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Diorama maker Michael Paul Smith: Heal the car world in miniature

Michael Paul Smith
Diorama maker Michael Paul Smith
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E It's winter in the American suburbs. The street and car roofs are covered with a thin layer of snow, the air is icy. A cozy glow from the small diner restaurant illuminates the sidewalk. You almost think you're hearing the rock'n'roll music from the jukebox and smelling the smell of juicy hamburgers.

US romanticism on a scale of 1:24

Chrome-laden road cruisers roll through town - fat Mercurys and Plymouths with their huge tail fins, Ford Pick-ups and heavy Chevrolet sedans. Michael Paul Smith captured all of the USA romance of the 50s. And if you don't know, you would hardly think that your cities from the good old days will find a place on the kitchen table. They were all made on a scale of 1:24, the cars could almost be parked in the palm of your hand.

Michael got the idea while looking at his model car collection. 'I had collected 300 cars and they were all lined up in their glass cabinets, without any context,' says Michael. 'Just for fun' he then started building a full-scale gas station to present his sweetheart in a prettier setting. In a dumpster he found a half-destroyed miniature house for the model railway, which he used as the basis for his first building. Michael got photographs of old gas stations from the 1950s on the Internet, and as a skilled craftsman, the man from the Boston, Massachusetts area found it easy to breathe life into the small-scale world of the ideal world with a variety of materials that he was looking for in his workshop and household.

His role models are street scenes from the 30s to 60s of the last century, because he loves the automobiles of that time: 'All the Nashs, Kaisers, Hudsons and DeSotos - it was a fascinating design era,' enthuses Michael.

The sceneries are downright photo-realistic

Now dioramas are nothing new and are also becoming increasingly popular for model cars - for example, a collection is currently very popular on the market at the replica of all the cars from the James Bond films in a window box including one of the film scenesappropriate mini backdrops are available. But Michael’s creations have nothing to do with such industrially manufactured dioramas in China. Many of his scenes look downright photorealistic, and that without any image manipulation, as Michael emphasizes. Distant backgrounds such as sky, clouds or telephone lines are created by photographing his cities outdoors and placing them at a precisely calculated distance from the real world.

Great attention to detail

Michael's mini-cities show a level of detail that was at best used in film, when elaborate miniature backdrops for trick shots were not yet created on the computer. 'I was primarily interested in these little things that you always overlook. But it is precisely these that ensure that something looks really authentic: Telephone poles are not always straight, cars are not parked accurately to the curb,' says the model maker. Many streets are covered with a fine patina of dirt and dust, and Michael's snow substitute is in no way inferior to the real splendor of flakes.

He works on every building for several weeks, because often it is not just a realistic facade. 'The bungalows are fully furnished, 100 individually manufactured shoe boxes are stacked in the shoe shop and, of course, in the TV repair shop you will find disassembled televisions,' says Michael, listing examples of his obsession with detail. Artful lighting makes the dioramas perfect.

Smith had to give up his love of cars


Like so many Americans, Michael has already exercised numerous professions. 'I was employed in an architecture office for years, illustrated text books, hung posters, renovated apartments, arranged museum exhibits and worked in archives,' explains the 60-year-old. He has not yet thought about whether he might turn his hobby into a profession in economically difficult times. At the moment he can only live out his enthusiasm for classic automobiles on a small scale: 'Maintaining a car has simply become too expensive. I had a 1950 Studebaker Champion, I loved this car. It was a sad day when I had to sell it' says Michael. Now he is taking the bus - he can see the American dream car from the good old days in miniature at home at any time.


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