John says, “I grew up making model trains with my father and cars and military things on my own. Away from modeling for many years but perhaps never really ‘away’ from it. Joined International Plastic Modelers Society last month here in Columbus, Ohio and American Craft Council. But felt I finally discovered my real interest when I came upon Box Diorama today for the first time. Not only was it incredible to discover a site that expressed what I have been trying to express in modeling (The phenomenology of making models? Or something philosophical or psychological like this.) It has been an amazing experience to learn about people like Ray Anderson and Sheperd Paine. So much more to explore on the brilliant Box site you’re sharing so much with other dioramists. See the diorama page on our site at https://midnightoilstudios.org/dioramas/.” (Much more of John’s work, and step-by-step articles, is on display at his site, so do visit!)
“The Green Light”
Inspired by the last scene from The Great Gatsby; an article about the construction of this box follows below
“The Last Dinosaur”
The Green Light
Modeling The Final Scene from The Great Gatsby John Fraim
While working on the large project of The Last Dinosaur (TLD) diorama, I noticed on my calendar there was an upcoming meeting of the Columbus chapter of the International Plastic Modelers Society (IMPS) in a little over a week. I had joined the national IPMS as well as the Columbus chapter about two months ago.
I attended my first meeting a month ago and submitted my little diorama on a 4” x 4” space titled “Drain the Swamp.” It featured a miniature FBI Building (J. Edgar Hoover Building) in front of a type of archeological cross-section view of the areas in front of the FBI Building after the lawn and the wide walk into the front entrance of the building. It was done overnight using a good mixture of the various materials on-hand. It didn’t receive any award in the Voted contest at the club last month. But I think everyone knows I’m not interested in spending months creating a model from a kit.
The theme for the monthly contest was “1920 – 1929 the 20s.” It seemed like an interesting idea for a diorama and something beyond modeling from particular kits. It was a challenge directed more towards that strange breed out there of scratch model builders rather than the kit builders. The division between the two is really the best way to consider the world of model building today. It is not really an industry based on various categories of models. Rather, it seems to me that the model industry is simply divided between those who create from pre-made kits of models and those who scratch build their own models (note from kits).
It seemed to me a direct challenge to the creativeness of a scratch-built modelers like me. (Make that “quasi” scratch-built models. I create my own objects but use pre-made objects when they are better than I wanted to take the time to create.) I stopped work on The Last Dinosaur and considered a theme for a diorama of the 1920s. This was the kind of creative challenge that opened up modeling to wider themes and I thought it was a great idea. Especially since our chapter of the IPMS has the national president in it as well as some of the top modelers in the nation.
I did some research on the Internet. I Googled events from 1920s and scrolled through a list like the one at https://www.shmoop.com/1920s/timeline.html. I think it worthwhile here to take a brief trip back to this time to see some of the considerations for creating something from the 1920s. Many events of the 1920s have similarities to our own times.
The decade started off with the ending of the great steel strike in 1920. Later in the year, the 19th Amendment is ratified granting women the right to vote. In 1921, immigration quotas are established. ( immigration restrictions
Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes is arrested for teaching evolution, in violation of new state law banning the teaching of Darwin. The ensuing
"Scopes Monkey Trial," pitting defense attorney Clarence Darrow against three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan in a proxy debate of modernity versus fundamentalism, captivates the nation. Scopes is eventually found guilty. Also in this year, 40,000 Ku Klux Klansmen march on Washington, their procession filling Pennsylvania Avenue.
In 1926, Ernest Hemingway publishes his novel The Sun Also Rises. In 1927, there was the obscenity charge of Mae West by a New York court. (She was sentenced to ten days in jail.) Not long after this was aviator Charles Lindbergh’s first solo transatlantic flight by landing his Spirit of Saint Louis in Paris 33 hours after departing from New York. Lindbergh becomes one of the first great national heroes in 20th century America. To top the big events of 1927 off, New York Yankees star Babe Ruth hits his 60th home run breaking his own record of 59. (The record would stand for more than 30 years.)
There were two big events in 1928. The Kellogg-Briand Pact created from 15 nations (including the United States) “outlawing” war. The unenforceable pact was made a mockery through the rise of European fascist states in the 1930s. And in 1928, there was the election of Herbert Hoover as President. He ran on the slogan of "A chicken in every pot, a car in every garage." He crushed Catholic Democrat Al Smith to maintain Republican dominance of the Oval Office.
