Phil's 1stPix 9:45pm, 29 August 2010
Frequently Asked Questions about my set-up; size, materials,
techniques, etc.

UPDATED May 2018

Please note: I get an awful lot of questions, and very often, they are the same, just from different people. I just don't have the time (or patience, honestly) to respond to each and every one, but I figure this is the next best thing.

* What scale are the dioramas?

Most of my creations are 1/64 scale. (S scale) Since most of my diecast models are 1/64 scale. Over the years, I have acquired a decent amount of 1/87 (HO scale) and 1/50 vehicles as well, but the 1/64 stuff has taken over. I also expanded into 1/43 scale but I only have some police, emergency, trucks and a handful of "regular" models. I mostly concentrate and try to stick to 1/64 scale diecast. At this point I collect only 1/64 scale, with a limited amount of 1/43 scale diecast, and am in the process of finding a good home for the rest of it.

* Where did everybody go?

A lot of people ask if I would, or plan to put figures on my set-ups. For now, I can't ever see doing that, because you can't really get affordable 1/64 figures that look real- at least to me- and unless you use the kinds on little stands, or glue them down, they look even more unrealistic. Not to mention that I would have to open all my vehicles and put people inside as well. Since all my scenes are inter-changable and nothing is "fixed" in place, that wouldn't work either. Plus, I think the figures take away from the vehicles, and the scenery, which is more important to me. So, you'll occasionally see some figures in my layouts, when I think they are needed to tell the story, but otherwise, it's not about the people.

* Who am I?

I am a police sergeant in a medium sized city; somewhere on the East Coast, USA. I had been a volunteer firefighter and a truck driver in the Marines, so that's why a lot of my stuff is emergency or truck related. Obviously though, I have a lot of regular diecast too. I've been collecting since I was a kid and building dioramas for about 12 years now. This is just a hobby for me, and I tinker with the dioramas, cars, and take pics in my free time. I spend a couple of hours a week setting up, taking pictures, and sharing my creations. I still post on the diecast collector forums occasionally, but I try to devote most of my time to the actual hobby.

* How Big is my set-up?

The OLD layout consisted of several individual 30 inch X 8 foot set-ups, some of which can be connected, and some smaller ones. The original diecast city was a three tiered 17-25 foot long by 3-5 foot wide wraparound layout. I'm not good at math- but that's a lot of scale footage. Most of the boards were stacked on portable shelves, or mounted to the wall, so they don't take up much space. At one point the set-up was divided into two spare rooms and a full size basement.

The NEW layout consists of one city section, about 160 square feet, plus a 32 and 36 square foot detached section, and then six "flexible areas" to display the country road, interstate highways, industrial set-ups on a semi-permanent or temporary basis. There are also a few 4'X2' set-ups, and some smaller 18"x2-4" layouts, as well as some extra plain sections. The individual diorama sections are stored on steel storage racks when not in use.

Mystic Beach: 160 Sq ft (Main Layout)
Limestone Reef Rd: 40"X 12'
Conservation Rd: 40"X 8'
Keys Blvd. 30"x8' (Dealer's Row)

Cypress Gardens 30"x16' (L-Shaped Layout)
Baynard-Bridge Tunnel- 4'x8' (Square)

Baynard Parkway/ Gulf Atlantic Expressway 30"x8' (4 Sections)
Shopping Center 40"x16' (Big Box/ MBFFC)

Semi-Permanent Layouts:
Country Road 30'x8' (One piece)
MBTC 4'x2'
Country Road Modular Sections (6) 4'X2' each
Baynard Parkway (Green Route) 30"x16' Highway
Driftwood Road (Suburban) section 30"x16'
Temporary Layout: 30"x7-8' (Junkyard/Freightway etc.)
Temporary Section 30"x7' (Lot/ Fleet Shop)
Temporary Shelves (2) 18"x2' and (6) 18"x4' (Garages/Industrial)

I'm not really good at math, and I have no idea what that is in kilo-metrics, or whatever the rest of the world uses; but it's a lot of scale territory.

1stPix Diorama layout: 1st & 2nd Level aerial view
(Old) Mystic Beach Layout

NEW Highway Layout "Behind the Scenes"
NEW Interstate Highway 'Wing'

Country Road  Layout "Behind the Scenes"
NEW Country Road Layout

1/64 Diecast City: Mystic Beach Diecast Diorama
(Temporary) Wild Dunes Beach Set-up

* How many?

I have no idea how many cars I have. I stopped counting a long time ago. I'm a big fan of ripping them right out of the box though, and I'm not really into displaying my collection on shelves or in cabinets. I do have a couple totes full of vehicles waiting to be customized, as well as a few boxes of "parts". and some that are just waiting to find a good home, since they just didn't make the cut into the "Big" Show.

