Miniature Model Making course at Pinewood Studios

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Irina Kuksova received a bursary to attend a Minature Model Making course at Pinewood Studios. Read more about her experience on the course.

“At the time of the application for a Screen Training Ireland bursary, I had been involved with the Irish Film Industry for eight years. Coming from a fine art and interior design background, I contributed to art department work as Scenic Artist, Portrait Artist, Calligrapher and Art Director.

When my schedule allowed, I took Screen Training Ireland courses to develop and keep-up skills that are most valuable for the art department or those I was curious about, and felt the need to investigate. If I could learn just one trick that would save time, cut costs and let the team end up with a better set, I’d take that course.

“Miniature Model Making at Pinewood Studios in London was one of such courses. I was especially interested in its ‘moulding and casting’ part, as the need to create and replicate complex custom shapes – think period films, fantasy sequences and unique props – is relevant to almost every film. As an Art Director, I wanted to know the limits of Miniature Model Making, the actual manufacturing timeframe, costs involved and tips on how to save the day when things didn’t go to plan. As an Artist, I wanted to have a hands-on experience with top pro guidance regarding the process and the materials plus a good allowance for mistakes, spillages and experiments.

“I learned about the course in June 2017 and immediately got in touch with Emer MacAvin at Screen Training Ireland to see whether there was a possibility to apply for a bursary.  It was a very short notice as the course was scheduled for July 2017. The application required at least two recommendations and I was lucky to secure those from Tom Conroy, whom I recently worked for on ‘The Professor and The Madman’ and Paki Smith, whose team I joined to contribute to ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’. Despite time constraints, the application process was smooth and three weeks later I was on a plane heading to the UK, ready to add another string to my bow.

“I am most grateful to Screen Training Ireland for helping me attend a course that currently isn’t available in Ireland, having a one-to-one chat with a legendary Model Maker Leigh Took and gaining knowledge I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

If you are thinking of taking Miniature Model Making course, below is a ‘facts&figures’ account on my experience in July 2017, so you have an idea of what to expect.  

The course was attended by 10 people of all levels of experience – from students to people working in the industry for multiple years, but looking to add to their skills. Ages varied from 19 to 44. Provenance – the UK, Ireland, Brazil and China.

The course was 5 days long, 9am to 4pm, with possibility of arriving an hour earlier and leaving an hour later if need be.

The course location is within Creative Media Skills offices, which are in the Prop House in Pinewood Studios. Participants were able to have a look around Pinewood Studios during 1 hour lunch breaks. A canteen and a cafe were open for lunch and teas and coffees as well as snacks were available at Creative Media Skills kitchen.

Day 1 – Introduction, Concept, Blocking in

“The first day started with an introduction to Miniature Models for Film through a series of real life examples (both photos and videos) of how miniature models are used in film starting from 1980s till today. All examples were original work of our tutor Leigh Took and his team. The course was lead by Leigh Took and his daughter and model-maker herself, Lauren Took.

In the afternoon the group were offered to split into two teams to work on either an underwater shipwreck scene or an apocalyptic cityscape. Each team spent some time researching and sketching to define the scene concept. Once the concept was established, the models were blocked in using materials provided by the tutor, including bits cast during past courses and generic bits ‘from car boot sale’.
The two models were set up in different rooms so that the participants had enough space for work. Each person had their own desk space for carving and casting. Although the participants were recommended to bring their own kit, all tools and materials necessary were provided by the tutor.

Day 2 – Shape Building, Moulding and Casting

“Both teams worked on refining the larger model shapes with aid of glue guns and hot wire polystyrene cutting.
Lauren demonstrated how to make silicone moulds and casts. The team planned on which items need to be cast – from texture stamps made from selected existing items to original plastiline sculptures.

Day 3 – Sculpting, Casting, Painting

“First part of the day was dedicated to plastiline sculpting, making silicone molds and casting with FastCast. Importance of different scale casts to create forced perspective was discussed. The teams were given printouts of where casting materials can be sourced.

The second part of the day was dedicated to painting the model shapes using relevant materials – a mix of paint, PVA and Fillite for organic stone shapes and a variety of acrylic paints and dirty-down sprays for the apocalyptic city.

Participants could freely switch their tasks at any time and try their hand at every aspect of Model Making.

Day 4 – Greens and Foreground details

This was the day to finish all the finer elements of the model – foreground details (most of them sculpture casts, hand-made and hand-painted by participants) and greenery. The tutor gave an overview of materials used to create greens and ways to convincingly blend them into the model space and create forced perspective. Most of the day was spent ‘planting’ the greens and hand-painting foreground dressing.

Day 5 – Dressing for camera, Lights and Shooting

“Both models were moved into a studio and dressed for camera under tutor’s supervision.
The underwater scene was lit through a Perspex tray filled with water, which allowed creating ‘water ripple’ light effect whenever the water was moving in the tray.
The cityscape was lit with fluorescent wires and ‘Christmas lights’ over a black background cityscape silhouette cutout, which created additional depth.
The studio was filled with smoke to help the models look more realistic on camera.
A few still shots of the scene were taken as well as a short ‘walk-through’ with aid of a handheld gimbal stabilizer.

By the end of the day both models were taken down. All the participants were welcome to take any element of the model with them, as well as the moulds created during the course.

Before leaving, the participant got a glimpse of another Creative Media Skills course on make up & prosthetics, which was as fascinating as it was horrifying for an untrained eye.

The tutors were always available to the participants to help with any questions they had.
All participants left with a better understanding of how miniature models can be used in film, the general workflow for creating a model, materials and tools necessary, time and costs involved and how to set up a model for camera, lit and shoot it.

I cannot describe the quality of the course as anything but excellent.”

Course Tutors:
Leigh Took was born on September 17, 1959 in Romford, Essex, England. He is known for his work on Batman (1989), Lost in Space (1998) and The Da Vinci Code (2006), Stardust (2007), The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009), The Chronicles of Narnia (2010), Dark Shadows (2012) and The Monuments Men (2014).

Lauren Took is a Prop and Model Maker and Set Builder, she works with her father Leigh Took as part of Mattes & Miniatures Visual Effects Ltd.