The art of dioramics was already used, and profusely, by ancient Egyptians in their funerary rites. Only the technical and artistical difficulties that such artworks involve have made them truly unusual in the long history of art. The diorama which illustrates these pages was developed in the facilities of Andrea Press, by a team of twelve artists and artisans who worked during one year to recreate the environment and the personnel associated to a German Type VII submarine.

When laying out the composition of the diorama a real-size top-down view of the submarine was drawn on a paper roll, to obtain a clear idea of the dimensions that each component should have. Cardboard boxes were used to situate the buildings, the floodgate and the vehicles which would be later included in the diorama. This gave the team a rather approximate idea, letting at the same time a door open to improvisation, since a composition of this magnitude would be almost impossible to complete with a fixed script, for alternative ideas usually arise.

Because of this there were some pieces which, despite having been already painted, were replaced in their function. The Steyr 1500A commercialized by Tamiya, a military car used for transporting officers, was discarded in favor of a more colorful civilian Mercedes car, and the Biber pocket submarine, commercialized by Verlinden Productions, which was to be featured as hanging from the crane in the process of putting it afloat, was replaced by naval mines and a Renault truck.

Steyr 1500A car
Renault AHN1 truck

The construction of the drydock truly resembled a carpentry work, for the materials used were 1-centimeter thick plywood boards, wood glue and nails. The procedure was very similar to that used in the construction of the submarine; a structure was made and then covered with paste, albeit the sanding and polishing work was less laborious since the surface had to imitate concrete instead of steel plates. Stone slabs were resin copies made from an original created for such purpose.

Also the paint work was rather easier since no particular scheme had to be followed other than giving a realistic appearance to the concrete walls. For achieving this many contemporary photos were consulted and, based on this, different levels were simulated through dirt lines, as if the drydock had been formerly filled with water to a greater or lesser extent. Also other details were added, such as rust stains in the metallic ladders or paint tests in some locations of the wall, as painters used to do to achieve the proper color when restoring the submarines.

Drydock wall
Drydock wall

An essential element of the diorama is the floodgate, whose basic structure was made from plywood as well. Plastic sheets were used in the construction of details such as beams and ribs, and tinfoil sheets were applied to the areas were the metal suffers the most, to imitate a battered surface. The paint work was made through an orangish brown tone applied through airbrush, with different intensities to achieve a non-uniform color surface. The different rust effects were later added by brush, as well as dirt, which was achieved by diluting black color into the corresponding base color.


Since the diorama depicts the port activity in a drydock the inclusion of a crane seemed mandatory. In the construction of this particular element they were used materials as diverse as plastic sheets, brass rods and plaster. The roof, the cabin and the boom were made entirely from plastic sheets cut to size and bent according to previously defined dimensions. For the construction of pulleys an initial model was lathed and then copied in resin as many times as necessary.

The base of the crane had to simulate a rather rough stone surface and hence this piece was made from plaster; once dried, the joints between the stone blocks and the granulate surface were made by means of an awl. The counterweights placed in the rear part of the crane were made following the same procedure. Besides the work effectuated with plaster, this piece has as well parts made from plastic sheet, in particular the gear wheel of the axle. The rest of accessories, such as the handholds, the ladder or the chimney, were made with the materials that were more suitable for the occasion, such as brass or plastic rods.

Regarding painting, the crane should have the appearance of a rather neglected machine with a long service time, so the cabin was painted with brown and greyish tones whilst metal pieces were painted in dark grey with irregular shading and lighting effects. Besides, to accentuate this effect some rust marks were applied by means of diluted paint, and in the upper surfaces in the cabin and the boom some whitish stains were added to simulate the action of seagulls.

Dock crane pieces
Dock crane

In any diorama each component has a specific function; whilst the submarine is without any doubt the protagonist and the figures bring dynamism to the scene, the buildings have the role of creating the proper ambiance while delimiting the space. In this diorama we can see the dock's command office and a storehouse with a sign of the Brest Chamber of Commerce, which indicates the location where the action takes place. There are also other warehouses where intense activity takes place, as well as the small house where the sentinel guards the access to the dock.

The basic structure of the buildings comprises four independent modules. The first one is the warehouse where mines are stored and the adjacent dock's command office. Its construction started from a framework made from wooden laths and covered with 1-millimeter thick foamed PVC walls, which were later coated with number-100 sand paper for achieving a texture. Then the diverse concrete structural elements, made from PVC textured by means of acetone and a metallic brush, were superimposed to the ensemble. Doors and windows were made from plastic sheets of different sizes, and resin copies were made from an original to create each of the several identical leaves which form the doors of the storehouses.

The interiors were made from plastic sheets as well and the floor, the skirting boards and the friezes of the office were made from balsa wood as used in naval modelism. For creating the roof, little cardboard circles were cut with a puncher and glued with white glue to a PVC sheet, and once all the tiles were glued a coat of water-diluted white glue was applied to them to create a solid ensemble. The joints in the angles were covered with tin sheets and the gutters were made from this material as well, whereas the downpipes were made from plastic rods of round section.

In the rest of buildings the process followed was similar, except in some cases, such as the workshop adjacent to the office, whose exposed brick walls were made from a plaster plate engraved by means on an awl and from which a silicon matrix was created, which allowed to obtain the necessary stretches without having to manually engrave the whole wall, saving so a lot of time and effort. Once the copies were finished, concrete structural elements made from foamed PVC were added to the ensemble. The house of the sentinel, placed between the workshop and the Chamber of Commerce, was built entirely from plastic sheets.

The Chamber of Commerce, which is the largest building, was made from a wooden framework covered with lightweight cardboard coated with PVC, to achieve a lightweight but solid ensemble. On this one they were cut out the doors and windows, as well as the corners and wall chips. To simulate the plaster of walls, a layer of synthetic mastic was applied and then textured by means of a brush before getting completely dried. The roof was made from manually undulated tin sheet.

The four buildings have common elements which are identical on each, such as doors, windows or electric panels; all of these pieces were obtained by means of resin copies as well. For the smallest pieces, such as hinges, handles or locks, the most diverse materials were used, such as tin foil, copper wire or photo-engravings.

Drydock and buildings
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