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10 Tips for Filming Miniatures So They Look Life-Size

Make small-scale models look realistic on the big screen
Photo of a miniature plane

Working with miniatures can be a great inexpensive way to up the production value on your film projects but doing it well does come with a bit of a learning curve. In a recently released video from Steve Ramsden of DIY Movie Making that we have embedded below, Ramsden breaks down some of his favorite tips and tricks for making small-scale objects look life-sized.

#1 Consider the Scale of Your Miniature

Bigger is better. That’s because you can capture more details in a larger miniature to make it look more realistic on the big screen. Peter Jackson has used large-scale miniatures in many of his films. However, the larger the model that you are using typically means more money and a longer build time

#2 Lens Choice and Camera Position

A wider lens will make a model look much larger than using a tight lens. You will also want a lens that allows you to get very close to the miniature without losing focus. A low camera angle will also help make your models look more life sized.

#3 Depth of Field

Shooting with a deep depth of field so that as much of the model is in focus as possible will make a small model look like it’s life-size. This is maybe the one time where you don’t want a shot with a beautiful out-of-focus bokeh background.

#4 Consider Lighting

Since you are shooting with your lens closed down to capture a deep depth of field, it’s extremely helpful to have some continuous lights to your set so you don’t have to boost your ISO to the top limits of your camera. You can also use the lights to conceal elements that might make things look unrealistic. A single main-light source used inside can be a great way to represent the sun when filming miniatures.

#5 Think about Texture

Try to hide any of the details on your model that might give it away that it’s a handmade miniature like brush strokes from painting. Adding a bit of dirt or chipping away some of the paint can make a miniature look more realistic as well. The props department did this on the ships that were used in Star Wars to make it seem like the space crafts had been traveling through the universe for a long time.

#6 Movement

In most cases, it’s best to keep your camera in one place, but when filming miniatures having some steady moving shots can make things appear more realistic. A slider or a gimbal can be extremely helpful for keeping those moving shots looking steady.

#7 Use Different Frame Rates

A higher frame rate like 120 frames per second is a good way to trick viewers into making your miniatures look full-sized on screen. Doing so is an easy way to turn a clip into slow motion in the edit by playing the clip back at a normal frame rate. It’s great for capturing explosions and other moments of high drama that involve miniatures.

#8 Shutter Speed

The shutter speed on your camera controls how much blur will appear while shooting. For the most natural looking amount of blur, your shutter speed should be double your frame rate. So, if you are shooting at 24 fps, you will want to keep your shutter speed at approximately 1/50 of a second. At 120 fps you should crank your shutter speed up to approximately 1/250 of a second.

#9 Fire and Water Are Tricky to Film

Natural elements like fire and water can be hard to work with and have the tendency to make things look fake. If you are working solo, it’s probably best to avoid them—introducing them into a scene can also result in your miniature getting destroyed.

#10 Combine Miniature Objects with Full Scale Objects in Post

Once you get your footage into the edit room you will have more creative control in how the miniatures interact with full-scale objects. Filming your full-scale scenes against a greenscreen will give you the ability to combine things together in post. Meaning you can have real actors interacting with the miniatures and make it appear as if it’s all happening in the same space. You can also shoot miniatures against greenscreen and swap out the backgrounds—a great trick for filming miniature vehicles of any kind.

Check out Ramsden’s video below to see his full tips with examples and demonstrations.


(Via DIY Photography)

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