Caveman diorama meets Huntsville modeling competition -

Caveman diorama meets Huntsville modeling competition


Sometimes I wish there were two of me to handle all the fun. Actually, I did have an identical twin, but he passed away shortly before we entered the world. I often wonder what things would be like had he survived. Would we currently be sharing an office, bouncing ideas back and forth, collaborating on our writings, and praising each other's choice of a particularly pertinent bon mot ? Or might we have gone in completely different directions, with me being an engineer and him starring in a burlesque show in Las Vegas (or vice versa)? But we digress…

Speaking of fun, next week I'm heading out to ESC Minneapolis 2016 where I'll be speaking, hosting two meet-ups, moderating a couple of panel sessions, and generally having a good time. On the evening of Tuesday 20th, the day before the event, a bunch of us will be meeting up at Brit's Pub for nibbles and refreshments. Our merry band will include Bob Zeidman, who recently published an analysis of CP/M and MS-DOS, and keynote presenter Chuck Carter, who created the graphics for the legendary Myst game. If you happen to find yourself in the neighborhood, you are more than welcome to join us (I'll be the outrageously good looking one in the Hawaiian shirt).

I return from Minneapolis on Friday 23rd September. The next day, on Saturday 24th, we (my modeling cohort, Mike, and I) will be attending the Huntsville Plastic Modelers Society's Annual Contest where we'll be displaying the current state of play regarding our Caveman Diorama project. This extravaganza will take place at the Jaycee Community Building (2180 Airport Road, SW, Huntsville, AL 35802) from 8:00am to 5:00pm. If you live anywhere in the vicinity, it would be wonderful if you could drop in and say “Hi.” In addition to the competition itself, there will be a gaggle of vendors selling models and modelling supplies, so this is a great venue to bring younger folks who might become interested in doing this sort of thing themselves.

With regard to the diorama, everything is coming together nicely — the main things we are missing are the waterfall, the cave painting on the wall, and the various 1/32 figures. But we really aren’t too bothered about this because we are primarily regarding this year's competition as a venue to show other modelers what we've been doing. Next year we plan on returning with the finished article.

Tomorrow morning, Mike and I will be meeting up here in the office to add the final touches to the diorama and to give a final polish to the software used to drive all the effects. In the meantime, I thought I'd share a couple of pics I just took in the bay outside my office.

Below, in the far right, we see the 1950s wooden television cabinet that will be holding the diorama. In the foreground, leaning against the ottoman, we see the computer monitor that will be attached to the back of the TV cabinet. This will be used to display the mountains and clouds scene that the observer will see through the entrance to the cave.

(Source: Max Maxfield & Mike Mittlebeeler)

Since the original TV's aspect ratio was 4:3, we originally tried to track down a 4:3 display, but we needed something with a diagonal dimension between 26″ and 27″, and these aren't easy to find as flat-screen LCD/LED/OLED monitors. In the end, we went with a 43″ wide-screen display that we will be standing on its side. This means we have to rotate the image 90° and only use one end of the display, which may sound a bit Heath Robinson / Rube Goldberg, but it's an engineering solution that works and the result is pretty spectacular.

Next we see an image of the left-hand-side of the cave. Our viewpoint is looking into the back of the cave, which will be the side one sees when peering through the TV screen. Thus, the entrance to the cave will actually be located toward the back of the TV cabinet. Looking through the entrance in this image we see a piece of white card, but this will be replaced by the display discussed above.

(Source: Max Maxfield & Mike Mittlebeeler)

In the fullness of time there will be a waterfall coming out of the tunnel and landing on the rocks in the pool below. Although they are hard to see in this image, there are little fish in the pool — the same type as the ones we see hanging on the drying rack in the bottom left-hand corner of the cave.

I have to say that the fire has turned out to look pretty spectacular. At the base are 19 tri-colored NeoPixels. Sitting on this we have a cone of crushed glass held together by clear epoxy, which provides myriad internal reflections and refractions. Surrounding the glass cone are burnt logs (twigs). The end effect really does give the impression of a roaring fire with blazing embers — I just wish you could see how good this looks in the real world.

Below is a slightly closer look. (For the actual competition we're hoping to find someone who has a macro lens and isn’t afraid to use it.) You can just see the red dragon's head gazing out of the underwater cavern at the back of the pool.

(Source: Max Maxfield & Mike Mittlebeeler)

This is probably a good time to mention that we have a bunch of NeoPixels at the back of the tunnel, more at the bottom of the main pool, still more in the dragon's cavern, and 155 of the little scamps in the roof. We also have optical fibers in the dragon's eyes and other effects too numerous to mention. Once again, we'll try to get a video of all this working at the competition.

Observe the logs roughly piled up on the floor at the entrance to the cave (we decided that cavemen would be unlikely to arrange these things neatly). We were quite pleased with this effect until someone in the bay noted that the ends of the logs looked like they had been cut with a chainsaw rather than hacked with a stone axe. Unfortunately, we'd already glued these little scamps down, but we are going to address this conundrum by adding a chain saw and a can of gasoline to the scene.

All of which leads us to the image of the right-hand-side of the cave as shown below. Observe the small black connector with the wires coming out of the floor to the right of the cave's entrance. This is where our time portal will be located (thereby explaining anachronisms like the chainsaw).

(Source: Max Maxfield & Mike Mittlebeeler)

One of my chums, Steve Manley in the UK, has created the design files for a superb portal — we're just hoping the 3D print will come in from today. Meanwhile, another chum, Daniel Whiteley, has been working on the software to display images on the time portal's screen. Once again, you'll have to see how amazing this all looks in a future video.

Now observe the three wooden ladders. On the off-chance you are interested, each of the bindings/knots connecting one side of a rung to its supporting post took me 7.5 minutes to tie. When we eventually get around to constructing our figures, there will be a group of cavemen sitting around the fire, with one character in a Hawaiian shirt representing yours truly. There will be a couple of caveman kids sitting on the floor at the foot of the time portal looking at the various scenes as they appear on the screen.

In addition to a number of other characters, one caveman will be standing on the rightmost ladder executing a cave painting (we're still working out how to create this painting — I think we'll be working on a number of test cases before we commit ourselves to the main wall). On the cave floor, at the bottom of the right-hand ledge, on either site of the artist's ladder, you can see the connection points for the two floodlights that will be illuminating the cave painting. We'll be adding these floodlights tomorrow morning.

Eventually, there will be a caveman peddling a bicycle driving a generator connected to a couple of truck batteries powering these floodlights (phew!). Actually, there's going to be a lot more added to this diorama in the fullness of time, but we'll leave all of that to a future column. In the meantime, we'd love to hear what you think of our progress thus far and to answer any questions you may have.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.