top of page

Dan's ToyBox Builds: High Tech Lab/Command Room Diorama

Welcome to Dan's ToyBox! As we look to branch out this year with more articles and different types of content, I decided to foray into diorama building. While this isn't the first diorama I've built, it's the most ambitious for me, to date. The only dio I've built previously was an alley set that definitely showed my lack of experience. After finally getting the right kind of foam and having these great packing clam shells, I was inspired to give it another go.

After deciding which way the clam shells would sit together the most effectively, I found a good backing piece for the side which would house the video monitor and glued those pieces together. However, I did take care to leave a section "open" at the bottom for reasons I'll explain later. The other wall would have a clear window and I puzzled over how to do that for a few moments. Thankfully, glancing around my room here gave me an idea. I immediately grabbed several of my open figure boxes and snagged all of the plastic packing inserts. I'd remembered seeing another dio builder use those to create windowpanes and thought they'd work perfectly for my needs. I ended up trimming the bottom portion off of two pieces and fitting them together. The beauty of this was that they were the right height to fit into the opening. Once I had them together, I slid the two pieces apart until they matched the width. A few minutes and a few drops of glue later, I had my window. The rim around the plastic edge made for the perfect mounting point. However, the material of the new wall wasn't holding the glue very well, so masking tape came to the rescue. With both walls developed, my next goal was a good floor. I measured out a 16" X 17" piece of foam and marked off an inch border on one end. This would be the area for the magnets and the viewscreen wall. The rest of the floor was divided up into 4"X 4" tiles. Using my trusty utility knife, I made careful cuts to start developing the grooves in the floor. Once those were done, I took my metal ruler and pressed it into the cuts. I then ran the ruler along the length of each tile cut and wiggled it back and forth to bevel the edges of each tile. The ruler was deep enough to make the grooves between the tiles look authentic and the rounded end of my ruler helped me to not tear the tile.

After all the measuring and carving was complete. I set the magnets, taped them off, and gave the entire thing a flat gray coat of primer. Little by little, the build was coming together as I envisioned it but I still had a long way to go yet.

I had to think of how I wanted the walls to look and started painting them, but something was still amiss. The window wall had a lot of odd shapes that just didn't look right. So, I took some quarter inch thick white foam sheets and carved small square and rectangular panels to put in place around the window frame. I had some left over 1" X 1" squares, so I made three small video monitors and mounted them above the window. I fitted the pieces together and realized that if I trimmed some sections of the window wall, it would interlock nicely with the video monitor wall. I made the necessary cuts, and the pieces came together like a puzzle. I continued to add painted details to the walls while I considered what I wanted the floor to look like and what other accessories the build would need.

I started fabricating a control panel. The first one I built, I wasn't happy with at all, so I scrapped it and started over. Thankfully, my awesome wife was able to find me some small adhesive Rhinestones, which make for great control buttons and dials. I built a tiny monitor screen to mount on the console and went with a matte black look for the floor. I also started adding more color details (blacks and different grays) to the walls. However, things still weren't quite what I was mentally picturing. I hadn't yet decided on the viewscreen picture and went online for inspiration. I found several images online, which I was able to save as JPEGs. One particularly interested me and so I printed out two pages... a large version and a smaller version I could cut up and add to other spots around the dio. You can see a small piece on the tiny monitor in the middle picture above.

I slid the main viewscreen into place, through the opening I'd purposefully left unglued. This will allow me to print out additional scenes and change up the viewscreen whenever I feel like it. I added more of the rhinestones to both walls, creating lights and buttons and alarms. In addition, I carefully cut up the smaller picture and added those sections to different points on the two walls. I then decided that the floor needed to be a gloss black and dropped a coat over the matte black from earlier. I painted the front edges of the floor section and then began adding white paint highlights to the walls. After the gloss had dried. I dry brushed a white/gray mix to the seams between the floor panels and along various spots to indicate scuffing in the floor polish. I built two electrical conduits and mounting boxes out of my last two 1" X 1" squares and two bendy straws, painted them gloss black and glued the whole thing in place.

My goal is to add more, perhaps build a conference table, and add more boxes and control panels to the walls. For now though, I'm very happy with the results. I've got a lot more practice before I hit the caliber of many of the great builders I see on YouTube or other social media, but the important thing is that I had an absolute blast doing it.

Here are some shots of the dio in use... I think they turned out... Fantastic!

Thank you for checking out our first ever installment of Dan's ToyBox Builds. There will definitely be more to come. Until next time... GEEK OUT!!!


bottom of page