The Making of the “Death Trap” Diorama

When is the last time you made a diorama? Grade 3-ish, maybe?

Highline’s Kristy, Camara and Brita brought the diorama back this issue with their constructed illustration for Niki Wilson’s piece, Death Trap, that featured the recent discovery of a prehistoric bone-filled cave in Jasper National Park.

death trap spread

Curious how they did it? Here’s some insight into their (ridiculously time-consuming) design and construction process and some tips on how to make something like this yourself.

What you’ll need:

How to get ‘er done:

*** Before getting started, ask a busy friend to spend hours designing and executing a highly technical paper cutting illustration that you will later unceremoniously “repurpose” beyond recognition throughout the assembly of the final diorama. (see point #9)

1.) Using one of the beer boxes and glue gun, assemble your background and foundation.

2.) With your ruler and the other beer box, measure and cut out 1700 identical right triangles.

3.) Glue 1700 triangles onto your foundation with creative flair. Suggested listening: soft rock, soft pop or soft jazz, avoiding hard rock, hard pop, hard jazz or any music that causes your heart to race. Stay calm. If possible, outsource this task to a younger, more naïve do-gooder, sibling or friend with a high threshold for glue-related burns and pain and one who can maintain focus for up to eighteen hours at a time or until this part of the project is complete.

4.) Set the mood with candle light. Extinguish paper fire that ensues.

It will look like garbage: Don't despair.

It will look like garbage, but don’t despair.

5.) Go on a beer and pizza mission.

6.) Call your boyfriend and tell him you won’t be coming home tonight.

7.) With the major construction now complete, it’s time to paint. Go nuts.

8.) While paint is drying, draw the silhouettes of your main characters onto construction paper. Quickly realize that you cannot draw people or animals or trees. Rely on Google to inspire you and try again. Nailed it. Now carefully cut them out.

9.) Place your characters and cut-outs using glue and plasticine. Force delicate pre-made paper-cutting illustration (square peg) to work within your spiky cardboard trap (round hole).

***NOTE: At this point, your diorama will likely resemble a pile of garbage. Don’t worry about it. Magic is about to happen.

10.) Set up a camera on a tripod, frame your composition and set the exposure to allow for a shutter speed of between 10 and 20 seconds.

So many cool shots but this was our fave.

So many cool shots but this was our fave.

11.) Turn off the lights so it is completely dark in the studio/bathroom.

12.) Pull out your iPhones and pen light. Proceed to shoot 300 or so long exposures of the diorama as you creatively “paint with light” using your handy hand-held lights.

13.) Upload your images, pick your favorite shot and publish that little beauty.

14.) Accept Pulitzer.

Highline Magazine

Highline Magazine

Highline is a window into the unique culture that thrives in the Canadian Rockies. Our stories, images, and local events embody the playful, authentic, community-minded, and earth-friendly spirit of the people who make the Rockies home.

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  1. I am always amazed at the way that you approach a task…so much creativity and artistic insight. It is beautiful.