Caveman Christmas

I'm afraid I've been a little uncommunicative recently with regard to my Caveman Diorama project (see also 10,000 BM (Before Max) and Caveman Cam and Simulating Flickering Flames). I hadn’t realized how many people were interested in this project, so I've been somewhat surprised by the number of emails I've been receiving recently enquiring as to any ongoing activities.

A roof over our heads
Well, I'm happy to say that my chum Michael Mittlebeeler and I have been beavering away furiously on this little beauty. We typically meet up in my office on Saturday mornings and work our way through to mid-afternoon, after which we head to our respective homes to work on our wives' “honey do” lists. Let's start off by taking a look at the roof of the cave.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

We began by looking at countless images of cave roofs on Google. Originally, we'd considered a generally undulating ceiling with bits going up and down, but with an overall smooth-ish appearance. We had also pondered adding stalactites, but that's a bit cliché, plus we are trying to maintain as much open space as possible.

Eventually, we ran across a really interesting photograph of a strongly textured cave roof, and we decided to use this as the basis for our interpretation. As you can see in this video, our version actually came out looking rather spectacular.

Now, remember that we're only using the cardboard to provide the underlying structure. In the fullness of time, all of this cardboard will be covered with plaster cloth and plaster rocks, after which it will all be painted. We'll look at a few images of this process later in this column, but first…

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Between a rock wall and a hard place
On the left-hand side of the diorama we have a rock wall that's abouthalf the height of the cave. There's a ledge about 7.5″ above the floorof the cave. Since we're working at 1/32 scale, this equates to 20' inour diorama. On top of this ledge we have a tunnel coming out of thewall. We will be modelling a stream coming out of the tunnel and forminga waterfall into the pool below.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

One of the first features we implemented was this rock wall. Sad torelate, we weren't very imaginative at that time (our excuse is that wewere young and foolish), so we made it pretty vertical. However, oncewe'd constructed the roof as discussed above, we decided that ourexisting rock wall was somewhat boring. Fortunately, we've constructedeverything in a modular fashion, which allowed us to swap the originalwall out with a more interesting interpretation without disturbing anyother portions of the cave.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

As you may recall, some time ago we ran across an amazing video showing a guy creating a model waterfall.

Based on this, Mike and I decided that we didn’t want our waterfallto simply plunge into the pool below — instead we want to break thingsup a little, which explains why we now have a small ledge jutting outfrom the wall. With this new version of the wall, 2/3 of the water willfall straight down into the pool, while the remaining 1/3 will hit theledge.

Another consideration is that we are pretty much set on the size ofour pool because we don’t want to take up too much space on the cavefloor. If you look closely at the photos of the original wall and thenew wall above, you'll see that the contour of the main ledge at the topof the wall and the contour of the bottom of the wall are identical –it's the area in-between that's been given more definition.

Appearances can be deceptive. You wouldn’t believe the amount ofplanning and work that went into this. It's also funny how Mike and Ihave different ways of going about things. In this case, he was all forsimply hacking away at our original wall with a knife. By comparison, Itypically over-engineer everything as we'll see on the next page…

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I started out by tracing the contour of the main ledge onto a pieceof scrap cardboard. Then I sketched in lines representing the variousundercuts and the smaller ledge jutting out. The largest undercuts andprotrusions occur in the area of the waterfall, and then they taper downto nothing at either end of the wall.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

Observe the numbers on the cardboard in the image above. Thesecorrespond to the locations of the vertical supports. Next, I measuredthe values of the undercuts and the ledge for each of these supports,and then I used these values to generate templates for the supports inVisio.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

Finally, Mike and I traced these out onto cardboard and cut them outto generate the final wall we saw earlier. I wish you could see this inthe flesh, as it were. It really does look rather spiffy. The bigundercut at the back of the pool provides a lot of visual interest, asdoes the smaller undercut and the jutting out ledge at the top of thewall.

