Profile Photo
Michael E Rieth
3 articles

Diorama of Steven Spielberg’s 1941 Movie

February 7, 2020 · in Diorama · · 27 · 3.2K

A of the Movie, 1941. The diorama was built for the iModeler at the Movies Group Build. It is scale. Everything is scratch built except for the Hasegawa P-40E and the cab of the Wespe Models Ford 917, converted to a 1939 Ford pick-up truck.

The scene was made from several screen grabs from the movie. Using known measurements like a door height, I was able to create scale CAD drawings, which were used to laser cut the buildings, gas pumps, signs, pick-up truck bed, reptile farm fence and cages, and the 1947 Aero Flite Falcon Travel Trailer. I made signage artwork using Photoshop Elements.

The original explosion I made was huge, but it overpowered the scene and blocked the scratch built buildings, gas pumps and island. I decided to go with the explosion when it first ignites. There are micro LED battery operated lights inside, which doesn't show up in bright light.

The has a tiny motor to spin the prop scavenged from an old scanner/printer.

The photo with the real background was created using Photoshop Elements of a screen grab from Google Maps of the exact location on the road where the movie scene was shot.

I have yet to connect and program the Arduino to control the prop spin, explosion lights and the dialogue and music, as I'm still learning the process. There is still some weathering to do with pastel chalks and pencils. I ordered some EZ Line for the electrical wires for the utility pole. I will continue to “junk up” the scene with parts from the spares box as I go.

Link to the scene in 1941 that I recreated

Reader reactions:
12  Awesome

10 additional images. Click to enlarge.

27 responses

  1. Michael @mrieth, this turned out FANTASTIC! Really impressive. The grass tufts turned out excellent. Looking forward to the finale and seeing it lit up. Well done!

    BTW, which Laser Cutter do you have?

  2. What's not to love about this, it's great!

  3. Really nice, Michael. I especially like the reptile cages.

    • Thank you John @j-healy . Did you see the snakes? Some small reptiles are "hiding" under the rocks lol. The snakes were made from floral wire. I coiled one and left it green, it looks more like a garden hose, which I thought was appropriate for a roadside attraction.

      The screen is wedding netting. It was used to wrap the soft mint candies that were given out as favors to guests. It was shiny white, so I sprayed a light coat of Duplicolor Black Primer on it. The netting was perfect for the scale. I also used it for the screen on the windows.

  4. Fantastic work, Michael! It brings a chuckle to me remembering the movie.

    • Thanks Jeff @mikegolf . My wife can’t watch it past the scene I recreated, must be a guy thing, like the 3 Stooges.

      I bought the book the Making of 1941 used a few months ago for $4.49 and free shipping from Amazon. There were only a few photos of the scene I was doing, not much help. There was an interesting story though, the original scene had Wild Bill going on a rampage and broke every can, jar and basket. He shoved everything in his mouth ala the cafeteria scene in Animal House.

  5. Beautiful work Michael. Watching it over the months come together as you figured things out was very interesting and the result is superb.

    • Thank you Tom @tcinla . This was also a personal and professional challenge. I often get clients that only have an idea, or a rough sketch and hopefully some photos and want me to create something. This project made me design and build from just a few photos. It will help me estimate a bid and plan better in the future.

  6. Simply awesome work Michael and I concur the movie is a guy thing. Blazing Saddles also comes to mind. Well done, I like it.

  7. Got another question Michael @mrieth, I don't recall form the wip, how did you achieve the joints in the paving? Looks exactly like the asphalt tar they use in real life. My paving for the Glenn Miller dio has actual joints. I used a sharpie to edge the joints but have ended up with a few gaps. Was toying with the idea of applying a small amount of putty and painting it.

    • The tar is a dark gray craft paint from Michael’s or Hobby Lobby. I put it in a syringe and applied it to the joint. It was actually a little thin. I usually use latex house paint, which is thicker. Black is too stark.

      • Thanks!

  8. This turned out great ! This is one of my favorite scenes in the movie... The very last picture showing the explosion looks fantastic as well. The lighting special effects really make it...
    Each time I look at this I notice something new. I have been following along as this started from scratch.


  9. Michael, I don’t know where to start with expressing how much I like this project. In every detail, the work is a joy. I also know quite a bit more about modelling than I did at the beginning of this log. It is a real pleasure following your work.

    There’s such heart and skill in this miniature; every shot makes me smile. The headline photo is a marvel - and shows incredible fidelity to the movie. When you look at the comments from the most knowledgeable of iModelers here, it pays testament to the quality you’ve produced. Just...gorgeous.

    I am working on the ‘reveal’ for this Group Build at the moment and this is a true highlight. When you consider how short this scene actually is in the movie, the detail and research work is staggering.

    Huge thanks and the deepest of respect for entertaining us, my friend. What a treat.

    ‘Liked’ - Times a million.


    • David, @dirtylittlefokker , thank you for the kind remarks. I hope you are doing and feeling well.

      As I wrote in my first post to start this build, “I’ve been wanting to do this for years”. I didn’t think I had enough information. I would look for a 1939 pick-up truck, gas pumps or building drawings and come up empty, putting the project off yet again. Walt Disney said, “The way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing”. Your group build was the “excuse” I needed to start. Your ORCA build, with you wanting to scratch build as much as possible, kept me wanting to scratch build as much as possible.

      I learned a lot during this journey and from what I’ve read, so have others. It was a challenge, but more importantly, it was fun.

      • Just been looking again at your photographs of the build on the way in to work, and checking it against original footage in the movie. Really, you have to see how true this is to to it’s source to believe it.

        Trivia - the gas station here in ‘1941’ is exactly the same one as used in Spielberg’s movie, ‘Duel’. In fact, Spielberg had the actress who played the proprietor of the ‘Snakerama’ in Duel hired for 1941 (Lucille Benson) to play the same part!


  10. So cool, love it! You did a lot of work which paid off. How long did it take you to finish the dio?

    • Thank you Reinhart @grimreaper . According to my first post on iModeler at the Movies, it was 10 months, 3 weeks. It wasn't full time, as I had commission work and a collaboration with a 3D printing company and there were times when I wasn't able to work on it for 3 to 6 weeks or so.

  11. I added a link in the article to the scene for those who have never seen it.

    • This is one of the best scenes from the movie ! Belushi rocks ... I enjoyed watching him on Saturday Night Live. Back then it was good. Now days, well... I'd rather not comment about it.

Leave a Reply