Introduction: Skylander ➜ Forest Golem Diorama
For decades an ancient guardian put to rest in the center of a small hill deep in the woods. As the years pass the beast succumbs to the strands of time. But after many years a sparkle of life awakens within the ancient protector ready to rise once more...
Well at least that's what I was going for. You see it all started about a month ago I was walking around a used electronics shop and just behind the display case was a lot of Skylanders for dirt cheap. I bought up a few of the ones I had loved as a kid but when I got home I took a closer look and realised how off the paint job was. disappointed I thought what better way to immortalise one of my favourite Skylanders from my childhood than by building a proper display. Overall the process wasn't incredibly difficult and if this is your first time doing anything like this then I hope you learn a lot.
3.) Masking Tape
4.) Various paints (Browns, Blacks, Reds, Greens)
5.) A thin rope
6.) A Tree-Rex Skylander
7.) Some Broken LED's (Or a battery pack with a wire attached)
8.) Super Glue
10.) 3D printer (If you don't own one you can buy scatter terrain at a local hobby shop)
11.) Watered down PVA glue
14.) Electrical tape
Step 1: How to Break Your Skylander
Now there is probably a much easier way to do this. You see we want the orange base off of the actual Skylander figure so we can access the insides. Because as a surprise to me there are LED's inside. I've heard of methods like dipping the figure in boiling water and waiting for the plastic to soften. But I was afraid that would ruin the actual electronic internals, so I opted to go around the edge with a razor blade then rip the orange plastic piece off with a pair of plyers. If you were careful I would also imagine you could technically saw off the orange part. But regardless of your method if you want this to light up you have to be incredibly careful as you don't want to ruin the components stored in the base.
Step 2: Lights
To start I had these battery powered LED lights that broke off leaving me with a power brick and some wire. If you strip the wire you are left with the perfect way to power your diorama's lights. Now going over to the Skylander. Inside my Skylander is an NFC chip which is attached to 4 wires. (The lights are powered by the NFC chip try holding it on top of your phone the lights will power on) You can cut these wires and strip them. Once stripped you can try pairing them to light up the Skylander. Red goes to Green and Blue (There are two red wires but only one corresponds to blue and the other corresponds to green) so you will have to figure out which wires go with which. I only wanted to power the Fist's light but if you want to power the eyes find the 2 wires that correspond and mark them for later.
Step 3: Keep Your NFC (If You Want)
Also after you've cut the wires off you are left with the NFC chip. You could use this as a Skylander still. So hold on to it if you want, or glue it to the bottom of the diorama if you want an obnoxiously large Skylander.
Step 4: Removing the Base
Removing the base isn't too tough as it just requires a bit of time. I found that if you take a hair dryer and use it at high heat for a little bit pointed at the base it will melt the glue a little. This makes it a little easier to pry the figure from the base. Once you've taken the figure off make sure the lights still work as they could have been damaged if you were a little too rough.
Step 5: Creating the Cardboard Base
Creating the base of the diorama is a pretty simple step. To start trace onto some cardboard a blob that is at a size you feel is appropriate (I just wanted mine to fit on a shelf so it wasn't too big) Then trace a little inner circle. This is where the hill will go once we start to build it up.
Step 6: Building Up the Diorama Base
To build up our center hill we have to add something to support the plaster that will go on top. I found Styrofoam to work as it can be carved with a knife pretty easily. But to start with the initial build up of the hill you should just break off some Styrofoam packaging and place it roughly inside the inner shape you drew on the cardboard. You can use pieces of various shapes and sizes to give a but of variation to your hill. Additionally if your hill feels a bit too angular you can carve off the edges with a knife being careful, you can make the edges a bit more sloped. Finally if there is a bit too much room between the gaps in the Styrofoam you can tape up all the pieces of Styrofoam. This makes things more rigid as well as saving us a bit of plaster down the road.
Step 7: Plaster It Up
Time to cover the whole hill in plaster I found that when mixing my plaster a 2:1 ratio of plaster to water worked best for me. As my plaster was smooth but not too lumpy. And once its mixed you can smear it all over your base. It's okay to have variation in your coverage as you want to make sure it doesn't look too neat. Though if it looks too clean you can always cover it with flocking in a later step.
