This is the use of models to represent the areas used to make plans, given that such things are easier when people have the context of an area to see what to do.
Of course, the Unspoken Plan Guarantee means the plan rarely works as expected. But it still lets the audience not only know the plan, but also have an idea of what's happening when things go wrong.
A miniature is one of the most common forms of model for this, but CGI models are getting more common. Sometimes the model can even be 1:1 scale, usually if precision in the plan is a must. Holograms are also popular in more futuristic settings.
In Real Life, relief maps were not widely used in the 17th and 18th centuries, so models were common—especially when it came to military engineering, where a model was a must-have if you were building or besieging a fortress.
A Sub-Trope of Only a Model. Compare Exposition Diagram. Compare This Is What the Building Will Look Like, which deals specifically with construction projects and is often (but not always) associated with bad guys.
- In GI Joe, Destro has been known to use little models to plan out his strategies—he does it in the famous "Silent Interlude" issue.
- Dungeon Keeper Ami: Ami's attack on Dreadfog Isle is mapped with a glass model, used to plot out paths to where the troops need to go.
- Disney's Mulan has one, when the general describes the planned advance to his son.
- A Running Gag in the Back to the Future trilogy: Doc Brown builds elaborate models of city blocks or canyons to demonstrate his plans to Marty, then apologizes for "the crudity of the model". It also catches on fire, repeatedly.
- The Death Star attack plans in the Star Wars films A New Hope and Return of the Jedi are with CGI models.
- In Entrapment, the protagonists plan a heist using yarn to practice navigating a Laser Hallway.
- The plan in The Dirty Dozen is largely with a model (and a Donald Duck figure).
- The Ocean's Eleven remake has the thieves building an exact, full-size replica of the vault they're planning to rob for practice.
- In The Italian Job (2003) the thieves build a replica practice course in a warehouse to practice driving their escape route, and also have a CGI animation on their computer of the car as if it were traversing the actual route in real time for no apparent reason.
- In Top Secret!, what begins as Planning with Props segues into this. The protagonists sketch their plan to infiltrate an East German fortress by drawing a crude map in the dirt. As the description progresses, the props get increasingly elaborate until they end up with a highly-detailed scale model of the installation complete with working train set.
- The French commandos in The Longest Day use a detailed model of the town they are to assault on D-Day for their Mission Briefing.
- In Raid On Entebbe, Israeli commandos use a mockup of the Entebbe terminal to practice their assault plan.
- Goldfinger had a very impressive scale model of Fort Knox and its surroundings.
- Superman Returns has a train set used this way. Lex Luthor throws part of a Kryptonian crystal in the model lake to show its effect. Made extra creepy when the camera zooms on little plastic people and you hear screams.
- Star Trek Beyond. Kirk and his officers plan their attack on Krall's base and the rescue of their crew using parts from the spaceship they're trying to repair.
- The Reveal in The Kennel Murder Case involves this, as Philo Vance uses a model of the Coe residence and the apartment building next door to demonstrate how the murder went down.
- During the courtroom scenes in JFK Jim Garrison uses a meticulously detailed model of Dealey Plaza to demonstrate his theory of how the Kennedy assassination happened. In a nice bit of self-reference the model had originally been constructed to help Oliver Stone plan out the camera angles when shooting the assassination sequence in the actual Dealey Plaza.
- Jack Ryan:
- In Without Remorse, the model used for going over John Kelly's part of the Great Escape from the Song Tay Prisoner of War camp is mentioned in passing, with a note of the marker used to represent Kelly being a rubber band cut open, with two dots on one end for eyes, after Kelly's callsign of "Snake".
- A model found in an Afghanistan cave during a US Army raid becomes a plot point in Dead or Alive.
- Models are used to plan attacks in Battlestar Galactica. At one point, the camera view of the models inverts just before a scene cut to show that a group of fighters depicted is concealing themselves by attaching their landing gear to the bottom of a freighter.
- Inverted in The Gil Mayo Mysteries, where the team debates possible solutions to the weeks murder(s) by playing with models. The same eclectic set of models is used each week, so they bear no real resemblance who they are meant to represent. Except for that one time when the Reverend Beaver was represented by, of course, a beaver.
- "The Architect Sketch" on Monty Python's Flying Circus has an architect who represents his plans for an apartment building with a model that gradually collapses as he gives his presentation, and then spontaneously catches fire. He gets the contract anyway, because he's a Freemason. Or possibly because his competitor's plan involved corridors of rotating knives.
