself.

But mostly, it's about time. The more time you put in the nicer so it will look.

How long (on average) would a large (2' by 2') detailed diorama take? 

This is an impossible question to answer as it depends on what scene or location you're making. For example, a Tattooine scene from Star Wars, where the movie set is all run down, you don't have to spend as much time to finish it and the less feel you have the more it looks like the movie. A simple Tattooine can take a day or two.

If you try to re-create the inside of the millennium falcon for lightsaber training with Ben Kenobi and the hover ball, that took me almost 3 months to get it movie accurate.

What difficulties might one come across while constructing some of the dioramas you create?

Not sure I would say difficulties, except when designing from scratch, because sometimes the technique you think will work doesn't, and you have to scrap the whole thing and start over. That's wasting time there.

I guess if you think difficulty, one is in terms of easy, medium, hard, it could be related to skill level, as well, which would also fall into the more you practice, the better you get at it. For example, using hot glue or cutting foam board with your X-ACTO blade.

At first, many don't know how to hold the cutting knife and thus don't make smooth edges, but with practice and time, you get to learn this and overcome these difficulties.

About how many dioramas have you built (including the very, very small ones)? 

Oh my God I have not counted in the long time now that I've moved. I've actually had to abandon a few dozen thinking I will re-create them and videotape them to make better instructions. On what I have on my website, I'd say at least 200, I would say in the past 25 years.

Out of the dioramas you have made, which one/s is/are your favorite? 

My favourites would be hard to choose. I would say between the Docking Bay because of the mirror affect doubling the hundred Stormtroopers that I already have making it look like the army from the film, and I love the inside of the Millennium Falcon.

And I think the half medical base, because it's just decals but looks really cool. Oh and if it's for objects to decorate dioramas, I loved the simplicity of the Luke moisture evaporator.

How did working in film come about for you? 

Like everybody, my age old, ha ha, I was 13 in 1977 and saw Star Wars which made me want to do this working at ILM one day. Many, many years later, I studied graphic design at University and was lucky to land a job in one of the big local television stations of Montreal. From there I gained experience in high-end commercial work doing VFX for TV, then switching to miniseries for television doing Discovery channel's Dinosaur Planet which led to Scooby Doo 2 and 300. The supervisor of 300 happened to be the brother of a supervisor at ILM and there was my connection, my passport if you will, to open the door which got me my first job in the big big leagues and my dream of ILM in 2007 working on the very first Transformers movie.

How did your diorama building contribute to the filmmaking process? 

Diorama building had nothing to do with the filmmaking is just happens to be my love of Star Wars. I guess which link the two together. Digital compositing in film requires no skills learned from diorama making. Ha ha ha, it really is just a hobby that I love very much.

What do you think is the hardest part of building a diorama? 

This sounds silly, but the hardest part for me is time or finding the time to make them. Especially now in the past years. Working in visual FX big movies sounds glamorous, but also brings the downside of working 70 hour weeks, which leads or leaves you to have not much extra time to build dioramas.

Add a love of playing video games on my PlayStation leaves even less time. Ha ha so the balance of real life, work, plus video games, watching movies and then finding time to build makes it difficult.

How long did it take to build your favorite diorama? 

My Millennium Falcon interior as I said took me a couple of months. Some of my other favourites like the interior half medical bay, maybe four or five weeks but that's mostly weekends so it's maybe six days or seven days, once I did all of the graphics.

How did you land the gig at Star Wars Celebrations of doing the Diorama Workshop? 
That was quite easy. Just being right place right time I guess. Rebelscum was hosting my first website niubniubsuniverse and they were selling autographs at Celebration 2. The contact with Mary Franklin from Lucasfilm was already established with them. Scum casually mentioned to Mary if she thought the kid's diorama workshop would be something they'd be interested with. She said yes of course. Mary gave us a small room to test and the result ... Mos Eisley... was a huge success. After that we have been asked to return to every US celebrations ever since. This past April with the Death Star building marked our 15th anniversary.

Are there any useful tips you picked up on while working in the diorama workshop at previous Star Wars Celebrations?
I want to say I picked up useful tips as I am the one who designed all the workshops, Ha ha ha, so the tips I guess would have been learned at home. I think this question would be better asked to fans who built at the Diorama Builders Workshops, because I try to introduce different techniques for every show.

What do you think is the most useful skill in the diorama building subject? 

I guess the most useful skill for one to learn, because it's what you will use 95% of the time, is how to properly cut foam board or form core without making jaggy edges and how to properly apply hot glue gun.

To become a true master of diorama building, how much experience would one need? 

Millions of hours, ha ha, seriously master is a big word that I am still find today a little embarrassing when people throw that at me. The more hours you put in, more time well that's the same thing actually, you will get better and better. I guess after you made scenes for a couple of years, you would be a master of sorts. Even more so if you specialize in one technique, like a master painter or master designer.

Are there any other things you'd like to add?

Thank you for wanting to chat with me, it's always a pleasure. I'm just an ordinary guy, geek like all of you, so to think that what I have to say is important and such, always makes me laugh, but I enjoy sharing, chatting with people any chance I have, so thank you!

Glad I could help Elias
Best, Frank

Thank you Frank!

To get started on your own Star Wars dioramas, we highly recommend you check out Frank D'iorio's Diorama Workshop!

Frank Diorio makes it easier to navigate!  The Diorama Workshop is one of the neatest Star Wars Custom Websites on the world wide web and it just got a little cooler with quicker and easier to use index links to put all those cool resources at your fingertips. From Frank, "Once the Index Links Cool Zone link is selected, you have a choice of 10 specific categories to select - Making of, DecalsBlueprintsComparisonsFrames etc... Then on THAT category page you will find EVERY SINGLE LINK that is onsite for that specific category. So if you LOVE Movie Comparisons, you can now read a list of ALL the photos and click directly on their links to warp to that photo without going into every scene workshop menu. Give him your feedback, let him know if you think it was a good idea. Have a great weekend!