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I say, go more ‘Mini’ with ‘Miniatures & Models’

July 22, 2013

Compositing backgrounds, scenery, extended virtual sets is the most frequent use of visual effects methods. In the olden days of movie making, using chemical based film, the optical printer was used to composite (combine) different filmed elements using bluescreen/greenscreen techniques. Often times miniatures & models were filmed to create the background elements. Today, compositing of different image elements together, is done digitally with software. Also, CGI is now used many times, to synthetically fake backgrounds & scenery. What I am referring to here, is in reference to REAL hand-made Miniatures & Models (not Cgi created). In mainstream movies, many times miniatures & models have become of humongous size, sometimes called Bigatures. With studio’s gargantuan budgets, I suppose they can afford to spend, hire large crew, and a warehouse studio space just for the miniature work. Absoluting NOT criticizing that, as that extreme level of detailed may be required when projected on very LARGE theater screens.

What I am briefly dissertating about, is nothing new in special effects, however, just maybe refining & adapting to Poor Man’s-style production budget Uncle Ray was often forced to create fantastical worlds with minimalistic monetary resources We do not have warehouse size studio space for miniature & model work. We ‘Indies’ who are monetarily challenged should look to other disciplines, crafts, & resources to help as inspiration & thinking out-of-the-box options.  Years ago, I have acquired a few books about Model Railroading scenery diorama creation. Yes, MODEL RAILROADING! These hobbyists not only invest their passion into miniature model trains (such as the classic & iconic Lionel Trains :) ), but also very important, is the artistic creation of detailed miniatures, being a major aspect of the model railroading hobby.

Compared to years past, it is now becoming much more finessed & detailed in creation of these mini-miniature landscapes & models and there are even specialty artists who create art at hyperrealistic miniature level. When you see how real these miniatures appear,  you do not need huge miniature sets if you are just going to create background elements for blue/green screen work. The primary point I’m making is …. keep your Miniatures/Models SMALL. Also, the building creation of the minatures,  need not be complex. Miniatures do not need to withstand hurricanes! If you keep the build simple with the focus that the miniature/model looks spectacular to the camera lens. You then film your miniatures and afterwards, dispose of it! Remember, you do not have studio space to keep in storage all those models & miniatures!

With the mini-miniatures serving as your background scenery elements, when you are actually filming the miniatures, you can also do stop motion animated, motion control movements within the miniature set pieces . This would add more depth effect. If one does creative editing that is brisk with good pacing & tempo, the average audience watching on average size LCD flat screen TV, could accept the special effects miniature background  scenes as having realistic seamless look.

To summarize for your consideration with ‘Poor Man’s” budget challenged independent productions: For background elements using blue/green screen, you can create your background elements with Miniatures that are of much more MINI or SMALLER size. Also, a few very important OTHER skill-sets to make this work, either you, or if you know someone or find somebody, who is somewhat proficient with special effects programs such as After Effects or other similar software. As for learning the most important in how to create very realistic small miniature sets, you have the internet as a resource and if you got basic artistic & dexterous capabilities, you can teach yourself how. Yes, another skill-set, be well versed on, or learn about photography (& macro-photography) principles & techniques … focusing aspects, lighting basics, lens properties, depth of field, forced perspective concepts, etc.

Now, take a look at this music video ….

So, you still do not believe me? You still think miniatures & models have to be hellishly LARGE? Below is another video of artist, miniaturist, & photographer, Adam Makarenko’s work in the music video (that you just saw) ‘The Glory’ (Royal Woods), giving you a glimpse of behind the scenes. Adam was overseer of special effects, model maker, photographer, Director of the music video, etc. … he wore many hats. All the miniature sets & models were created, built, and filmed in Adam’s APARTMENT and took about 3 months to complete ….

I do not want to hear minor complaints, that it is not realistic! What is your Cgi brainwashed interpretation of Realism? :mrgreen: This was a music video and there is some art direction towards some stylization that perhaps make it slightly more surreal & dreamy flavor. To me, real models & miniatures just evokes a different kind of aesthetics & feeling. If the above music video was loaded with CGI faked scenery & backgrounds, it would NOT be the same … period. Now, if we were going to use this type of incredible miniature & model work for special effects scenes in our Harryhausen’esque Dynamation projects, of course, we would film it in a manner that has, perhaps, a more realistic style.

Feature Artists-Miniaturists-Modelmakers: Adam Makarenko and Matthew Albanese

Below, just a mere minor sampling of links to a few articles, resources & info. If you are SMART with internet searching, there is loads of information and how-to about miniature & model creation.

LINKS: Hyper-Realistic Nature DioramasStrange Worlds Dioramas of Matthew AlbaneseRealistic Small Scale Dioramas that are Photographed, then DestroyedModel Railroader MagazineTimberland SceneryMiniature TreeDiorama ManDiorama & Layout ConstructionMini Garden GuruModel JunkyardCreate Foam Miniature Landscapes & Scenery

Topics: How-to, Miniatures - Models - Puppets, Special Effects, Stop Motion | 5 Comments »

5 Responses to “I say, go more ‘Mini’ with ‘Miniatures & Models’”

  1. Maria Rock says:

    Dear Adam and Matthew,
    Sorry about my spelling. Enjoy (not Enloe) seeing your artistry. I have worked with Semafor Studio on my production. Wanted to create a small set at my ranch but some products are not the same as in Poland. Memorable experience. My website is being reworked.

    I want to create a children’s garden show with live action and stop motion.

    Thank you for sharing your work and advice. Maria

  2. Maria Rock says:

    I Enloe reading your comments and view the art. I have been working on a stop motion and would like to know the products used to build soil scenes . I’m working on a vegetable garden.

    Your suggestions would be appreciated.
    Thank you,

  3. U_Ani says:

    I love miniatures, they’re surprisingly versatile for those who know how to use them for the best effect. Especially when combined with techniques that Peter Montgomery does, they can be extremely effective storytelling tools in indie work. I like to think that each tool in the toolbox only serves as a way to create a transition in a character driven journey instead of being plain eye candy. Miniatures are a different kind of caption of an occupied space.

  4. Ron Cole says:

    In all the work I did on Sinbad The 5th Voyage, I managed to avoid any need for a foreground miniature set, so technically it wasn’t ‘Dynamation’ because I think that foreground miniatures are an integral part of that technique. But I can easily see that doing it that way may be a real need in future projects because having an actual surface for the puppet’s shadow to fall on is way easier than creating fake shadows in post production.

    When it comes time for such realistic miniatures to be created, I can only hope that I could have the assistance of artists as talented as these to create them!

  5. Langley says:

    Freaking awesome, Lio! Thanks for posting!


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