Thursday, May 16, 2019

Looking Back at Shooting Sci-Fi Miniatures

I stumbled on this retrospective from Alex Funke on his 30 years doing miniature photography for Hollywood films.

"Let’s consider the central issue in using miniatures. It is that the miniature scene must never draw attention to itself. It has to be absolutely of a piece with the photography of the real. And to do this, it must resonate with the audiences’ perception of what ‘the real’ looks like.

"The worst remark that a miniature builder or cameraman can hear is:  '… wow, that was a nice miniature shot …' Oh, the horror! That is failure! That means that the viewer was pulled out of the story by the miniature effect, instead of being drawn into it.

"Utterly damning! Because as soon as the shot is perceived for what it is rather than what it represents, then the audience has been jerked right out of the story and is lost forever.

"What we must do: even though the scene has nothing to compare it to, nothing the viewer has ever seen before, he has to believe that it is consistent with his perception of the world he knows. In fact, our watchword is 'do your work, and then erase your tracks.'"

Read the Whole Article

Friday, May 10, 2019

Miniatures from TV Movie "Landslide"

I ran across this clip from a low-budget made-for-TV movie called "Landslide." IMDB has several entries using that name, so I'm not sure which it came from.

The person who posted the clip seems to have some knowledge of the behind the scenes, he answered a comment asking about the scale used by stating:

"They were larger scale 5th near camera then diminishing as you went further away. The sets were seriously forced perspective, about 20-25 ft deep... If you lifted the camera six inches you see the ludicrous fall away in scale.. The water as always, you can't really scale."

It's true about the water, and that's where the clip suffers. The overall miniature work is fairly well done, but when the levee breaks and the water comes pouring through, the fact that it's a miniature is revealed.

Watch the Clip Here

Building "The Guild" Hall

Special Effects Artist Greg Aronowitz has been involved in a wide variety of interesting productions, but here's a nice little environment that was created for the Web series "The Guild."

In an entry on his blog, Greg describes why they went with a miniature over CG, the design process, as well as how the set was built and shot.

Greg describes: "Once everyone was happy with the size and scale of the white model, I bumped it up to a more suitable scale for filming. Movie miniatures are usually not small! Actually, up until ILM did Star Wars, they were often huge. This is so there is no lack of detail when the film is projected 20 feet high. The bigger the model, the more real it will look. I chose to make the Guild Hall 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 3 feet tall. Way smaller than it would be in real life, but compact enough that it would fit in my truck if we needed to take it off lot for filming! The final scale actually ended up being ¾ inch equals 1 foot."

"Nick and Bryan spent hours gluing all of the plates around the two-tiered lower wall. They needed to line up perfectly, because remember, what might seem like a ¼ inch difference to the naked eye will look like 3 inches on camera!"

"When watching a film, you often forget how wonderful movie magic can be. This is the miniature of the Guild Hall from outside the camera. A wooden box and a few lights…But this is the Guild Hall from the camera’s point of view! I love my job!"

A lot more photos on Greg's blog post.

Visit the Making of the Guild Hall 

Thursday, May 09, 2019

1945A - Giant Nazi Mech Short Film

While this short film has been around for awhile, it's a great demonstration of how miniatures can be used to add production value to a low-budget project.

Creator Ryan Nagata describes some of the behind-the-scenes:

"1945A is a presentation I made with George Edelman about an alternate timeline where the Nazis unveil all sorts of futuristic sci-fi technology at the end of WWII, turning the tides in their favor. It's essentially what 5 minutes of the feature film could look like. It was made for a budget of less than $2000. Most of the costumes were made by me for a previous project. We only had five helmets to share between actors, so I had to repaint the different markings between shoot days. Weapons like the Browning .30 caliber machine gun were made from plastic sheeting. I rigged a motor/gear system inside which moved the charging handle/bolt back and forth when the trigger was pulled. All of the tanks and vehicles are done with radio-controlled 1:6 scale models, shot at 48 frames per second. I wanted the project to have a very tangible, non-CGI feel to it. The Nazi "Spider" tank was a custom made puppet."

