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Practitioners

I have written previously about some of the master classes you can find on the BAFTA Guru website, and have been watching and doing further research through this website on CGI and what digital artists feel are the advantages and disadvantages. This basic information is important as I need to have a broader understanding of procedures involved with CGI, and what it can actually achieve today in order to contrast and compare with my deeper understanding of miniatures. On the BAFTA Guru website were recordings of 3 talks that I would like to summarise here in relation to the capabilities of CGI today.

Firstly I’d like to write about the masterclass by Jonathon Faulkner of Framestore, in which he spoke about the role of VFX as a whole, and as a solution to practical problems. I found as someone who has a very limited understanding of the potential of CGI this was a useful masterclass in explaining the basics.

There are five types of shots where visual effects are used when it is broken down. Cleaning up – wires and rigging that are left on camera at the time of filming. Environment enhancement – changing from day to night, set extensions when filming everything on location has cost implications, entire digital locations. Atmospheric effects – smoke and water etc. Characters – face replacement between hero and stunt men, to a certain extent crowd replication. Props and stunts – models and miniatures, bluescreen.

It was also interesting to hear about the on-set roles of VFX technicians. One such role is to be there to explain to actors, directors, lighting and cameramen what will eventually be there once the shot has been handed over to post production so that everyone can allow for this. Someone also needs to record info on atmospheric conditions at the time of shooting, take measurements of the actual set and take continuity photographs so that the digital work can match in as closely as possible. Finally, someone needs to be on set to advise others of the cost implications of their decisions and actions at the time of filming, so that changes can be made to ease the production of the digital work later.

He talked about how everything from locations to hair, makeup and costume, could be achieved digitally if the relative cost of doing so was irrelevant, and of course the actual thing will always be more realistic on camera:

“If I am asked about how to achieve a shot, and I’m asked about the visual effects solution to it, the best solution is always to shoot it for real if you can”

In fact, I found it really interesting how Mr Faulkner made the point that the digital artist does often have to fulfill the job of the costume designer, and the hair and makeup technicians, and so the skill of working in digital VFX does involve a high level of artistry and understanding alongside the technical skills of working with the software. I have during my research questioned how many digital artists do have this level of artistry and imagination, or is the digital artist someone who understands the capabilities of the computer and the software available, so it was interesting to hear this from a VFX artist.

The second talk was led by representatives of the company Jellyfish, who are a BAFTA award winning VFX company based in Soho, London. Their masterclass was based on the idea of saving money on VFX and what should and shouldn’t be done in this respect, in their opinion. They emphasised how important the planning stage should be, and how at this stage cutting corners will eventually result in further cost. So, make sure you do hire a VFX supervisor, and use storyboarding and pre-viz to plan out your film. It is also worth getting in touch with VFX companies even at the script writing stage to get their input right from the start. This ties in with what José Granell from the Magic Camera Company emphasised when I interviewed him earlier in the year. Mr Granell believes that a lot of poor CGI shots are instigated by late or no planning on behalf of the director, and a lack of understanding of the complexities digital artists are dealing with. These artists also need to be guided and informed throughout the process in order to produce the best work.

Using miniatures requires forward planning which includes a set deadline and procedure for building and filming that ultimately results in a more convincing outcome.

The third master class was taken by the makers of the low budget film “Monsters”, Gareth Edwards and Colin Goudie. With 250 VFX shots to produce over a short period of five months, it often involved judging when they could afford to take short cuts and asking themselves how lazy could they be with each shot as opposed to how to get the best most technical shots. Their basic test was to watch each shot once instead of on a continuous reel: did it convince you? If so, move on. What is the main focus on camera? If it is not the VFX element, the audience won’t notice how poorly the effect is achieved. To save on money you have think how to make a shot easy to achieve. In “Monsters” no creature is ever closer to the camera than 10 meters, so that the camera doesn’t have to capture close up interaction with the environment which would make it much harder for the digital artist. All the digital work was done using basic programs like Adobe Photoshop and Aftereffects with a small amount of 3D work in 3D Studio Max. The main point that I took from this talk was to remember that all film making is an optical illusion, nothing is reality: the actors aren’t real characters, the illusion of movement is actually 24 still frames per second etc. Although it was a deliberate poor use of CGI elements, it’s interesting to hear about what these short cuts might be. They in turn highlight some of the disadvantages and the difficulties CGI face, which I can take forward to make comparisons with the technique of building miniatures.

