My diorama images grew out of a combination of my childhood love of Star Wars toys and my career as a photojournalist. So, it makes sense that my toy art is grounded in mirroring human behavior. That’s why the holiday-themed Star Wars images I’ve done for more than a decade are fun exercises in translating celebratory traditions to the framework of a galaxy far, far away.
When I was asked to do a series of images mashing up Star Wars and football, I realized it was another opportunity to incorporate my journalism experiences. While covering various professional sports during my career in news, the most fun I had was turning my camera on the crowd. Watching the fans was always more fun than watching the game.
My starting point for this project was writing down all the fun elements I observe in a crowd: Fans painting their bodies, fans wearing beverage-dispensing headgear, giant foam-fingers, strolling vendors, camaraderie among fans, etc. Then I had to figure out how to translate that to Star Wars with a few guidelines: It must focus on Jango Fett (as an NFC fan) and Mace Windu (as an AFC fan) around the time of the Attack of the Clones. Immediately Geonosis became the obvious set location. It’s got an arena with tiered seating! Sure, it’s an arena used for executing wrongfully accused prisoners. But, hey, it’s a great outdoor venue.
At this point there was no knowing who would end up in the Super Bowl. So, themed props would wait until the end. Set construction came first. I won’t bore you with how it was constructed (or risk divulging too many trade secrets). But with two weeks and heaps of styrofoam, newspaper, masking tape, plaster, and paint, I created an arena section with a seating capacity of more than 200 action figures, a bathroom breezeway, and a halftime show stage. It’s also important to note that I didn’t set out to duplicate the Geonosis arena. The idea was to mash together the Geonosis arena and Earthly football stadiums we’re familiar with. I set out to give the impression of Geonosis with textures, color, and some basic shapes.
By the time the sets were completed the championships were played and Super Bowl teams were decided. Props could be made. But again there was a challenge. I couldn’t use specific names, logos or other icons. So, I created dozens of pennants from scratch with team colors and vague references in Aurebesh to indicate fan allegiance.
Then the real fun began: Staging action figures to tell the story of enjoying a sporting event with your friends. I was permitted to use characters from throughout the saga for the background. However, I chose to stick to the main characters associated with the timeline of the prequels. I did use some of my favorite aliens from the original trilogy because it seems plausible that their life spans might be greater than we think. I also included some Expanded Universe characters to give fans other fun things to look for in the photos. In a way, the stadium images become Where’s Waldo exercises.
In making any image, my favorite part is searching through hundreds of Hasbro action figures to find the right articulation, expressions, and hand gestures to work with the theme. For example, there are more than a dozen Mace Windu figures. However, there is only one making a screaming expression that worked great for a celebration photo. Mixing and matching parts makes the character work for the scene.
There are lots of Darth Sidious/Emperor Palpatine figures. But there is only one with a hand gesture that works great for flagging down a beverage vendor to get “two” drinks. I also love how the brilliant sculpts of Hasbro’s figures can become something entirely different when you affect the context. The Revenge of the Sith version of Darth Sidious (Vintage Collection #12) has an evil grin in mid-maniacal laugh. However, when you surround him with other figures celebrating their team’s victory, he looks like he’s having a really good time.
I also love to take the themes I’m given and play off scenes in the films. In Attack of the Clones, Obi-Wan Kenobi uses a Jedi mind trick to convince Elan Sleazebaggano to rethink dealing death sticks. In my tailgating photo, posted during the championships, Obi-Wan is again using a Jedi mind trick, this time to convince Sleazebaggano to rethink scalping tickets (or to get a better price).
The final step to bringing the miniatures to life is photography. Again, I rely on my experience in photojournalism to help the storytelling. I use shallow depth-of-field to make sure viewers focus on the most important characters or moments. I use light to create atmosphere, to provide time of day, and to tell the eye where to go first. I make my lens and composition choices in an attempt to make the viewer feel they are part of the scene instead of looking at a model.
I feel the “halftime show” image is the photo that best shows the importance of all elements equally. Diorama, props, posing, composition, and lighting work together to make a fun, albeit far fetched, image. The promise of ribbon dancing clones for a halftime show would certainly entice me to go to a Super Bowl game.
The best part about original Star Wars art is seeing scenarios we probably will never see on screen. I was happy to create such a fun and unlikely event.
Stephen Hayford is a diorama artist with more than 20 years experience in photojournalism. He creates diorama pieces and images for museums, galleries, commercial clients, and private commissions. You can follow Stephen on Facebook and view other work at lifeinplastics.com