Miniature modelling — Bringing history and imagination to life

Yee showed his miniature model of the Su-27 Sea Flanker Sukhoi Fighter Jet with the Malaysian flag on the tail. The Russian-made fighter jet is used by the Royal Malaysian Airforce.

By Wilfred Pilo

KUCHING, June 12: Self-taught diorama artist Desmond Yee has come a long way since his first venture into the world of miniature models.

Over the years, what was once a simple childhood hobby has grown into a passion and job that can see him spending up to several months painstakingly fixing together thousands of pieces of kit to create a perfect replica of an object or character, and then using them to create three-dimensional scenes that can range from scenes modelled after real-life events, or those borne of his creativity and imagination.

Yee uses a 20 sen coin to compare the size of a miniature model he completed.
A diorama featuring a miniature of an armoured tank used by the Allied Forces during the Second World War displayed at Yee’s shop.

The 55-year-old told DayakDaily that his interest in miniature models started when he was in primary school. In the 1980s, he often went to toy shops selling miniature models at Kuching Plaza.

“I was also an enthusiast of miniature military models. Those days, Kuching Plaza was the place to go. I bought and collected miniature toy soldiers, military amour vehicles, jeeps, planes and ships, and lots of models. Then in later years, I was into Gundam characters and Japanese futuristic model soldiers.

“In my younger days, I had them on display in my room to admire and always in the know of what I did not have in my collections and how get them. In the end, it was not only a hobby but had become my profession since 2008 when I opened my shop at Stutong Community Market,” he revealed.

Miniatures of military helicopters on display at Yee’s shop.
A war diorama created by Yee which is on display at his shop.

Yee said there are relatively few people who share his enthusiasm for miniature models. It can be quite an expensive hobby as miniature model kits can cost a lot.

“This is also because you need the tools, equipment and colours (paint) to fix everything from the kits before you can create realistic scenes. It is how a model is created and displayed in a museum. You have to be patient as it is time-consuming.”

Yee further revealed that he appreciated miniature models more now as they can also be related to real-life characters and events.

For example, he is currently putting together a military miniature model kit featuring a 1/48 Su-27 Sea Flanker Sukhoi Fighter Jet, which is the Russian-made jet fighter used by the Royal Malaysian Airforce (RMAF).

“The great thing is that it is the first time, the model kit producer in 2023 included a printed Malaysian flag to be fixed at the plane tail area. This is new for us and something unique. The producer went into great detail describing the miniature model plane and even the RMAF pilot flying the Russian-made plane.”

Yee said that these are the types of details enthusiasts and collectors want as it will escalate the value and desirability of the miniature models.

“Now, manufacturers want the kits they produce to come with a detailed story so that people will be more interested in the miniature model.”

Yee shows a model kit for a Russian-made Sukhoi jet he is working on.
Yee working on the miniature model of the Su-27 Sea Flanker Sukhoi Fighter Jet.

He opined that miniatures can be used to depict historical events so people can appreciate and remember what happened in the past.

“Sarawak is rich in history, and we could create events of the past like the Rajah Brooke era, the Second World War in this part of the region, Malaysia Day and even miniature models of our leaders,” he added.

Yee said to create more interest in miniature crafts, Malaysia has hosted the Malaysia International Miniature Hobby Show and Malcom Competition since 2019.

“This year, the show had more international participants, and many miniature craft enthusiasts came to the 2024 edition hosted by Penang on June 8 and 9. We even held workshops and taught people how to fix their models from kits.”

Yee said Sarawak could do such a show.

“I am optimistic it could bring international visitors, as it is good for the tourism industry, especially the economic spin-off effect our State Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Minister Dato Sri Abdul Rahman Karim Hamzah often emphasises.

“My goal is to have the show in Kuching, and I want to work on making it happen to create more diorama artists and enthusiasts. Miniature modelling helps people to be more creative and even think out of the box as it is not easy to work with the kits to produce a replica and come out with the characters and the models,” he said.

For more information, call Yee at 013 816 9622. — DayakDaily