Cinematography Mailing List - CML

Filming Miniatures And Water

I have a project coming up that involves miniatures, water, and a limited budget.

Having to deal with any of these are tough enough, but together, they are making my head hurt.

Here is the miniature scenario. The city of Atlantis rises from the depths of the sea.

Shot 1 is over head the water starts to turn as a few spires and pieces of buildings start to come out of the water.

Shot 2 a wide shot as the city raises up out of the water.

Various c.u.'s of the city.

My plan is :

1. A Frasier lens.
2. Make the model as big as the budget and water tank will allow.
3. Light to as deep an f-stop as possible.
4. Over crank.

At this point my biggest concern is that as I overcrank the camera to get the feel that the model is much bigger than it is, that the water falling off the model in slo-mo and in large droplets will give away the illusion. I am going to experiment as well, with pouring salt in front of a black screen, then compositing that as water onto a dry model, and adding water elements in post.

Any ideas out there on how to better sell this shot?



Your breakdown is the right way to go. Though the slow mo water is what you want. It's the large drops that will bone you. Refer back to your largest model possible reference. One possiblity would be to break up the drops with air knives or the like.

Go min 1/4 scale if possible. :) Check out The Abyss for some ideas. If you are doing salt you might as well do real water elements. After you get a take you like then paint the model with custom splashes etc. shot on velvet.

Eric VizFxDp

Next week I'm doing my second miniature water project this year. It's fun.

Clark, I have absolutely no experience with this sort of thing, so don't take any of these suggestions too seriously if you know things to be otherwise.

>2. Make the model as big as the budget and water tank will allow.

I think this is a great idea. The smaller the model, the more noticable the scale difference between the model and the water waves will be, as compared to the REAL city of Atlantis rising from the water. Plus, you might add some blue and maybe a little green food coloring to the water in the tank, to give it the appearance of ocean water, so it's not clear like a smaller volume of water usually is. Maybe even use ocean water! It has all kinds of silt and debris in it that might increase the realism. But you probably already know all this.

>Shot 1 is over head the water starts to turn as a few spires and pieces of buildings >start to come out of the water.

Maybe you could build separate (and larger) individual models for the spires and pieces of buildings rising from the ocean, to help the scale match better, if budget allows. I think that if you could make some closer overhead shots look convincing, it would make it much easier for the viewer to accept the whole sequence. Also, some sort of device in the tank to churn the water slightly would add an interesting element. Maybe an underwater fan, or a way to aerate the water to form tiny bubbles that rise to the surface, like in the ocean. The overcranking also sounds like a great idea, not only to give the appearance of a massive city in motion, but to smooth out and mask any little jitters you may encounter in trying to lift the model out of the water smoothly.

Hope some of this helps.

Good luck with the shoot!

Troy Warr

The advice you are getting is good.

The best thing you can do for reference is to get a copy of Raymond Fielding's :

THE TECHNIQUE OF SPECIAL EFFECTS CINEMATOGRAPHY (Focal Press, ISBN 0-240-51234-0, if it's still in print.) He goes into detail on these matters.

Inability to miniaturize the water is the biggest giveaway that it's a miniature, so make it as large as possible. Using even larger models for the first spires that appear is also a good plan. Since this shot is overhead, make it as big as the tank will permit.

What size is your tank? How are you planning to stir up the waves? You'll see a photo in Fielding's book on how we did it many years ago, by bouncing empty 55 gal. drums up and down outside of frame.

The water can be made less transparent by addition of powdered scene paint to make it greenish or whatever color you like. Paint the bottom of the tank dark.

Fielding also mentions the use of a mixture of marble dust and flour as a substitute for falling water in distant waterfalls, etc. The texture is finer than the salt you are considering.

You must overcrank. The formula to get into the ballpark is (trying to create the formula here probably won't reproduce on many e-mail systems, so):

Divide the miniature size into the actual, life size of the scene; the square root of this result is the cranking factor by which you multiply the cranking speed.

Ex.: Real bldg. is 120 feet high; miniature bldg. is 10 feet high. The product is 12. Square root of 12 is 3.5. Multiply 24fps X 3.5 = 84fps, the theoretically correct cranking speed to shoot at.

Then shoot tests to see what the actual cranking speed should be. The final determination is what looks right. But the formula gets you close, at least.

And yes, a deep stop. Lighting will be a big concern, because lack of depth of field really looks fake on what is supposed to be an ELS.

And comfort yourself in the fact that there probably has never been a miniature water scene that is convincing to a filmmaker except perhaps when the water elements have been very meticulously and expensively added digitally.

Wade K. Ramsey, DP Dept. of Cinema & Video Production

Bob Jones University

Greenville, SC 29614

One of the tricks I've used in making miniature water work better is adding a chemical (like a non-foaming soap) to break down the surface tension of the water and make it behave a little "looser".

Never went smaller than 1/12th scale miniature, and shooting at 84-fps for "normal" motion.

--Gerry Williams DP, San Diego

Just gone through tons of fascinating issues (the "visual storytelling" is brilliant) after being away on a shoot and I have came across the miniature and water question. Something that I have used with great results in the past is mixing water with the type of glue used for pasting wallpaper, it gives a consistent mass effect. Once you find the right consistency it works magic. Another trick to break the surface and the droplets is to hide in the miniature some low pressure hoses with holes (called whips) attached to scuba cylinders (via a first stage) and have random bursts of high pressure air as the water interacts with the miniature. It helps replicating the explosive force of a big mass of water hitting something. It needs good coordination and some rehersals. The results are truly incredible but make sure that is all done by somebody qualified and competent with scuba cylinders and equipment. As somebody else suggested is also very important to dye the water of a slight green tint, this is how we generally perceive sea colour. I agree that speed is the real issue, as usual test and test, I found that between 64 and 94 works well at 1/12 scale, and try a ramp as well, if you look at the sea when is storming you have waves hitting obstacles at different speeds, due to the conformation of the bottom or a sudden burst of wind. That's my two cents

PS- I will e-mail to everyone who asked the pictures of the weights to balance extreme steep angles with the camera in the next few hours. Futhermore congratulations on your achievements Geoff, this list is brilliant. --


Director of Photography/Underwater Cameraman

Franz, I'm curious as to the visual effect this produces. Is this for situations where the water has to pour, as in a waterfall? If used as a miniature lake or ocean, I would guess that it would thicken the water too much and make it look less realistic.

I'm interested to hear how you use this.

Gerry Williams wrote :

>One of the tricks I've used in making miniature water work better is adding a >chemical (like a non-foaming soap) to break down the surface tension of the water >and make it behave a little "looser"...

We tried some wetting agents but couldn't get enough anti-foam in to keep it from sudsing. What product have you found works well?

Wade K. Ramsey, DP Dept. of Cinema & Video Production Bob Jones University Greenville, SC 29614

Could perhaps Kodak Photo-Flo work to get the trick?

Arturo Briones-Carcare Filmmaker Madrid (Spain)

Photo-Flo was the first thing we considered. Unfortunately, it suds like a laundry detergent (doubtless because it is a detergent!)

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