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On April 18th I visited the studios of José Granell, company director of the Magic Camera Company, at Shepperton Studios. I wanted to speak with him about his opinions on the use of miniatures in film and television at the moment. Of course, this in turn involved discussing CGI and the nature of digital artists themselves. As I have spoken about before, José Granell headed the team at Cinesite who built models for the Harry Potter series, before closing down the unit and reopening under the Magic Camera Company.

When talking to José Granell he emphasised the importance of budget when planning for a film. Here there is a huge difference between pitching for a model build, and a series of CGI shots. For a miniature, the budget is know from the planning stage, since it involves buying materials upfront and a specific deadline for completion for the shoot. The process of filming miniatures is skilled, and involves a lot of planning. With CGI, Mr Granell spoke of how a budget for a digital visual effects shot can spiral during the time it takes to produce, with endless opportunities to build upon the details, so that in fact what was pitched at the planning stage does not ultimately reflect the final time and money spent. I think this an important point to make, since so much of film making is dependent on working to a budget, especially on small films. Of course, at this point I should note that it cannot be denied that the costs of producing visual effects digitally is continually dropping, which does affect the choices of the director etc.

The  planning stage is important when comparing the two techniques. As José Granell pointed out, when you are working on miniature shots the miniatures unit needs to know in advance what is required of their model. The type of shots required affects the scale of the build, and the level of detail needed in texturing and painting the model, which all need to be decided before the build begins. Mr Granell believes the forward planning of miniature shots makes for a better outcome at the end of the process. With CGI, it is often given to the digital artist late and therefore the final shot is perhaps not as visually effective as it may have been. I believe there is fundamental lack of knowledge of what is required in the making of digital models and environments from the perspective of the director which can lead to poor time planning and a poor execution.

As part of my research I am interested in finding out if there is a correlation between artistic background and the role; miniature builder or digital artist. José Granell explained to me that he has no art school background. He set up a model making business together with a friend, and were lucky to be picked up by special effects supervisor Derek Meddings, well known for his work on the Bond films of the 70’s and 80’s. This was the link to jump start his career. The next step is to now find out about the backgrounds of CG artists, did they go to art school or have technical training? How does this differ from Mr Granell’s experience in the film industry.

Mr Granell believes that in part the demise of miniatures in film comes down not to the visual effectiveness of the technique, but to the decision making process of the director at the beginning of the project. In order to get work now, his company needs to approach and pitch for the job, whereas when he first began working in the industry he was approached about work. Once the job was won on his part, he was then involved in the decision making and design process from the beginning. I have touched on this point before; that a more cohesive look for a film can only be achieved through understanding a project and being involved in production meetings right from the beginning. With CG shots, a variety of vendors are approached and given specific areas to work in, such as only working on shadows or lighting. Can this method of pulling together visual effects shots from a wide range of vendors make a cohesive look for a film?

At this point I asked about what he thinks of the skills needed to work in a digital environment, does it involve a degree of artistic flair or is it all about understanding the technical capabilities of the software? He believes this relates back to the idea of sharing shots between multiple vendors. This means someone potentially can train themselves only to technically understand software to achieve a specific outcome without needing any artistic or observational skills, and live within this niche in a company. Being in front of a computer for long hours may mean that your understanding of the  physical counterpart of what you are building is poorly observed. Miniatures need to be fully researched, accurate to life, and functional in order to look real to an audience, whereas a rushed CG shot might look acceptable but lack that depth of understanding that shows up to an audience.