Does anyone fancy a swim?
Another area we've been experimenting with is that of the pool itself.We've created quite a few mockups and Mike has been experimentingfuriously with various color schemes. Since the following photo wastaken, we've filled the pools with clear epoxy and they are starting tolook pretty tasty for first-pass experiments.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

What isn’t apparent in the above photo is that we are alsoexperimenting with different depths for the pool. We've now decided tocut down through the base of the diorama and into the underlyingplatform in the television set to make the pool about 2″ deep. This isgoing to give a real impression of hidden depths, especially since weintend to have rocks sticking up through the water. The following photoshows a more recent experiment using a more sophisticated color scheme.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

I can't wait until we start to add water effects like foam andripples from the waterfall, and maybe some hints of green lichen in thepool itself.

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Creating the characters
One problem the really caused us to scratch our heads was how to createthe characters for our diorama. There really aren’t many 1/32 scalecavemen figures out there, and the ones that are tend to be jumping upand down waving axes and spears and whatnot. As it turns out, weactually want to have quite a few figures. Here's what we're thinking sofar:

  • Two Morlocks lurking on the main ledge spying out the scene.
  • Two or three cavemen sitting and chatting around a fire along with with yours truly in a Hawaiian shirt.
  • A small group of cave women preparing food and chatting with my wife (Gina the Gorgeous), who I'm thinking should be dressed like Raquel Welch in the film One Million Years BC .
  • A caveman standing on guard at the entrance of the cave, possibly greeting one or two other caveman returning from a hunt.
  • A caveman standing on a ladder creating cave paintings on the right-hand wall of the cave. Also some children standing around the bottom of the ladder watching him paint.
  • A cavewoman looking in astonishment at her reflection in a full-length floor-standing mirror (more about this below).

Fortunately, I ran across the Phersu Miniatures websiteand found a rather nice caveman diorama created by Leonardo Torricini.It turns out that Leonardo and I both have similar interests inprehistory and we've read many of the same books (one of our favoritesis The Evolution Man: Or, How I Ate My Father by Roy Lewis).

Anyway, it turns out that Leonardo creates his own figures. Heusually works at a smaller scale than the 1/32 we're using, but he'skindly agreed to help us out. In fact, he just sent me the followingimage of two of the figures he's working on at the moment.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Leonardo Torricini)

The man on the right will eventually be carrying some animal he'skilled on a hunt. I tell you, this is all starting to come together, andI think the final result is going to be better than I could ever havehoped for or envisaged.

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Artful artifacts
The fact Gina and I are going to be in the diorama will be explained byan H.G. Wells-esque time machine standing in the corner of the cave.This will also explain the presence of the Morlocks, along with avariety of other artifacts. Originally, I was planning on making thetime machine a two-seater, but now I'm thinking of having room toaccommodate three travelers, because this will allow me to keep thecontrol console in the middle (and it will be more comfortable on longjourneys).

I've not worked out how to create the model of the time machine yet,but I know it's going to have flickering lights on its control panel.Also, there will be a plug panel on the side of the time machine. Theidea is that the machine is powered up and ticking over and supplyingpower to other artifacts as required.

One of the things that will be plugged into the time machine will be aminiature boom box. This will explain any background music we decide toplay through the big loud speaker mounted in the bottom of thetelevision set holding the diorama.

We're also planning on having two or three floodlights mounted ontripods lighting up the cave painting. These floodlights have posed abit of a problem. Even if the power cable was as large at 10mm indiameter in the real world, this shrinks to 0.3mm in our diorama. If wewere to use three regular-sized wires in the diorama (+5V, GND, and adata signal because we're using NeoPixels), that would be like having a30cm diameter cable in the real world.

Other people have run into the same problem. Looking around theInternet, you either see nice-looking lights with over-sized cables, orchunky-looking lights sitting on the ground with the cables hiddenunderneath.

Happily, we have a cunning solution. My chum Rick Curl suggestedusing industrial dispensing tips for the tripod legs. These arestainless steel tubes with an external diameter of about 0.8mm and aninternal diameter sufficient to accommodate a piece of 40 AWG enameledcopper wire.


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

Meanwhile, Steve Manley in the UK is busily creating 3D models forthe floodlights. Take a look at the images below. The idea is that eachfloodlight will contain a NeoPixel in a 5mm x 5mm x 2mm package mountedat the back of the case. At the front of the case we're going to insert aplastic Fresnel lens (these will be ground-down versions of the ones Iused in my BADASS Display). The four slots around the lens-end of the case will hold baffles (not shown here).


