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The unanticipated impact of AWM’s dioramas

Penny Travers, From ships and planes to military dioramas and robots, scale models can be made of just about anything, ABC News, 5 January 2024

Oliver and Mario Marangoni have an extensive set-up in their garage, with workbenches, shelves of paints, and display cabinets. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

When Mario Marangoni first visited the Australian War Memorial as an eight-year-old he was left in awe of the detailed dioramas on display.

“As a young child, seeing the large-scale dioramas sort of put that bee in my bonnet,” he said.

He became hooked on scale models and as soon as he had his first job, he started making his own military dioramas.

“It’s recreating – to the best of your ability – a historical moment,” he said.

“You can use reference photos. You can actually try and recreate a photo from a history book.

“In the case of a diorama, you can make it look like that scene.”

A military diorama featuring a tank.
A diorama of a scene from World War II featuring a Marder III tank and German soldiers taking a break. ( ABC News: Penny Travers).

Decades later, Mario’s passion for scale models is as strong as ever, fuelled by his 13-year-old son Oliver’s interest in the hobby.

Like his father, Oliver enjoys creating historical vignettes and busts representing battles from the two world wars.

“The one I’m working on now is a World War II German and a World War II US soldier from the Battle of the Bulge,” he said.

A teenage boy painting a model soldier.
Oliver likes modern history and is particularly interested in scale models representing battles fought during the world wars. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

The teenager has a strong interest in modern history and researches the military conflicts behind his models to ensure realistic representations.

“I enjoy scale modelling because you can build or paint just about anything,” Oliver said.

“And usually there’s not a specific scheme you have to do, you don’t have to do this exact thing, you can usually just go freehand at it.”

A military diorama featuring a tank.
Oliver likes painting the fine details on his model soldiers. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

But it’s the time spent side-by-side with his dad in their Canberra garage that Oliver enjoys the most.

“I enjoy it because I get to hang with my dad,” he said.

“I have a couple of friends who do it, so they come over to my house and we do ‘build days’.”

And Mario couldn’t be prouder.

“Ollie has this innate talent as a 13-year-old; his capability of detail and ideas is just amazing in that he’ll provide me with concepts and ideas on things that I hadn’t even thought about,” he said.

A teenage boy and his father painting scale models in their garage.
Oliver and Mario enjoy spending time together making scale models in their garage. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

‘A little Zen’

Both Mario and Oliver say it’s the “quietness” the hobby brings that they relish the most.

“It’s about that release. Your focus is on the modelling and you’re able to shut everything else out,” Mario said.

A woman with dark hair and glasses piecing together a scale model.
Marrisa has been doing Gunpla commissions for about seven years. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

A sentiment shared by fellow modeller Marrisa Christina.

“It’s a different sort of concentration, especially after a long day at work,” she said.

“You get to unwind. It’s really good because it grounds you and in the end you produce a really, really good result.”

Growing up in Indonesia, Marrisa started scale modelling when her father gifted her a ship kit for her seventh birthday.

“My dad does wood working, metal working, and he also makes planes and ships, and so he gave one to me and thought, ‘maybe you’ll enjoy my hobby too’ — and I really enjoyed it,” she recalled.

A model of a purple and green robot with weapons.
One of Marrisa’s Gunpla models on show at the ScaleACT exhibition. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

Marrisa’s been making models ever since, moving from ships to commercial airliners and then to mecha (robots), and has refined her craft to the point that she takes commissions.

“In a way it’s kind of like a little Zen where you make your own stuff,” she said.

“There’s no deadlines, there’s no managers and you’re in charge of your own workflow. I feel like that’s the best thing about scale models.”

Scale modelling growing in popularity

A scale model fishing boat.
A scale model of a 1940 Ford pick-up truck at the ACT Scale Modellers’ Society’s annual show, ScaleACT. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

From boats and planes to military dioramas and robots, scale models can be made of just about anything.

And there’s different ways of going about it too — from store-bought kits to scratch builds.

Depending on the size of the model or diorama it can take weeks – or even months — to sand, assemble, glue and paint a miniature.

A scale model fishing boat.
A 1/50 scale model of a deep sea side-beamer fishing trawler at the ACT Scale Modellers’ Society’s annual show. (ABC News: Penny Travers)

“Scale modelling is for everyone. It’s for kids right through to retirees,” ACT Scale Modellers’ Society president Peter Davis said.

“The hobby is quite strong in Australia. There’s definitely plenty of things and subjects out there for people to find.”

The ACT Scale Modeller’s Society has been running for 51 years and is seeing a growing interest in the hobby, with its recent competition exhibition, ScaleACT, attracting a record number of entries.

Tables filled with scale models, including planes.
The 2023 annual ScaleACT attracted nearly 700 entries. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

Peter himself entered a 1/72 scale model of the USS Virginia SSN-774 submarine in the show.

Scale modelling also runs in Peter’s family: his father got him into the hobby when he was just five years old.

Man wearing a black shirt sitting beside a large submarine model.
Peter Davis followed in his father’s footsteps and started making military-themed scale models when he was five years old. (ABC News: Penny Travers).

Thirty years on, Peter now travels overseas for international scale model competitions.

“[Scale modelling] offers a physical sort of a break from the day-to-day sort of activities and gives my mind a rest,” he said.

“It allows me to sort of switch off and rest a bit without too much screen time — I don’t really enjoy watching TV so it gives me something different to do.”