- Mentioned a couple of times in the first two episodes of Band of Brothers. In the first episode, the soldiers are instructed to study various pieces of intelligence, including sand table models of their objectives. In the second episode, when one trooper asks another how he is so sure of their location, the trooper replies, "Cuz I studied the sand tables, genius!"
- The POWs in Colditz use models of the castle made from Red Cross Parcel boxes to demonstrate their escape plans, including how to launch a glider from the roof.
- BBC News, and later Channel Four News, were ridiculed and parodied for this when using sandbox models and toy tanks to explain British involvement in assorted wars and peace-keeping operations (First Gulf, Yugoslavia, Second Gulf). These were pushed around by an enthusiastic Armchair General called Peter Snow.
- The Avengers (1960s). In "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Station" the villain handcuffs Steed to a pipe so he can explain his Evil Plan with the help of a model train set.
- The Goodies. A BBC news broadcast simulates what will happen when the Goodies' moon rocket returns to Earth. James Burke demonstrates what will happen next by dropping a model Apollo landing module on a map of Britain so it smashes to pieces.
- The Flash (2014) has Cisco creating a model of Iris upcoming death out of LEGO bricks to make a point. Barry is more concerned over the choice of minifigure to represent him.
Barry: Why am I an astronaut?
- In the Hogan's Heroes episode "The Gasoline War" Hogan's plan to blow up a convoy involves one of theses. He explains to his men how, as each convoy truck approaches the fuel pump at Stalag 13, they will quickly run over from across the road and attach dynamite charges to the undercarriage. When they point out the searchlight in the nearby guard tower will reveal them, Hogan uses the model to show that the light's beam is blocked by the truck leaving them in darkness.
- Similar to the Mayo example above, Jonathan Creek tries this in an early episode, but discards his results as it was all made up to fit the little information to hand, and nothing he came up with appeared in the eventually-revealed plot.
- Also tried in Agatha Christies' Chimneys, by two characters, with similarly disappointing results.
- One of these is used to plan a casino heist in Saints Row 2. Then your gang decides to ignore the carefully-crafted plan and just "shoot the motherfuckers that are between [them] and the money", a Take That! to Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where a long series of quests are taken to plan and prepare a casino heist.
- In Final Fantasy VIII the La Résistance group Forest Owls used train models to explain the hijacking the railcar of an enemy president.
- Antonio in Assassin's Creed II has a model of the Venice rooftops in his office in the Thieve's Guild.
- One of the pre-rendered cutscenes in Stuntman has the protagonist demonstrating how toy cars and miniatures are used by the stunt team to meticulously plan everything out. Of course, the player doesn't learn more than one or two key stunts before having to memorize the sequence on the job....
- Inverted/Accelerated in Warcraft III in the final cinematic of the Undead campaign, when a newly-summoned Archimonde the Destroyer raises a model of Dalaran from sand. Then he swipes at the sand building... and the building it corresponds to crumbles.
- An episode of Batman: The Animated Series opens with the apparent explosion of a Gotham neighborhood, only for it to be revealed as a model, with the Big Bad of the episode detailing his plans to make it really happen.
- The Simpsons:
Mr. Burns: Take that, Bowlerama! (stomp) Take that, Convenience Mart! (stomp) Take that, Nuclear Power Plan-- (stomp) Oh, fiddlesticks.
- In the episode "Who Shot Mr. Burns? Part 1", Burns uses a model Springfield to show Smithers his plan to block out the Sun in order to make everyone more reliant on the power plant. After Smithers quits due to Burns' descent into "cartoonish super-villainy", Monty begins stomping on the model for fun:
- In season six's "Bart's Comet," they used a model to show the different ways they can blow up the comet — all ending with Moe's tavern being destroyed in flames.
- In The Venture Bros. Christmas special, the Monarch displays a scale model of the Venture compound as he gleefully outlines his plan to destroy Dr. Venture on Christmas Eve. Dr. Girlfriend is visibly ticked off.
Dr. Girlfriend: That model was supposed to be a surprise!
Monarch: [sheepishly] ...I peeked?
- Phineas and Ferb
- Dr. Doofenshmirtz does this sometimes. One episode shows a flashback to him working all weekend to make the model and hoping that Perry the Platypus appreciates it. He doesn't.
- In "Night of the Living Pharmacists," Phineas explains the plan to end the zombie apocalypse using a scale model. With the zombies breaking in as he speaks, Candace asks whether it was really worth the time to make the model. He says it was.