The Floor Is Lava: Creating a Diorama for Multiple Scales

Exploration team ventures close to the lava.

Remember that game played as kids? “THE FLOOR IS LAVA!!!” Furniture became the high ground. Play, fantasy and ingenuity ruled the day. One of the reasons I (and I’ll assume many other toy photographers) do this type of photography is for those same reasons. This is entirely detached from my career as a professional creative—though it does make use of those skills. Toy photography is a chance to create just for fun. And it is a rabbit hole…

Inspiration from anywhere and everywhere

This set of images is inspired by two different things. The first was a sci-fi pic reposted by someone I follow on social media. It was outside of my normal internet eye candy and caught my imagination. I did some digging (à la Google Images reverse search) and located the original image, created by Gary Sanchez, a concept designer out of France with fantastic sci-fi and space illustrations. The initial inspiration for the pillars and lava are based here.

A couple of days later, I listened to Episode 79 of the Toy Photographers Podcast on my commute. James and Kristina were discussing the color red and its related photo challenges. That was the second point of inspiration.


The diorama setup

It would take a bit of setup and I wanted to make the most of my time. I paused for a few days to think about the setup and for the opportunity to shoot without feeling hurried. One of my goals is to shoot subjects of multiple scales in the same environment. This gives my images more variety and helps produce more scenes within a given timeframe.

I began by hot-gluing BBQ lava rocks together to make towers and setting aside a can of tomato sauce with hopes that it would transmit enough light and keep its texture. Next, I added an outline of hot glue to hopefully keep the sauce from running everywhere. Now I was ready to start building the set. On with the LAVA!

A can of tomato sauce that will look like lava in the final image.
DIY LAVA – available at a grocery store near you.

I’ve shot with some gels previously and knew there were better options out there then taping a gel over the Lume Cube(s). (I may have melted a gel or three in previous experiments.) So I wandered down to the local camera store and purchased a Savage RBG360 light. It outputs selectable and consistent colored light and is powered by a standard video camera/light battery, the venerable NP-F.

Behind the scenes view of Scarif trooper jumping over lava.
Overall behind the scenes view. The rear black board has pinholes in it and an LED panel behind, there is a LED panel underneath the lava, a Savage RGB360 throwing colored light from the left and a single Just Plug LED added to illuminate part of the Scarif trooper. The Just Plug LED was used selectively in a couple of these images.

The images

Scarif trooper action figure leaping over the lava.
Behind the scenes
Behind the scenes. One LED panel under the lava, one Just Plug low left and the RGB360 throwing a little bit of red light.
LEGO Wall-E contemplating his predicament.

Everything was captured in-camera in these images. The only touch-ups I made were to remove wire supports and a cut mark in the background.

Matt
LEGO devil and the hottest hot dogs in the universe.
The hottest hot dogs in the universe.

My favorites

This last scene below is what I initially had in my imagination, and I’m really pleased with how the photos came out. The HO-scale figures can be a bit challenging to position, but I love the contrast of scale.

Explorers approach the edge of the interstellar lava flow.
Explorers approach the edge of the interstellar lava flow.
Spray atmosphere adds a nice touch of visual detail. .
Behind the scenes.
LED panel underneath lava/sauce, LED panel behind the starfield board, RGB360 throwing blue from the front/left of the frame.

I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the shutter and I look forward to finding more inspiration in new places!

Matt

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