Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Cinematography for Miniatures

14th July 2012

Hello, My name is Harley.

I am a Director of Photography on a short film in pre-production right now and we are shooting in March. We would like to use a miniature as a plate for one shot of the film and I have no experience in miniatures. I am shooting on 35mm film, Kodak's 5213 stock and I looking for some tips to assist me.

The film is based very far into the future so we have to create a world. The shot is of 5 military men walking in the woods and they stumble upon a decrepit, ancient, overgrown building. For budget reasons we think it best to do a miniature. So, what we want to do, is film a built miniature on a green screen, and shoot and plate for that in the woods. Then we would shoot the actors in woods with the camera in the exact same position and a large green screen where we want the miniature footage to go. I am simply looking for some helpful tips, in keeping lighting continuity between shots and making sure the perspective matches. I also need to keep green off the
e subject, which means more distance from it. I could cheat it by pulling camera back and going telephoto with the shot, so they will appear closer to it.

I just need some pointers.


Harley Fischbach

Harley Fischbach writes:

>> So, what we want to do, is film a built miniature on a green screen, and shoot and plate for that in the

>> woods

Be sure and scale your DoF correctly. If the leaves are blowing in wind, you'll probably need to over crank, too.

Tim Sassoon
Santa Monica, CA

The ASC manual and the newly published VES handbook have some great pointers and guidelines for shooting miniatures

Jim Matlosz

Well, for starters I wouldn't try using a greenscreen in the woods!!!

Beyond that, the main thing you need to do is make sure that your DoF is deep enough to match the DoF in the live scene - at the kind of distance and width of shot I imagine you'll be on, that probably means the whole model being sharp - if it's a CU/MCU of the actors with the model fairly large in shot, then maybe not, but in most cases you'll want everything sharp. If there's motion in the model, you'll need to over crank the model shot, too...

Have fun - nice to see people still shooting models!

Dominic Jones,

>Director, Cinematographer.

Fractured Films Limited.
Unit 23, Level 6,
New England House,
New England Street,
Brighton, UK.
BN1 4GH.


The vES Handbook has some useful miniature shooting and construction information.

Are you seeing the miniature from multiple view points or does it's change? If not, consider a matte ptg.

Shoot the wood plate with enough room for the miniature if it were full size. (i.e. shoot the woods with an empty field in the foreground if that's where the miniature would go. You have to think of it as really being there. Otherwise comping on top will just create a strange image of a miniature on woods.

Get an inclinometer (or a protractor and a string with a weight) You need to measure and match the camera tilt in all plates. Measure the camera height to the ground. Scale that the ratio of the miniature. That's how high it needs to be above the miniature ground plane. Use the same lens for all plates. If you have a zoom (not recommended) tape it off or mark it to match.

Light with enough depth of field so the miniature is entirely in focus.

Ideally put in a stand-in in your miniature where the men would go (scaled height and distance). Could be clothes pins just to shoot a reference. Likewise if you have room on the greenscreen stage mark where the door or key item of the miniature would be if it were real.

Document position of the sun for your original outdoor plate. (Angle up and rotation around the camera (i.e. 45 degrees up at 2pm relative to camera) This will be the same position you want the key light for the miniature and the men.

Honestly the best thing would be to shoot the men in the woods with enough room (open area) for the miniature and consider rotoing the men. This way they and the bg element match exactly. Color, lighting, position, etc. You could try a small greenscreen outside but probably not worth it.

Lighting indoors of a miniature and greenscreen people and trying to get all that to match and look natural for outdoors is very tough, even for the pros. And yet lighting is the thing that give away the problem most of the time. That's why having them outdoors in the actual scene is better.

In any case have a light box and loupe with any film from the outdoor plate so you have a good reference when shooting.
You can also blow up some frames and do a video tap mix if desired to check.

Scott Squires
VFX Super

I did a lot of this when I was shooting Mutant Chronicles a few years ago, at least 50% of the film.

I did have the advantage of shooting digitally so that we could mix and match and I'd advise you to get the best video assist system that you can!

Tim quite rightly pointed out scaling camera speed and the "secret" magic formula is to run the camera at the square root of the scale.

IE if your model is 1/16th scale then run your camera at 4 times normal speed, this will give the model the correct speed and "weight".

As Dominic has already been pointed out green is not the best screen colour for working in woods!!

Detailed notes are a life saver and bear in mind that you may find yourself using periscope lenses and the angles of the lenses for these don't always match "real" lenses, if you can find an Excellence...


Geoff Boyle FBKS
EU Based
Skype geoff.boyle
mobile: +44 (0)7920 143848

The last time I shot soldiers for VFX we used a bluescreen because of their camouflage uniforms. As others have pointed out, the forest location is already pushing you away from greenscreen, so make sure you talk to wardrobe about not making your futuristic soldiers wear blue.

Is this day or night?

Scott suggests shooting the men outside, which I think is your plan. Definitely do that, though putting a screen outside is not such a hassle and probably worth the trouble.

Have you considered shooting your model outdoors as well? Depending on what March weather is like in your part of the world of course...

Jordan Cushing
London, UK

Hi Hayley,

>> The shot is of 5 military men walking in the woods and they stumble upon a decrepit, ancient, overgrown >> building. For budget reasons we think it best to do a miniature.

Miniatures are cool, but can be tricky (matching dof, lighting it, compositing it, and building it!). They are especially useful. though, if a model is reused multiple times.

So, without knowing the shot itself I would suggest that a matte painting may be the better option -- especially if there's only one shot. You would put your time into getting a great plate, then your creative energy would go into the MP and the comp.

Stuart Willis
VFX Production
Sydney, Australia

This could be helpful a bit, I think...

Paweł Saładziak

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