Imagine this: a Victorian setting in London where a young professor is studying old books and discovers a curious mention about an unnamable and ancient horror. Curiosity gets to him: he leaves the city on a rainy day and treks through the countryside to the coastline and finds a cave. Within the cave there are signs of recent activity -- cart tracks and some sort of footprint, but not a print from any living creature. Eventually the professor finds a doorway and upon entering discovers a hidden laboratory with strange machines -- machines on legs, armored like tanks -- and using electricity.
It sounds like Steampunk -- Victorian and robots and the mysteries of electricity. The storytelling for a steampunk setting has a lot of potential. Elements of a noir mystery that eventually leads to high technology, dimensional travel, and in some cases, super technology bordering on magic. Steampunk, when brought into the realm of toys, offers some very interesting possibilities.
Action Figures are Second
A number of toy lines fit well into a Steampunk setting. The "Legends of Cthulhu" action figures are perfect for it, but also Acid Rain World and Indiana Jones. To be more accurate, though, Acid Rain World fits better in a Dieselpunk genre than Steampunk, but it works.
However, the element that really brings them all together are props. Without the appropriate prop an action figure just looks nice, like a posable statue. It needs a setting -- a scene where the atmosphere is painted into the viewer's mind. And that is done with props.
Use props and sets like an artist uses a paintbrush. When painting the image of your scene into the imagination of your audience you will need various elements to set the ambience. They are vital and are one of your most important tools.
Props are the Missing Element.
Steampunk is not for everyone. However, for this article it sets a good example of what is possible with the right action figure line and the right mix of props. Props are the missing element from many efforts of toy photography, but it's important not to overlook them. In the scene described above several prop elements are hinted at: robots, electricity, cart, and cave. Electricity implies a source to make it: a generator, and robots, well, that's obvious. A cave implies a diorama set: rocky walls, floors, cavern-like ceiling. Other elements play in the background: crates denoting supplies, devices for monitoring, cabling and piping. DioWarriors supplies much of this stuff, and some things like the cave walls and floors, are coming later.
So, the next time you're out to make a diorama scene for photography, think of the background elements, the things that set the atmosphere. Articulated figures come second, and since they are posable they can adjust to the items in the scene. But think of the props first because it's that which paints the scene in your viewer's imagination.
Fifteen men on a dead man's chest,
Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.
Pirate's treasure! Well, not exactly. A traveller's trunk is often a forgotten piece of potential for any story setting. Most folks think it's just a box, a pirate's treasure chest, not fitting for a modern military theme (as most action figure collections tend to be) and they leave it at that. But a traveller's trunk by its nature is filled with dio-story potential. Here's a couple of thoughts:
The thing about boxes, especially ornate ones, is that they can be used for any kind of story. Something of value is stored within, what might that value be? Is it worth adventurous danger to retrieve? Crates and boxes are one thing, and they are common, but a traveller's trunk can be anything. The mystery is the key.
What are we printing today? It's a power generator. These things are great props for any diorama that is about a warehouse, factory, or underground bunker. However, these kinds of props are not limited to merely those themes, but any theme where large machinery is needed. And large machinery is needed everywhere. From abandoned train stations to old nuclear power plants, to a space station or even outposts on another planet, large background machines can separate your diorama from everyone else's.
Beyond that, large machines give a sense of story, and can even generate (no pun intended) stories. For example, an intruder has made his or her way into an enemy headquarters and sabotaged the inner-workings of the base, near or at the boiler rooms, near the power generator. Perhaps the intruder is an alien scout that has crashed not too far away, and seeks to sabotage the base' generator to prevent the humans from calling for help. Or perhaps deep within a secret lab an experiment is underway requiring enormous power to supply the massive machines of a mad scientist bent on interdimensional travel. The thing is, having a diorama scene without the proper equipment leaves something lacking in the story. And likewise, having the proper equipment can fuel the imagination.
There's only so much one can do with crates on pallets in a warehouse. If you like to have a full scene in your photographs, consider using generic machinery to fill in the background -- piping, utility cabinets, and generators.