Step 8: Make Room for the Batteries
In the bottom of the base is where we are going to store the power supply. I simply just carved a rough shape for the battery pack and then carved that out with a box cutter. I also made sure to add a slot to open it in the future in case the batteries ever needed replacing.
(Also I don't have a photo for this but drill a hole through the plaster for the wires in a later step.)
Step 9: Base Coats + Drybrush
(Before painting reinforce the plaster with a thin layer of super glue on the top. It makes the plaster more rigid and less likely to flake in the future)
To make our base look like a little hill we need to add some paint. So starting with a base coat of the color black we can give the base a bit of a mountainous rocky texture. The we go over the top to drybrush. Drybrushing is when you wipe almost all the paint off the brush onto a napkin and then you wildly paint the rest of a surface with the tiny bit left. Only the raised edges will be painted resulting in a shading effect. And if you accidentally forget to wipe enough off of your brush you can always cover it with flocking in a later step.
Step 10: Scatter Terrain
To decorate our hill we want to add some terrain that can add some life to our diorama. The best way I could think of doing that was scouring www.Thingiverse.com for a while and using some tabletop terrain I found. I used things like Tree stumps, Oil drums, and Old tires to really sell the idea this Tree golem has been lost to time. I thought what better than to mix forestey terrain with industrial terrain to really sell this effect. However if you don't have a 3D printer there are a few other options
1.) You could use a printing service (Though these can be expensive and sometime scale is hard to gauge)
2.) Borrow a friends printer (This is technically free but requires you know someone with a 3D printer)
3.) Buy scatter terrain from a hobby shop or online (Usually pretty cheap and it's always good to support local hobby stores. Ask about things like Warhammer terrain if you want more industrial terrain, and if you want a more forestey terrain check model train areas sometimes they have some forest items that may help.)
(Sorry about the photo having an unpainted hill this photo was taken at a different time but this step makes more sense here)
Step 11: Making Flocking But Really Really Slowly...
If you can buy flock DO IT this step is for if you can't or don't want to buy flock. The method involves taking a thin rope and fraying it. Once its frayed it should be easier to cut. We can then cut this frayed rope into really small pieces. This unpainted could be used for things like hay in regular terrain building, but we want flocking. So we add green paint. Add as you go because if you add too much it could end up taking forever to dry. Additionally while adding paint mix it with your fingers. It's messy but prevents clumping. When adding paint make sure to also mix in a variety of colors in small amounts so they you can get some variation in color. Once you have your paint added mix well and prepare your collider for a very annoying step.
Step 12: Finish the Flock
To make the flock fine and prevent clumping when we glue it on we want to sift it though a collider. If your paint hasn't dried you could get a hair dryer to dry it faster. (That's what I did) The air will go through the collider making it easier as the flock won't go flying around in the collider while you blow dry it. Once dry however we are going to have to sift it into a plate. I recommend watching something in the background because this takes a while. I found shaking the bowl up and down and side to side works well for getting it though the collider. If there are any clumps left just rip them apart with your fingers then keep sifting. Don't give up until you've got most of it though as you'll need a lot of it.
Step 13: Actually Use the Flocking
We can glue the flocking onto the actual hill now. Making sure to cover as much as you think is necessary. Personally I think I should have put some more going up the sides but no way was I making any more flock. To start the gluing I recommend painting onto the base with a paintbrush a thick player of PVA glue, then adding your flock. Once you've done just that you can add a couple drops of watered down PVA glue to seal the rest of the flocking in place.
Step 14: Finishing Everything to Do With Terrain (Mostly)
Painting the terrain is a pretty simple process as its up to interpretation how you want to do it. I was aiming for a more realistic approach so I started with a base coat of black for things like the trees. On top of this you can add a thin layer of brown to the trees, this makes them dark but allows the brown to shine through still. Additionally in this step I also took some corrugated cardboard and coated it in superglue to give it some rigidity. On top of this I painted it with a layer of black and a dry brush of silver. This gives a rough metallic color. However to finish it off I went over with some light brown splashes towards the edges to look like rust.
