New England Woods

KIT #: Aurora 407/403
REVIEWER: Scott Lyle


A diorama featuring Aurora’s Black Bear and White Tail Deer

  In the last few years I’ve built a few of the old Aurora Wildlife kits.  The kits come with realistic display bases of their own, but lately I’ve begun thinking of adding the animals into full-fledged dioramas complete with scenery.  Living here in a “slightly” rural part of northern Massachusetts we see deer and black bear (I have neat pictures of a bear destroying my neighbor’s bird feeder) from time to time, so I decided to try my hand at a New England woods scene using those two old Aurora models.

          Besides the deer and bears, I wanted to incorporate a couple of other elements into the scene.  First were a clear babbling brook including fish (fake ones…) and a small falling water effect.  Second was a rocky formation, something that is commonly seen in these parts.  Third I wanted to set the scene in autumn, which is perhaps New England’s most scenic time of the year.  Finally I wanted to tie all of the elements together into a realistic looking scene with realistic groundwork.  I’ve built plenty of armor dioramas over the years, but always tended to focus on the armor at the expense of the scenery.  I wanted to expand my scenic skills beyond just sprinkling sand and static grass onto a white glue-coated base.  How to model realistic clear water, trees, and undergrowth?  I wanted to take a stab at these trickier effects and hopefully acquire some new skills. 


Aurora’s old wildlife kits are gems; blasts from the past that are little dioramas in their own right.  I built the Black Bear and Cubs kit a while ago; pictures and the write-up can be found on this site.  It consists of parts to build an adult bear and two cubs set on a woodsy-themed base.  All parts were molded in black plastic.  The White Tail Deer kit consists of beige colored parts for an adult male (it has antlers) and a similar woodsy base complete with a squirrel chewing on a nut.  These kits hail from the early 1960s so the build quality is what it is, but I find the shape and detail of the animals to be excellent.  A good assembly and paint job will yield an accurate model of the animal as opposed to something that looks like a child’s toy.


  Since I’ve already written about the bear kit in a previous article I’ll skip to the deer, but suffice to say that the assembly of both is about the same.  The deer breaks down into left and right halves, onto which you assemble the inner halves of each leg.  Each side has two belly panels that you assemble next, which is followed by gluing the two body halves together.  All of the seams have to be cleaned up, which entail the use of sanding sticks, Squadron Green putty, and then a scribing tool to rescribe some “fur” over the seam areas to blend them into the molded fur a bit better.  Once that was done the ears and antlers were glued to the head, and the assembly stage was complete.


  I primed the deer using Tamiya’s Fine Surface Primer, sprayed right from the can.  I then sprayed a tan base coat on the deer using Tamiya AS-15 Tan.  This color is too light for the red-brown typical of deer, but it provided a good starting point.  I then made a batch of roughly 60:40 Testors Military Brown and US Army/Marines Gulf Armor Sand and sprayed this in light coats over the upper parts of the deer, avoiding those areas that are white on the real animal (the belly, the insides of the legs, under the chin, and of course, the tail).  I then carefully sprayed Tamiya XF-2 White onto those areas.

          The hooves and nose were brush-painted Vallejo Black Gray, and then I brushed some MIG Productions P245 “Brown for Dark Green” filter over the whole model.  This acted as a very light wash, adding some depth to the deer.  Some subtle dry-brushing followed using Testors US Army/Marines Gulf Armor Sand to add some highlights to the deer.  I then painted the eyes, first base-coating them with Vallejo Chocolate Brown, then adding eyeballs using Vallejo Black Gray and pupils with Testors Black.  A tiny dot of white in each eye was followed by some Testors Gloss.  The deer had an overall slightly glossy sheen which I left alone since animals’ fur seems to look either glossy or flat in different lighting conditions.


 Besides “woods”, I wanted to incorporate two other main scenic elements into the diorama, an elevated area for the bears, and a babbling brook with a small waterfall effect.  Since the brook was going to be modeled using some sort of clear liquid resin, I was going to need a substantial base that offered some stiffness and ruggedness.  I started by cutting a piece of ½” thick MDF that was roughly 11.5” by 23” with a jigsaw.  I don’t add wood trim to the edges of my dioramas; instead I like to cut subtle curves into the outline of the base and then paint the edges in a color that frames the scene. 

          In order for the brook to have some depth I built up the base using more pieces of ½” thick MDF, leaving open the outline of the brook.  This made my diorama base 1” thick overall, but gave the brook an initial depth of ½”.  I then glued pieces of Styrofoam to the base using white glue to create the rough shape of the elevated rocky area.  Other pieces of Styrofoam were added to create the various sloping contours.  Small rocks and pebbles from my yard were glued in place using Walthers Goo to create the small waterfall area.

          The next step was to create the groundwork, and for this I relied on an article I found on the “Maschinen Krueger” website ( entitled “Creating Realistic Groundwork with Textured Gel Medium”, written by Bryan Krueger.  The article nicely explains how to combine sand and other items found around the home with Textured Gel Medium and some hobby pigments (Mig pigments in this case) to create an earth-colored paste that is easy to mix up and apply to your diorama base.  I did exactly that and applied it all over my base, pressing small rocks and pebbles into the stream bed as I went. 

          It seems like one of the real challenges posed to diorama builders working in scales like 1/35th or larger is the creation of realistic deciduous trees.  Most techniques I’ve seen consist of taking pieces of tree roots, spraying them with spray-on glue, and then sprinkling on some type of leafy material (oftentimes a kitchen spice like basil).  Since my diorama was an autumn scene, I took a slightly different tack.  I bought a couple different colors of Plus Model 1/35 scale laser cut leaves and glued them on one at a time on to some pieces of tree root.  I was going for a late fall effect where there are only a smattering of leaves left on the trees (I also call this effect “being lazy”).  I then drilled holes in the base and glued the trees in place using white glue.