While Hoover’s election was an important event in 1928, perhaps a more important and longer lasting event occurred in November of the year when
The ending year of the decade – 1929 – was one of dark endings as well as one bright beginning. Oct 1929 was the collapse of the American stock market signaling the onset of the Great Depression. The Dow Jones Industrial Average peaked in September 1929 at 381.17—a level that it wouldn’t reach again until 1954. The Dow bottomed out at a Depression-era low of just 41.22 in 1932.
European immigration to the United States. Targeted at “undesirable” immigrants from Southern
, for the first time creating a quota for
and Eastern Europe, the act sharply curtails the quota for those areas while retaining a generous
allowance for migrants from Northern and Western Europe.) Also in 1921, the World Series was first broadcast over the radio. Yankee Stadium was constructed in 1923 and President Warren G.
Harding dies of a stroke in a San Francisco hotel room. Calvin Coolidge becomes President.
In 1924, the market capitalization of the Ford Motor Company exceeds one billion. In 1925, the
Scopes Trial dominated much of the news.
But in November of 1929, there was the beginning of a great bright period of American history when Walt Disney’s Steamboat Willie premieres. The world was first introduced to a strange little animated mouse called Mickey Mouse.
The decade ended on a dark note, though. On December 14, 1929, there was the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre which was the single bloodiest incident in a decade-long turf war between rival Chicago mobsters fighting to control the lucrative bootlegging trade. The “massacre” involved members of Al Capone’s gang murdering six followers of the rival Bugs Moran gang.
Yet, there was the incident from the middle of the decade that always drew my interest. On April of 1925, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby was published. Thoughts of Gatsby and my experience with reading it came back as I thought of this grand event in 1925. For me, a scene worth modeling from this book was from the final paragraph of the novel when narrator Nick Carroway envisions Gatsby standing on his dock and raising his hand outward towards the green light on Daisy’s dock across a small bay from Gatsby’s dock.
This was always one of the key images in the literature I had read ... that is, Gatsby standing on his dock with his hand raised towards the green light on Daisy’s dock. For Fitzgerald, the green light symbolized much more than a green beacon for a past love. Let’s let Fitzgerald tell us what it really symbolized”
“And as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... And one fine morning ... So, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
It seemed like a worthy subject for the contest model – something from the 1920s. Here, a famous scene in literature captured in the images of a few films.
I felt that it was the kind of scene that would lend itself to that area of modeling involved with creating dioramas in boxes. There was no question in my mind that the greatest modelers in America were associated with creating Box dioramas. Anyone who doesn’t believe this simply needs to visit the Box Diorama site at http://www.boxdioramas.com maintained by master modeler Jim DeRogatis. Many dioramas featured on this site are members of perhaps the greatest
modeling group in the world, the Illinois Historical Miniature Society at http://www.military- miniature-society-of-illinois.com.
This incredible site and the world of box dioramas was discovered a few months ago. At first, I wondered why the great modelers were modeling things inside of boxes. It didn’t make sense to me. I bought and read three books at this time. One was The Art of Diorama by Ray Anderson (Kalmbach, 1988). Another was Building Dioramas by Chris Mrosko (Kalmbach, 2014) and the third was How To Build Dioramas by Shepard Paine (Kalmbach, 1999).
I finally understood the appeal of creating box dioramas for the great modelers. Box dioramas let the modeler become a set designer, a cinematographer, a director in that they forced the viewer to see what they wanted the viewer to see. The difference between a box diorama and regular diorama involved that very important distinction between omnipotent perspective and forced perspective. For example, a regular diorama exists out in the open on some piece of plywood landscape. It can be viewed from any and all angles and sides and in existing lighting conditions. The viewer is not “forced” to view the scene from any particular perspective.
Sheperd Paine’s “The Defense of the Hospital at Rorke’s Drift, 1879”
However, in a box diorama, the viewer is forced to view the diorama scene from a particular “window” created by the artist. In this way, lighting conditions could be controlled as well as other aspects of the scene. In effect, the diorama builder was really a film or play set designer or as the purpose of set design was always presenting a scene from a particular (forced) perspective.
