The Miniature Effect_ Using Miniature Models in Film to Create the Impossible

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The Miniature Effect: Using Miniature Models in Film to Create the Impossible

Have you ever watched a film and wondered how the filmmaker managed to produce such an amazing scene? While filmmakers have long been masters of creating illusion and imaginary images on screen. There are just some scenes that make you wonder – how? Just how could that be possible? It’s the miniature effect. Otherwise more commonly understood as the use of miniature models in film to create scenes and scenery of scale.

miniature-pexels

The use of miniature models in film today is more about exaggerating scale to create optical illusions than ever before. In fact, whatever you see on screen is almost certainly NOT being delivered precisely as it is on set.

But how is it that cinematographers use miniature models in film to fool the audience into thinking that what they’re seeing is real?

What are Miniature Models in Film?

Miniatures, or miniature models in film, are not always as “small” as you might believe or originally think that they are.

In fact, many times the miniatures in use in filmmaking are scaled down models of a specific area, item, or a mix of the two. And while they may be small comparative to the original, they are not always “tiny” or “miniature” as in very small.

Special FX

Miniature models are a special effects tool that creates a variety of different environments or elements for a film. They’ve been used to create scaled down versions of everything from the solar system and the moon in Star Trek in the 1950s and 1960s.

To flying cars like the DeLorean in Back to the Future Part II from 1989. Some of the most notable films of our time have incorporated the special effects use of miniature models.

Including Titanic, Blade Runner, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the Harry Potter series, and many others.

The History of Miniature Models in Film

The use of miniature models in film have long been a means of providing filmmakers with an opportunity to make the impossible something that was now possible. The use of these miniature models to recreate entire film sets.

And to produce otherwise impossible shots of everything from flying cars and erupting volcanoes. To sinking ships and collapsing buildings. This has been popular for more than 100 years.

Georges Melles

In fact, the first filmmaker to attempt the use of miniatures in filmmaking to capture an otherwise impossible shot is French Filmmaker Georges Melles from 1902.

Melles is said to have used miniatures in his iconic film Le Voyage dans la Lune which can be translated to mean A Trip to the Moon and was released in 1902. Melles produced the film which narrated a story that would follow astronomers that traveled to the moon.

Also, the use of miniature model in the film’s production would include a miniature moon, scenes of the moon with the space ship, and costumes that were made from cardboard and canvas. 

King Kong

King Kong would be the next major film that would incorporate the use of miniatures to achieve production of an otherwise impossible appearance for the audience.

In this 1933 film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, miniature models were used to create a miniature set and miniature characters. Including four models of King Kong which would use a variety of materials including rubber, latex, Football bladders and paint. 

Moreover, miniature models in film would continue to have prominent use throughout the production process as a powerful special effects tool.

Moving into the later parts of the 20th century we saw several more films that would incorporate miniature models into the production process.

Including:

  • Blade Runner 1982
  • Terminator 1984
  • Lord of the Rings 2001
  • Inception 2010
  • Harry Potter 2001-2011
  • Superman Returns 2006

How Miniature Models in Film Make the Impossible Possible

Wondering how miniature models in film have been used to create otherwise impossible shots? The use of scaled down versions of many different scenes and environments have long been used in filmmaking to provide producers with a playing field.

Upon which they can make imaginary outcomes become visible on the screen. They use many different steps, tricks and techniques in the process of producing miniature models for filmmaking. In fact, the sky (and the budget) are really the only limits!

Even with the inception of CGI we still see many instances of miniature models in use over computer graphics to achieve certain shots and scenes. 

Miniatures have provided a more solid use mechanism in many cases as compared to CGI. And continue to offer an opportunity for cinematographers to create amazingly scaled versions of the desired scenes.

Check out these examples of past miniature models in films that you might recognize:

  • Independence Day – a 1/12 scale miniature Whitehouse was created to produce the destruction of the Whitehouse on camera.
  • Titanic – a 1/20th scale miniature Titanic was used for most of the shots that captured the ship at sail. The miniature was the most detailed, and most accurate, replica of the ship at that time and was 44.5 feet long.
  • The Lord of the RingsThe Two Towers – The J.R.R. Tolkien universe was the result of a variety of miniature models including detailed weapons and armor. As well as various designs that replicated location views.
  • Harry Potter – Hogwarts castle was a miniature model as was Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. These miniatures were used throughout the series.
  • Ghost Busters – The Marshmallow Man was a guy in a puffy costume amongst a miniature model of the scene.

In Summation

  • So many other instances of miniature models in film could be brought up. Furthermore, the use of miniature models has long been a profound means of establishing amazingly intricate details for a production.

    In regards to the creation of imaginative worlds, unique locations, and insane special effects that simply could not be pulled off if it were not for the use of scaled down versions of the various on-screen elements.

    Filmmakers use miniature models in films to spike your imagination and create the impossible. It’s all in a day’s work!