Monday, 1 December 2008

Forced Perspective Models

The scale that it is decided to build a model miniature at is often determined largely to practicality and the amount of space available when it comes to film it. Normally it is better to build miniatures as large as is possible. Sometimes however rather than constructing a single building a job may require a whole or partial model of a cityscape. This is where forced perspective models can be used, the benefit of which saves time and money in construction costs. Film makers will decide on the layout of the shot they want to film and the models that will be nearest the camera are built at a bigger scale than those that are further away. As the scale gradually decreases it is important that the detail on those models does as well. Matthew Gratzner (Partner in one of Hollywoods top model making companies Hunter Graztner Industries) comments...

'Nothing makes a model look less convincing then too much detail on distant objects.'
Below a shot of a forced perspective model from Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Importance of Painting

Painting a model miniature adds the finishing touches to it and is very important in making the model appear realistic and giving it character. The model has to be painted to represent the materials it would be constructed from in reality. So if the model is made from plaster different elements of it may have to be painted to look like wood or metal for example to make the building look authentic.

Ageing and weathering is also a vital part of creating an authentic looking model, as everything, especially buildings are affected by the elements of rain, wind, sun etc.

Constructing Models for Destruction

Don't forget the inside!!

If a model is going to be blown up on film then there has to already be some sort of interior constructed as part of the model to make it look convincing. Matthew Graztner (Partner to one of Hollywood's top model making companies) explains how this is done...

'We often build one layer of rooms around the inside...and fill them with miniature furniture, fittings...Then at the edge of the floors and ceilings, we fit twisted miniature I-beams, joists, air-conditioning if the front of the building had been blown off and all this stuff has been left exposed. Once this pre-destroyed interior has been arranged and filled with dust and debris, we carefully place the facade of the building over the front and prepare it for destruction with compressed air or miniature pyrotechnics.'

Picture below, model used in X Files: The Movie (1998) Miniature was made pre-destroyed.


Foam, plastic, metal and wood can all be used to make the masters of anything needed to be moulded. Often if the design is of a facade or has intricate details then they can be laser cut and then silicone moulds are normally made from those. This means that any sections can then be cast in materials such as resin, foam, fibreglass or plaster. Fibreglass is a good material to use as it can produce sturdy but lightweight shells. If however the miniature needs to be blown up a material has to be used that when exploded will produce small enough break away sections for that scale of model. Normally the material that most effectively produces this effect is specially mixed plaster.

Destructive Plaster: This is plaster mixed with baking soda, sawdust or any other material that will keep the plaster light and make it crumbly when set.

Making Miniature Buildings

There are a few useful tips to remember when making miniature buildings in particular.
  • Construct the model in sections. This helps with easier transportation of the model, which in industry will normally need to be taken to be assembled in a studio for filming.
  • Identify replicated patterns and features. This can be things like repeated brickwork or facades. An original master can be created and a mould can be made from it. Then you can cast the required amount needed for the building out of which ever material is suited to the building's design and the model's function, which in many cases will have to be blown up or destroyed!

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Sugar Glass Recipe

Below is the method used to make sugar glass, which is used a lot in the special effects industry to imitate real glass as it is more easily broken and isn't as dangerous.

3 cups of sugar one cup of white Karo syrup (refined molasses)
2 cups of water 1/4 (quarter) teaspoon of cream of tartar.
Mix well and heat to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour into a well greased, slightly chilled mould. The finished product will become sticky to touch unless it is kept cool.

Only has a limited time of use before it starts warping.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Tricks of the Trade

Pyrotechnics is common to use in conjunction with model miniatures to create the illusion of buildings blowing up and alike. It involves using explosives to mimic the effects of things like bombs, and there are certain ways in which model miniatures have to be constructed in order to get the dramatic results we see on tv. Firstly models used for this type of action shoot need to be built as big as possible. Frequently and so that the model will explode more easily they get made in sections which are simply laid into position.
Lots of dust and debris needs to be provided at the source of the explosion. One method is the use of cement dust which can be blown out using compressed air.


Sometimes films require more than small scale miniatures in order to make certain special effects look convincing on camera. One of the biggest problems with miniatures is that they can't effectively simulate things like weight and gravitational pull. There is also a big problem when water comes into play. If for example you want to drown a model miniature of a building that has been built at 1:50 scale, the size of the droplets are going to come across on camera as being enlarged. One way to deal with this problem is to build giant miniatures.

This was the method used for filming certain scenes in Titanic that required a lot of action with water. One of the larger models was built at 45 feet long!

Another film that utilised these 'bigatures' was The Lord of the Rings. WETA workshop that worked on the film made huge miniatures of some of the locations, like the one below, with a very high level of detail. This was because they couldn't create the locations in a full size set and they didn't want to opt for CGI for various reasons.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Filming Miniature Models

Filming miniature models can be make or break when it comes down to how successful they look on camera. A model can be very well made but can still look unbelievable if it isn't filmed in the correct way. This all comes down to scale, depth of field and camera speed.

  • Depth of field: To make miniatures look realistic it is important to photograph them with the same depth of field as would be used in normal scale photography. This will usually involve having to get quite close to the model, but making sure that both the model and the background are in focus. For example if you filmed a normal sized car from a length of 3 metres, the car and the majority of the background would be in focus. To re-crete this depth of field on a 1:10 scale model car you would need to film the model nine tenths closer, so only 30cm away.

A couple of months ago I came across a process called Tilt-Shift photography, which is a perfect example of how important depth of field can be in relation to creating the illusion of scale. The Tilt-Shift process involves manipulating photographs of life sized objects or locations to make them look as though they are miniature scale models. Click on the link below to have a look at the results and some examples of this technique.

  • Camera Speed: The camera speed used to film models also plays a big part in how realistic they come across. There is a specific formula for calculating camera speed when filming scaled miniatures. D=Dimensions of full scale object (feet) d=Dimensions of model (feet)

Saturday, 11 October 2008


I've created this blog as an addition to my external brief project, for which I have to make a model miniature of a lighthouse. Due to the fact that this is a course project I am subject to certain limitations when it comes to building the model. In industry it would be built in a way that it could be filmed as a distance shot, and would have CGI added to it in post production. The model would also need to be destroyed on camera in order to create the special effects needed for the film it would hypothetically be used in.
As I won't be able to carry out all of this for my project I'm dedicating this site into researching how the television and film industry construct model miniatures for the purpose of special effects.
Click the link to go to my external brief blog and learn more about my project and the progress I'm making on my model.