Painting the Diorama

Painting the Diorama

*theme* Hey, we are here in the future home of the striped hyena diorama which is currently being built thanks to Indiegogo supporters and fans of The Brainscoop and the Field Museum, and we’re here with Aaron Delehanty. That’s right, yeah, my name IS Aaron Delehanty and I’m an artist here on staff at the field museum. I work in the replication shop and we build a lot of components for the exhibitions here and the occasional diorama, which, I guess hasn’t come up in a lot of- many decades so it’s pretty amazing that this is happening and I’m thrilled and pretty honored to be able to paint the mural for it. *music* So it’s dusk, it’s this beautiful area in Somaliland where these hyenas were originally found In terms of, like, time of day, like, is this accurate what direction are we pointing in, and you have some stars and things and how’d you come up with that configuration? We sure- we sure do, yeah. We look very closely at when these hyenas were originally collected back in, I think it was, 1896 and it was during the dry season so we, based on that information and where they were in Somaliland we chose August 6th, 1896 and we’re doing 5:30 in the morning. A civil twilight, they call it. So, what about- but the star pattern, that’s not- that wasn’t a trivial decision as far as I understand it. Because it’s a night scene and we know the place it was pretty easy for us to decide on making sure that the constellations in the sky were totally accurate for this time in Somaliland. Carl Akeley, if he were here today, what do you think he would think about this? Ah, he’d probably… snarl. *laughing* He was kind of a snarly man. From what- from what I’ve heard he’s been very- he’s very snarly. But I know he’d be proud because he devoted his entire existence to dioramas. When you’re talking about, like, wanting to retain accuracy and all of those things and we’re thinking about Carl Akeley, and ‘what would Carl Akeley do?’ we have this huge land form in here and we’re- this- you didn’t build this. No, this was part of the original taxidermy and we’re trying to preserve as much of the original Carl Akeley taxidermy as we can and that includes this land form. So, that’s good, I’m glad that you guys are keeping all of this and keeping, obviously, like, detailed notes capturing how all of this is happening. I think that’s one of the most exciting things about this: the exhibitions department has been detailing literally every step of this process. They’ve got this timelapse of a GoPro in here to paint the scene. Yeah, the whole museum community is very excited about this project and a lot of people outside the museum are really thrilled about this project too, so we’re trying to document it in various ways to to show off to people what their contributions have done. I’m pretty excited about it. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve been a part of. Me too, and it wouldn’t have happened without Brain Scoop so I am thrilled for Emily and thrilled for all of her fans because this has been fantastic. *music* So, Aaron, can you just walk me through what’s happening in the landscape? Sure. Our main feature is the Acacia tree which we have here and on top of the Acacia tree here there are a couple vultures who are waiting for the hyenas to finish up so that they can have their piece. Then we have these boulders, the locals call them extrusions because they just kind of pop up in this weird landscape. Locals also call those plants they’re their Sansevieria but locals call them mother-in-law’s tongue oh because they’re so sharp and pointy and kind of dangerous looking that’s fabricated that one’s fabricated but that we got from Home Depot so don’t look at that that’s the place that’s just a placeholder you’re gonna make one that’s nicer than what Home Depot can offer yeah real Sansevieria they’re much sharper and they’re thicker they’re they’re not pretty like that like the Home Depot version is one of Carl akeleys photos very beautiful there’s the same lunch of aloe so yeah and then it’s just sort of desert luckily it’s the since it’s 5:30 in the morning and it’s the dry season there won’t be much dust in the air so you get this very clear line-of-sight all the way to the horizon what’s so what’s this and what’s this tree over here yeah it’s it’s still half painted people call a dragon’s blood tree because you’re such a cool tree it’s got this red SAP so if you cut it it looks like it’s bleeding blood like red blood so dragon’s blood it’s pretty awesome [overlaps] you gonna put a big splash in it and it’ll be oozing no no they don’t know that’ll just be a nod to the botanist yeah yeah Orion up there if you can see all the way up towards the ceiling use a little belt if you keep turning oh yeah Ryan’s belt Casper and Pollock the Gemini twins even though they were close to the horizon where you probably shouldn’t see them because it’s so bright and that’s an artistic license that bring Casper and Pollock I think that’s permissible, Thanks yeah and then that’s it we got our hyenas in the foreground our bat eared Fox this is just the standing this is the yep he’s the standard is right this isn’t gonna be the one that we put in here and I probably left some things out because it’s a very complicated story here yeah that’s the gist of it that’s pretty good thanks yeah. So this was one of my favorite things after the the campaign closed and we got the green light we’re gonna go up and do it and I went into your studio upstairs and you had this yeah adorable model yeah this was our first thing we did on day one was begin construction on a on a 1/10 scale model so this was great this gave us our opportunities to start talking with the botanists so that we can get the plants right to start talking to the geologist to make sure that we get the geology correct to start talking to the astronomer to get the stars correct and then talk to the zoologist to make sure that the animals are in their correct environment doing something and they would be doing in this space at this time of day and then I painted it again on this little guy and this one is this one over here with so that I can get the color yeah so the thing about this painting is that you don’t want to reveal that it’s a painting to people you know does that that would just ruin the whole effect people just want to get lost into it you know so it has to be seamless yeah that sense and glare it can’t have any glare because that there’s glare on the wall it kind of reveals that it’s right so I end up making this formula for there’s all this beeswax I had beeswax to pretty much all the oil paint mm-hmm so it kills any kind of Sheen whatsoever to it I didn’t put any beeswax in the moon no because I wanted that though oh yeah glitter a little bit that’s a pop yeah you should put some actual glitter on it it’s not a bad idea I think Karl like would have approved oh yeah but yeah he snarl in nice approving way It has still brains on it.