We then went on to talk about working for Cinesite on films like the Harry Potter series, and why his model unit there closed down. Mr Granell explained that he was in charge of a much larger company there, with several times the office and workshop space that he has now. The decision to close came down simply to the overheads being too much in a time when work was diminishing. He explained that he went back to using the old company name Magic Camera Company where he worked under Derek Meddings, since it is well known in the industry, and scaled down everything. He now works only with skilled freelancers from one workshop and office at Shepperton Studios. He explained that in the past he was willing to give students and young people experience, provided they also studied digital software like Maya. However, at this point it is in his companies best interests to only employ skilled freelancers specific to each project, in order to make a profit and keep the company in business. When asked, have you ever considered learning to use some of the software used by his rivals and moving into digital environments, he answered that perhaps if he were younger, but for him he plans to continue working with miniatures for as long as possible despite his belief that the technique is dying out.

From doing this interview I think the main thing I have taken from the experience is that there is a difference between whether the skill of miniature building and filming still stands up as visually effective in contemporary film, and whether within the decision making process there is still a place for miniatures in the minds of the director. What José Granell emphasised was that he believes there should be a place for miniatures, but he also believes there is no going back from the development of digital technologies and the choice to take this direction.

On the BAFTA website I found a recording of a seminar with various visual effects artists working on Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and 2 ( The VFX Advantage : Harry Potter Case Study, BAFTA  Guru 2011). It involved describing why, in their opinion, their use of such extensive digital environments and creatures was an advantage over using real locations for the films.

Emma Norton (Visual Effects Producer for The Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2) , Tim Burke (Visual Effects Supervisor for The Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2) and David Vickery ( Double Negative Visual Effects Supervisor for The Deathly Hallows parts 1 and 2) were the guest speakers at the event.

This is directly relevant to the themes in my project as the main competitor for the use of miniatures in film is CGI, and therefore it is important for me to have an understanding of the advantages of digital environments in order to contrast this to the advantages of using miniatures.

The most simplistic way of observing the growth and development of CGI techniques is to physically count how many CG shots were involved in each film. Emma Norton does just this, telling us that although the films are a similar length, in the first film out of 2294 shots, 669 were visual effects shots (these will also include those involving José Granell’s miniature shots). In the fifth film, The Half Blood Prince, out of a total of 2090 shots, 1400 involved visual effects. From these figures we can see the increase in demand and volume of CG shots chosen for the franchise. The question is, why are more and more producers and directors leaning towards CGI?

One of the main arguments against “excessive” use of CGI is that there is no interaction for the actors and director, and therefore a less enthralling performance overall. It was interesting to hear how the speakers did defend against this, commenting that the actors were shown images of the real locations before being filmed in front of a green screen. The idea is to at least give them a suggestion of atmosphere and the potential of the space once the environment is created digitally. To a certain extent the same can be said about using miniatures, that the actor has no tangible set to interact with. However, often a section is recreated at full scale for the actors to work in, since the detail of a scaled miniature would not stand up to the camera. Does this balance of visual effects and real time sets produce a better overall performance from the actors?

The actor Ian McKellen admitted in an interview with Contact Music to be being reduced to tears of frustration at acting alone in a green screen set on The Hobbit, saying “it stretches your technical ability to the absolute limits”. ( Ian McKellen : “Filming “The Hobbit” made me cry with frustration”, NME, 2012) Clearly, Ian McKellen believes he performs best when there is interaction between actors and tangible environments.

It is also true that having total control of elements like light is, on it’s own, an advantage that CG environments have over shooting on location. If it is needed, the illusion of a mid day sun can be kept for hours of footage, keeping continuity for the narrative. On location, the time slot for filming is dictated by levels of light and weather conditions, but using a cg environment, or even miniatures, in combination with green screen sets alleviates this problem. It gives more time for the director, lighting and sound technicians to perfect shots, which is of course a positive thing. With the technology available now, a real environment can be visited and captured by a digital team using engineering equipment etc, and kept in a library for future use.

The choice to build a series of green screen sets on the backlot at Leavesden came down to mainly to money and schedule. It allows the team to jump from filming scenes in Scotland back to Surrey quickly and efficiently, since the scenes were not being shot on location. It is important to remember that not only fantastical locations are built in a digital world. All the CG environments in the Harry Potter films were taken from real locations and meticulously reconstructed in the computer.

