Think about the prehistoric period you want to portray and plan what details you'd like to include like the dinosaurs, plants, bodies of water, volcanoes, etc.
Ours is a Cretaceous period diorama, which is known for its lush rainforest environment and iconic dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus rex, triceratops and spinosaurus.
Paint a background inside the shoebox using tempera or poster paint. Paint it blue to create a sky or green for a rainforest background. You can also paint the outside of the box. If it has a glossy finish, use acrylic paint.
Instead of painting, another option for the background is to cover the inside walls of the box with blue or green colored paper.
Use real rocks or make them out of various materials:
a.) Paper plate rocks - make rocks for the background by cutting a paper plate or thick cardboard into sections. You can either paint them or cover them with black or brown crepe paper. Slightly crumple up the crepe paper before gluing them to give the rocks a textured surface.
Glue the paper plate rocks onto the walls of your box diorama.
b.) Paper rocks - an easier option for rocks or boulders on the background is to cut rock shapes out of paper. Choose textured paper like sand paper or textured cardstock, or better yet, choose a variety of paper types so that you still achieve lots of texture and contrast.
Make a lake, stream, or any body of water using blue paper, crepe paper or colored aluminum foil. Cut your chosen material into the desired shape and size and glue onto your diorama's ground.
We used aluminum foil and colored it blue ourselves—see how in our Colored Aluminum Foil page. Slightly crumple up the blue aluminum foil then spread it out flat before gluing onto the box.
Some options for making a ground for your diorama are described below.
a.) Paper - the easiest option is to cut and glue green or brown construction paper to cover the entire floor of your box diorama. This is best done after Step 3.
b.) Air dry clay - for a three-dimensional ground, air dry clay is a convenient option. You can also make salt dough, which is a homemade version. Cover the entire floor of your diorama with the clay or dough. Pat the clay around objects like rocks or trees.
c.) Papier mache - if you want to try something different, you can make a papier mache ground like we did. Tear newspapers or any paper for recycling, into strips. Crumple up each strip and glue onto the bottom of the box using white glue. This layer of newspaper creates the base over which to build the papier mache.
Read up on the prehistoric period you're portraying and make the plants based on what you've learned. Our Diorama Plants and Trees page has lots of ideas and tips for creating all kinds of plants for a diorama.
Cut or tear brown crepe paper into 1-inch wide strips. Prepare your papier mache paste and use a paint brush to apply paste onto a section of the newspaper ground. Lay a few strips of crepe paper over the paste. Brush the crepe paper strips over with more paste and gently pat down so that the wet crepe paper sticks to the newspaper.
Paper tabs allow you to attach the paper dinosaurs to the diorama's wall or ground.
a.) Center tabs - these let you attach a dinosuar onto the background wall. Fold a short strip of construction paper on both ends. Glue one end onto the back of the dinosaur and the other end onto the wall. A large dinosaur will need a pair of center tabs while smaller ones will just need one.