Think back to the old days of movies, before fancy computer-generated imagery (CGI) took over. Miniatures were the go-to solution for filmmakers who needed to bring their imaginative creations to life. Creating a massive alien spaceship on a full-scale was just not practical, let alone making it fly! So, miniatures became the heroes of the silver screen, with clever filming techniques making them appear like their life-sized counterparts.
Of course, with the advent of CGI, many things became much easier to achieve digitally. Some directors, however, felt that the computer-generated imagery looked fake. Filmmaker Wes Anderson is a prime example. He believes in the charm and authenticity that miniatures bring to his movies. In an insightful Vox interview with Simon Weisse, a skilled miniature and prop maker, we discover the reasons and methods behind the continued use of miniatures in movies today, especially in the world of Wes Anderson.
When we think of miniatures, we often envision small tabletop gaming figures. But in the movie industry, the term “miniature” encompasses anything smaller than full scale. Filmmakers aim to construct miniatures as large as possible to achieve a more convincing result. After all, the intricacies and details added to a larger object contribute to its realism and believability on the big screen.
Simon Weisse, serving as the miniature unit supervisor on the recently released film Asteroid City, reveals the significant role played by miniatures in creating various visual effects. With a star-studded cast including Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, and Scarlett Johansson, this Wes Anderson movie takes viewers on a remarkable journey as a writer’s perspective is transformed in a small rural town. Asteroid City’s cinematography heavily incorporates miniatures, highlighting the many effects that can be achieved using these intricate models instead of relying solely on CGI.
The enduring presence of miniatures in films never fails to bring a smile to my face. Even if a particular movie may not captivate my interest (I have yet to watch Asteroid City), witnessing the craftsmanship of real miniature models on screen usually looks more appealing. As Simon notes, there are certain instances where CGI outshines miniatures, especially when it comes to generating realistic water effects. Raindrops sliding down a miniature car, for example, differ greatly from those on an actual vehicle.
Nonetheless, miniatures often inject a sense of realism that CGI struggles to replicate entirely. Despite the advancements in physics simulation offered by modern 3D technology, reality retains its unique charm. Downsizing objects presents its fair share of challenges too, as filming miniatures requires adjustments in angles, focal lengths, subject distances, and apertures to achieve a believable result in slow-motion shots. Occasionally, slowing down the footage may be necessary to mimic the physics of the real world. Yet, more often than not, miniatures conquer the realism battle against CGI.
Speaking of Wes Anderson, he firmly believes that audiences can spot the difference between CGI and miniatures. Nevertheless, for many viewers, it is more of a stylistic preference rather than a dealbreaker. Being an advocate for tradition and aesthetics, Wes predominantly chooses to embrace the allure of miniatures in his filmmaking process.
In a world consumed by digital wizardry, there’s still room for the charm and authenticity of miniatures in movies. Discover the artistry behind these intricate models and how they shape Wes Anderson’s unique storytelling style.