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!