100 thoughts on “Painting the Diorama

  1. Cool mural! Does he do kids room (not really)? Plus I don't have kids, but would have loved to have something like this on my wall as a kid.

  2. Casper and Pollock, the Friendly Ghost and The Abstract Expressionist Painter–lesser known figures in Greek Mythology.

    (Psst…it's Castor and Pollux.)

  3. I absolutely love all the care that I'd being put into this project. Making the landscape perfect for the exact date and time? I had no idea! Is this amount of effort and precision standard for dioramas in all natural history museums?

  4. First of all: well done. That is a stunning painting!
    I have strange mixed feelings about dioramas. My local natural history museum (Senkenberg in Frankfurt Main) doesn't have any dioramas and for me these are typical for American museum (for which you can blame the movie Night in the Museum.) I get their educational value and they are, if well made, nice to look at but there is this weird off feeling I have about them which I can not put into words. It feels wrong, which is weird because I don't mind all the taxidermied animals, but it's like that dioramas somehow pretend that the animals are still alive and that rubs me the wrong way.

    Nevertheless well made. Can't wait to see more about this project.

  5. I used to hate working with botanists, but after a while they GREW on me.
    Emily when your taking the skin off of animals are you ever aFLAYed of getting cut?

  6. I have this weird feeling that soon raccoons aren't native to somliland, but then again it is soon raccoon, and he's everywhere.

  7. This looks GORGEOUS! I had no idea so much detail down to the positioning of stars went into dioramas! Next time I'm in a natural history museum I will be sure to look closer to fully appreciate this stuff

  8. "… in Somaliland" — 45 seconds in and you've acknowledged the existence of an internationally unrecognised state! Subtle yet significant…

  9. I have mural painting experience and would really love to work at the Field Museum, but too bad I live on the other side of the planet.

  10. So glad to see this project went through. I had hoped it would. Field museum os on my list of places to visit someday.

  11. The diorama looks really lovely, especially the color of the dusk.. Can't wait to see the finished product complete with the hyenas!

  12. "there they sat; under a bedazzled moon…" A very interesting image, though I'm not sure how a person would actually use it in a story…

  13. Seriously?! The scene is not only set at a specific date but also a specific TIME !? And the stars and everything are accurate?! That's literally insane. The coolest thing ever.

  14. This video is my dream come true! I visited the California Natural History Museum for the first time this year and unexpectedly spent the whole day geeking out about the dioramas and how they looked like Gallifrey paintings and trying to work out how the artists did that — I'm SO FREAKING HAPPY to finally get some insight!!

  15. The background has stunning depth to it, especially with the morning twilight. It's great to see all the pieces falling into place. Keep up the good work!

  16. How do you get a job as a staff artist? What exactly is the process you have to go through to get such an amazingly cool job?

  17. Didnt know that Bill Stanley passed away.. I have been a subscriber since the Univ Montana days.. Bill was such a sweet person who seemed genuinely happy to show things to Emily and I really admired his humor and enthusiasm in the videos. Rest in peace Bill. Thank you for letting us know this whole new world of natural history.

  18. Pro tip kids: Mother-in-Law's Tongue is also one of the plants recommended by a NASA report on plants that improve air quality by targeting certain compounds. This one starts it's job at night.
    Page 6 of the ACTUAL report (

  19. I really love the way the painting has turned out, i know it's cliche, but I legit feel like I'm actually there when looking at it from a certain distance. Like the tree at the distance you first filmed made me think twice about it being there and all.

  20. I got to go to the Field Museum today and I have to say that it was an amazing experience. The exhibits are amazing and the information is fascinating. I loved the Evolving Earth, it was very interesting. The Hall of Gems and the Hall of Jade are both very, very cool. I made a point of visiting the Mammals of Asia for this very exhibit and I was stunned. The mural in the background is phenomenal and makes you feel like you are really there. It means a lot to feel as if you are a part of it, because I remember donating to the indiegogo! Fantastic job, guys. Keep up the amazing work at the museum and on Brain Scoop!

  21. when i was little at a museum (either Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago or Milwaukee Public Museum) there was a buffalo diorama and someone activated the sound and i thought they were going to run my older brother over who was sitting in front of it and i ran over and was trying to drag him out of the way yelling HELP HELP! i love bringing it up to my brother when i need a favor, saying hey i ran out into stampeding buffalo to save you the fact it wasnt real doesnt matter all that matters is i thought it was and risked my life to save you! it is a great story and my mom loves the memory ( im not sure if i actually remember it or im just remembering the story) but either way it wouldnt be possible without dioramas

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