Using Models For Discussions

This short clip is a great example of how important models can be in pre-shoot meetings. In this short video a Production Designer meets with the Cinematographer to discuss a problematic lighting situation for a large scale built set.

It’s hard to imaging how these important decisions could have been reached without the help of the scale model as a visual talking aid.

Understanding Model Scales – A Comparison Study

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram – You can download a pdf copy of this diagram below.

Even with the plethora of computer 3D modeling programs available to designers, there is and I think always will be, a place for physical scale models. Although the molding programs continue to produce more and more realistic looking images, they are still only a 2D image that utilizes correct perspective. And even the programs or systems that are ‘true 3D’ are really only offset 2D images meant to trick the mind into thinking it’s seeing a dimensional physical shape.

Some of the advantages of a physical scale model are:

-The physical size of a set are much easier to grasp than from a digital model where you can zoom in endlessly.  I once built a model of an area of geography that the producers couldn’t seen to fathom exactly how big an area it was until I put in the final piece, a model of the 260 foot ship they planned to use for a crew base, which measured only 3/16″ in the model. They got it instantly.

-A number of people are able to simultaneously view the model and discuss it. A lot of revelations often come from being able to look at the model from many different angles at once.

-The brain isn’t spending effort trying to do the mental tricks required to process fake 3D images. The model is somehow “more real”, because it is.

The Diagrams

I created the chart above as well as the list below from many years worth of notes and scribbles. The calculations are mine so any mistakes are solely mine as well. The visual chart will give you an easy way of determining the size of figures in the various scales that will be most common to concept models.

The list describes what I think are the most useful model sizes  from 1:700 to 1:6 with inch equivalents for each scale as well as the length of a linear foot and meter for each as well. The last column gives the common uses for the scale to help you determine what products exists for purchase. The Size Chart also lists the most common Imperial and metric drawing scales so you can find the model sizes that most closely match.

Download the full list below.

Determining The Size Of Your Model

Your first calculation will probably be how large the overall model needs to be. You’ll want the model to be as detailed as possible but probably won’t want it to take up and entire room. Using the Size Chart, multiply the overall actual size of the area you need to cover by the foot or meter equivalents and then determine which scale is best for the space you have available. Also note that 1/32 and 1:32 refer to the same scale.

Next determine what model items exist in that scale. For the most variety in objects and vehicles, stick with the train gauge scales. If you need a lot of detailed plastic trucks or cars, 1/24th scale is going to probably be best, which is also the same as 1/2″ to the foot and is close to the German “G” train gauge.

Download The Files Here

Comparative Scale Figure Diagram

When you print this diagram, be sure that you print it at %100. Check the inch and metric scales to be sure it is at full size for an accurate representation.

Scale Model Size Chart

Other Articles

For more information, you can refer to the following articles:

List Of Scale Model Sizes

Combining Figures With Models

Converting Scale Ratios

Finding The Right Scale For Your Model

The Motion Picture Art Director – Yesterday And Today

Back in the 1940’s the Art Director’s Guild, known then as the Society Of Motion Picture Art Directors, created a chart outlining the exciting responsibilities of an Art Director, which is posted below.  In 1994 I created a revised version which, I thought, seemed like a more accurate representation of the job. Looking it over today I think a newer version is in order. Your suggestions are most welcome.

The responsibilities of the motion picture Art Director of the 1940’s.

The Art Director of “Today”