Bernie Wrightson's vision of frankenstein
After building many military dioramas ostensibly depicting historical subjects, vehicles, locations, etc., I had an itch to do something purely fictional. Since I was a kid, Frankenstein has always been sort of an obsession, and I was bent on finding a way to do the monster proud. As a child in the 70’s, I remember building Revell’s Frankenstein; I figured in 2018 there was something better out there. I started googling and what I found astounded me! I had no idea this kit existed. Bernie Wrightson? One of my favorite comic book and horror artists of all time actually created a Frankenstein diorama kit? And he teamed up with a renowned Hollywood make-up and figure artist for the sculpt? No f’n way. I was going to buy one and build it, no matter what.
Well, it wasn’t that easy.
In 1/8 scale (Herr Doktor is 8” tall) this Mega-Model is acknowledged as a “legendary kit” and I can’t disagree. These were created in the years 1995/1996, and I have no idea how many they produced (google didn’t reveal). I do know they are scarce. I didn’t want a pre-assembled or pre-painted example, and it took almost a year to finally locate a kit. I found it on eBay and it advertised what I was looking for: unassembled, unpainted, in original box with instructions, complete. After inquiring, the seller sent a dozen photos of the contents, assuring me nothing was missing. The seller was an honest broker; every part was accounted for. I truly wonder how many intact and unassembled kits are still out there. In May 2019, an example that was professionally built sold on eBay for $1,795. The kit originally sold for $135 + $6 shipping. Mine cost substantially more than that!
This is the first diorama I’ve ever built that was an all-in-one kit. Not to say I didn’t add details that weren’t a part of the original kit, but 99% of the design, composition and sculpt were the work of Bernie Wrightson and Sideshow’s co-founder Dan Platt. Much of the imagination of this diorama has been done for you, but the assembly and painting challenges make up for what was lacking in the imagination department. And since I wanted a black background with an underground feel and a laboratory lit only by a weird machine and candlelight, the photography posed its own set of challenges. I won’t bore you with the details.
The majority of this kit is molded from thick vinyl, a material I’ve never worked with. Vinyl is tough (think car dashboard), but it also warps easily and has a “memory”. Subjected to 20+ years of jostling around in a box, many of the larger pieces were hopelessly warped. The pieces that were supposed to be flat were wavy and the pieces that were supposed to be square were catawampus. Long and arduous story short: a quality heat gun, custom wood bracing, every clamp in the house, powerful cement, “Great Stuff” and the realization that vinyl can take a serious beating, won the day. I had to use a lot of putty as well to fill in seams, but overall, the build went accordingly. Here is an example of what it took to straighten one of the vat’s side-walls. I would use E-6000 (the best cement out there for vinyl) to attach a fitted wooden brace to the area that needed straightening and clamped the hell out of it- 24-hours later, viola, a flat and square wall. The process worked great but was very time consuming.
I augmented the kit with the use of LEDs. Lucky for me, the model train hobby has embraced LED technology and it is easy to find a stunning array of sizes, colors, shapes, flashing, non-flashing etc. There is even a 3-LED kit that mimics fire: one red LED and two orange LEDs flicker randomly. I installed two sets of the fire-LEDs underneath the “glass” half-domes of the mad-scientist machine for a nice effect. I also used LEDs to “light” a couple candles and to enhance the machine’s control panel. I felt like a mad scientist myself drilling holes in the kit where no holes were meant to be and wiring and splicing all the different LEDs into the harness of a single 9-volt battery. I integrated the on/off switch (a small 3mm button) into the machine’s control panel as well. I didn’t attach the machine to the base as to give access to the battery. A lithium 9v only lasts an hour or so when the LEDs are turned on; I learned this during the photography.
To further enhance the diorama, I created custom decals for the books, scrolls and papers scattered about. I even found a drawing of Frankenstein’s castle that appeared in an illustrated copy of Shelley’s work (is that copyright infringement?). Other books I created with the decals were the first edition of Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” (bad irony, I know), Grimm’s Fairytales, Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein (of course!). And I didn’t forget the obligatory Cthulhu reference. For some book pages and miscellaneous paper, I used drawings from the original Grey’s Anatomy and googled “macabre 19th century science experiments” for additional apropos drawings. I also used one of William Blake’s monotypes Nebuchadnezzar; his folly was hubris, get it? Lastly, I used my dog’s own hair to make the whiskers on the rat. Perhaps I can use it to clone her one day. I know, I’m weird.