1:6 scale is, of course, the scale of G.I. Joe and Action Man figures and there are a variety of off-the-shelf items at this scale that could be repurposed for filmmaking, much like the Han Solo figures that were used as stand-ins for Nazi soldiers in the opening of the Ark scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

View the Film on YouTube

Visit Ryan Nagata's Site

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Peter from the jaw-dropping Matte Shot blog dropped by and left the following note:

"I run an extensive blog called Matte Shot on traditional special effects. I thought you and your readers might enjoy my latest article - a somewhat mammoth post on: 'The Magicians of the Miniature' which is pretty self explanatory. Hundreds of photos and detailed info."

Mammoth? That's an understatement! An amazing post with some incredible photos from the Golden Age of miniature work. And as a bonus, a shot of my favorite airplane, the Ford Tri-Motor in a miniature shot from the 1932 John Ford film, Air Mail.

Check it out!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Behind the Scenes: Stealth Scud Missle Launchers

 A nice little page with some pics of Scud missile launchers used in the film Stealth. In the sequence, the fighter pilots attack a mountain hideaway where the missile launchers are staged.

Not much info, but as a bonus, the page includes a video of the final footage from the film, as well as raw footage of the explosive results.

Human Dynamo Workshop

Behind the Scenes: Star Wars Prequel Trilogy

While I am not a fan of the Star Wars prequels, there was some darn fine miniature work done on the three films. A thread over at the Jedi Council Forums, while old, has many behind-the-scenes photos that I have not seen before, so I decided to toss it up here. Give it a look - there are also many shots of the sets as well.

The photos in the middle below are of the crowd that watches the pod race on Tattooine. The seated figures are made from colored Q-Tip cotton swabs that would move when agitated with fans, giving a little movement to the scene. There's another link to a site that gives some more info on that  bit. The standing figures are apparently from Star Wars "Micro Machines" toys. I love creative solutions like these!

Jedi Council Forums

Q-Tip Spectators

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Behind the Scenes: The Rocketeer

I'm a sucker for films set in the 1930s-era, and The Rocketeer  is an old favorite. Disney totally blew it by not giving this franchise a chance to succeed and piled on the error by releasing both the DVD and Blu-Ray editions with no special features that show how the filmmakers brought the story to life.

I went looking for anything that might give some insight into this great film and uncovered a few tidbits.

The first is the page of Michael John Cummins, who did effects work on the Nazi zeppelin used in the film. He provided a few behind-the-scenes shots of the model.

Next up is a segment showing the stop-motion work done on the film from YouTube. It appears to be from a TV show (hosted by Christopher Reeve) and it is from the scene in the film featuring a Ford Tri-Motor airplane - one of my favorite planes.

Finally, a 'making of..." show made to promote the film, titled Rocketeer: Excitement is in the Air. While only part of this show is focused on the effects, there are some interesting bits.

Rocketeer Nazi Zeppelin

Rocketeer Stop Motion Props - Behind the Scenes

Rocketeer: Excitement In The Air

Skyborn Model Build

The details of the model build of the independent short Skyborn by Cat Harris.  Some very nice work is included in the trailer embedded on the page.

Skyborn Model Build

Low Budget Filmmaking Miniatures and Forced Perspective

Taking a cue from Steven Spielberg's Close Encounters of the Third Kind, this low-budget director turned a $23 Wal-Mart toy into an excellent foreground miniature that sells the shot.

Reading the details shows how he linked the sound effects used in the scene as an additional means to help make the shot more realistic to the viewer.

In the photos below, you first see how Spielberg used a foreground miniature, then the setup used by Vashi Nedomansky for his movie. Click through to his blog for more details and a link to video of the final shot and behind-the-scenes action.

Vashi Nedomansky

Low Budget Filmmaking Miniatures - Vashi Nedomansky

Blues Brothers Miniature Explosion

 I ran across an interesting tidbit on the excellent "Matte Shot" blog explaining a Chicago miniature explosion using a foam-core mounted blow-up of a matte painting in the foreground and a miniature street scene in the back. This was for the film, "The Blues Brothers."

A behind-the-scenes shot is also there showing the scale for this effect. I've linked the finished scene below as well (and, yes, that is the lovely Carrie Fisher setting off the explosion).

Matte Shot Blog

Finished Scene on YouTube

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