Thursday, 12 July 2012


Well, this is my fourth entry - if it works of course! A couple of years ago I acquired a vinyl Godzilla kit from a friend and decided to assemble it and place Japan's favourite monster in a diorama setting. The following article originally appeared in Issue #53, February 2010 of "ModelArt Australia".


Way back in 1954, Producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, FX wizard Eiji Tsuburaya and Director Ishiro Honda created what would become one of cinema’s most beloved icons. Relentlessly downbeat in tone and mirroring the tragic results of recent U.S. H-bomb tests in the Pacific and the nuclear end of WWII, the Toho Studio film was the most expensive Japanese production up until that time, costing over one hundred million yen (approximately 1.5 million 1954 U.S. dollars). The film had its enormous cost justified by becoming one of the biggest box-office hits of the year when it opened to record audiences on November 3 1954. With a memorable, emotive score by Akira Ifukube and state-of-the-art FX (for 1954), the King of the Monsters stomped his way across the cinema screens and into cinema legend. The film garnered FX artist extraordinaire, Tsuburaya, his first Japanese Film Technique Award and established Toho as the world’s premier visual effects facility. Using man-in-suit techniques and (mostly) 1/25 scale miniatures for the city scenes, rather than Ray Harryhausen-type 3D animation as in his own forerunner, “The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms” (1953), the film began a franchise that still continues to this day. The iconic monster was known as Gojira (kujira is Japanese for whale) or, as we refer to him, GODZILLA!   

       The inspiration for this diorama scene began with the purchase, from a local modelling friend, of a vinyl kit of, arguably the most famous monster screened in the movies. Putting him together was an easy chore, Superglue joining the sections permanently. Then came Problem #1 – the tongue, upper teeth inserts and lower jaw were missing from the parts! After scrutinising a photo of the finished model that accompanied my kit, I discovered a website that was the origin of this Godzilla version and, yes, there are literally hundreds of different Godzillas out there! I sent an email to the site asking for help and was contacted by a Mr Nawin Outhaivatnanon from Bangkok, Thailand who very kindly sent me a replacement piece with the missing body parts free of charge. Many thanks Nawin! Problem #1 was solved, however Problem #2 appeared almost straight away. Three sections of the plates/spikes on Godzilla’s back were also missing! (Modellers – check your pieces before assembling! Not wanting to bother Nawin again, I decided to recast the missing sections from those already here. Luckily I possessed the opposite number to each, so this problem was finally resolved. The plates/spikes were originally based on those from the Stegosaurus dinosaur and are in two similar rows, running from behind the head, down the back and onto the massive tail. With the vinyl kit assembled, out came the spray cans of green paint. The one I chose was an acrylic car colour called, “Emerald Green”. This was a deep, bright green that, along with various dark washes and lighter green drybrushing, resulted in a very distinctive looking monster. The teeth and claws were hand painted a light grey and weathered accordingly, while the mouth area was finished in a reddish-orange hue. Tamiya Clear Orange accented the eyes and clear varnish finished them off. Matt varnish dulled the “shininess” of the completed kit.

      A short aside at this point: The original Godzilla for the film was created by Production Designer, Akira Watanabe, combining features from a Tyrannosaurus rex and an Iguanodon, along with the aforementioned Stegosaurus dorsal plates. Teizo Toshimitsu and the staff of the visual-effects department took Watanabe’s drawings and rendered the creature in clay, opting for an alligator-like skin texture. A cloth and wire frame was overlayed with hot rubber which had been melted in a steel drum. This heavy and immobile costume was subsequently scrapped in favour of a second suit which weighed in at only 220 pounds and allowed a little more freedom of movement. The scrapped suit was used in scenes featuring only partial shots of the monster and a smaller scale, mechanical hand-puppet was also created for scenes in which a stream of “nuclear breath” issued from Godzilla. For the physically demanding role of wearing the heavy suit under scorchingly hot studio lights, Haruo Nakajima and Katsumi Tezuka alternated during the production. Both actors suffered from heat exhaustion and blackouts, losing a cup of sweat after each scene was shot, as well as inhaling toxic fumes from burning rags soaked in kerosene which simulated a burning Tokyo.

      With the model under assembly and polyester resin filling the feet and lower legs for stability, my thoughts turned to what I could do with the completed kit. Putting him on a base for display just didn’t seem to befit the status of “King of the Monsters”. A chance encounter by a previous model with the concrete floor of my shed gave me the inspiration I was looking for. The small scale building model, constructed from a Ferraro Roche chocolate box, a plastic filter from an aquarium, strip styrene and a few kit parts was extensively damaged in the accidental fall, but I managed to piece it together to create a building that looked like it had been damaged by something quite large. This was accomplished by the addition of several floor layers which could be seen through the broken and torn sides of the building. Sheet styrene, plastic scraps and small kit parts detailed the just visible interior floor levels. At this stage, I was trying to work out an appropriate scale for a street scene that was beginning to form in my head. The building was about 1:100 but, with the addition of smaller window areas, I was able to shrink it down to what I thought was about 1:350. Using other clear plastic boxes, I blocked out the scene on a sheet of styrene, drawing in where I thought the streets would go. What better way to display Godzilla than to have him trampling through city streets, destroying buildings and scattering civilians and military alike? I began with a total of five or six buildings to be constructed, however a modelling friend suggested that this was way too overcrowded, so the number was reduced down to four, which opened up the congested scene and allowed me to construct a park area for the military and its tanks to converge in.