So, The Green Light began as an attempt at my first box diorama. The green light at the end of Daisy’s dock seemed the perfect subject for a box diorama. I played around with various HO scale and O scale figures for the scene. I wanted a model large enough where the action of a hand touching for the green light was obvious and these sizes were too small.
Various Scales Were Considered from N, HO, O and 1/24th
Besides, the focus of the scene seemed to be best as a close up of Gatsby on his dock and this lent itself to a larger figure. A few months ago, I bought a seven-inch action figure at Toys-R-Us. It was the created in China by Diamond and featured one of the Ghost Busters team, Walter Peck.
Action Figure Walter Peck
The figure featured 16 points of articulation and I envisioned it for some diorama with a larger figure. Although it needed a lot of modifications, it seemed a good choice for The Green Light project.
Initial Mock-Up with UPS Box
I had great visions of using the figure in a box diorama. I would use the new LED lights I just bought that worked with a remote control and could be changed brighter or darker and colors selected as well as various modes for the LEDs. (I thought of how lighting dioramas has changed since Ray Anderson wrote his book in 1988). I also wanted to use the little Bluetooth speaker cube I had bought a few months ago to go into my little Starlight Jazz Club. I retrieved it from the jazz club and put it to use with the new Green Light diorama.
LED Strip Lights and Remote Control from Amir/USB Power Source From Mophie
There were some initial attempts at box dioramas using UPS boxes. The background of the scene was mostly black and I envisioned it wrapping around the Gatsby character on the dock. The basic scene was downloaded from the Internet after searching for “Gatsby green light.” The Internet version was printed in color via our Epson EP-440 using photo matte paper.
Printed Paper Screen With Green Light (Downloaded from Google Images)
Perspectives are important in box dioramas and I spent considerable time looking at the brilliant box dioramas of Shep Paine and Ray Anderson. I positioned the Walter Peck action figure with his right hand reaching towards the green light on the screen while his left hand held onto the railing of his dock.
One of the images I came up with from the Google image search was the scene from the last remake of the Great Gatsby with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby on the dock reaching for the green light. It seemed important to position the hand attempting to touch the green light.
Leonardo DiCaprio As Gatsby Reaches for the Green Light
The Action Figure Reaches for the Green Light ** *
But the wrap around perspective of the background in a box diorama presented a number of perspective problems I was not able to resolve so I decided to abandon the box diorama idea and create a regular diorama with no particular forced point of view. I wanted the diorama to squeeze the maximum amount of symbolism from the scene. This was somewhat born of the idea that I didn’t want to spend a lot of time detailing the action figure and also that a new type of minimalistic diorama might best express the symbolism of the famous scene in literature.
So, the minimalist “Green Light” diorama came into being. At first, there was just two 12” x 6” pieces of quarter inch plywood. They were glued together in an “L” shape. One piece was the vertical background of the letter “L” while the other floor piece was the horizontal part of the letter “L.”
Two Sheets of 12” x 6” 1⁄4 inch Plywood Glued Together in an L Shape
The Walter Peck action figure would be glued to the floor piece of the plywood. But there was no reason to model all of his 7” height which would dominate the diorama. All that was really needed to see was his upper torso and his hands. His left hand would be positioned on the top of the railing of his dock. dock railing. His right hand would be raised towards the image of the green light printed on the screen in front of him. There was work to do on the figure. Large gaps in his action arms would have to be filled with putty or clay. His black suit had to be repainted or airbrushed in a white/cream color. A six-inch length of the railing would be glued to his left hand. Finally, as a last touch, the words about the green light from the last page of the Great Gatsby were reduced down and pasted on a type of sidewalk board to sit next to the action figure.
At first, I chose too many words for the sign and edited out many that didn’t apply, increased the font size, changed the Times Roman type to American Typewriter elite which the early type writers used. I printed the words on old-looking paper and gave it a frame colored with a Woodlands Scenic Weathered Tie marker.
The Various First Versions of the Sign
The Final Sign Featuring Words From Great Gatsby About the Green Light
Two pieces of technology were incorporated into the diorama. For lighting, I decided the LED strip lights were too much and chose to use a Litra cube light (https://litra.com) with a diffuser on top and a green filter. I experimented with the light and it offered a perfect “bleed through” of the green light on the screen, lighting it from the back. For sound, I decided to use the little one
inch cube Bluetooth speaker I purchased a few months ago. I put the Litra on top of the Bluetooth speaker and then leaned the printed screen against the two stacked cubes.
