Scientists estimate there were once more than 350 species of elephants in the world. Now there are two: the African elephant and the Asian elephant. Either species makes a great subject for a diorama. A well-made elephant diorama has a focused design and accurate depictions of the landscape, plants and animals found in the elephant's environment.
Whether a diorama is a shoebox for school or a centerpiece in a museum, the key element to any effective diorama is a strong focal point. The elephant should be the "main character" of the diorama and the other objects surrounding it must draw the eye's focus toward the elephant. Diorama artists sketch the design on paper to find the optimal placement for background objects around the elephant. Making the elephant the largest object, or placing it in the center of the piece, are effective methods for keeping the focus on it.
The landscape is the logical first step because the rest of the diorama is built upon it. Artists research pictures of an elephant's natural habitat to learn what the terrain is like. The pictures serve as a reference during construction of the piece. African elephants typically live in the savanna region which consists of low, flat prairies. Asian elephants can be found in mountain rain forests with hilly terrain.
The plant life in an elephant diorama needs to be as accurate as possible. It is helpful to research photos and botanical information on the native species in the elephant's environment. African elephants often eat elephant grass, which is a species of grass that grows to a height of 10 feet. It is characterized by a tufted thistle on the head and is a common source of fodder for African farmers. There are several websites that specialize in miniatures and carry an extensive catalog of plant life. If a certain species is unavailable it is possible to alter another model to resemble the necessary plants. Diorama plant life is typically installed back to front.
The inclusion of other animals in an elephant diorama adds to the realism and reflects the artist's knowledge of the subject. As with plant life, accuracy is important. An effective diorama showcases the species that cohabit with the elephant. It is not necessary to include other animals -- or even other elephants -- but the practice is common in museum-quality elephant dioramas. African elephants tend to travel with African water buffalo and are also preyed upon by lions. Asian elephants are hunted by tigers. The elephants also need to be accurate. Female African elephants have tusks but female Asian elephants do not.