Click Here to see a larger image (Source: Steve Manley)

The final image above shows a test-print with three regular copperwires acting as placeholders for the legs (the industrial tips andFresnel lenses are winging their way to Steve as we speak).

The cunning thing is that we're also going to add something like apiece of thick black cotton thread coming out of the back of each light.These threads will snake their way across the cave floor and plug intothe power sockets on the time machine. This will deceive the casualobserver into thinking these are the power connections supplying thefloodlights, while leaving experienced modelers scratching their headssaying “How the heck have they managed to do that?”

As I mentioned earlier, another artifact I want to include is afull-length floor-mounted mirror. I know that Gina certainly wouldn't goback in time without one, and I think it will be cool to have acavewoman in the diorama looking at her reflection in the mirror.

I think we might also have some wooden crates containing suppliessitting around. A couple of these might be open, with one containingbottles of fine wine and the other revealing cans of SPAM, for example.Can you think of any other artifacts we might want to include?

Good grief, I have so much more to say (don’t even get me started onthe bats hanging in one corner of the cave roof with their glowing redfiber optic eyes), but I fear I've waffled on too much already. What Iwill do is present a few more pictures below that illustrate some of thework Mike is doing with regard to creating the rocks and coloring them.Meanwhile, we'd love to hear what you think of our progress thus far,including any suggestions for figures or artifacts or structures youthink we might want to consider including in this little beauty.


This is the original “vertical” rock wall after Mike covered it with plaster cloth and added some home-made plaster rocks to it (Click Here to see a larger image. Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

Here are some of Mike's experiments at coloring his plaster rocks. We're thinking of using a play on the red-ish-yellow-ish scheme for the inside of the cave, and mike is planning on using the gray scheme for a cliff in the model railway diorama he's creating at his home (Click Here to see a larger image. Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

This close-up of the small piece of plaster rock from the previous picture really shows the level of detail Mike is achieving (Click Here to see a larger image. Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

Here's the original “vertical” wall colored gray with some vegetation (Click Here to see a larger image. Source: Max Maxfield & Michael Mittlebeeler)

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12 thoughts on “Caveman Christmas

  1. “Merry Christmas to you Mark — it's like they say, it's the journey rather than the destination — we're having a lot of fun building this little beauty and we're learning a lot of stuff along the way — who could ask for anything more?”

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  2. “I can't imagine how many hours you've put into this project! It's really paying off- It's come a looong way since your last update.nH.G Wells would be impressed, and I am too!”

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  3. “Hi Max, would it be possible to make the Time Machine appear and disappear? Could you use something like Peppers ghost to do this?nnWhat ever the outcome this is a truly amazing project. “

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  4. “MaxnnThis is remarkable. Years ago, when I was in school, a friend and I made a scene of a mine for a school project. It looked awful as only the work of two unruly 11 year old can be and I appreciate the detail that has gone into this. My friend's fath

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  5. “Have you seen those glass walls you sometimes find in posh showers at posh hotels? You flick a switch and they go from being transparent to opaque. We've thought about attaching that film to the inside of the TV screen,so it would initially appear as thou

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  6. “It's amazing how much better we are getting with practice. In the case of the final image in this column, I mentioned to Mike that the rock wall was looking really good (I have another picture prior to the vegetation) but that it looked like the vegetatio

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  7. “To be honest, I wasn't really familiar with the “official” scales. I knew I didn't want to have the characters too small (1/72 scale) because that would have made the cave look huge. I think I sketched out a figure on paper that was of the size appropr

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  8. “Coming Soon…nnI ran out of time with this column, but there are going to be a lot of lighting effects, all implemented using tri-colored NeoPixels so we an vary the colors as required.nnFirst of all there's going to be the flickering camp fire we're

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  9. “”Have you seen those glass walls you sometimes find in posh showers at posh hotels? You flick a switch and they go from being transparent to opaque.”nnThe windows on the 787 “Dreamliner” work like that as well.”

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