Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Welcome to Elgin Park

Although Michael Paul Smith isn't involved in movie production, his photographs of miniature vehicles using forced perspective are a great example of the process and beautiful works of art to boot! For over 25 years, he has been building scale models. Elgin Park is a recreation of everyday scenes from mid-20th century America, all in 1/24 scale. 

Don't get the impression that he's just pulling ready-made miniatures out of the box and photographing them- oh no! There is a huge amount of craftsmanship in his modifications, custom buildings (with interiors) and streets.

But looking through his Flickr pages (and it's worth reading many of the captions) you'll get some great insight in how forced perspective and foreground miniatures can be combined to create some amazing images. It works the same for film.

An example of the end result. While Michael's work focuses on the 1950s, I'm a 1930s nut, so you get this image!
Here's the setup for the photo above. Note the way he has added a pole in his diorama to tie in with the real-world power lines.

This miniature interior would be seen through the window from the outside, but that's no reason to skimp on the detail.

The diner interior above is deconstructed, providing some insight into how everyday materials are utilized to become something else in the miniature world.

Self-portrait of the artist in his element.

Welcome to Elgin Park

Fon Davis Talks Miniatures

Fon Davis loves miniatures. He's been at work in the Hollywood industry for a long time and his company, Fonco, now provides special effects services to movies, TV and advertising, as well as creates content of their own.

Make magazine profiled him in a video awhile back and I neglected to link it here, which is a horrible oversight on my part. It's an interesting (though too brief!) look at miniatures in today's CGI-crazy world.

Make: Believe Visits Fon Davis

Friday, September 06, 2013

10 Movies With Mind-Boggling Miniature Effects

The Mental Floss web site recently did a breakdown of some of their favorite miniature shots.

"Filmmakers are, by nature, liars. They’re masters of misdirection and optical illusion and whatever on-screen flim-flammery is necessary to get the shot. Which is why, even in our CG-heavy age, the miniature special effect is still in (occasional) demand. Recent movies like Inception and The Impossible proved that the use of small-scale models to simulate large-scale cinematic visuals is not only viable, but can even be preferable to all-digital approaches. After all, the best miniature effects provide the sense of weight and realism that computers often can’t."

10 Movies With Mind-Boggling Miniature Effects

Sunday, June 30, 2013

More Miniature Helicopter Effects

This week I added a link to an article outlining how to add a miniature helicopter to your film. That was the third post on miniature helicopters in this blog (the other two are here and here.) One of those old posts was about using a 1:72 helicopter model for an effects shot, and the maker of the example video has made a new attempt using as larger model (1:48) and higher quality camera. The new version references the older video and you can see the difference in quality.

VFX with Scale Models

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Miniatures DIY: Put a Helicopter in Your Film!

 Film Riot is a web series that exists to help low-budget filmmakers add special effects to their films. While most of what they cover is digitally based, they featured an episode that showed how to use a miniature in combination with digital tools to get a very nice result. The principles will be familiar to anyone with an interest in miniatures in film, but the practice of using off-the-shelf models and toys for a miniature is one that even the pros have turned to on occasion (and that we have touched on here.)

Of course, I would encourage filmmakers to resist the urge to put a helicopter in your film just because you can. One of the reasons the early Star Wars films were so successful was because the miniatures were not showcased - they were merely a means to advance the story.

Film Riot: Put a Helicopter in Your Film!

The Martian Experience

Modelmaker David Sisson reminisces about his attempts to create a super-8 sci-fi epic in the early 1980s. Having attempted such things myself during the same period of time, when Star Wars was driving the imagination of young filmmakers, this was an engaging and heart-warming read. Of course, if you give it a look, you'll soon see that David was (and is) a talented model-maker. I am not.

Though the work is dated and may seem amateurish, I am impressed with what he accomplished with the tools available to him. Be sure to follow the links to the film clips!

The Martian Experience

Saturday, May 04, 2013

The Reflective Journal of Lyn Bailey

I spent part of a three-hour train journey happily perusing the blog of Lyn Bailey, who is pursuing a Masters in Design for Film, Television and Events. Part of this is researching the building of miniatures for physical effects in film. And, since this is research, there are links to resources and a bibliography of what has been examined and attempted.

This was a delight for me to find, with a nice mixture of history, method and behind-the-scenes goodness. Bravo!

