Miniatures Builder

  • Miniatures Builder

From the moon of George Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon to the buildings of Gotham City in The Dark Knight, miniatures have had played a historically pivotal role in creating amazing visual effects in film. The creation of these wonders is the responsibility of a miniatures builder, who is a member of the visual effects team that makes models.


Miniatures builders work in the art or visual effects department, making miniature models of props, sets that are either too expensive or large to be used otherwise. The process for miniatures building begins when the miniatures builder receives the instructions from the production designer, art director, or property master long before the shoot is scheduled to take place; instructions can be as simple as rough ideas or as complex as very specific designs. Some design issues that miniatures builders face include figuring out not only how their constructions will look on film but also trying to determine if the miniatures are historically and culturally accurate. Once the designs are finalized, the miniatures builder sets forth in determining what kind of materials or other props will be needed to construct the miniature models. Miniatures builders will then liaise with production buyers to acquire the materials and tools they will need to build their miniatures, relying on strict budgetary and time constraints to make their decisions. The materials that miniatures builders use in the construction of their models can vary greatly, including latex, metal, fiber glass, wood, and fabric; sometimes it is necessary to bring in prefabricated models to suit the requirements.

Miniatures builders commonly create multiple items for the shoot, so that in case of damage to their miniatures they have a readily available back up. This is sometimes necessary because many miniatures are created simply for destruction in a film’s climax. As the goal is to create miniatures that are as realistic as possible, a miniatures builder will employ a variety of different techniques to distress or otherwise fix a model to look like it’s a certain age, condition, or from a certain period. This is often accomplished through paint, soldering, and other techniques. Once the shoot begins, miniatures builders will often assist by operating any special miniatures and instructing member of the crew as to the best approach to filming.

Skills & Education

While miniatures builders are not required to have any specific degrees or qualifications to perfect their craft, they are artists, craftspeople, and technicians in the truest sense. Even still, many have formal training in art, design, model making, as well as experience in prop making and basic set design. Miniatures builders not only need to have technical skills to create miniatures models from design plans but also need strong artistic skills to add the necessary details and create realism. It is common for a miniatures builder to have a background in carpentry, fine art, graphic design, and other fields that require a great deal of artistry and motor skills. Imagination and attention to detail are paramount to a miniatures builder, because they are often creating or recreating things that either have never existed or may be extremely familiar to viewers, as in creating the New York skyline. Miniatures builders need to have deep knowledge of the materials they work with, as well as how best to use them to accomplish their design goals. As they often work with hazardous materials, it is also crucial that miniatures builders know the standard health and safety requirements during construction. As members of the prop department and visual effects teams, miniatures builders must also have good communication skills and be comfortable with taking and giving orders.

What to Expect

Computer-generated images may have come to dominate the world of visual effects in film and made the call for miniatures builders less pronounced, but there is still a strong need for their practical talents in film. You can expect a lot of building, painting, and inhaling toxic fumes (though masks should help alleviate that). Working with soldering irons, power tools, and sharp objects create a greater element of danger than most film work, so being careful and knowing the safety rules are necessary to protect the lives and digits of a miniatures builder. Compositing has made miniatures important again, so while a career in miniatures building may be relegated to an almost freelance status nowadays, there is always work for the miniatures builder that can create good models, understands the demands of miniatures in the digital world, and is always ready to take on any job, no matter how small.


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