      The MDF base for the diorama came from my local Bunnings shop and cost a grand total of $1 as it was an off-cut. The edging for the base also came from Bunnings. It was cut at 45 degree angles and glued into place around the perimeter of the base with Liquid Nails adhesive. The intention was to have each of the buildings lit using 12-volt incandescent bulbs. As each building was constructed, the bulbs were placed in the middle of the interior, using a combination of Superglue and putty, the wires run down the centre and they exited through the underside. Evergreen and styrene “spacers” were glued to the base so as to raise the street level of the scene by about five millimetres. This allowed the wires to be run underneath the buildings and to join up at the left side of the base where a female plug was glued into position. When all the wires were finally joined, and the buildings were glued into position, they could be illuminated using a 12V transformer.

      The buildings themselves were basic, clear plastic boxes to which was added numerous lengths of 3mm wide Tamiya masking tape to represent the many window areas. Evergreen strips, of varying thicknesses and widths became the window frames although, upon reflection, I could have detailed them up quite a bit more and made the window areas even smaller than in the final result. Referencing real buildings certainly helped out with the general look of the constructs, however I wasn’t entirely happy with them, especially around the window areas. Rather than build full interiors for each of the four buildings, I opted to detail the interior window areas with various coloured felt pens. I mean to say; you have to see “something” in each of the windows, don’t you? It’s a problem I’m still coming to terms with – how to solve the problem on a small scale without resorting to an extra month’s work. How much do you show and how much can you get away without showing for the result to be truly effective? In retrospect, more vigorous sanding of the window areas would have helped the problem by allowing far less light to escape from each window, thus limiting the view inside. Perhaps an interior detail for the building was possible without adding a lot more work to the project. As can be inferred from the above text, I’m less than happy with the final building constructs. Not that I’m saying they look awful, but I think they could have looked far better than they do in the final scene. Details such as pipes, toy bits and kit parts were added to improve the general look of each of the four buildings, some of the kit parts beings unpainted to add a little colour variation to the final look. Extra plastic boxes were added to the bottoms of some of the buildings, to give them the “street level” sections needed for realism.

      I decided that one of the buildings was to be extensively damaged, as if Godzilla had just raked the whole front fa├žade with his claws and ripped the entire wall down to the ground. The basic building was, once again, a Ferraro Roche chocolate box (yes, I have collected many of them!), with added masking tape for windows and various kit and toy parts to detail it up. My Dremel came in handy when I wanted to remove half of the front of the building to expose the interior. For the inside, I cut many layers of 0.5mm sheet styrene and separated them with 1:35 scale tank wheels to represent the floor levels that would be exposed after Godzilla’s destructive rampage. Hundreds of tiny kit parts, scraps of styrene and general “bits of rubbish” detailed the various floor levels. (I must admit that I found this rather fun, creating destruction that is, something I hadn’t done before. The usual aim for a modeller is to create a perfect replica of something on a smaller scale, either in a pristine condition, or heavily weathered to look more realistic. Making something from scratch and then basically destroying it was quite satisfying!) These exposed areas were hand painted in very basic Tamiya grey and brown colours, with dirt and dust smudged on in liberal doses. My Dremel was used to add the final strafing claw marks to the exposed floors of the building. Even a cigarette lighter came in handy to add that “little extra” to the front of the building!

      After the buildings were complete, my attention turned to what the final scene would look like, something that is, at times, quite alien to me. My models usually are quite “ad lib” in nature; that is, they virtually construct themselves. Yes, I make it up as I go along! This meant placing the buildings on a 3mm thick sheet of styrene and drawing what I thought should go on it, the orientation of the roads, positions of the buildings, etc. I used 1mm thick styrene for the footpaths around the buildings and 2mm thick styrene for the central “island” sections in the middle of the streets. (In hindsight, I should have angled the streets about 30 degrees off the orientation of the base, as most good dioramas are apt to be.) I added a layer of modelling putty to each of the street “islands” as I figures they would be raised garden beds and covered in greenery. The park area in the lower left hand corner was painted Tamiya Park Green (how appropriate) and a kit fence was placed around the perimeter. The actual street asphalt was painted a very dark grey, while the footpath and building apron areas were sprayed in a very light grey, with section details drawn on in lead pencil with a ruler. Model railroad “flocking”, of various colours, was white-glued to the street “islands” and then blended in with handbrushed green paint. A brown path was handpainted through the park and the tops of small-scale trees and extra bits of “flocking” added to give it the necessary foliage. Blending of various greens was performed with a cotton bud dipped in thinners. Some small kit parts became the fixtures in the park, while short sections of unpainted Evergreen square tube and tiny green pieces from railroad trees became the many streetside potplants along the footpath. (Half of these were later removed as I felt that there were far too many of them in the scene.)