A Litra Cube Light was Placed on Top of a Miniature Bluetooth Speaker Behind Screen
I considered that the speaker needed to play music from the 1920s. Not just any music. The most iconic and representative. I searched the top songs of the 20s and landed on Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as my top choice. It was recorded by Gershwin’s orchestra in 1924 and Fitzgerald was sure to have been listening to this classic American piece when he composed The Great Gatsby. There was no better piece of music to underlies the final scene of The Great Gatsby, the Green Light Scene. I downloaded it to my iPhone. I positioned the unfinished figure of Gatsby in front of the screen, turned on the Litra and Bluetooth speaker and played Gershwin’s famous music on it.
Side Of Diorama With Light and Bluetooth Speaker Behind Front Screen
I look at the diorama. Still unfinished but all arranged on the unfinished plywood base. The green filter light from the Litra filters through the paper perfectly it seems to me so that there is a green radiance in a part of the screen in front of Gatsby and the viewer. The Gatsby action figure has undergone a massive amputation of the entire bottom half of his torso but this was necessary to
get rid of the legs as a seven-inch figure had no place in the diorama. The music of Gershwin hangs over this visual image.
The Left Hand Tested with Piece of Balsa Wood for Dock Railing
In the left hand of Gatsby, I test position an eleven-inch long piece of plastic and a flat piece of balsa wood. It represents the railing of his dock or the closest he is able to be with that love of his past called Daisy. The green light is paradoxical though. It symbolizes the past and Gatsby’s memory of his love for Daisy. But it also symbolizes the future. It was a future that Gatsby (America) believed. It represented “the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.”
The last few lines of The Great Gatsby the green light diorama is about have always been fascinating to me because it is difficult to cast some net of definition over them. In this way, Fitzgerald ends Gatsby with a sense of ambiguity. He realizes that this “green light” has eluded America so far. But still, there is an optimism that “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther” so that one fine morning ...
What will happen one fine morning? We might catch it? This is not stated and all the reader is left with is the ambiguity of the three dot ellipses
But whatever the optimism expressed by “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther” is refuted by the final line of the book. We can do this but we never reach that future. As Fitzgerald says, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
For the final diorama, I made a few changes. I exchanged the plywood for 1⁄4” oak and added a used copy of The Great Gatsby with the original cover on it. I also added a bottle of wine and a wine glass. I positioned them in front of the placard with the quote about the green light from the
whole section from a text without altering its original meaning. The three dot ellipses form calls
from the Ancient Greek meaning an
“omission” or “falling short” and usually indicates an intentional omission of a word, sentence or
for the participation of the reader in completing this sentence that “falls short” by providing no
action verb follow-up.
final paragraphs of the book. I shortened the dock railing Gatsby rested his left hand on. I added small wood block stands to the screen with the green light and then glued round metal weights to them to suggest small wheels and mobility of the screen. It is meant to suggest that it can be moved for perfect positioning of the green light relative to Gatsby’s outstretched right hand. I experimented with various colors for Gatsby’s jacket. I didn’t want to make it pure white and preferred the color that Robert Redford wore in the 1974 film. I found the color I was looking for in Folk Art Chalk Sheepskin. Finally, I painted the red Bluetooth a flat black to match the Litra light sits on top of it in the diorama. This would give the two pieces a more unified and cleaner look.
The Completed Green Light Diorama
So, “The Green Light” diorama is complete. Certainly, more of a minimalistic diorama with basic props and figure in it without a lot of fine detailing. Again, the purpose was to zero in on a particular motion of Gatsby on his dock looking at the green light. Gatsby is positioned with the dock railing and glued to the oak base with Elmer’s Wood Glue. Originally, I Gorilla Glue but it is difficult to work with and has a reaction with many materials.
The quote from Fitzgerald appears on the placard next to Gatsby with a wine bottle, glass and copy of the book in front of it. In the end, there really didn’t seem much more to model once our figure was reaching out towards the green light behind the screen in front of him. The magic of modern lighting does not require all the lighting work discussed by Shep Paine and Ray Anderson in their books on dioramas.
It is modern lighting ideas and solutions never discussed by Sheperd Paine or Ray Anderson because it was unknown during their times. The magic lighting of our contemporary world was never a part of their past world in the last half of the 20th century and light is miniaturized with its own power source with the Litra cube.
