10 tips for filming miniatures to make them look larger than life to the camera

May 3, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

10 tips for filming miniatures to make them look larger than life to the camera

May 3, 2022

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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Miniatures have been a part of filmmaking pretty much since filmmaking began. They’re typically used when building a full-sized set or prop would be impractical or just flat out impossible. Sometimes they’re used to create forced perspective shots to make a miniature look like it’s part of the real world or to be able to blow something up that they couldn’t blow up in real life or to create something that could just never really exist in the real world.

Whatever your reasons for using them, they’re a lot of fun and can be very effective when done right. But how do you do them right? Well, you can start by watching this video from Steve Ramsden where he goes over his top 10 filmmaking tips for filming miniatures to make them look (and act) like they’re a part of the full-sized real world.

Steve’s list covers a lot of information over nine minutes – far more than just the actual ten tips. There’s a lot of insight and little extras in there to help you sell the effect a little better than you otherwise might. He also explains the reasoning behind the tip and why it actually makes a difference to the viewer and makes your shot more believable.

  • 0:52 – Scale (bigger is better)
  • 2:09 – Lens choice and camera position
  • 2:55 – Depth of field (use deep focus)
  • 3:40 – Think about lighting
  • 4:23 – Think about texture
  • 5:01 – Keep movements smooth
  • 5:50 – Use different frame rates
  • 6:33 – Check your shutter speed
  • 7:04 – Fire and water are tricky
  • 7:35 – Combine with full-scale elements

For an example that combines pretty much all of these tips together, you only need to look at one scene and that’s the nuclear holocaust scene from Terminator 2. This scene combines miniatures, fire, explosions, odd lighting and textures, and has all kinds of other practical challenges to overcome. It’s also mixed in with footage of real actors that had to remain safe but look part of the scene.

What’s your favourite movie scene that uses miniatures?

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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