Lyn Bailey Reflective Journal

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Model Builder: Dimitri Kaliviotis

Model builder Dimitri Kaliviotis shows off some pictures from his portfolio. Some excellent work! I love that he mentions a low-budget solution to some challenges. Speaking of some torches for the walls of a dungeon, he mentions:

"Made in a real hurry with dollar store stuff like toothpicks, broach-pins, golf tees, hair pins....etc.  A small light was added in each one to make some shadows happen.  CG fire was added later in post."

Dollar Store Torch


Special Effects and Miniature Museum in France

I'd love to go to Europe someday - now I have a reason to go to France, specifically! Check out this amazing museum dedicated to miniatures and film special effects. It's wonderful to see the craftsmanship is being preserved, but I hope that the use of miniatures is not confined to a museum in the future.

"Created by miniaturist artist Dan Ohlmann, the Musée Cinéma et Miniature presents two rare and exclusive collections : first, over 100 miniature scenes exquisitely crafted by world-renowned miniaturists and reproducing daily life settings with hyperrealism; second, a film exhibition, one-of-its-kind in Europe, that focuses on special effects techniques. Featuring over 300 original film props and artefacts, this educational display uncovers the magic behind the greatest film studios."

Musée Cinéma et Miniature

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

C Movie Miniature Build

Over at the Replica Prop Forum, there is a thread that documents the building of a starship model for an independent short titled "C." If you're the type that likes pictures documenting the build process of film miniatures, you're in for a treat, as this thread is filled with a good selection of photos. It starts with the basic computer model and continues through the finished miniature. The builder estimates over 3000 man-hours in the production of the miniature. You can watch the short film online before looking at the behind-the-scenes stuff, if you're the type that wants to see the finished effects prior to seeing the how-to stuff. Me? I'll take a good background look anytime!

RPF - C Movie Starship Build

C - The Movie

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

24 Outstanding Effects Shots: Any Miniatures?

Last December, The Single-Minded Movie Blog did a series called "Outstanding Effects Shots," stating that, "every day will bring you a short post about a classic or not so classic shot from the golden era of visual effects." I don't know if this is a list of the blogkeeper's "best ever of all time," or just some he liked, but I appreciated the breakdown.

I also couldn't help but notice that miniatures were involved in 20 of those 24 outstanding shots, with the remainder going to matte shots and 1 forced perspective. Miniatures get the job done!

The Single-Minded Movie Blog: Outstanding Effects Shots

Temple of Doom: Mine Cart Chase

A photo of the miniature mine cart used in the production of the mine cart chase scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led me on a quest for more information on this sequence. It is barely mentioned in the The Complete Making of Indiana Jones or the From Star Wars to Indiana Jones books and the ILM books have little to add either. The behind the scenes portions of the film on DVD has some coverage, but I found an excellent write up with great detail at TheRaider.net (linked below) that provides the most detail on this segment that I have seen, along with lots of detail about the other Indy films as well. They had some great photos (some from the books referenced above) and I located a few others on the web as well, which I have added below.

Unfortunately, I was not able to find clip of this scene on the web to link to, though if you have it on DVD and give it a review, you'll find that this old-school segment holds up very well on screen. It intercuts excellently with the live-action portions and is very realistic, even if you know the trick.

"Making tiny sets and props was no problem for the ILM model makers. Filming them was. Since many of the shots called for the camera to be trucking along with the action, the mineshaft sets needed to be built large enough to allow sufficient clearance all around. The smallest camera in the ILM inventory was 9-inch width and seemed to be a limiting factor on how small the sets could go. So they ended up using an in-house Nikon after Mike MacKenzie slowed down its motor drive about two-thirds and built a special magazine for it that would hold fifty feet of film, which is four hundred frames of VistaVision. ... By making the Nikon work they essentially cut their scale in half, which meant that rather than building a set that was sixty feet long, they had to build one that was only thirty feet long. That saved them an enormous amount of time and money. It was determined that ten-inch mine cars would be employed for most of the chase sequence."

The mine walls were crafted from heavy aluminum foil, which were then painted and weathered to look like rock. The set was further dressed with miniature lanterns, barrels, buckets and debris to show an active mining operation at work.

It's a great read, so check it out, as well as the pictures below, showing the animation models, the miniature set and the creative camera solution.

The display in the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archeology exhibit.

The stop-motion figures. The largest are 10 inches tall.
Close-up of the Thugees in the mine cart.