A final note on the development of CGI in films during the period in which the Harry Potter films were produced: at the beginning of the project, 90% of the visual effects shots were sent overseas. By the time of the final film 90% of the visual effects shots were produced by vendors in the UK, companies such as Double Negative, who are now the biggest producer of visual effects shots in Europe.

In this section I want to talk about the models, both white card and those used for visual effects captured in camera, that were produced for the Harry Potter series. Again I’ll use Harry Potter as an example that allows me to further explain the roles of both white card models in film, and visual effects  miniatures.

The basic idea of a white card model is to communicate the way a set would be layed out physically before something is built. Although models are sometimes built at an earlier stage to test layout ideas, the white card model is usually taken from the technical drawings, and it a more concrete 3D rendition of the final design of the set. In this way you can plan camera angles, see the space for camera moves, and where lighting and sound equipment can be placed etc. You can build furniture to scale too, and use this to demonstrate any obstacles to equipment. It’s an inexpensive way of communicating to a number of people a location and foreseeing problems before you spend time and money building a full size set. As you can see from the white card models below, the idea is not to suggest colour, texture or materials, but purely to demonstrate space and structure.

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Figure 1. Hogwarts                                                                  Figure 2. The Owlery

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Figure 3. Diagon Alley                                     Figure 4. The Weasley’s House

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Figure 5. The Whomping Willow                  Figure 6. Hogsmeade

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Figure 7. Hogwarts’ Great Hall

White card models are usually done at 1:50th scale. This is big enough to represent details and proportion effectively. It is also the scale used for producing technical drawings, which are often spray mounted onto the card as a quick way to communicate information. Anything which affects the use of the space needs to be represented in the 3D. On the other hand, any details like curtains or panelling which have no physical bearing on the space can be a drawn element. The general rule is anything with a depth less than 6 cm can be a drawn element on the model. There are quite specific rules on how to produce the white card model. The floor needs to be flat and stable. Any tiny variations in level must be represented as they are key in how the space accommodates technical equipment. Working elements must also work in the model, like windows and doors as these also affect the physical properties of the space in their various stages. Windows need to be represented in a material which shows it transparent nature, like acetate, as this affects planning the  lighting of the space. You can see this in the Diagon Alley model above (Figure 3.) The image below allows us to see how the technical drawings can be adapted to create a white card model. You can even see how the technical drawings have been spray mounted onto the card to show details.

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Figure 8. Technical drawings of Hogsmeade.

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Figure 9. Window detail                                                          Figure 10. Various technical drawings.

The technical drawings on show were beautiful in their own right, mainly down to the level of detail included. The role of the technical drawing is to give comprehensive instruction to those building the various elements. It communicates quickly to various people what is needed, and a good technical drawing can be read without further communication. You can see the development from the drawing above to the final prop which would have been carved from wood by a specialist using the instructions in the technical drawing.

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Figure 11. The Triwizard Cup.

As an aspiring model maker, seeing the huge miniature of Hogwarts Castle at the end of the tour was both inspirational and informative. It was great for me to see up close the level of detail expected, and to try and pick up tips for representing brick, foliage etc. Even though that particular model was only used for wide shots of the castle, the detail of the painting was very realistic even under close scrutiny as shown in the photo below (Figure 12 ) and as a result the overall effect from a distance looked very realistic.

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Figure 12. Detail of the 1:24th scale model.

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Figure 13. Wide view of the model.

The other thing I noticed that I have talked about perviously is the ease that you can age a model as opposed to building a digital model. This is always a deciding factor in the realism of a model, and you can see how effective this is in the photograph below.

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Figure 14. Wear and tear on the courtyard.

