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A Shoebox Diorama: “The Factory”

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Last October, a friend asked if I’d be interested in joining her friendly shoebox diorama competition amongst her acquainted artists, filmmakers, musicians, scientists, engineers, etc. Of course, this came at a particularly crazy time in my life — the aforementioned garage construction, the new startup business, and, ya know, the whole “baby thing” — so it didn’t seem likely. But in the end, I was too intrigued to pass up an opportunity to flex the creative muscle!

It was open to all ages without any restrictions on dioramic content…in fact, she clearly stated in her email that you could “just poop in a box” and that would be perfectly acceptable. And for material, the only requirement was that we used a shoebox and a wooden doll.

And so I present…The Factory

“The Factory: A functioning, full-scale model of the Head Augmentation Unit (HAU) at the West Coast Operational HQ of Wooden Doll-orama Inc. The HAU is responsible for manufacturing and attaching heads onto the incoming body blanks. This unit has been running without incident for a record-breaking 9 consecutive days.”

“As a global leader in diorama parts since 2010, approximately 95% of the wooden dolls sold at Michaels were produced at this facility. This equates to almost 80% of the world’s wooden doll population.”

The Mechanics

After a great many gear experiments, I settled on a 4-slot-2-pin geneva stop for the main driving mechanism. This results in a 90-degree rotation of the two slotted gears for every 180-degree rotation of the geneva drive gear at the center.

The two slotted gears are each attached to a 24-tooth gear, positioned in front of and behind, respectively, the drive gear. So when the slotted gears rotate, 90-degrees at a time, so do the big gears, 6 teeth at a time.

And wouldn’t you know it that the small gears also have 6 teeth. So when you put it all together, every 180-degree rotation of the center gear translates to a full rotation of the small gear in a stop-motion fashion.

But why?! What does it all mean?

Well, believe it or not, this diorama is not actually installing tiny wooden heads onto tiny wooden bodies. No, no. It’s what we call an illlluuuuuuussion (read: magic). Behind the scenes, there’s not one conveyor belt, but two! TWO! The left has a set of headless wooden dolls and the right has a set of headed ones. So with the two small gears rotating in unison, so do the conveyor belts.

And while it clearly looks like the HAU is actually stamping a head onto the body as it enters the center building, I made a snail cam and follower to “drop” the head every 360-degree revolution of the main drive.

The Little Details

Overall, I had much more grandiose and elaborate plans in mind, including gangways and ladders, workers with clipboards and wrenches, Flintstone-esque whistle that blows at the end of a shift, and maybe an “Employee of the Month” hanging on the wall. There was even going to be an articulated arm for what stamped the heads onto the bodies.

Well, it turns out shoeboxes are small and quick to run out of space.

But after the diorama exhibition ended, I did manage to squeeze in a few extra details to polish the diorama up. From the Thrift Store, Sam found me an old watch to serve as a wall clock in the factory.

I also spent some time on ye ol’ rocking chair with my needle and thread…

Additional Photos






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