* How hard is it to build and maintain?

Highway Diorama Set-up
Highway Layout

Believe it or not, it's pretty easy, and doesn't cost very much. All of the set-ups are based on MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) so it's strong, fairly cheap and better than plywood for my purposes. Some of the overpasses are made out of scrap wood, but the grain shows through. I do use wood for some of the retaining walls. All of the layout bases and most of the scratch buildings are constructed from MDF. The rest is model railroad stuff, hand made details, plastic, landscaping material, glass, paint, etc. Some of the scenery and off-road set-ups are made using "sculptamold" or Woodland Scenics lightweight hydrocal. After you get the hang of it, it comes pretty easily. I only use simple power and hand tools. All it needs as far as maintenance is an occasional vacuuming or dusting.

* Where do all the details come from?

I get most of the stuff from model railroad supply sites. Everything else is scratch-built or modified from something else. I get most of that stuff from home improvement and craft stores. Once you know where to look, you can find details, structures and accessories at a reasonable price.

Some of the buildings are 1/64 scale, but most are 1/48 scale, with modified doors and other details to make them 'fit' in. I like the look of the larger buildings and there is not much available in "S" scale. Most of the buildings are MTH, Walthers, or Atlas brand. All of the larger storefronts, parking garages and other larger structures are scratch-built.

(Old) Mystic Beach Level 1 & 2 18' Layout

Diorama Street View
(Temporary) Mystic Beach Keys Blvd. Layout

Diecast Diorama: Just another Day at the Beach
(Old) Mystic Beach Layout 1st Level 18'X5'

Restaurant Row: Commercial Blvd. in Mystic Beach
(Temporary) Commercial Blvd. Layout

* Where do I get the cars?

I get most of my cars and trucks from internet sites. There are about 7 or 8 sites I order from every couple of months or so. I occasionally come across something at the big box stores, and a few out of the way ones. I've never bought or sold anything on E-bay.

Here is a little list of sites of use frequently: I'm not affiliated with any of these, or endorse anything; but I've never had a bad experience with any of them. You've got to shop around; one might have different prices at different times.

3000 toys, and Diecast Direct also have competitive prices, good service, affordable shipping, and discounts. I've been a customer of Troy for many years; if you're looking for a die cast "go-to-guy" he's the way to go. I'm sure there are plenty of other great sites out there too. I get most of my buildings, scenery and "train" stuff from MB Klein Model Train Stuff.

Troy's Toys & Collectibles


Action Toys
AG Farm Toys
Fairfield Collectibles
Global Diecast Direct
Outback Toys (MB Klein)
Past Time Hobbies

* How do I detail the vehicles?

Other than wheel swaps, removing and adding decals, and minor customizing, I don't do much to my models. Some of the trailers and other accessories are modified or customized from other vehicles and parts. I do add license plates, paint lights and mirrors where needed. Nothing too fancy. I used to use NON-Acetone Nail Polish Remover (NPR) to do the tampo removal, but more recently, I've switched over to Stoner brand Tarminator. NPR doesn't seem to work as well anymore, and Tarminator is a lot easier to use and won't eat the paint. It comes in a spray can, and I just squirt a little in a cap and use the old tried and true cotton swab removal method.

On the Workbench: February 2017

* How do I take the photographs?

Although I do a lot of nature and wildlife photography when I travel, I'm not much of a camera nut. I eventually figured out how to adjust the settings to create the effects and get the shots I wanted. I've found that the most important things to concentrate on are: Lighting, Focus, White Balance, and Exposure Compensation. I use fluorescent lighting over most of the set-ups, or sunlight in many situations, with no camera flash. I usually set the camera on Aperture Priority to get the sharpest focus over the widest depth of field. White Balance and Exposure Compensation adjustments can be used to reduce glare, white-wash (pictures of bright objects- such as white cars) and give the pictures a more natural look to depict different time of day. I don't think the specific camera is all that important, as long as it has the features you need. I'm not, nor claim to be, a photography expert; In my opinion, it just takes practice, tinkering with the camera and figuring out how to use it. I've just figured out, after a lot of practice, what works for me.

I'm not a big fan of Photoshop or using any kind of photo tricks, other than some light magic on the emergency vehicles. I also make minor adjustments as needed: (exposure, tint, crop, correcting blemishes using cloning, etc) using Photoscape (Free) although I do use Lightroom for my nature photos, I just stick to Photoscape for the dioramas. I don't use photographic backgrounds either, not that there is anything wrong with doing that.