I have already written about Cinesite’s work on miniatures for the Harry Potter films, but I have since then researched more into the head model builder at the time, Jose Granell. Since the closure of the model  shop at Cinesite he has now set up his own company building miniatures for film; The Magic Camera Company, which is based at Shepperton studios and uses their facilities to also take on the filming of their miniatures. I’d like to quote some of their descriptions of the services they provide, because they cover some of what I see as potential advantages of using miniatures, such as working closely with an art department right from the beginning of a project (Magic Camera Company 2012):

“Construction

Model construction is an intricate and highly specialised process by a select group of the UK’s foremost model makers, working with a wide range of materials to product highly realistic models of all scales. This often involves working closely with production designers to seamlessly merge constructions into surrounding photography and ensure that the art direction is consistent with the look of the film.”

“Production management

We are experts in managing entire model units, from the early bidding and storyboard stages through to management of the construction crew, photographic unit and pyrotechnics.

Initially, we are often approached at very early stages of production, discussing storyboards and artwork with the director and production designer and continuing to do so throughout construction and unit photography. We also liaise closely with the digital effects providers and visual effects supervisors, to ensure the integration of their work will be seamless in the later digital effects stage.

We also appreciate that efficient production management is essential to the successful integration of the model unit with multiple production departments. These can include special effects technicians, camera and equipment suppliers, the model unit supervisor and the entire unit crew.

Creative supervision of the model unit is managed by our director of models José Granell. His expertise and knowledge of his craft are essential to the smooth outcome of every single production, and are responsible for consistently spectacular results.

The result of all this expertise is that the models team have been responsible for some of the most memorable and realistic visual effects sequences to come out of the UK in recent years.”

Already I have questioned, and would like to research, the backgrounds of model makers and digital artists. What is their background, training and method of working? How close is their working relationship with an art department/director?  Can this affect continuity of the look of a film? Already from this short description I am getting an impression of the way this particular model shop works in conjunction with an art department, but I plan to research this further by conducting interviews with practitioners on both sides, hopefully including Jose Granell and his team.

Here is a link to their showreel which also shows how live action green screen shots are digitally composited over the miniature work, a way in which the two techniques can combine to produce a final shot effectively:

http://www.magiccameracompany.co.uk/showreels.html

Recently I read David Neat’s book about materials he uses in model making, and methods of producing moulds and making casts. I also follow his blog which is an up to date source on materials and his experiments with them. Whilst doing my research on current films that have used miniatures I have been noting down if a material or a method is commented on to get an idea of the industry standard. In this post I wanted to get some of these down, particularly the descriptions and traits that David Neat talks about in his book and on his blog for future reference.

CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS

PVC-“foamed PVC” – comes in many thicknesses from 1mm to 18mm, depending on the brand, like Foamex or Foamalux. Easy to cut, can be sanded without fuzzing like cardboard does. Has a shiny exterior layer and a lighter less-dense inner. Does not absorb moisture, or warp in sunlight or heat. Glueing with superglue makes a nearly unbreakable bond.

Styrene – similar to polystyrene like you get in packaging. Versatile, can make fine and delicate forms. You can get thicknesses down to even 0.13mm. It can be scored and snapped to make a clean break, and cuts with a knife fairly easily, although not as easily as PVC. You can get styrene in various other forms alongside sheets, like rods and strips etc. It can be glued with superglue, but there is also a special solvent for the material which is super thin and can be brushed on in sections and onto hard to reach places. ABS- “acrylonitrile butadiene styrene” – a tougher form of styrene for load bearing properties and more heat resistant in case the model spends time under hot lights. Negatives are that it is not easy to cut or form.

Acetate – for windows or mimicking water. Also can be printed on with texture to represent fabric, like curtains or gauze. Polypropylene – used for similar purposes. Both cloud with the use of superglue, which is a draw back.

Styrofoam – used as an insulation material so easy to get hold of from builders merchants. It is a rigid foam that can be carved and filed for solid forms like rock or a thinner piece can be textured effectively.  It is so easy to cut and carve because of it’s fine-celled and dense nature. You can get a smooth surface by covering in polyfilla and sanding. Needs to be sealed first before using any spraypaints or glues, you can use polyfilla to bond as well. Weta Workshop used styrofoam for their rock sets and bonded and filled gaps with expanding polyeurathane foam, which ends up a similar consistency and can be sanded and carved in the same way.

