Miniature effect

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In the field of special effects a miniature effect is a special effect generated by the use of scale models. Scale models are often combined with high speed photography to make gravitational and other effects scale properly.

Where a miniature appears in the foreground of a shot, this is often very close to the camera lens — for example when matte painted backgrounds are used. Since the exposure is set to the object being filmed so the actors appear well lit, the miniature must be over-lit in order to balance the exposure and eliminate any depth of field differences that would otherwise be visible. This foreground miniature usage is referred to as forced perspective. Another form of miniature effect uses stop motion animation.

Use of scale models in the creation of visual effects by the entertainment industry dates back to the earliest days of cinema. Models and miniatures are copies of people, animals, buildings, settings and objects. Miniatures or models are used to represent things that do not really exist, or that are too expensive or difficult to film in reality, such as explosions, floods or fires.[1]


Early history (1900–1976)

French director Georges Méliès incorporated special effects in his 1902 film Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon) — including double-exposure, split screens, miniatures and stop-action.[2]

Some of the most influential visual effects films of these early years such as Metropolis, The Ten Commandments[3], Citizen Kane, and 2001: A Space Odyssey utilized miniatures.[4]

In the early 1970s, miniatures were often used to depict disasters in such films as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake and The Towering Inferno.

The golden years (1977–1993)

In the days before widespread use of computer generated imagery was practical, miniatures were a common tool in the visual effects artist's arsenal.

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