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The Mind Boggling Effects of Miniature Models in Film

You might have never even realized that some of the top grossing films of our time are filmed on sets that are NOTHING like what you would expect. In fact, many take place in miniature scenes in which the mind boggling effects of miniature models in film come to life. We’re talking about the use of small-scale models to simulate very large-scale environments, worlds, and events. 

Some of the most mind-bending, fascinating, unbelievable and yet entirely all too believable scenes and settings from top films like Blade Runner, Titanic, and Independence Day all use miniature models. In film, the use of miniature models is certainly all about trickery, but there’s also a bit of practicality involved too. Filmmakers turn to miniature models in film as a means of creating the impossible and making it appear entirely possible for the camera. All while those of us watching at home probably never even realized that what we’re looking at is a miniature replica of the real life element. 

These are the mind boggling effects of miniature models in film. And to think, we actually thought that filmmakers somehow made the impossible happen just for the camera! Let’s take a look at some top films that have used miniature models successfully to fool audiences worldwide.

Camera Crew

  1. Harry Potter

Of course it makes perfect sense to start out with a look at the Harry Potter series. The franchise filmed a total of 8 motion pictures, used 588 sets and incorporated some of the most amazing miniature models in film – ever. The following miniature models were largely a part of the Harry Potter Series:

  • The Burrow – a 1:3 replica that would take 14 weeks to create and 6 minutes to burn.
  • Hogsmeade Village – a 1:16 scale that ultimately would have a full size village created for future films.
  • Hogwarts – a 1:24 scale, the original version took seven months to create with 40 artists. 
  1. Blade Runner 

Blade Runner, which would bomb in the box office in 1982, would incorporate a number of miniature models including flying cars that were otherwise known as Spinners in the film. Few shots of the flying cars featured the full-size props as the miniatures were the chosen option for the majority of the scenes and shots that incorporated these flying vehicles. Of course, few movie-goers would ever even realize that the flying cars were in fact miniature models in the film.

  1. Independence Day

Featuring a 1:12 scale of the White House, Independence Day incorporated a number of miniature models in the film but the White House really deserves the glory.  Most film fans believed that there was an actual fire set in order to achieve the effects of the White House becoming engulfed in flames but the reality was the streets of New York City and the White House as well as many other elements of the film were in a miniature environment.

  1. Titanic

You probably knew that the “real” Titanic was definitely not the star of the film – or at least you should have realized that there was no possible way that filmmakers were filming aboard the actual ship being as it had sunk about 85 years prior.  However, real ship or make believe miniature model, the creators behind Titanic really did some amazing work. The miniature models featured in this film included a 70 foot long nuclear submarine as well as a 1:8 scale replica of the Titanic’s stern.

  1. The Lord of the Rings

The miniature models created for The Lord of the Rings series were actually called bigatures because they were actually rather large for “miniature” models.  While there was quite a bit of CGI incorporated into The Lord of the Rings series, there was also a ton of artisan work in creating the miniature models depicted throughout the film. Of particular note, the 23-foot high castle of Minas Truth took over 1,000 hours to construct.

  1. Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome

Miniature models in films like Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome frequently come into play as a means of being able to show a real-world location that undergoes some terrible events without actually making something awful happen to the actual environment. You might recall the ruins of Sydney Australia that were apparently decimated by the holocaust from this film? It was entirely a miniature model creation that was produced by artists Dennis Nicholson and crew. Sadly, the models were so big that when filming was over they were destroyed because there wasn’t room to store them.

  1. Ghostbusters

In the Ghostbusters films, miniature models were frequently used. In fact, if you recall Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man who frequently ran through the streets of New York, you might have wondered how filmmakers were able to get such a giant into the city without interruption for filming? It’s because the production took place in a miniature replica of Central Park and other areas of the City. However, there were also instances in which puppeteers actually operated the Giant Marshmallow down actual city streets. 

  1. Inception

And finally, again with the support of some computer graphics, miniature models in films like Inception would play a key role in delivering the desired mountaintop hospital explosions.  A 1:6 scale model of the building would be created for the sole purpose of later blowing it up. The construction would require significant manhours to create the 40-foot replica that would come down in just 5.5 seconds with the help of pyrotechnics. 

As you can see, the use of miniature models in films has been known to have some mind boggling effects that would otherwise be near impossible to create without potentially damaging the environment. In this manner, and in many others, filmmakers have continued to delight audiences with the amazing effects of miniature models in film.