A Window to 1968 - A shadow box experiment in 1/72
        Start: November / 2010
   Finished: December / 2010


The story behind this project is a long shot. But to make it short, it all started some ten years ago when I found a photo of my father in law and his two sons, still kids, during a AA exercise in 1968. By then he was a Major (now a retired Brazilian Army Colonel), and was in charge of the AA exercises, which took place in the Caxias do Sul Army HQ and envolved Brazilian Air Force. BAF's Cessna O-1 Bird Dogs used to tow targets aimed by the AA batteries. This is the photo (left to right: my two brothers in law, my father in law, army officer, air force pilot, army officer):

When first saw that photo, I thought it would give a nice small diorama that I could give him as a gift. So I scanned it. During the following years I tried to locate the old Airfix O-1, but to be honest it wasn't on the top of my priorities list, and time passed on. Last November, however, I was digging a stash of second hand models during our annual GPPSD convention when I stumbled upon an 1/72 Airfix Bird Dog, a 1973 release packed in a blister (remember that?):

It wasn't cheap, but I couldn't let it pass. With a lot of luck and overlooking my AMS, I could finish the idea before Christmas...

The idea was a kind of a shadow box. Not those fancy, professionally made stuff a la Lewis Pruneou or Sheppard Paine. I wanted something much simpler that my limited skills could finish in less than a month. So I started working on a base. I used a pair of wooden boxes. The shallow one would provide the base and store the batteries, switch and wires, while the taller one would house a vignette like the photo. The later would have a wide opening so the viewer could see the vignette, and weakly lit by LEDs.

After testing all electrical connections, I started to build the little Cessna. I can't remember the last time I assembled a model so fast. Knowing in advance that it would be only partially visible, I made several concessions to sink and ejection pin marks. My only additions were the missing control columns and seat harness made from masking tape. I painted it with Revell enamels - the major drawback of this project because they take forever to dry. The decals came from my spare box, following BAF regulations of the time. The serial codes were a problem. I solved it by applying tiny dry transfers on a clear decal film, and then applied the whole code as a regular decal. A coat of Model Master Acryl Semi-Gloss clear varnish sealed everything:

Then I quickly made a simple base using a piece of cardboard, some modeling paste and static grass. The colors are ordinary household acrylics airbrushed without much care:

Then came the hard part: the figures. I don't have a good assortment of 1/72 figures, and most of them are those useless vinyl items. By then I had only one week until Christmas to finish the vignette, so I used them anyway. How to make six figures look reasonably with the people in the photo? And including two kids? Geez...

I frankensteined as well as I could, and glueing vinyl arms, legs and heads together is not exactly funny, if you know what I mean. I priorized the Major and the other officers because they were easier, but had to accept my skill and time limitations and live with the terrible resulting kids. They are passable if you consider that the vignette represents a couple of minutes before or after the photo was taken, but one of my brothers in law ended loogkng like an orangutan wearing a Converse All Star (
sorry André) .

The boxed nature of the vignette would help to hide the (many) faults. Anyway, I would appreciate if you don't show these figures to my friend and figure expert Fabricio Fay:


Ok, now that you laughed enough, let me show you the rest of the project. The figures and the plane were securely glued in place using metal pins, loosely following the photo. By then I was hating myself for starting this:

I glued a printed copy of the following photo to the back wall of the upper box, to provide a backdrop for the scene:

Once satisfied with the composition, I securely glued the upper box with the aid of metal pins and carpenters glue. A copy of the infamous photo was glued as a plaque in front of the opening, allowing the viewer to compare it with its supposed 3D representation. The text (in Portuguese) reads "A Window to 1968":

I installed the electrical switch and everything could be finally tested:

Thankfully, the LED lights provided a dim illumination, helping to hide the glaring faults. To be honest, I now believe this is the true reason of a shadow box...

Testing the lights:

I finished it on the afternoon of December 24th. Just in time to pack it in a box and drive to the family house in the hills. That night I felt vindicated when Colonel Damasceno received his Christmas gift from me... Priceless... He loved it, as well as my brothers in law who looked even more impressed. Everybody liked it, actualy, to the point that I thought the batteries would go dead after so many on's and off's on the LED switch.

It was a memorable Christmas eve, and I went to my bed with the impression that everyone in the family now has a new - and better -  meaning for:

"...Rato is there, isolated, building his little airplane models...".

Technical file
- Airfix #0105802

Basic colors: 
- Green (L-19): Revell #363
- Flat Black: Model Master FS37038 Flat Black (#1749)
- Figures: Various Vallejo mixes
- Clear coat:  Testors Clear Flat acrylic (#50150)
- The figures were composed of several parts from various 1/72 vinyl figures.
- Don't try anything similar to this unless you absolutely need!

Rato Marczak © 2010