          To paint the base I made a 50/50 mix of Testors US Army/Marines Gulf Armor Sand and Testors Light Gull Gray and airbrushed it over the whole scene, letting some of the original brown show through.  I then picked out the rocks by hand with a few different shades of Testors gray.  Looking at real rocks in the woods around my house, I realized one of the most dominant colors on them was actually green.  Most of the rocks I encountered were literally covered in moss and lichen, so after dry brushing some Vallejo Black Gray onto the rocks I added some Testors Dark Green all over them using the damp sponge technique.  I then added patches of lichen by hand using Testors Pale Green. 

          With the rocks and groundwork painted it was time to add the fallen leaves.  To create this effect I went outside and gathered some yellow, red, and orange colored leaves and ran them through my wife’s blender (adds an interesting flavor to next daiquiri).  This minced them up into very fine, scale-sized pieces.  Mixing up a batch of water and white glue, I then glued them all over the base, in amongst the rocks, and on the bottom of the streambed.  After a few nights of that it was time to tackle the water.

          I’ve used Woodland Scenics Realistic Water before, but for this project I wanted to try my hand at a clear polyester resin.  After reading some reviews I tried Castin’ Craft Clear Casting Resin, a product you can buy (along with its hardening Catalyst) at your local big box arts and crafts store.  Reading the instructions revealed there is an art to using this stuff.  To know how much catalyst you have to add you have to know fairly precisely how much resin you’re going to use - the temperature in the room in which you’re working plays a role in that as well.  I wanted to try it first before committing it to my diorama, so I made a small box measuring about 4” x 6” out of some wood scraps, mixed up a batch of the resin, and poured it in. 

          The first thing you notice about the stuff is that IT STINKS TO HIGH HELL!  I mean this stuff smells bad.  Imagine the smell of the old stringy tube cement we all grew up using, only on steroids.  The package says to obviously use it only in a well-ventilated area, and they’re not kidding.  You really have to use it outside or at the very least in your garage.  If you use it in your basement (like I did), it will stink up the whole house (like I did) unless you’ve got the best ventilated basement of all time (I don’t).

          But enough about the stench.  My experimental pour went fine.  The mixture gels in about 15 minutes, at which point you can begin adding subtle waves and ripples to the surface using an old paint brush handle.  It has the advantages of drying crystal clear and not seeking to leak out of your base through any small crack.  It can be dammed at the edges simply by using masking tape.  On the downside it pulls away from the edges as it dries, but that was consistent with what I had read about it.  People using it for scenic water purposes usually dress those edges with more groundwork.

          Thus emboldened I took everything out to my garage, mixed up a batch of resin, and poured it into my streambed to a depth of about ¼”.  Once it began gelling I added some fish from Mantis Miniatures that I had painted previously to look like Rainbow Trout.  Following the instructions, I added the second layer, a little less than ¼”.  I left it to cure in all of its stinkiness overnight, but when I looked at it the next morning, I wasn’t too thrilled.

          Unfortunately, the resin had pulled back not only from the sides of the streambed, but also from large parts of the bottom.  This made it look like there were a million tiny air bubbles trapped on the bottom of the stream! 

          I thought about living with it, ripping it out and starting over, or fixing it.  To try fixing it I first diluted some Realistic Water with real water and used a hypodermic needle to inject some down along the edges to hopefully fill in all of the gaps underneath.  This looked like it was going to work, but when it dried I couldn’t tell any difference.  Ultimately I didn’t see any way out and decided to live with it.

          I suspect my main mistake was that I poured too thick of an initial layer and that I may have had too much catalyst in the mixture, causing it to shrink too much as it dried.  Since it was about 60 degrees in my garage at the time I overcompensated by adding a couple of extra drops of catalyst (per the instructions).  I really like the look of the resin in the areas of the stream where it worked properly, so I’d like to try it again on future projects.  I think next time I’ll wait for the warm months where I can do it outside at the optimum temperature and pour it in thinner layers.  If anyone has experiences of their own with resin, please let me know! 

          I added more leaves around the edges of the water to hide the gaps where the resin shrank and then added more undergrowth, fallen twigs and branches.  I added some clumps of grass that were made by Joefix Studios, a company that offers some great products for dioramas.  The last step was to create the small falling water effect over the rocks.  For this I used clear caulking.  I squirted a couple of lines of the caulking onto a piece of wax paper, and once it was dry peeled it off and cut it up into small pieces.  These were glued onto the rocks to look like small streams of falling water.  Some artist’s Clear Gloss Medium was used to sculpt a bit more life into the falling water and to add ripples onto the water’s surface.  When it had dried I added some touches of white paint to make it look more dynamic. 

          I painted the base’s edges with brown craft paint, and then glued the animals in place using Walthers Goo.  My last step was to paint a small yellow triangle on the tree trunk near the trail to represent a trail marker.  And with that the diorama was done.


Conclusions:  Despite the stream not coming out as I had hoped, I had a lot of fun building this diorama.  I tried some new techniques and discovered some new products that will make my foliage and groundwork more realistic in the future.  With a buffalo, cougar, and big horn sheep all part of Aurora’s old wildlife lineup still to come, I’ll be building more wildlife dioramas in the future!

-  Bryan Krueger, “Creating Realistic Groundwork with Textured Gel Medium”,  

Scott Lyle

December 2013

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