* Where do the signs and stuff come from?

I make all the signs, including billboards and license plates myself using a Label Factory (Nova Development) and Testors Decal program. I print the signs on photo, label, and decal paper. Some of the pictures are simply stock photos from the programs, but most of the nature and landscape shots on the billboards are mine too. I make use of those little cardboard inserts from diecast packages when I can. I use a regular HP printer; nothing special. I do use good quality photo paper and hi-gloss color labels though. Although there are a lot of references to real places and things, it's all fictional... there are more shots dedicated to some close up shots of signs and billboards in the layout set: The
Layout (Set)

FDMB Tower 46 On Scene
FDMB markings using MicroScale decals and High Gloss Labels created with Testors Sure Thing Decal Maker Standard.

Interstate Highway Overpass
Billboards and Highway signs created using Label Factory Deluxe 3.0 printed on plain cardstock and HP photo paper

* What brand are the vehicles?

I collect several different brands of diecast vehicle, mostly in 1/64, 1/43, 1/87 and a few 1/50 & 1/24 scale.

1/64 Scale cars & trucks:

Code 3 Collectibles
Diecast Promotions
DG Productions
First Gear
Johnny Lightning
Hot Wheels
Liberty Classics
M2 Machines (Castline)
Malibu International
PEM/ Tonkin Replicas
Shelby Collectibles
Yat MIng

1/50 scale
TWH Collectibles

1/43 Scale
First Response Replicas
New Ray
Luxury Collectibles

* Where do the traffic cones/ barrels come from?

Believe it or not, I get e-mails and comments all the time about those cones. It's the MOST frequently asked question I receive. The cones are plastic, and came from Walters Model Railroad supply. (Several years ago) I don't remember the brand, and they are no longer available on the website. I have no idea where, or if, you can get them anywhere else. The barrels are all scratchbuilt. The earlier ones are made from PVC, and the more recent ones from wooden rods and dowels. I paint them orange, of course, and the stripes are car pinstriping. The bases to the barrels are simple metal washers.

* How do I make the roads?

Well actually, in a sense, I don't. All the layouts are based on sheets of MDF as a base, which is painted gray, to start out with, in most cases. Then I build up everything around it to create the streets and highways. I add grass, vegetation, buildings, etc. to make the rest of the layout depending on what I am creating. I don't make or fabricate the road and then affix it to the base, the road is the base. If I just blew your mind, I'm sure I'm sorry. Like I always say, what works for me, certainly may not work for anyone else... I'm no expert.

* How do I paint the lines/ lanes on the roadways?

I just use paint markers with a straight edge. First, I mark the lanes or shoulder using the ruler, (1 for yellow, 1 for white) generally I use 2" lanes for 1/64.

Then, I use a straight edge- not a ruler, and hold the marker at a right angle alongside the guide, so the point doesn't actually touch the edge, just the surface. This prevents smudges and paint transfer from the edge.

I use either the piece of composite rail or a section of shelf support pictured above. Usually I just hold it tight, but it's not a bad idea to clamp the edge down to ensure a perfectly straight line. I tend to make mine "not quite perfect" for realism.

Painting Lanes & Lines on MY Highway

* What's NEW?

In late 2012, I built a new tunnel layout, and refurbished some of the highway sections. In 2013, I started construction on an all new diecast city layout, and expanded my scale territory by turning some of the older layouts into temporary dioramas. The older, individual sections are now more flexible, temporary displays that can be moved and stored as needed. Using some heavy duty steel shelves, I was able to stack most of the highways and the remaining old Mystic Beach sections out of the way and transform them into new, flexible, layouts one by one.

As of June 2013, the all NEW Mystic Beach is open for business and is scheduled for completion (I'm never really done working on a layout) in July 2013. The new city consists of four (4) four foot (4'x8') by 8 foot long MDF sheets built on tables, along with two (2) eighteen inch wide by 8 foot long (18" x 8') attached sections as well as a three foot by 3.5 foot (3' X 3.5') "patch" section in one contiguous diorama. It's basically a big horseshoe or "U" shape. Unlike before, this layout is only one level and it is a 'walk-around'. There are two detached sections, consisting of a 12.5 foot beach layout and another 4 foot (4'X8') shopping center. To put it in perspective... it's BIG.

NEW Bridge-Tunnel Diorama:

NEW Bridge-Tunnel: "Behind the Scenes"

NEW Mystic Beach Under Construction:

Construction Delays Ahead

Project in Progress: Open During Construction

NEW Section Under Construction:
1stPix Diecast Dioramas: False Front Storefront

1stPix Diecast Dioramas:  Test Fit on the Parking Garage

1stPix Diecast Dioramas:  Finishing Touches on New Street

Temporary Layouts:

Behind the Scenes: Baynard Parkway

Behind the Scenes on the Temporary Layout

NEW Driftwood Road layout:
Road Closed for Refurbishment

NEW Country Road modular sections:
Welcome to Modular Country

* Is anything For Sale?

