How to Design a Digital Diorama Using Tinkercad

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About: Aloha, I'm Jess! Equal parts teacher, dreamer, and maker of things. I'm super passionate about STEM & Maker Education and love making art & working at Instructables to support education. If you're a teacher,...

Dioramas are a great way to bring making into the classroom and provide an opportunity for students to creatively express their learning. They can be used across grade levels and subject areas to illustrate an academic concept, the plot of a story, or an event in history.

Typically, classroom dioramas start with parents and teachers hoarding shoeboxes and old animal figurines, but that ends today! With the help of Tinkercad and some creative thinking, you and your students can make dioramas digitally.

Recommended grade levels: 4th-8th

Materials: Computers with mice, Internet, Tinkercad (free, easy-to-use app for 3D design, electronics, and coding)

Overview: Teachers! This instructable will show you and your students how to create a digital diorama using Tinkercad and provides a great way to combine cross-curricular academic concepts with technology skills and 3D design.

Note to Teachers: I created this Instructable with many classroom options in mind. It is based on a project I have previously done with my students.

Here are a few ways to use this Instructable with your students:

  • You and your students can go through this instructable together step by step before they begin working on their own digital diorama
  • You could highlight specific steps and use the video tutorials as a quick intro to their class project
  • You can link this instructable as a resource or assignment in Google Classroom (or other LMS) and have students work through it at their own pace while creating their own diorama
  • You can download the PDF and print it as a guide for students
  • Or, just let them start tinkering the diorama Base & Walls Template or fully designed example Digital Diorama and see where their creativity takes them

Step 1: Getting Started With Tinkercad

Tinkercad, the free, online 3D design and 3D printing app.

If this is your first time teaching or starting a project that integrates 3D Design or Tinkercad, here are some helpful things to explore before starting this project:

For more information on managing your classroom for making, how to assess a 3D design project, and more, please check out: How to Bring Tinkercad into Your Classroom

Step 2: Planning Your Design

Before starting your design in Tinkercad, it's important to put your ideas on paper. You can do this by creating an outline or notes of things you plan to feature or sketching a draft of your diorama to get an idea of what it will look like. This will help you determine the features and animals you want to include and the best placement for them within your design.

Step 3: Building the Base and Walls

Once you are signed into Tinkercad, click the “Create new design” button. This will take you to a blank workplane where you can start building your Digital Diorama. You can begin by dragging basic shapes from the sidebar.

To create the base, I used the “box” and set it to 148 mm x 104 mm x 3 mm.

After getting the base set, I used the Duplicate and Rotate tools to make the walls. I set the wall height to 75 mm on each of the 3 sides.

Watch the clip below to see how I built the base and then duplicated and rotated to make the walls.

Step 4: Creating the Scene

When making a traditional diorama, you would create the desired scene using a variety of materials to mimic what it would look like in real life. You are going to do the same in Tinkercad, but you will need to use your skills and imagination in new ways in order to use the Tinkercad tools and basic shapes to meet the challenge of mimicking real-life objects or animals. It may seem like a difficult task at first, but I promise you’ll get the hang of it quickly and be on your way to making a totally awesome Digital Diorama.

If you planned your design (Step 2), you have already decided on the key features and animals you want to include, and now it's time to start creating them.

The clam with a pearl is the centerpiece of my design, so I will start there. Can you guess which shapes I used to make it? Watch the next video to find out!

Note to Students: In a Marine Ecosystem (or any other research topic), you can be sure to find a variety of things to include in a diorama, but if this diorama is for a class project and you need to present your learning, you'll want to make sure that the objects you put in the diorama represent a feature or talking point that you plan to discuss when sharing it with your class.

Maker Tip: Right Click and hold while you move your mouse around to see your design from all sides and make sure everything is lined up. You can also do this by clicking the white box (labeled: Top, Front, Bottom, Right, Left, and Back) on the top left side of your workplane window and rotate it around to the see your design from different views.

After creating the clam, I designed some kelp and jellyfish using the Tinkercad Scribble tool on the Basic Shapes sidebar and the Half Sphere. (I can't wait to see what you make with the scribble tool!)

Additional features: To represent the coral reefs, I used multiple diamond shapes and stretched then stacked them into new shapes.

One of the last things I created was the fish. Using the “Create then Duplicate” strategy you saw in the Kelp & Jellyfish video above, I built one fish and then duplicated and resized to create multiple variations of fish.

Maker Tip: Don’t forget to rotate your animal designs and change their colors to create even more variety.

Step 5: Check in With Your Design (aka: Progress Monitoring)

Let’s check in! At this point, you should have:

  • mapped the key features/talking points of your design
  • sketched a rough draft of what you want your diorama to look like
  • created your Digital Diorama’s base and walls in Tinkercad
  • learned how to use Tinkercad 3D Design tools and Basic Shapes
  • built a variety of animals and environmental features using your awesome imagination and Tinkercad

Give yourself a high-five! :) You are officially a 3D Design ninja!!

Step 6: Finishing Touches

Now it’s time to put the finishing touches on your design and get it presentation ready. This is when you should carefully examine your design from all angles and make any necessary edits or design revisions to make sure everything is in the “Goldilocks Zone” meaning it's “Just Right!”.

Things to ask yourself:

  • Does my diorama clearly represent the ecosystem I researched?
  • Did I include enough of the key features of the ecosystem that I will be discussing during my presentation?
  • Do I have too many animals and features, or not enough?
  • Is my diorama cluttered and sporadic or neatly organized and visually pleasing?
  • Is my Digital Diorama presentation ready?

When you have finished editing your design, you should be ready to share it with your class and explain all the exciting things you learned while researching your topic and creating your Digital Diorama using Tinkercad.

Maker Tip: You can easily save images of your design in Tinkercad and then add them to Google Slides or a PowerPoint presentation.

Here's how to save an image of your design in Tinkercad:

  1. Click the "Send To" button on the top right of your design window (just above the ruler)
  2. Click the download button next to the picture of your design on the "Send" window
  3. Click the downloaded file at the bottom of your window to open and save it to your desired computer folder

Step 7: Celebrate & Share


After all the presenting is done, don’t forget to CELEBRATE your design achievements! You worked hard, learned new things, overcame challenges, and now have an awesome Digital Diorama as the result of all of that effort and learning! AMAZING!!!

Teachers! Here are some awesome ways to share this project:

  • Have your students add an image of this project to their digital portfolios
  • Add project images to your classroom or school website
  • Present to parents or other classes (I bet they will be super impressed)
  • Come back to this Instructable and post a picture of student dioramas in the "I made it" section

Don’t forget to stop by this Instructable again and let me know how it went by leaving a comment or sharing your creations in the "I Made It" section. I can’t wait to see what you MAKE!

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    4 Discussions

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    audreyobscura

    2 months ago

    Creating digital dioramas is a great way to explore design with limited resources and still share imagined worlds! Brilliant! Sending this to a few teachers I know here in LA :D

    1 reply
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    WeTeachThemSTEMaudreyobscura

    Reply 2 months ago

    Absolutely! No 3D printer (or shoeboxes, twigs, etc.) needed for this one. :) Thanks for sharing it!!

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    Kink Jarfold

    2 months ago on Step 7

    I still recall with fondness the diorama I built in grade school. My oldest son, on his 2nd career, was just certified as a teacher. Thank you and all teachers out there for what you do. --Kink--

    GENTRIFICATION.jpg
    1 reply
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    WeTeachThemSTEMKink Jarfold

    Reply 2 months ago

    Thank you so much for this comment!!! Congratulations to your son! Teaching is such an amazing adventure. :)