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Miniature Effects

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Ah yes, that lesser known kaiju, Volker Engel.
Miniature Effects are Exactly What It Says on the Tin —film effects achieved by the use of miniatures. They are technically a blend of In Camera and Practical Effects, but a lot of time they're given their own listing in the credits since they often require specialists and staff focusing on just building the miniatures. It's not just a case of making smaller size objects (although that can be quite hard depending on how much the camera is going to have to focus on them). Smaller sized objects will have different textures, they take stress and strain differently, the camera perspective and focusing works differently, objects don't fall at the proper rate, fluids and explosions behave differently and the material the large scale object may be made out of may not be suitable for the small scale so a suitable visual approximation must be found.

Minatures can be used to replace large buildings and manmade objects in backgrounds, often combined with a matte background. They can also be used to simulate the explosion of large (and thus expensive) objects like planes and bridges.

Before CGI, spaceships were just miniatures on a black screen with christmas lights, after CGI... well for sometime they remained miniatures but on a blue screen.

A Sub-Trope of Only a Model. If they're unmodified toys and/or box stock model kits, that's Off-the-Shelf FX. See also Prop.


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    Films — Animation 
  • Spoofed in The LEGO Movie. President Business's black 2x2-brick-shaped (but made of thousands of bricks) ship detatches from the top of his tower - we see it in long shot as a single 2x2 brick floating off a stack of 2x2 bricks accompanied by a child making a buzzing sound. This is Foreshadowing for the big twist coming up to save them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A goodly number of aircraft and sets in Battle of Britain were models. Many of the air-combat scenes involve clever merging of actual aircraft footage, studio mock-ups and model filming—which included a lot of exploding model aircraft sent to fiery destruction.
  • The Lord of the Rings films made much use of miniature for the cities and towers. However, when you're dealing with a 1/100 scale model of a tower that's supposed to be 3,000 feet tall, you still end up with a 30-foot structure - hence the crew's nickname for the models, "bigatures". Almost every major location in the trilogy is represented as a bigature at some point, including Rivendell, the Bridge of Kazad-dum, Lothlorien, Barad-dur, Isengard, the Black Gates, Helm's Deep, Osgiliath, Minas Tirith, Minas Morgul, Cirith Ungol and the Grey Havens.
  • Alfred Hitchcock would use aerial shots in places and making movements that were at the time impossible, such as for going between signs and buildings. He would often use miniatures then to make the shots possible. An example can be seen in the beginning of The Lady Vanishes even with little models cars being pushed along.
  • The spaceships in Star Wars were models, and as a joke the crew would sneak things in. During the final battle in the Return of the Jedi a tennis shoe was in the dogfight and a potato made do as an asteroid in The Empire Strikes Back.
    • Although the prequels are famous for containing lots of CGI, they also used miniatures, especially earlier on. In The Phantom Menace, for example, the pod race stadium was a miniature with q-tips used to create the audience.
    • Revenge of the Sith used miniatures for the Mustafar lava planet.
    • Self-parodied in The Last Jedi, with a close-up of a large mechanical object emitting clouds of steam as it settles down. The audience rolls their eyes at a clothes iron being pressed into prop service as a spaceship... then it turns out it really is a clothes iron being used by an Imperial laundry droid.
  • It's also how they shot the Hot Fuzz scene in which George Merchant's mansion explodes.
    • Parodied in the fight scene in the model village.
  • James Cameron likes breaking big toys so for things like the bridge destruction in True Lies, the tanker explosion in The Terminator and the ship Titanic.
    • Much of the final fight in Aliens between Ripley and the alien queen was done with miniatures. They filmed the live-action stuff first, and many of the crew were concerned that they couldn't possibly do all the rest with miniatures, but Cameron insisted they could (and was right).
  • Ever seen an airplane crashing onto the runway in a film, knocking down telephone poles? Only a million times? Miniatures, all of them.
  • Most Kaiju films, even the infamous American-made Godzilla (1998), which combined a CGI 'Zilla with miniature buildings and vehicles. Pacific Rim mostly uses CGI, but an enormous and intricately detailed miniature office building set was used for this scene.
  • Mocked in Team America: World Police, which doesn't disguise its "Supercrappymation" effects for Rule of Funny. The fact that the Monumental Damage is being inflicted on models is made completely obvious, and a scene where the marionette protagonists are attacked by Kim Jong Il's trained panthers features two housecats with roars dubbed over them.
  • V for Vendetta. You didn't think they blew up the actual Parliament, did you?
  • A good deal of the special effects in Batman Begins. Christopher Nolan was adamant about not using CGI unless absolutely necessary.
  • The iconic "Death Ray" scene of Independence Day was done by blowing up a styrofoam model of a skyscraper and using a platform to throw some Hot Wheels into the air.
  • For the first six Harry Potter movies, Hogwarts was an intricate 1/24th scale model filmed in front of a green screen. In Deathly Hallows, Part 2, they switched to a CGI version of Hogwarts.
  • The 1953 version of The War Of The Worlds might well have pioneered the use of "bigatures" in motion pictures—the Fighting-Machines alone were somewhere in the ballpark of five feet long.
  • The Endurance in Interstellar is actually a miniature model - the scenes involving the ship look very different from CGI as a result, especially during the docking scene. Though "miniature" is a relative term - the Endurance model is actually about as tall as an adult man.
  • Blade Runner and its sequel both used miniatures extensively for their iconic depictions of the near-future Los Angeles cityscape, as well as the spinners and advertising blimps - and like several others above, its "miniatures" are massive - the Tyrell building is is big enough for a person to fit inside, and the LA cityscape model in the sequel fills up an entire room. The original used them out of necessity, but after 30 years of advancement in CGI, the sequel used them primarily to maintain consistency with the first film's aesthetic.
  • The eponymous ship in Serenity is mostly CG effects (there's no way in hell you could buy enough insurance for the "barn swallow" scene), but a large miniature set was used for the scene where it crash-lands on Mr. Universe's moon. There are some practical reasons, like the ability to use real sparks, but mostly it was because they just liked miniatures.
  • The second half of Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie is loaded with destruction scenes involving miniatures of the Golden Gate Bridge, most of Las Vegas, and various military vehicles. James Rolfe is a big fan of Kaiju movies and it shows.
  • The Battle in Outer Space, a forgotten alien invasion flick from the folks responsible for Godzilla, features miniature cities being sucked into the sky by flying saucers with anti-gravity weapons. The effects were accomplished by blasting the buildings upwards with air cannons below the sets and lifting certain objects like bridges with wires.
  • The establishing shot of Tokyo in Kill Bill vol. 1 is a miniature set recycled from Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!, courtesy of that film's special effects director.
  • Lifeforce (1985): A miniature of London was destroyed during the movie's climax. Some sources says the miniatures belonged to a closed amusement park called Tucktonia, others says the visual effect crew placed their on miniatures into the model village's streets.