I'm always getting comments, e-mails, messages etc. about buying items from my collection. Almost all of my die cast are not for sale; I collect diecast and build dioramas as a hobby.
But, over the years, I have accumulated a few "extras" that won't ever make it to the "big show".
So, I've enlisted the help of Shel's Attic Die Cast to sell some of the extras to help support my unofficial German Shepherd rescue service. There is a complete inventory of all the items available for sale on Webstore Online Auctions. Unlike Ebay (Evil-bay) or Amazon, there are no fees here, so it's the best way to buy and sell. ALLof the items offered here are in mint to excellent condition in their original packaging.

For details or questions, you can contact Shel's Attic at:

Thanks to Flickr, I can no longer post a link that will take you directly to the online store.
To find the online webstore, go to:
Shel's Attic First Pick Die Cast Webstore or shelsattic.webstore

Or follow the link on the 1stPix Facebook Page:
1stPix Facebook

* How can YOU find the diecast models?

Well, and you might want to sit down for this... a lot of my collection is older; in other words, SOLD OUT. Although the list of suppliers is fairly comprehensive, I don't remember where each and every different model came from. But, I have gone to great lengths to accurately describe the models in the titles and tags, so you should have no problem searching for them on the internet. If you come across something that I haven't identified, I'd be happy to provide the maker and model, but as far as finding it for you... that's probably not going to happen (Of course, if I remember where it came from, I'd be happy to pass it along).

*What Advice Can I Give YOU?

I only have so much time to devote to this hobby... and I try to spend most of it working on the actual dioramas and diecast models. I don't have any kind of how-to guide or instructional video. For one, and most importantly, I'm no expert. My techniques, while they may work for me, aren't practical for everyone. Although I enjoy sharing my creations, I just don't have the time to provide step by step guidance to each and every aspiring diorama builder out there.

I do have some tips though:

1. There is a ton of information already out there... use it. You can find answers to just about any question; for FREE, especially the hobby forums. Check out Swifty's Garage, Toy Collector,, Hobby Talk, .. to name a few.
You can post a question: like. "How to make grass for my layout?" and get a bunch of responses and suggestions from other modelers. The trick is to figure out what works for you...
Then there are instructional videos out there from companies like Woodland Scenics, Scene-a-Rama, etc. Don't forget about the model railroad sources either.
Also check out the Diecast Dioramas group... DIECAST DIORAMAS
there are plenty of "experts" that can help, if you just ask.

2. Get ideas and learn from others: No matter what your idea is; it has been done already. Don't try to figure it all out on your own; someone has probably already perfected the technique that you want to use with the best material out there. Take advantage of their trial and error.

3. Keep it simple. When starting out, don't make it too complicated. For a simple layout, all you need is a base, (like a section of MDF, an old door, even cardboard) some dirt, cheap paint for your road, foliage and a few trees. Then add a sky background and other little details as you go along.

4. Don't spend a fortune. You can make a lot of stuff on your own, using natural materials, junk you find, and stuff from your local craft store. A lot of everyday items that people throw away can be utilized for materials and details. For example, don't spend money on scale talus, which is a fancy word for the stuff they put under railroad beds, when you can just go scoop some gravel up from your backyard.

5.Try it. Don't waste a lot of time trying to plan and figure it all out. Just try it, practice and experiment until you get it right. That's the fun part of the hobby.

Hope this helps, also, if you haven't already, check out the Layout Set: The
Layout (Set)

There are some wide angle and behind the scenes shots here that might give you some ideas.

*Where else can you find 1stPix Diecast Dioramas?
Other than here on Flickr, you can check out:
1stPix Facebook at 1stPix Facebook
1stPix Diecast Dioramas YouTube:
1stPix Diecast Dioramas YouTube

and if that's still not enough, the 1stPix Dioramas Instagram: 1stPix Dioramas Instagram
Although not quite as active anymore, I still visit a few forums, including Swifty's Garage Swifty's Garage and Police Car Diecast Forum PCD Forum

More Questions? I'd be happy to answer any specific questions, and welcome any comments.
Phil's 1stPix Posted 2 years ago. Edited by Phil's 1stPix (admin) 2 years ago
If you're looking for an almost quick way to find the Shel's Attic First Pick Die Cast Webstore, you can get there from the 1stPix Facebook Page:

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