Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Building cool toys for big kids: How military miniature-diorama maker does his work

Bert Floyd customizes from similar molds (Napoleonic, Civil War)

Our May 2010 post about a NASA design engineer in Ohio who crafts military miniature figures and dioramas remains among the most popular Picket articles. We recently caught up with Bertram Floyd, 60, of Victory Miniatures, and asked him to provide more details on how he does his work. Floyd works from his home in Sheffield Village; most of his products are available online and two larger dioramas have been featured at the James A. Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor, Ohio. His responses have been edited for context and brevity.

Q. Who are your customers these days?
A. This is a small hobby. The newer generation coming up has played video games and is not so used to playing with toy soldiers. Most of my buyers are between 50 and 60 something. They want the quality. They want unique stuff. Everything at the (trade) events is mostly unique.

Bert Floyd (all photos courtesy of Floyd)

Q. How does your profession fit in?
A. I work at NASA’s Glenn Research center and do a lot of space communications and quantum communications. I started off in electrical engineering, which led to fiber optics. I do mainly fiber obits for the space station, mission to Mars. When you are working with fiber optics you have to have patience. Everything is real small and tiny. That translates to working with the miniatures, even though fiber optics is smaller than soldiers.

Q. What time periods and conflicts do your miniatures cover?
A. I go back to Roman period all the way up to modern times. (Floyd’s dioramas include knights, World War II, the American Revolution, French and Indian War and the Anglo-Zulu War, including the Battle of Isandlwana). My biggest selling thing is the Civil War stuff. Then next would be the Napoleonics. I try to do everything historically accurate. The cheapest dioramas go from $150, all the way $1,000 or more. Some may have one figure, some may have several. Some people buy unpainted figures. People like the Napoleonics because of the color of the uniforms. They are uniforms to die in.

Q. You have some molds and you often buy manufactured figures and customize them to a particular conflict. How does that work?
A. Most are all-metal, made of lead, tin or pewter, especially the 40 millimeters figures. The bigger figures are made of metal and resin. If there is a pose I need, I may cut legs and arms and run wire to get the pose. For hands, I put the gun on and mold the hands around it. I may change the face around, add beards, take a hat off and put a different hat on. Small figures typically sell for $35 to $65.

Q. What about the dioramas?
A. For most of the larger dioramas, I use 40 millimeter figures. They look better and are easier on the eye. You see more detail on them. The dioramas with one or two figures, they are usually 54 millimeters and up. I start off with a green blanket, put figures and roads and add terrain pieces. I populate them with trees. I use crushed foam for bushes. I talk to the individual on what their needs are and whether it is a permanent diorama. All the trees, houses and fences are handmade. I make everything from scratch.

Q. How much time do you put into this and where do you work?
A. I put in about an hour a day. In the winter time there is a lot more time I put into it and I paint. In summer months, I design what I want to do. I do the painting in the upstairs morning room. I have dioramas set up in the basement and do most of my sculpting there.

Q. Tell me about your re-enacting, thoughts on Confederate monuments
A. I am with a group 5th U.S. Colored Troops out of Cleveland, Toledo, Akron, Columbus and Youngstown, and Pittsburgh. Most events we do are living history. You have to get the history out there. Attending re-enactments is like a family reunion and picnic. As for the Confederate battle flag, the one (appropriate) place is in the museum and on the battlefield, the field of honor (re-enactments).

Q. You’ve been making miniatures since the mid-1980s. Why do you do this?
A. It’s a love that I have. When I was a kid I played with miniature toy soldiers. After I got married, I became a homebody and you go back to what you did as a little kid. I plan on doing this until I can’t do it anymore. You are never going to be compensated for your time. The hobby pays for itself.

• More photos of Floyd's work

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