Hi there,

I'm starting my first film using miniature sets and compositing animation and live action with the use of green screen. I wonder how small can I go with the miniature houses and stuff. Is there a limit to what a camera can pick up or can you built them as tiny as you want?

Jowanneke

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You can use much smaller scale sets if they are only for wide shots - I often use 1:24 for shots like a street full of houses and model cars parked along the road. Some landscapes have been 1:50. And model railway builders can get great results with small scale.
. But the actual physical size of my street set or landscape was usually 6 to 8 feet wide, whatever the scale. That's bigger than my interior sets of a room, which vary from 14" wide for a small cottage to 3 ft wide for a pub interior. Up close the modelmaking might start to look a bit chunky with the smaller scale. I tried a closeup shot of a bay window on my 1:24 house with the larger scale interior set and my Poe puppet composited inside, and I didn't quite buy the window framing with it that close to camera, it looked too much like the card with cut edges that it was. But just a little wider and I would have got away with it. I think if the house exterior was 1:12 it would have looked fine.
There are two main limitations:
The puppets, which get hard to animate if they are too small, every tiny move looks bigger on camera.
The camera, depth of field gets less when you are focussing up really close. Some lenses can't focus on things too close, so you have to shoot wider, others have macro focus but the shallow depth of field makes it look like a miniature.
Cameras with small sensors use wider lenses to get the same shot, so they have greater depth of field than a DSLR and especially a full-frame DSLR. On the other hand, a DSLR with a high resolution lets you shoot with a wider lens, then crop the picture down to HD video and get more of a close-up.
I have animated some 6" tall puppets that worked well, but the 3" tall puppets (1:24) were much more limited and really only for wide shots. when I wanted to focus on the characters I went up to 1:6 (10 to 12 inch) puppets in 1:6 sets. If it was an exterior shot, I usually built just part of a building in that scale. Even the 6" puppets weren't like a realistic adult human in 1:12 scale, they were more like little gnomes with bigger heads and hands. There is a lot of dollhouse furniture and stuff you can get in 1:12, so I think that can work depending on the style of the characters, realistic heads would be getting too small to animate much, and it's harder to shoot on sets that small, so it's borderline. I wouldn't go smaller, and would normally work bigger.

Wow, that's a lot of information. Thank you!

You said; "There are two main limitations:
The puppets, which get hard to animate if they are too small, every tiny move looks bigger on camera."

I don't use puppets inside the building, that'll be mostly done with live actors and green screen. The only puppets will be a dragonmother and her little child, and the dragonbaby will only have a few takes inside.

And,

"The camera, depth of field gets less when you are focussing up really close."

That could prove to be a problem, but I hope to solve that with using parts of the background in with the actors in real live.

Thanks again for the detailed insight Nick. I'll try to get around these problems and will post pics of my project when I get some work done.

Gr. Jowanneke

Nick has mentioned some important considerations. I also use a range of scales for my sets and characters often using pieces of different scale in the same frame to add some forced perspective. For closeup, I agree with Nick that it is difficult to pull off realistic shots of buildings smaller than 1/12 scale without having them look like models in very close up shots. If it is only one building, specifically for a close up through the window, it may work better to build it to larger scale.

Here is a shot of a house being built in 1/12. You can see that the second story window looks enough like a real window from this far out (at least for my purposes;) but even with the house this size I am going to be building a 1/6 scale wall and window for a look through shot. 

Cheers,

Tim

Yes, that window in 1/12th looks great!  My windows in 1/24th had many-paned windows, with the framing made by cutting square holes out of a single piece of card, and as you can see in the composite, it wasn't quite good enough for that kind of shot.  If I cut the crossbars any thinner, the layers of card would start to separate.  And there were a LOT of windows to cut on the full house model, My wrist was aching and my blades kept getting blunt.  

But go back so there is twice as much of the width of the house in the frame, and it starts to look ok, so it depends on how you use it.

Going back this far, the 1/24th scale is acceptable, although the turned veranda posts and wooden trim bits are a bit heavier than they should be.  It was made for shots wider than this, this is probably the closest I would want to go. 

Those look great, especially the colouring. I don't have a lot of space so I keep my sets as small as possible, but still they have to look good. I guess I have to make a testvideo to see what works.

Gr. Jowanneke

Wow, that 1/24 house looks awesome Nick:) I love the weathering and I think the trim bits you mention look perfect to almost give a more ominous feel to the house. Your shot of the window in 1/24 looks good with Mr Poe inside to draw the eye. A testament to how much work went into the 1/24 house, like all your work Nick. I wonder if the scale issues of the 1/24 window might not be noticeable at all if the outside of the house in the scene looking in the window was a touch darker? 

Jowanneke, that is a great idea for a test video to see what you will actually need in each shot and what scale would be the most appropriate to build in for each part. Good luck with your project :)

Cheers,

Tim

You're right Tim, Nick is awesome!

 You bet.

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