An indepth look at the history of miniatures in movies.
You might think miniatures have all been replaced by cgi in movies, which, well… you’re not wrong…but practical effects and miniatures are all still being used to this day. Just way less than before. A recent example would be the cityscape of the 2017 film Blade Runner 2049. Most buildings are actually miniatures as well as a huge junkyard scene where most of what you see is real. So come with me on my stupid journey through the ages as we take a look at the history of miniatures!
CHAPTER 1 A trip to the beginning
The first instances of practical effects was in the 1900s. The film director Georges Méliès made some of the first ever movies of all time the most famous of which being A Trip To The Moon (1902) which utilized many techniques that are still used over 100 years later, like split screens, miniatures and stop motion.
CHAPTER 2 Wow that last chapter was short
One of the most common uses for miniatures in the old days was for spaceships! Do you watch a lot of Star trek? Miniatures! Ever seen Star wars? Miniatures! 2001 space odyssey? Alien? Miniatures! Miniatures!
A common technique for making miniships is Kit-Bashing. A technique where you take small plastic pieces such as toy parts or bottle caps and bash them together until it looks like a spaceship.
Fun fact. In the original star wars trilogy they only used miniatures for the spaceships, but there is one shot where tie fighters are flying in the background and one of them is actually the official toy toy of the tie fighter. Also one of the asteroids in the empire strikes back is a potato. And another asteroid is a shoe.
CHAPTER 3 The downfall
As amazing as miniatures are and superior to cgi in more ways than one, computer effects have basically taken over the film industry. It all started with the movie Jurassic Park in 1993.
Originally the dinosaurs were supposed to be done with stop motion, but a couple of geniuses figured out how to make realistic dinosaurs using computer effects. To be fair the movie did not only use costumes for the raptor close-up shots but they even made a life size animatronic for the T-rex! But still, not soon after would come the revolution of computer effects and nowadays barely any films use miniatures. Sometimes you get something magical like the entirety of Hogwarts being made as a miniature and that miniature was used for many far away shots in the films, but the huge miniature industry that we used to have is no more. Now is the golden age of cgi.
CHAPTER 4 miniatures in everything except movies
Miniatures of course have had history outside of the movie industry and since the essay is not long enough yet we will talk about these other things as well.
Miniatures have existed for about 5000 years and they were first used by Egyptians who made miniatures like, furniture, animals and others that they placed in tombs and pyramids blaa blaa blaa…
Now for the interesting things. Miniatures first started getting popular around 400 years ago when dollhouses started being made, which back in the day were known as baby houses.
They were extremely detailed and made for adult collectors. Only rich people had these since they cost almost as much as a life size house. Later on they were also used for educational purposes with mothers teaching their daughters how to maintain their home.
After world war 2 doll houses started to be mass produced and they became very popular. Unfortunately as their quantity grew their quality fell. In the 1950s doll houses were mostly created using metal sheets and plastic furniture.
In 1964 the very first action figure was born. GI Joe was the first of its kind. A 30cm tall highly poseable toy figure. Before this the closest thing to an action figure was a Barbie which could barely move.
Since then action figures have become more and more detailed as the years went on and now more than ever before there are adult collectors collecting highly detailed figurines and statues of their favourite characters. Some statues even cost thousands of dollars. You heard me right THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS. Like, one time I saw an All might bust that was life size and guess how much it cost. 12000$. Thankfully most only cost a hundred or two.
While small miniatures might be a rarity in movies nowadays, they still have a big place in the art of collectible statues and figures.
CHAPTER 5 Notable movies that have used miniatures
Here’s a big list of movies that used miniatures and where they were used in the movies
- The Titanic in Titanic. For the sinking ship they sunk a miniature ship
- White house on Independence day. Real explosions were used
- New york in ghostbusters. In the scene where stay puft man walked across new york, a set was made for the costume and you can see toy cars on the ground
- 2001 A space odyssey. spaceship
- Star Wars original trilogy. spaceship
- Alien. Spaceship.
- Star trek. You know the drill
- Blade runner. City
- Batman begins. Buildings and batmobile
- Harry potter. Hogwarts
- Gojira 1954. City
- All showa era godzilla films. Fight scenes
- The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Rivendell, Minas Tirid, Isengard
- Blade runner 2049 buildings
- Back To The Future 3. Train and delorean