How might you use a power generator for?
The Microsoft Hololens
When Microsoft announced Windows 10 they also announced a new project called Hololens. It's a lightweight Virtual Reality (VR) headset. Instead of a fully immersive VR world commonly seen in movies, the Hololens is a utility system for interacting with 3D objects in the real world. In other words, instead of a 360 degree virtual world where everything is a virtual 3D object, the Hololens overlaps 3D objects on top of real world objects.
It's got a Heads Up Display (HUD) like interface. With the built-in sensors the Hololens can detect movement and gestures. Overlapping virtual images over real-world objects, like a table or wall, the system can scale the 3D item so it looks smaller when it's distant, detect collision when it "impacts" a physical thing. Detecting your gestures it can interact with you. You can "touch" objects, place them, arrange them, manipulate them.
The Microsoft video demo shows the Hololens being used in games, generic information, and entertainment settings. But think of this more than what is shown in the demos. How might a Hololens be used with toy collecting?
Hololens and Toy Collecting
So how might all this virtual world stuff benefit toy collecting. Some of the obvious ideas might be in the form of an info website. Something like YoJoe or 3D Joes where figures and vehicles of a toy line exist with lots of data on each. Having a VR representation of version 1 Cobra Commander on a desk where you can lift it, move the arms and turn the head might be one way.
Certainly it would be interesting to see figure reviews with an extension for interacting with the VR figure. A toy website might provide a shareable link where it's "try before you buy."
DioWarriors has a huge collection of CAD models, all are already 3D objects. The various props -- crates, tables, even the vehicles and playsets -- can become a Hololens VR object. In this scenario a user can visit the DioWarriors Store and select an object for viewing. Already in 1:18 scale, take the object from the air, place it on a table, or in the user's own toy vehicle.
Maybe the user has a playset, a Terrordrome, let's say, and he selects a group of objects. Placing them in, on, or around the Terrordrome the user gets to see how those props might be used in his collection.
An Action Figure with armor could be displayed with options to swap the armor with others. How does a figure look with this head? With this torso? With this body armor, or that body armor? With this backpack or that backpack? Parts can be swapped and tried. When done simply virtually click the checkout button.
Such a system might be great for casters where you can take one of your own Action Figures without a head, go to a caster's store site and Hololens a VR head over the figure you have in-hand.
How about build a virtual playset with virtual props? Populated by virtual Action Figures? Saved on the company's cloud service. A virtual model railroad or even a SimCity, but in various scales. Or perhaps scales would not be important. This might be fun as it might even open a way to collect VR objects. A DioWarriors VR base as large as can be imagined, with DioWarrior props. Toy companies could work with other toy companies in virtual collaborations making a virtual playset. Example: a DioWarriors VR playset with VR figures from Boss Fight Studio or even Hasbro. Buy the figures, buy the playsets, build it in real life, or keep a subscription for it to be saved online.
For design studios like Boss Fight Studio, collaboration between a designer and a customer could be done virtually, with the 3D model being manipulated by both parties over a virtual session. Imagine if it was between a factory in China and a client in the US.
Those who are handicap could make use of the system too. Maybe the toy comes to the person. But this is an area I'm sure would be quite huge, but it's not my expertise.
Hybrid toys, like Skylanders, have become popular -- a mix of a physical figure interacting with a video game. If a child doesn't have access to a safe yard to play outdoors with small action figures that have parts that can get lost, the only real option is playing indoors. But indoors means less space and more clutter. So parents buy less for their kids: "you already have that, you don't need another" type of situation develops.
A virtual playground where kids get together to play with their Action Figures with their friends. It could be possible too to generate an immersive Skylanders-like world. In any case, a virtual area in a familiar, real world room, with children playing with virtual toys could trigger a whole new way to play.
DioWarriors and the Hololens
Whatever comes of this will be quite interesting to involved with. At DioWarriors we are making moves to get involved with the Microsoft Hololens. The future of toy collecting is indeed exciting.
Latest News blog thingy.