Reticulated foam – used to make scale trees and other foliage because of it’s network of filaments left over from the bubbles made in the foaming process.

Metal mesh – larger versions can be used for shaping terrain. Smaller “impression mesh” can be moulded because the holes will expand and extract easily.

Kappa-line foamboard – a foamboard made from  a polyeurathane foam, with a paper layer over the top which can be pealed off and the foam carved or sanded. It also takes impressions well, and will glue easily because it does not dissolve.

MOULD MAKING AND CASTING MATERIALS

MOULD MAKING

Before I write about mould making and casting materials, I thought I should give quick descriptions of what a prototype, mould and cast is. The prototype can be anything that provides the shape that you want multiple casts of, so it can be a found object or you could sculpt your own form. The mould would be made using this. By building up a wall, and placing your prototype inside, you can pour your chosen material into the block to create a mould. The cast is the multiple forms made by pouring or painting into or over the mould.

Silicone rubber – best for a flexible mould and to capture intricate detailing. The most widely used professionally. Varies in setting times, hardness and and application methods. The harder varieties are heat resistant, which is good if the casting needs to be baked to set it, like when you use sculpey. Silicones come in two parts which need to be mixed together in the correct quantities in order for it to set properly, which can take any time between a few hours and several days, You can add a thickening agent to the mix of pouring silicone which means you can brush it onto a surface as well as pouring it into a mould in it’s normal pouring form. You don’t need to worry about trapped air, since the setting time is so long they will naturally emerge from the denser material on their own. A cheaper version could be Gelflex, but it makes a less durable mould and cannot pick up as much detail. It’s setting time is mostly under an hour for small forms, or a couple of hours for something bigger which is an advantage over silicone rubber. It can also be melted down again and resused, however it needs to be heated to 140 degrees before it melts, so any prototype would need to be heat resistant to that temperature too. Mostly though, silicones are unaffected by any materials used for the prototype or casts.

Gelflex – is a cheaper way of making moulds. It’s other redeeming features are the speed that it sets, which takes only a few hours maximum, depending on the size, as opposed to the silicone rubber which can take days. It can also be melted down and reused. However, the moulds cannot pick up much detail and doesn’t hold it’s form so you can only make limited casts from a single mould.

Plaster – mainly used as a cast making material because it is so rigid and inflexible, which would mostly be unsuitable for a mould.

CASTING

Polyeurethane resin – used for anything detailed or delicate. Comes in two parts to be mixed, but once mixed stays in liquid form for a very short time. It can be removed from the mould in as little as 15 minutes, but will not be totally set at this point so it can be doctored or trimmed until it sets properly, which can take a few days. This resin can be painted with enamel or acrylic paint straight onto the surface, but the result will be better if a primer is used first.

Latex – to create surface texture by painting layers of latex onto a negative mould of the texture.

Alex Funke , Visual Effects DOP, Miniature Unit for The Lord Of The Rings trilogy- “I think to be a good modeller you have to be a born story teller. If you know the story you’re telling, if you know how old a building is, if you know what it’s history is and who’s lived in it, and who lives in it now then there’s many things you can do the explain that visually.”

The Two Towers:

Helms Deep – The first miniature ever built for the films was the 1:35th scale Helms Deep for The Two Towers. It was planned to be used for wide shots, so it encompasses the whole environment of the mountains where the fortress is set. It was also used to help with the animatics and planning the battle using 1:35th scale toy soldiers.

Figure 1 1:35th scale Helms Deep (The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition, 2003)

To create the rock effect they hung crumpled tin foil in huge sheets to get a reference. On the opposite side of the spectrum, the modellers built a huge 1:4 scale version that you could crouch down and walk around. This was actually built at the location of the live action filming, which was a disused quarry. You can see how the model fits with the surrounding rock below.