So, this particular attempt at The Green Light is completed it seems to me. A painted top part of a figure against a large screen in front of him featuring rippling waves at night under the green light of a misty green light. The screen from an image downloaded from the Internet.
The Gatsby figure is positioned on the oak base with his right arm pointing outward towards a green haze of light on the screen in front of him. A foggy night across the bay. I thought of trying to create blue stars via pin-pricks in the screen and place a blue light behind the screen. However, it seemed that this would complicate the lighting behind the screen and would distract from the central image green light of the diorama. Sure, Gatsby was an important “action figure” in all of this. But it was really the green light of the scene that was the great symbol and not Gatsby. If anything, Gatsby was simply a symbol of the novel’s grand symbol.
The completed diorama you see is meant to be a number of things. First of all, it decides not to compete against the model realism of the great modelers of the past. My thanks to my friend Jim who has introduced me to the great modeling site on the Internet and the greatest modelers in the world.
Second, I think it attempts to stake out its own little niche territory in the miniature world of models. It is a stark model. The jack of Gatsby could use some more detail work in filling some cracks from his moveable arms. The oak base is left unfinished. The balsa wood strips on the back of the screen remain unpainted as well as the balsa wood piece holding up the placard on the model. I feel this all presents a certain “in progress” feel to the diorama that allows greater viewer participation in the final creation of it.
The Only Attached Elements of the Diorama
I thought of providing the diorama in unattached pieces that could be placed by the viewer in the position they want. I thought of instructions for the viewer to turn on the Bluetooth speaker and the Litra light. This would have created the ultimate incomplete effect for the diorama. But I wasn’t interested in having viewers play around with the delicate features of the diorama and
decided against this idea. Still, all items in the diorama are unattached except for the figure of Gatsby holding the dock railing.
Marshall McLuhan provides an interesting and instructive quote about readers’ participation in authors’ text and its relationship to “hot” and “cool” prose. In his 1960s book Understanding Media, McLuhan observes participation might be a function of literary devices within language. He observed that:
Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting hot and cool prose. Writing in ‘methods’ or complete packages, he contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as ‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice.’ The passive consumer wants packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.
Fitzgerald uses many literary devices to suggest incompleteness and require participation by the reader. One of the greatest devices he uses is the three-dot ellipse that invites reader to participation. Perhaps his most important use of the ellipses is in the green light scene at the end of Gatsby which throws an ambiguity over what will happen in the future. As Fitzgerald writes at the end of Gatsby about the future:
It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther ... And one fine morning ...
It seems to me that the incompleteness and ambiguity provided by the ellipses at the end of Gatsby needs incorporation into the diorama. Just as literary devices such as aphorisms and ellipses provide incompleteness with words, perhaps figures and objects of a diorama can also offer this incompleteness?
This begging for completion by incompletion creates the back-and-forth communication of “cool” two-way interactive communication and media of our digital era. On the other hand, one way “hot” broadcast communication dominated the earlier mass media and mass production era of newspapers, radio, television and magazines.
As the great dioramists like Sheperd Paine and Ray Anderson tell us, dioramas need to tell a story. Perhaps more precise, they need to suggest a story. Not the end of a story but rather the beginning of a story. They should concern themselves with an image from Act I that serves as a symbol for the entire story. The beginning of a story suggests and evokes something rather than defines it. There is a media “coolness” about the beginning. Like the cool jazz of Miles Davis.
In telling a story, the diorama needs to zero in on some aspect of a current scenario, something out of a larger scene. Modelers call this zeroing in a “wedgie” and it is similar to a close-up scene in a film. Here, this close up is just the figure of Gatsby holding the long piece of railing.
No supports for the railing: just the short suggestion of a railing. This seems enough. The oak base seems best to remain unfinished.
In the end, the goal is to have the viewer “tricked” into believing the scene is still in the process of creation, tricked and enticed to become part of that creation by interacting with the mood and message and time of our world in decade of the 1920s. Listening to the original music of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue from 1924 as one looks at the scene from Fitzgerald’s legendary 1925 book when the symbol of the green light was born. Perhaps not born but rather rediscovered or emerged from waiting.
(Listen to the 1924 version of Rhapsody in Blue used in the Green Light diorama at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIr_WPcVDt8)