Diorama “Whiz Kid” Wins 1st Place at Joelanta

Caleb Brown, 14, stands next to a small portion of his massive “D-Day Invasion” diorama, the First Place winner at this year’s Joelanta show in Atlanta, GA. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

GIjOE fans and collectors come in all ages. And apparently, the passion for combining imaginative “Joe-play” with historically accurate diorama displays, also knows no age restriction. A prime example is Caleb Brown, age 14. Caleb was recently awarded the coveted First Place Diorama Award for his astounding, 1:6 scale custom “D-Day Invasion” at this year’s Joelanta show in Atlanta, GA. For someone so young, Brown demonstrates tremendous artistic and building skills, and is capable of constructing highly detailed 1:6 scale battle scenes that would make customizers—of any age—turn green with envy.

Closeup of one of Caleb’s soldiers during the D-Day battle. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

You couldn’t miss Caleb’s winning entry at this year’s show. It was a massive construction that practically filled an entire corner of the showroom, rising all the way up from the floor to a final height of about 8 or 9 feet. Viewers were instantly drawn in to what was obviously a raging WWII battle scene. U.S. Army soldiers are shown fighting to climb up a hill from the beach to a German bunker, topped with a wooden observation tower and a Wehrmacht sniper.

The highlight of the diorama has to be the bright orange plumes of “fire” shot from a soldier’s flamethrower as it blazes through the bunker window and up and out the back. Fire is INCREDIBLY difficult to simulate and capture in still time, but Caleb’s comes as close as possible.

A german sniper falls from Caleb’s superb, hand-crafted tower, frozen in time. What action! Click to enlarge.(Photo: Mark Otnes)

Caleb recalled that when he was younger, he and his dad, James, made “set ups” in the backyard together and played with GIjOEs as they were meant to played with—outdoors. His father also taught him about how to work with wood, styrofoam and other related building materials. For last year’s show, Caleb made a “French Farmhouse” scene and wondered how he’d top it this year. As I stood staring at his D-Day masterpiece with my mouth agape, he described how he constructed his latest diorama:


“First I made a big wooden base for the whole thing. Then cut the cliff out of big pieces of foam core. I shaped them all, sculpted them down, and glued it all together. Next, I painted the cliff and sprayed it with glue before adding real dirt and sand. To make the tank traps, I used wood, cut and carved to shape, then painted with a red oxide color to give them that rusted look.

The German bunker and all of the rooms in the back are made of wood. I added sand to the bunker’s paint to give it an appearance of concrete. The flames are a polyester, stuffed-animal stuffing, spray-painted orange and yellow to simulate flames. The barbed wire was really tough (on my fingers). I had to wind it all with a drill, then hand-twist the little barbs on, one at a time, by hand. And yes, it did stick me in the fingers, just like real barbed wire. Finally, all of the figures were attached with hidden wires so they can’t fall down or move around too much. It’s a lot of work, but also a LOT of fun.”

Caleb is an active member of the Atlanta GijOE Collector’s Club and told me they meet once a week at the homes of different members. ONCE A WEEK? Wow! With constant support and friendships like that, it’s a sure bet Caleb will continue to thrive in the world of 1:6 scale fandom. Indeed, I was astounded by all the work Caleb went through to complete this giant display. And after studying it very carefully, I could tell he had really done his research. This was no fantasy scene. Caleb concurred:


From the rear, fully detailed rooms were also created, all from scratch. Those floors? No paper printouts. The planks are all real boards, cut and positioned one at a time. Click to enlarge. (Photo: Mark Otnes)

“Yes, you have to know about your country’s history. It would be unfair to the men who were actually there on D-Day to misrepresent any of this. I believe you need to use the right uniforms, the right equipment for the time period, etc. You can’t just throw anything in there. If I’d used something from the Vietnam War or whatever, that would have been wrong for this battle scene. I wanted to make sure I got everything right.”

Bottom Line: Caleb is a very impressive young man. Imagine—If he’s creating work of such a high-caliber at the tender age of 14, what more might we expect from this diorama “whiz kid” in the future? Such creations border on being labeled bona-fide artwork, and should probably be on display in a museum somewhere. Superb work, Caleb. Congratulations!


2 thoughts on “Diorama “Whiz Kid” Wins 1st Place at Joelanta

  1. GIJOEBILL says:

    Outstanding Job!!!
    Keep them coming!!

  2. kneonknight says:

    Oops! There were a couple of questions I had regarding this impressive display of model-making.

    1) Is there a reason almost none of the soldiers seem to be wearing helmets or other headgear?

    2) Was the soldier with the flamethrower bitten by a radioactive spider? I can’t tell from the photo if he is suspended by a rappeling line or otherwise supported in that precarious pose.

    In any event, it is a truly impressive piece of work-I would have been hard pressed to create anything of this scale and level of detail when I was 14.

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