Models and Perspective

Models are used extensively in our industry due to cost and practicality and one of the most important considerations here is scale.

Walls, windows and doors can be built virtually any size. However, light fittings, especially practical, and other dressing can be very tricky unless carefully considered. As a result, it’s wise to source as many details as possible prior to deciding the overall scale of the model.

Models involving cars should generally be at a pre-defined scale linked to vehicles that already exist in the shops. There is also a vast array of materials available from specialist architectural model-making suppliers, such as columns and brickwork, however these tend to be quite expensive. Most repeat elements can be moulded fairly quickly using fast-cast and easier still now with the use of 3d printers, the latter being superb for elements that require left and right hand versions, as the initial design can be easily flipped with compatible software.

If one is building a model to match part of a full sized set, it’s wise to design both together at full scale, then reduce this finished design to form the model drawings. This is a fairly straightforward process thanks in part to CAD. Both model and full scale set may not appear exactly similar when filming, but this is sometimes due to the different camera lens characteristics.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that building a model ‘larger in size’ will not necessarily make it better, it is better to keep it to a manageable size for working on and provide lighting access.

Note. If designing exterior building models, in daytime, the windows always tend to look better if they are blacked out behind the glass, the possibility of curtains or blinds should be sufficient for a realistic effect. If the reflection of the sky is required, use a blue reflector behind the camera.

Water doesn’t scale down very well and if doing model boats, there is a limit as to how small one can build them. Shooting at high speed, therefore slowing down the wave motion and making it more realistic can sometimes overcome this.

In the photo of model street wet down, aerosol spay oil was applied to make it look damp, this avoids the whole area drying out too quickly under the lights and helps continuity whilst filming. If filming water with architecture and furniture, it may be worth considering doing the surroundings as a scaled model, then shooting the full sized furniture and water, separately for later addition. This is because the water scales better if shot real size and furniture can be expensive and time consuming to replicate as a model, whereas relatively cheap to hire for real.

If filmed from a motion control rig, it’s even possible to move the camera in shot. This move can then be replicated and scaled on the camera rig. When all is composited together, the furniture will look as though it’s inside the model. One does need a pre-defined scale to achieve this successfully and a trustworthy camera crew.


The use of forced perspective can have an incredibly rewarding effect on camera, whether in models or full sized sets and often attracts attention. Cost can be very prohibitive though, certainly with architecture, as all the mouldings need to be specially made and if the camera moves too much, it can reveal the illusion. It is primarily for this reason that perspective models are more popular for theatre sets as opposed to film. Exaggerated perspective has been used in the photos on this page for a bank commercial. The general rule for perfect distance is to create a vanishing point at a similar height as the viewer or camera, with every horizontal disappearing to that point. This includes the floor height. There are many rules with perspective but one of the most common must be the even spacing of columns or uprights receding away from camera. This can be solved easily at the design stage by using the simple method illustrated on the right.