While most attendees at FMX are there to learn about computer based animation there were a good number who were equally pleased at the coverage given to more traditional effects solutions. The use of miniatures in film has been seen since film became a medium and although the height’s of miniature usage may appear to have passed, with CG taking the limelight, this is a massive misconception. Many films made today still rely on miniatures, or practical models to sell a shot and some director’s will take that route when given purely for the realism of the lighting interactions and the sincerity gained from actor’s performing against a set that isn’t a swathe of green. While CG has reached a stage where the visual results are photo-real there are definitely times when the focus is less about explosions and monsters/aliens/spaceships and more about emotion and dialogue. It’s these times when a director choosing the right tools to support the story are most important.


One example that visitors to FMX talked about all week came from the Interstellar talk/ Christopher Nolan took the decision to mix full size sets, CG and miniatures to support his story in the best way possible for each shot. When we talk about miniatures iin film though don’t think about wargames scale 28mm type stuff. Miniatures in film can be as big as a house. The shot below shows the Ranger, built as a miniature by New Deal studios for Nolan.



The thing that really underlines this mixed media approach to film-making is the need for everything that is done to support the narrative. We see so many summer blockbusters that can feel more like VFX showboating than anything else that it was refreshing to see so many CG artists as a show like FMX talking about the benefits of physical props and effects. Almost everybody I spoke to agreed that VFX are here to stay and that using computer generated assets have huge benefits, from budgeting through to versatility, but using miniatures were most appropriate is something they would like to learn more about.

Then there is also the place in the pipeline that is home to miniature work. Sometimes, for sets and some full scale prop work, the minis (or bigatures as Peter Jackson likes to cal them) will be there in shot during principle shooting, others will be shot later. Either way there will now always be computers in the process somewhere. Computers are often used for controlling miniature’s motion, switching of lighting, or combined with practical effects for explosions and always for compositing, editing and grading. That’s just the start; there are the needs of data wranglers, production designers, gaffers and almost everybody involved in the production. It doesn’t matter what part you play, even if most of your time is spent with a tool belt on or your work in craft services, there will be a computer in our workflow somewhere.

Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that CG artists are somehow less talented because their tools are digital. Many of the best digital scultpors are equally skilled with traditional media and the understanding of light, form and silhouette is just as valid no matter what you use.

This means that wherever you see miniatures in film you are looking at the collaborative results of completely different skill sets, working together to tell a story in the best, most visually appropriate way possible.

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