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Filming Miniatures


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#1 John Young

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 07:40 AM

Is there a definitive source for shooting miniatures?
As a side note, why do they call them miniatures, they are HUGE!

Anyhow, I am in lust with Douglas Trumbull's' work. My favorite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner and Star Trek are both epically beautiful. I have been looking for a very technical source for this, but all I can come up with is the usual: We shot it at 1/2 a frame per second and it was 1000 feet long.

I am planning a sci-fi epic. One that will take a long time. It is my personal project. I feel the more I learn how to do myself, the better I will be able to explain what I want when I hire a professional to do it.

I want to shoot models, because I hate CG, and I think they look more real.

Any thoughts?
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#2 Ryan Thomas

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 12:30 PM

There is a good section on miniatures in the ASC handbook. Might try looking into that...
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#3 Ruairi Robinson

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 05:36 PM

Is there a definitive source for shooting miniatures?
As a side note, why do they call them miniatures, they are HUGE!

Anyhow, I am in lust with Douglas Trumbull's' work. My favorite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner and Star Trek are both epically beautiful. I have been looking for a very technical source for this, but all I can come up with is the usual: We shot it at 1/2 a frame per second and it was 1000 feet long.

I am planning a sci-fi epic. One that will take a long time. It is my personal project. I feel the more I learn how to do myself, the better I will be able to explain what I want when I hire a professional to do it.

I want to shoot models, because I hate CG, and I think they look more real.

Any thoughts?



I think that the only people that hate CGI are ones that don't know how to use it well.

But I guess that's a lot of people.

CGI looks totally real if you know how to use it.

CGI looks totally fake if you don't know the technology well, or don't know how to express what you want well.

So blame the tools if you like, its an easy bandwagon to jump on. Everyone is doing it. It's the latest trend!

R.
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#4 John Young

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 06:41 PM

I think that the only people that hate CGI are ones that don't know how to use it well.

But I guess that's a lot of people.

CGI looks totally real if you know how to use it.

CGI looks totally fake if you don't know the technology well, or don't know how to express what you want well.

So blame the tools if you like, its an easy bandwagon to jump on. Everyone is doing it. It's the latest trend!

R.



So your post struck a bad chord with me, so I apologize in advance for my rebuttal:

I have seen some really fancy CG work. One of my favorites is in an episode of Star Trek: Phase II.
Stargate Universe looks good, like the areobreaking. BUT, visually, I rather like the rotoscoped version in 2010: The year we make contact.

I am glad the latest trend is to NOT use CG. That will force people to either cut scenes, or use physical models; either I am ok with.
I don't blame the tools. That would be like me blaming Premiere for not giving me a good edit. I have total faith that if someone would spend WAY more time making it look great instead of just "good enough", CG would be better.

I think some of the problem also extends to the American view that mediocrity is acceptable. Call me a perfectionist, thats fine. I would rather pay someone to build a real physical model, lit by actual real lights, than have someone experiment in the computer. Ever since The Last Starfighter, CG has been about "Hey, look what we can do NOW", instead of, "Look at this, 50 year old technique that we made look better using just a little bit of computer."

Ok, soap box off...

Would it help if I said I don't PREFER CG.
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#5 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 07 November 2009 - 09:52 PM

Your best education is going to come from reading the Cinefex articles from that period. For a more general intro into shooting miniatures, Raymond Fielding's "Special Effects Cinematography" is a good place to start.

http://www.amazon.co...E...8451&sr=1-1

The most basic rule is that you can't stop down enough, you need as much depth of field as possible. That gets hard if the object is moving and interacting with dust, water, flames, explosions, etc. because you also have to overcrank those things to get the scale of the motion right. But for things like spaceships, you can get away with undercranking them in order to length the per-frame exposure times and thus be able to shoot at f/22, f/45, whatever (much easier at 1 fps than it is at 100 fps...) But it does mean that any camera or model movement has to be incredibly slow at those low frame rates.

One problem I've had with using miniatures for movie efx is that no one wants to pay for a decent modelmaker and his time and material costs, nor make the time in prep for building miniatures, yet they are more than willing to spend a lot more money later in post creating CGI models. I used to build models myself and I've come close to just doing the work myself but have never had the time to devote to it, not on top of my duties as cinematographer.

I had a great idea for a miniature shot in "Northfork" -- one image in the script never filmed was a convey of houses on top of flatbeds being towed down a highway, before the town gets flooded. I wanted to shoot a miniature truck with a miniature house on top of a flatbed, in silhouette against a sunset, crossing the frame horizontally. I would have needed also a miniature hilltop on a platform that I could raise up and shoot against a real sunset. The miniature being in silhouette would have meant that it didn't have to be as detailed, and crossing the frame flat-on to camera in a profile angle meant that depth of field issues would be minimal.

I just couldn't get all of that organized during prep on the movie. And when you start getting quotes like $10,000 for construction and labor from a professional modelmaker, the whole idea usually gets dropped, even though $10,000 is not that much for an efx shot.
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#6 Tom Lowe

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 10:56 AM

One problem I've had with using miniatures for movie efx is that no one wants to pay for a decent modelmaker and his time and material costs, nor make the time in prep for building miniatures, yet they are more than willing to spend a lot more money later in post creating CGI models.


Makes no sense at all, obviously.
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#7 John Holland

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 12:11 PM

Isnt because most so called "Producers" are only about 12 years old !! and spend to much time playing on computer games and just think it all can be done CGI ???
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#8 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 05:07 PM

It's because producers are loathe to spend a lot of money early on in production for efx work as opposed to later in post after production has wrapped. Often there is this idea that if you wait until post, you can then beg the studio or investors for additional funds to add cool effects to the movie.

Building models means making a heavy financial commitment early on. Plus it forces you to decide early on what the nature of the effects shot will be and what the final designs will be, and nobody in Hollywood ever wants to make a decision until the latest possible moment.

Lately by new pet peeve is screen burn-ins. Now and then it's great to have the option of not dealing with playback on set, syncing to monitors, etc. but now the latest trend is to just always plan on doing post burn-ins for monitor shots and no one wants to take the time to create the material for playback on the set. But at least with a real image on the monitor, you can more easily play with focus racks, camera moves, reflections, plus feel free to add diffusion or have someone's blond hair dangle out-of-focus in front of their computer screen, etc.
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#9 K Borowski

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 06:26 PM

Lately by new pet peeve is screen burn-ins. Now and then it's great to have the option of not dealing with playback on set, syncing to monitors, etc. but now the latest trend is to just always plan on doing post burn-ins for monitor shots and no one wants to take the time to create the material for playback on the set. But at least with a real image on the monitor, you can more easily play with focus racks, camera moves, reflections, plus feel free to add diffusion or have someone's blond hair dangle out-of-focus in front of their computer screen, etc.


Not to mention it gives the actors an easier time acting out a scene if they don't have to react to a fictitious image.

I remember being surprised reading an article on the '05 Australian movie "The Proposition" how they had opted to use backlit transparancies instead of all green-screens to get more genuine expression from the cast.
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#10 Vincent Sweeney

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 01:38 AM

Anyhow, I am in lust with Douglas Trumbull's' work. My favorite film is 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Blade Runner and Star Trek are both epically beautiful.


John, if you haven't, you should check out his first directing gig: "Silent Running" Lower budget model work but a great story, which is what matters more, and one of the best sci-fi endings next to Solaris (the original Russian version).

I actually have the old cinefex that covers 2001. I won't sell it but I may be able to scan it if you need anything specifically.
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