Introduction: HO Scale Shipping Container Surprise Reveal Diorama.

I used to be an Architectural model maker, and in the process of populating said models with figures to give them scale I would try and make the figures look like they are acting out their own story.

From this it bled into my real life and i would take the figures out into the real world and take photos of the figures in the wrong scale world. (see the second photo).

After doing this for a while and producing a small photo book i started making little dioramas in jam jars. (see third and fourth photos)

Then when I got my first 3D printer I wanted to mix both of these things, 3D printing and making tiny HO scale worlds.

This instructable is the journey of the first 3D printed based HO scale diorama.

***WARNING*** The final photos of this diorama might have some images people might find disturbing so please only look at them if you want. you proceed to the last steps of your own accord. They are not suitable for young children. ***WARNING OVER***

Step 1: Materials and Tools.

Tools and Materials used.

This list is what i used to create this instructable. ( I may have missed some things out, so if your going to make this, please read the whole instructable and ask questions if something seems missed and I will try to answer)

  • 3D printer
  • PLA filament
  • files, sandpaper or emery boards.
  • Solvent glue (use in a well ventilated area) or super glue.
  • scale figures of your choice. ( I use Preiser as the detail on this brand is fantastic) HO is the size i like to use as they are small enough to put in fun places but have enough detail to show whats happening, also easy to paint.
  • EVA foam.
  • Tweesers for fine detail manipulation, but you don't need these.
  • Fine paint brushes
  • Acrylic paint.
  • Soldering Iron and Solder

  • Electrical equipment.
    • Micro LED (I snipped one from the wire LED type you put in bottles for decoration.)
    • Fine electrical wire.
    • Reed switch (normally off.)
    • Magnet (to trigger the reed switch.)
    • CR2032 battery
    • CR2032 battery holder
    • heat shrink.

Step 2: 3D Files for the Shipping Container.

I was going to design the 3D model my self but after a quick search on Thingiverse, I found a fantastic set of shipping container models by designer nzfreemo. He has a few different sizes of shipping container.

I went with the 20ft design as at HO scale it would be a nice size to build a diorama around.

The main body of the model is Here.and the open doors are a separate file Here.

This was a great base model to build on as it is in separate parts. so it allowed me to build it in parts and add the bits for the diorama when the container is half built.

Step 3: Printing the Container and Installing the Light.

- I printed out all the parts of the shipping container using the instructions listed on the item page from thingiverse.

The items printed out pretty well , there was a few little lifts on the smaller parts but after a few adjustments to the printer they all printed out perfectly.

I must admit I forgot to photograph parts of this stage.

I will try to describe the steps i took as well as I can.

- I built the shipping container by gluing the roof, back, floor, right hand side and the front door frame together to create the inside of the container that can be accessed by one side (to allow for the diorama work.)

- I printed out a false back (that i designed on sketchup) A plain flat square to fit inside the container and hide the electronics at the back.

- This false back was then glued to the left hand side of the shipping container, so it is separate from the other half of the model.

- Using the micro LED on the wire i bent it and positioned it in the center of the roof and bent the wire down the back (false back) and under the false wall, into the space behind the false wall.

- The LED was then wired to the reed switch and battery. This enables all the electronics to be enclosed in the shipping container making it look more real, and then adding a level of interactiveness to this diorama that i wanted.

- All the electronics were then glued to the left hand side and false back part of the shipping container. (this will be left removable so that the battery can be changed at a future date.

- Testing was done at every stage of the build to make sure the shipping container stayed together and looked correct. Also the checks allowed me to make sure the reed switch was correctly placed, so that the magnet triggered the switch

The video above is one of these tests. the magnet is taped to the bottom of the sheet of wood. when the container is placed in the correct place on the wood the reed switch closes and turns on the micro LED to illuminate the inside of the container.

Step 4: Painting the Container.

- With the container apart i painted the inside of all the surfaces a dark charcoal and the floor a very dirty brown.

- The doors are still not attached and are painted the same colour as the outside of the shipping container.

- I then painted the outside of the container dark grey.

- Painting the multiple layers of paint will hide the light spill and the light shining through the thin 3D printing.

- When the first couple of grey coats dried I started on the graffiti.

- Using a very fine brush i started to scrawl initials and tags and little images all over the shipping container to make it look like it is an old container left in a field somewhere.

- Once the graffiti was done i added some brown and black washes to make it look dirty and rusty and oily and abandoned etc. This is all to taste, if you don't want to make it look like this then you don't have to :)

Step 5: Adding the Detail Inside the Shipping Container.

*** I have not included images in this step, to keep the final reveal a surprise. like the diorama is meant to be. ***

The scene I decided to put in my shipping container was something I wanted to be a little bit of a surprise.

I chose to have the scene inside to be an interrogation.

I chose figures that could be customised. The little fella being interrogated was a drunk or sleeping cowboy, I cut off and sanded down his hat to look like hair.

The man doing the interrogation was just a man with his arms out, i added a painted rod to his hand to look like a metal pipe.

Other details I added are little scraps of balsa wood or plywood to make the inside ot the shipping container a little more realistic.

other Little bits of plastic rod and bar to make it look like other tools used in the interrogation.

Step 6: Making the Base.

- I measured the size of the shipping container and drew out a base in Sketchup that would give me some space around the container to add the details for the diorama.

- I printed the base out with a recess for a block of EVA floor matting to fit inside. this will be the ground around the shipping container. I like to use EVA as a base as the rough edges (the way i cut it) make it look more natural, it looks like the group has been scooped out of the earth and placed on my base.

- On the underside of the EVA i cut a small hole (not all the way through) for the magnet to sit. This will be the trigger spot for the shipping container.

Step 7: Painting the Base and Adding the Details.

- I cut a small rectangle in the corner of the base EVA to give some detail to the diorama.

- I painted the EVA foam brown then added a wash layer of green on just the top.

- Using some scale railway model grass i glued it to places on the base to make it look like the grass was growing and being trod back with foot traffic.

- Next to the rectangle hole I placed some chips or EVA to look like the dirt that had been removed from the hole.

- Some small lengths of wood (6/7mm each) were piled up in the opposite corner to look like abandoned lumber or something like that.

- The figures used were originally unpainted worker figures from Preiser . I painted them up in just normal clothing with the acrylic paint and the fine brushes.

The designs or styles of the people are all up to you. it depends on what type of diorama you are making.

- The figures were glued onto the base. The figure with the shovel was placed near the hole to make it look like he had just finished digging it.

When the shipping container is placed in the right place it will trigger the light and finish the scene. you will be able to see into the dark and scary shipping container.

You can also place the shipping container on the base so the light isn't triggered so you don't run the battery out.


Step 8: Finished Diorama.

Once you have done all these steps you will have yourself a lovely little creepy diorama.

I know this is not normally what one would think goes in a diorama but... hey its a fun little talking point.

I wanted to make this diorama a little more interactive then other dioramas. This way people cant quite tell whats inside the shipping container until you interact with it and move it into the correct place.

If you have any questions please ask, I will try my hardest to answer them.

If you would like to look at some more of my tiny people photos or dioramas visit my blog : HERE

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