UPDATE: There is now one you can try to make based on Super Mario Bros 3.
You know those 3D movie posters McFarlane Toys sells? Now you can make something similar for video games. Here is a fun, inexpensive DIY decoration idea for a rainy day: a picture box frame that contains a diorama of a video game screenshot. Now you can hang a 3D image of your favorite video game on the wall!
Picture Box frames are exactly what they sound like, a box with a glass frame. These are used to display physical objects, like medals or trophies. These are typically about 1″-4″ deep, and range in size from a document (8.5″x 11″) to a massive 2’x3′ to hang sports jerseys and other collectibles.
They are perfect for this diorama idea, allowing you to recreate the depth of a video game. The diorama is comprised of a background image, some objects/characters extending from the background, and then foreground elements pressed against the glass.
For this Super Metroid example, the sky and horizon background is on the back of the frame, Samus and her spaceship are planted in the middle space (mounted to the background), and the foreground (ground and HUD) are pressed against the glass.
There would be a papercraft approach to this project, as you are cutting out individual objects. You’ll also need to create paper mounts to suspend characters and objects in air.
Things you’ll need:
A picture box frame, preferably only 1″-2″ deep. You’re going to hang this on the wall, you don’t want it jutting out too far. You’ll also need to pick a size that is suitable to your printer’s abilities if you want the whole background printed on single page. If you are making something poster size (say, a level from Smash Bros), your background will be broken up into numerous pages, but the game layout may help conceal the seams.
Printer and paper. I recommend card paper, because it is thick (nullifying transparency) and flat and durable for papercraft. Glossy photo paper is richer in color, but it is usually a curved surface, and not friendly to cutting. Maybe use glossy for the background image.
Cutting blade, a cutting mat, some glue, black marker, and scissors. It would be very time consuming and tricky to use scissors for pixel art. Using a pen blade is very convenient. Use scissors to get rid of the easier stuff. I like to use a black marker to hide the paper thickness, so I trace along the edge of each item. The glue would be for the ‘mounts’ to help suspend things in air (like Mario jumping).
Getting your image ready:
This will be the most technical part, as you not only have to decide your screenshot, but you’ll need to finesse the size for printing. Measure your frame, and plan your images accordingly in Photoshop (or whatever digital program you use). Printing the images in the correct size is crucial to the project.
You’ll have to separate the background, the characters/items, and foreground into separate images. That will require some extensive painting on the background to remove all the game characters/items (or take multiple screenshots with the characters in different places, and patch the images together).
There are plenty of screenshots and game sprites available online, but you may have to find a way to grab screens if you are looking for something more particular.
Assembling it all:
The background is the easiest to install, it sits against the back of the frame. All of the cutout characters will then be affixed to the background by using small folds of paper as mounts. The foreground is a bit tricky, because it will be pressed up against the glass, so taping or gluing is not an option. You’ll need to create some folds for the foreground section, which will then anchor to the interior sides of the frame.
Things to consider:
When planning your screenshot, keep in mind the placement of your characters/items for the final diorama. There is a lot of flexibility for placement when everything is cut up, but if your scene is crowded you might find yourself omitting elements. Plan ahead!
Do you want the HUD (score, time, etc) in your work of art? Maybe the game title?
Other ideas for presentation:
Fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter had a floor plane that was in perspective to the camera. You could create a floor plane that is folded/angled towards the bottom of the picture box frame to recreate the look of the game.
If you are moderately talented with papercraft, then you can easily recreate all the boxes from a Mario game. These would look amazing from all angles. Other boxy games like Mega Man would work in this fashion.
There are many action figures for game characters available, even 3″ ones for Mario. You can include these too, but you’ll need to support their weight within the diorama (use cardboard, for example).
If you want to get ultra classy you can add an engraved plaque label to the front, like a museum would. For the above example: “Samus lands on Planet Zebes. Title: Super Metroid, circa 1993.”