Islander finds diversion therapy in intricate dioramas
Last year, when people were encouraged to stay at home because of the coronavirus pandemic, Matt Gonzalez needed a way to occupy his time.
He sought a hobby that would satisfy his love of movies and his drive to learn new skills.
“I was kind of having some free time because a lot of the jobs were getting canceled and I wanted to take up a hobby,” Gonzalez said.
When his main source of income — marketing videos for private clients — dried up because of the pandemic, he decided to go small.
Inside a small studio in Galveston, Gonzalez started building, painting and photographing dioramas.
Using action figures, Gonzalez recreates sets and scenes from his favorite movies: “Friday the 13th,” “Mortal Kombat,” “The Thing,” “Jaws” and “Back to the Future.”
Gonzalez already had collected some action figures, and he’s not the kind of collector who leaves the figures in their boxes. He likes to take them out, move them around and pose them.
“I’m a real nostalgic person, especially with things from my childhood,” Gonzalez said. “It was a match made in heaven.”
The results are far more detailed than the shoebox and construction-paper projects you might have created in third grade. The sets have fine details such as blue icicles, stone cobbled walkways and working lights.
Gonzalez can spend up to a month on a single project, he said. Earlier on, he would rush to get his designs done; to get all of his ideas out into reality.
“I learned to slow down and not rush,” Gonzalez said. “I get better results.”
Gonzalez posts pictures of his work online, where they’re generally met with compliments and expressions of awe from his friends and family, and from a community of people on Facebook and Instagram who make equally intricate sets.
“If somebody told me three years ago that I’d be doing this, I wouldn’t have believed them,” Gonzalez said. “I didn’t think I had the patience for it. But it’s like a high you get when you discover a new technique.
“I was horrible at paints. But then I sat down, and found ‘Hey, this stuff actually works.’ It’s like unlocking new things.”
Gonzalez has even been contacted about commissions, he said. His work could become a little bit of a money-maker, he said.
The dioramas are more than just a pastime for Gonzalez. There’s a personal connection in them, too. In 2019, his father, Florentino “Tino” Gonzalez, died after a battle with cancer.
Tino Gonzalez was a builder. His obituary lauded him as a “virtual wizard when it came to architecture, construction and engineering.”
Building his sets, Matt Gonzalez feels a little bit closer to his father, he said.
“My dad was kind of into this stuff, too,” he said, remembering a time they went to a wax museum and Tino explained how the lifelike figures were made. Tino had a fascination with Hollywood, Matt Gonzalez said. He feels that connection when he’s building his models.
“It’s been a good way to keep my mind off my dad’s passing,” he said. “It’s like therapy.”