Like most young boys, Tooele resident Lane Kendall had a love of action figures and model cars. That’s where the foundation for his interest in building dioramas all began, from painting the details on Dungeons and Dragons’ figurines as a teen to reconstructing the detail on the packaging of his model cars.
“When I would buy my model kits, I would look at the detail on the packaging, and I always wondered how they put all that detail in there,” said Kendall.
When Kendall was in junior high, he helped build sandcastles in Liberty Park in Salt Lake City. His contribution to the sandcastles was in the adding of details, such as figurines and flags. He also hand-sculpted the brick walls, roofs and battle mounts. In some way, he’s always been making dioramas.
He may have started when he was young with Star Wars scenes, gaming figurines and model kits, but there was a time he put it down for years and didn’t pick it up again until later in life. Kendall, now 44, began again several years ago.
“It started again when I began refurbishing old soda machines and beat up snack machines,” Kendall said. “People would be throwing them away and I’d take them and fix them up.”
Several of Kendall’s creations are housed in Midvale at the Union Park Center Prudential office. Their snack machine sits on a Coca Cola-themed diorama featuring vintage Coke ladies and miniature Coke machines. Kendall also retouched their soda machine panels with custom-made panels that again have a vintage Coke theme.
“I like to take those and add my own personal touch to them,” he said. “Every thing I do is unique. I can take that ugly piece of equipment and turn it into a piece of art.”
Now, each time he places a piece in his diorama, Kendall tries to capture a moment that could be taken from real life. It’s a painstaking and meticulous hobby. But he finds relaxation in it.
“It’s something to occupy my mind,” he said.
The Coca Cola-themed dioramas are in 1/24 scale. That means every unit of measurement on the model or figurine is equal to 24 units of measurement of the life size version. The standard 1/24 scale is usually measured in inches.
His skills are mostly self-taught. Although sometimes when he can’t figure something out, he has a network of other modeling and diorama enthusiasts he can rely on for help.
“There’s no manual or schooling that comes with this,” he said, “but there is a community of people all over the world that also loves to do what I love to do, and I can chat with them to find out how to do something that I don’t know how to do.”
One of his online connections, Richard Collins of Gascroft, custom built a vintage Coke gas pump for his current project, a garage that will feature an old rusty truck being restored. The painting technique, called the salting method, was used to make the model truck look rusty and is one of those skills he learned from his resources.
“I try to use handmade stuff as much as possible versus store-bought stuff,” Kendall said.
Of course, all throughout the garage diorama is Coke memorabilia. That’s what sets his hobby apart from most others. It would seem that with all the Coca Cola collectors, it would be fairly common to see Coke dioramas. However, this is not true.
“I saw train layouts and other garages, but I never saw the Coke set up,” Kendall said. “That’s why I decided to do the Coke layout. I want to be different from everyone else, something to set me apart.”
Anyone gazing at his dioramas has to look closely because it is easy to miss all the detail Kendall puts into his displays. An example of the minute details of his diorama in progress is tiny fan belts that are made to look like they are still in the packaging. Kendall hand-made most of the details like these. His fan belts are made of paper and rubber bands.
“I use household products or anything I can find,” he said. “I am always on the lookout for stuff I can use.”
Technology also plays a part in his new displays. Years ago, when he first put together his Star Trek Enterprise model, he used fiber optics and small light bulbs to add the lighting detail. Now, it’s LED and computer-controlled lighting.
“Some of the newest technology is electroluminescence,” said Kendall. “It’s always changing.”
Electroluminescence is a nearly paper-thin material that blinks, flashes and changes color due to the electrical current applied. It is wired to a computer control board hidden in the thin walls of his diorama. Unless someone is an expert at the craft of dioramas, or it is explained to them by the maker, a regular viewer might not be aware of the technology behind such an intricate display. It’s these intricate details that really bring the freeze frame scenes to life.
It is common for Kendall to have to wait to find the right items for his dioramas because some of the parts he uses are not readily available. Other times, it’s his own ingenuity that helps him, like rolling the exposed corrugated part of a piece of cardboard and painting it silver to create an overhead door for his miniature garage.
Because one of his first interests has always been Star Wars, Kendall has plans to turn a piece of Styrofoam he found into a Jabba the Hutt palace scene. He also wants to start a YouTube channel that showcases his art form. He would like to be able teach others how they can create their own unique designs.
“I want to pass on some of what I have been taught and what I have learned by figuring it out myself,” he said.
A typical diorama such as the one he is currently working on can takes months, or even years to complete.
“I work on it a little here and a little there,” he said. “It’s always changing.”
His current project has been in the works for almost a year and he will plug along, one painstaking detail at a time, until he deems this project complete.