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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