      The initial scene I had in mind for this diorama consisted of just the buildings and Godzilla himself. Not being a great figure modeller, I tried to limit myself to what I knew. However, various individuals began to encourage me to add many more details that were not in the original idea; military tanks, people, cars, etc. In this chosen scale of 1:350, eyesight is a very big worry. (Don’t you just wonder why so many modellers wear glasses?) Having worn glasses since I was about six or seven years old, I now have a new respect for the model ship builders who work in this 1:350 scale (and worse, even in 1:700 scale) on a regular basis! These guys need to be acknowledged more often, as trying to work in this scale is eyestraining to say the very least! Not being a model car enthusiast by any stretch of the imagination, I was resolved to creating vehicles in 1:350 scale, as a street scene without them would look very empty indeed. In fact, they came together quite easily, being a combination of two small rectangles of sheet styrene, along with a pair of half round Evergreen strips for the wheels. For a couple of overturned cars, I cut individual wheels from the same half round strip. At this tiny scale, and being only about 10mm in length, I was pleasantly surprised at how effective they looked. I even pushed my luck and made tiny open doors from bare millimetres of scrap plastic for a couple of them. After all, what’s a Godzilla scene without a few abandoned cars? They were hand painted in varying colours, with silver for the windows and headlights and dark grey for the wheels. Being a street scene, people also need to use the roads, so pedestrian crossings were made using plain Tamiya masking tape, directly laid onto the road itself in tiny strips. Parking lines for cars were created by masking off the areas with tape, handpainting white onto them and then removing the tape and tidying up the result with the asphalt colour, a relatively easy job. Red road lines and white dotted lines were created in the same way, entailing quite a lot of cleanup work. The road scene was coming together gradually, however one final addition really made it come alive: that of the streetlamps, parking signs and overhead stoplights that we take for granted. If you live in a city, take a look around. There are literally thousands of these things staring you in the face every day of the week. How to create them on such a small scale was going to be a problem. However salvation was at hand in the form of a kitchen innovation, the “twist-tie”, those little bits of plastic-coated wire that are used to seal your freezer bags. I looked at one of them and thought that I could make a multitude of lamp-posts and road signs from it, by trimming away bits of the soft plastic from the wire core with a sharp scalpel. It worked beautifully! Two ties were joined with Superglue, after being trimmed down to leave just a “bulge” at the end of the two poles to represent the light itself. They could be bent into any position, although I would have to be very careful during the final assembly in order not to bend them out of shape too much. By now, I had ordered some Fujimi 1:350 scale Japanese sailors from Hobbylink Japan and, when they had arrived, I marvelled at how small they actually were, all of 5.5mm tall! One of the original ideas was that I would model a Japanese city street, with appropriate signage, however I opted for a more generic city to make things a little easier. I managed to procure six, 1:285 scale Japanese tanks (thanks Kym) and they were painted in greens and browns to add to the scene.

I took a few photos of the buildings on their diorama base at this stage, before any of the destruction elements were added. It almost seemed a shame to have to introduce these extra elements to what appears in the photos to be an idyllic city street scene. With six tanks, eighteen cars and sixteen people to add to the scene, along with street signs, lamp posts and a large amount of rubble in front of the two damaged buildings, I managed to become accustomed to working within the millimetre, something I found quite interesting and different. In fact, I found that, by removing my quite powerful glasses, I was able to focus more closely on the scene with my real eyes than if I was actually wearing the lenses! Of course, more intelligent modellers would resort to using magnifying lamps or other helpful devices, but not me! I like to model au naturale! Drilling tiny holes for the placement of the signs and lamp-posts was achieved using a pinvise. Once that was accomplished, the scene really began to come alive. One final touch was to be the rubble in front of two of the buildings, once the styrene sheet was glued to the base and the wires for the lights in the buildings were joined together. I asked a number of military modellers about the intricacies of modelling rubble.  Funny thing about rubble, it’s just that, bits and pieces of rubbish. So, I did just that. I collected remnants of building window masking, plastic strip, tape and paper scrap, wire, fly screen, kit parts, electrical wire coating and a hundred other bits, along with, literally, the sweepings from the floor of my shed, which I stuck to the base with white glue. Actually, it was quite fun! Some sand and cement dust ensured the final destructive touches. As an added extra, I glued a few of these scraps into Godzilla’s right claw – to tie him in with the general destruction behind him. Godzilla himself was Araldited into position onto the base with the help of some brass tubing in the feet.

While being relatively happy with the overall result, I feel that the buildings are a little disappointing in places. Perhaps I didn’t pay enough attention to real reference material at the time, but I was trying to recreate a feeling, rather then a 100% accurate replica of a real scene. Then again, there’s absolutely no way that this can be a real street scene, can it? Perhaps it could be a Tsuburaya miniature scene!

1 comment: