Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Foreground Miniatures



Michael Paul Smith takes photos of his favorite town, called Elgin Park. The pictures look like snapshots from some midcentury utopian town.


Most of his photos involve some cars parked on the street and buildings and trees in the background. There are no people. 
The photos are actually taken in the present day. There's no digital trickery involved. Everything is shot in-camera. The cars and street are miniatures, propped up at tabletop height. 

Mr. Smith doesn't use a fancy camera, just a cheap point-and-shoot. These cameras work well, though, because the small apertures don't give away the trick with shallow depth of field. The great thing about this method is that you get all the lighting, reflections, and occlusion shadows for free, because the models are in the same light as the background. 

Mr. Smith is an excellent modelmaker, and he has made hundreds of cars and dozens of buildings.

This video takes you behind the scenes, where he generously shares his process—and his backstory.

Use of foreground miniatures in "The Aviator"
The use of foreground miniatures is an old visual effects technique from early days of moviemaking. It's still used by low-budget filmmakers and the occasional big budget film. (here's more info on that from Vashi Visuals).


In this shot for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," the ship was only 20 feet long, and the people were standing way back in the shot.

Photos of Elgin Park via Studio 360
Film by Animal Media Group
Vashi Visuals
Book: Elgin Park: An Ideal American Town (8.5"x11" landscape hardcover book

3 comments:

Steve said...

Thanks for featuring Elgin Park, Jim. I saw the short video a few weeks ago. Given everything Michael Paul Smith has been through, I feel his story is testimony to how artistic creation can literally be a lifesaver.

Robert J. Simone said...

I love it!

Susan Krzywicki said...

Awesome and fascinating. "Fool the eye" really does work!