Figure 2 1:4 scale Helms Deep

It was used as a background in live action shots, aswell as being used for forced perspective shots so that along the wall action could take place with a “distant” tower in the background. At the end of filming live action with the 1:4 scale model, they blew it up as part of the narrative, catching the real time flying of debris.

Barad-Dur – is the tower where Sauron, the evil entitity in Tolkeins’ story, lives. This miniature was huge, standing at 26ft high, it was built in stages because it wouldn’t fit inside the space. You can see the bottom  section below, that grows out of the surrounding base rock.

Figure 3 Tower of Barad-Dur (The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition, 2003)

Peter Jackson wanted close up shots of the tower, and you would normally build at 1:10th scale for this. However, this would make it over 20 meters tall, so they settled on a smaller 1:166th scale. There must have been some step and repeat process involved, but as you can see the tower was designed not be uniform, as if generations of orcs have heaved up blocks and added their own sections to the tower, so it is unbelievably complex and detailed for 1:166th scale. For fabrication they would use hot-wire tools to create the forms in the foam.

The Black Gates – a mechanical miniauture that needed to move so they could film the gates opening. The motors were driven by the motion control when they were filming. Done at 1:30th scale, and again filmed up close, the model builders needed to use micro-detailing to make sure everything looked real. Again, it was about creating links between architectural themes of all the locations in the film, and creating a backstory that the detailing of the miniature can reflect. In this instance, the orcs have taken over what was originally built by the same race that built Minas Tirith, so there are elements taken from both architectural styles put together to tell this story.

Fangorn – is a forest location. The location scouts couldn’t find a suitable looking real location, so the live action was built using a set that showed just the base of the trees, and just a small section. This meant that any long shots of vistas of the forest had to be built and filmed in a miniature environment.

Figure 4 Fangorn Forest (The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition, 2003)

Again it was a large miniature so it could be filmed close up again. The trees were about 5ft tall and the whole environment stretched over 60ft square on wheeled bases which could be put together in different combinations to make more than one view which in turn makes the series of shots look like a realistic forest stretching for miles into the distance. The trees for this miniature were built with the trunks utllising real gorse branches, which look very twisted and old, which is the look for Fangorn.

Osgiliath – Is a city built by men, but destroyed in the conflict between men and the evil in Mordor. It was built at two different sizes, 1:50th scale and 1:10th scale. The smaller scale was used for wide aerial shots, and layered up to make the city seem more expansive since the model only covered about a third of what the city really would be.

Figure 5 The filming of Osgiliath (The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition, 2003)

Because the model needed to look much more expansive than it was, it was filmed in heavy smoke to give the illusion of depth. When our eyes look in the distance things appear to loose detail and seem vague, like the smoke achieves in middle photo above. `The third image shows the use of space lights in the same environment. These are ambient, they give off a soft light that doesn’t have a direction. The key lights are then used to give the direction of light. Snorkel cameras were used to get shots from eye height whilst giving the camera and rig plenty of space to make the pass.

The 1:10th scale was mostly used as a backdrop for the live action shots. The set for the live action was just a narrow strip, and everything behind is the 1:10th scale miniature. From the 1:10th scale they created in-camera the shot where a domed tower is destroyed by a catapulted rock. Not only did they build the tower, but also the concrete rock that is thrown, and the catapult to throw it, so that the aciton could be caught in real time instead of creating it all digitally. All the buildings were built im full, and then knocked around to give it the look of an abandoned place in the middle of a war, which is easier to do than trying to build a ruined building with the holes and cracks already there.

Isengard – Is a really interesting one, because it involves water, so I looked at how this was physically achieved. The set is flooded by the breaking of a dam, and it all needed to be caught on camera, so the whole environment again was built in order to do this. There was 2 huge tanks of water behind the dam structure, and when the time came the bolts on the tanks were blown and released the water.

Figure 6 The flooding of Isenguard (The Two Towers: Special Extended DVD Edition, 2003)

The circle of Isengard is a different miniature, filmed separate to that of the dam and layered up for the final shot. Of course there is a huge amount of CGI in these shots as well, with digital orcs, ents and actors all over the environment.