TheRaider.net Special Effects of Temple of Doom

Single-Minded Movie Blog: Outstanding Effects Shots

Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Effects

Ah, Google, how I love thee! You've been helping me stumble onto interesting things so faithfully!

In this case,  a search for info about the miniature mine carts in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom led me to an article from the November, 1981 issue of American Cinematographer magazine regarding the creation of special effects for Raiders of the Lost Ark.

It's a good read! Although much of what is covered will be familiar to a Raiders fan, I was particularly interested in the photo showing a box of action figures dressed in German army uniforms. I had read that they had used off-the-shelf figures for the scene in which the soldiers are swept into the sky following the opening of the Ark, but I don't recall ever seeing a close up photo of these figures.

The article itself doesn't discuss these figures (though it does mention some 4.5-inch figures used in the same part of the film), but I had always heard that they had used "G.I. Joe" or "Action Man" figures, while the ones in the box are clearly not from those lines. An additional search pulled up an online prop auction for one of these figures that provided some additional information- they're Kenner's 12-inch Star Wars figures! Han Solo dolls reworked into Nazi soldiers:

"During the climactic ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the interior of the Ark is revealed, the spirits are freed morphing into gruesome demons. During the conflagration the Nazi soldiers are swept up in the flames and destroyed. This is one of the special effects puppets used in that scene and is created, interestingly enough, from a large-scale Harrison Ford “Han Solo” Star Wars action figure! The head, hands, and hair have been repainted, a resin officer’s cap has been added, as well as painted cuffs made from tape. Includes a wooden rifle with shoulder strap (tip of rifle broken). Measures 12 in. tall. Exhibits slight wear from production use."

I love the modification of off-the-shelf items for special effects work. This is a delight!

Below are photos from the auction, as well as a clip from the film showing one of these figures in action.

Cinema Raiders: American Cinematographer Article

Raiders Prop Auction

Monday, March 11, 2013

"The Hobbit" - No Miniatures Allowed

Although "The Hobbit" has nearly completed it's theatrical run (I haven't seen it yet, but it just hit the local cheap theater so I'll likely see it this week), I hadn't read much about the production. Apparently, there won't be a "miniatures" section when the Special Editions hit the DVD.

During production, director Peter Jackson said, "This time around, there are no miniatures. It’s all done with CGI.  Everything that we need to build, from a miniature point of view, we build as a CG miniature. I can now swoop in, over rooftops and through doorways. I can do things that I never could have dreamt of doing with the miniatures. For me, that’s actually one of the most profound differences." 

Profound? Indeed. I can appreciate the benefits of CGI. Really, I can. But hearing that Peter Jackson has removed miniatures from his toolbag makes me feel very, very sad.

“The Hobbit” Special Effects To Be All CGI – No Miniatures Allowed

Behind the Scenes: A Small Trip

"Philippe Toupin was the visual effects creator in this short BTS film, “A Small Trip To The Making Of Visual Effects – Miniatures Effects”, that shows of some true talent using miniature props. My opinion? This stuff kicks butt and can stand on its own even by today’s digital standards."

This behind-the-scenes piece shows the production of an independent short with some big demands in the special effects department. See, there's this airplane. But it's not just flying - it's crashing, in a big-budget style. Combining old-school practical miniatures and enhancing them with modern digital effects, the low-budget filmmaker can deliver impressive results.

DSLR Cinema: Miniature Effects

Octopussy: James Bond Miniature Sequence

A great little retrospective on the Director's Guild of America web site from John Glen, director of several James Bond films. In this piece, we get a shot-by-shot breakdown of an effects sequence from Octopussy (1983), complete with several miniature elements, including a great foreground miniature set-up of a jet plane exiting a hanger.

 Though I've never been a big Bond fan, this is a great sequence!

DGA Web Site: Flight of Fancy

Watch the sequence on YouTube

Tokusatsu: Special Effects Museum

I ran across an article that discussed the exhibition ‘TOKUSATSU: Special Effects Museum-Craftsmanship of Showa and Heisei Eras Seen Through Miniatures’ at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

What that means to you and me is: giant monsters attacking Japanese cities.

That's right - the miniature magic of this film genre has been recognized as an art form, with a suitable exhibition. The linked article gives the details, but not much in the way of visuals. Luckily, I was able to find some video footage from the SciFi Japan web site that filled in some gaps.

Frieze Magazine: Tokusatsu