Once you have all your terrain painted and assembled you can start placing it around your diorama. Make sure to leave space in the middle for our forest golem. I also wanted a roof between two tree stumps using the corrugated iron piece. Super gluing it between 2 trees worked perfectly for this effect. So don't think one dimensionally try to think about how you can add parts from all angles.
Step 15: Skylander -> Tree Golem
Finally time for my favourite part which is painting our ancient Tree Golem himself. To start we need to give our Skylander a light sand to ensure the paint will stick. Once sanded all over we can cover it in a base coat of brown. I used an airbrush for this step but a paintbrush can do just fine. Also I chose a lighter brown than the original because of two reason
1.) I was aiming for a withered tree look in which case I would have needed lighter colors for just that
2.) We do a very dark wash later on which darkens the color of the brown
Once we've got our base coat we can start with the detail areas. Starting with the moss shorts I felt as if the original green was too bright. And so sticking with the idea of a grittier tone I went with a much darker green. Drybrushing some browns on top to compliment the overall piece. And with the shorts finished there was the red accent pieces. They got a simple red drybrush, trying not to go too overboard as the black wash drags attention to it later on. Also while your at it I recommend painting the toes, you could leave the as is as it already looks like wood but I always thought of them more as stone that anything so I drybrushed a stone grey onto them. Finally paint the eyes a greyish white. This will look more like stone when the wash is added.
With the detail pieces we have one final part to do before the black wash, that being the actual bark. The idea is that we want to drybrush an off white color onto the bark so that when we add the black wash it gives the wood a pale zombie like tone. Complimenting the idea this has been here for decades and really helping sell the withered wood idea.
Finally the wash, a wash is just watered down paint that you dab off with a paper towel. The idea being that the black paint adds a bit of a stain on top and keeps the paint stuck in the cracks the paper towel can't reach. This works because the wash we use here is quite thick. I just got a bit of black on my brush dabbed it in some water then smeared it all over. Once there for a little bit I could just dab it all off with a paper towel. If you ever go overboard with a wash you can always wash it off.
Step 16: Attaching the Base
Now is when we can properly attach the wiring. Remember when I said mark your wires earlier? Well now it's time to match them up again. However don't do what I did, use electrical tape when keeping the wires together, this not only prevents shocks but also a future fire hazard. I used masking tape and I shouldn't have. I did it because I only planned on taking photos with the light on otherwise it's just a neat feature I'll never use. So be careful and use electrical tape.
Now to attach the figure to the base we can use copious amounts of superglue to make sure everything is secure. Hold it in place while drying to ensure it doesn't rip up any flocking. Once we have the figure attached we can hide the wires. Firstly we can super glue the wires to the base making sure to add super glue in the hole as well. Then once dry we can add flocking over the wires to hide them and prevent them from showing. If you really don't want them visible I recommend painting them black prior to adding flock then your won't see it as easily under the flock.
Step 17: Finishing Touches
Here we are at the finale. I added a few extra pieces of scatter terrain to tie everything together and keep this idea of a mix of both industrial and natural. I also added a little bit of drybrushing to the grass to add a variety of color. But with that lets get onto photos.
Step 18: Photography
To set up the photo you first want to be in a dark room and you should gather a background. I had a large black foam sheet which I can use as a background and a floor. The useful thing about using foam was that I can poke holes in it with screws to hold up my lights. Additionally depending on if you have the Diorama light on or off you should use more natural earthy tones for the light when it's off (Oranges, Yellows, Reds) and use unnatural colors (Blues, Whites, Purples) for when it's on. Having an led strip is useful for getting these kinds of colors easily.
Once you have the lighting setup try to get to a position where you can frame the lighting in a way so that it highlights details like the reds of the fist or the greens of the shorts. If you feel your photo is too dark get a device like a phone and shine a white screen towards the front. It will illuminate key parts without overtaking the background tones from the LED light setup. And with that you can get in front of the diorama and take your photo.
Step 19: Now You're Finished
Ta-da! Its finished, this took me about 2 afternoons of work just doing what I can when I get home. But I can tell you the results are more than worth it. If you enjoyed reading this and plan to make your own I'd love to see photos so please share. And with that thanks for reading and have a good day!
Second Prize in the
Diorama Speed Challenge