    Live-Action TV  
  • Danger 5: Used in every external shot so far. Deliberately unconvincing, to keep with the series' theme.
  • Every starship in Star Trek until the last two seasons of Deep Space Nine - Enterprise was the first to not use models at all.
    • Lampshaded on Galaxy Quest. "That ship was (hand gestures) that big."
  • Most of the exterior shots for Red Dwarf have been miniatures, and aged better than the CGI replacements introduced in the late-1990's.
    • Most notably, the model for the Red Dwarf ship itself was 8 feet long, as the ship is supposed to be miles long.
      • The revival beginning with Red Dwarf X uses a blend of models and CGI - the primary ships are miniatures while some one-off ships and more complex effects have been rendered as CGI.
      • Interestingly, the Dwarf miniature used since X is actually a heavily modified version of a miniature built in 1997 for the Red Dwarf Remastered project. It had ended up too big for the studios and was instead used as reference for the CGI "pencil" design, with its X appearance being heavily shortened and adapted to better resemble the "classic" ship.
  • Staple of tokusatsu shows like Super Sentai and by extension Power Rangers. No matter how fancy CGI robot fights get, People in Rubber Suits fighting in a miniature city ain't going nowhere. Even this is subject to Special Effects Evolution; the model cities get increasingly detailed.
  • In Inazuman, miniatures were used to let non-giant characters wreak major havoc on town almost as well as the Rangers' giant fights, relying on them much more than other series did. Computer-generated effects were in their infancy and a model is as realistic as your art department is willing to make it, so its visuals were to die for.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Whenever the TARDIS flies through space in classic Doctor Who, it's a miniature. Special, ahem, props go to the Dalek Emperor in The Evil of the Daleks and "The Parting of the Ways" and to the Time Lord space-station in The Trial of a Time Lord.
    • Played with amusingly in "Planet of Giants". The TARDIS miniature used at that time is not very good, and is obviously, although forgivable, just a tiny model. So it's enjoyable when we're first shown a closeup of the miniature standing among tall stones on an alien world... and the camera zooms out, revealing that it's just over an inch tall and sitting in a crack between crazy paving slabs in a British garden in the 1960s.
    • The Dalek ships in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth" were just spinning bottle caps dangled in front of the camera. The DVD release altered these into CGI ships that were on-model for the Dalek Expanded Universe comics and toys that existed around that time.
    • The Dalek assembly line in "Power of the Daleks" uses Dalek action figures.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Thunderbirds both plays this straight and inverts it, with moving machinery being smaller than the chosen scale used by the puppets, but anything requiring a closeup shot, such as controls being manipulated, are done with live actors.

    Theme Parks  
  • At Universal Studios:
    • The set pieces in Back to the Future: The Ride were done via stop-motion animation through miniature sets. Everything riders see, from the destruction of the Texaco sign to the icy waterfall, is a miniature.
    • The second pre-show of Earthquake: The Big One was dedicated to showing how a huge miniature model was used to create the effect of Los Angeles' destruction in the movie the attraction was based off of.
    • A miniature city model is used in E.T. Adventure to create the illusion of the riders being high in the sky.

    Western Animation