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The Art of Model-Making

Sketch of a model from the film "Metropolis". Production Design: Otto Hunte

There is a story in Architecture lore about Frank Gehry & his binoculars. He was hit with designer’s block, working on a new building for Chiat/Day. The building included two wings with disparate styles joined by an anchor point. He was presenting the model of the proposed building to his client, but he still didn’t know how to link the buildings, so an empty space had been left in the model. But he knew he would come up with something great, so in the meeting, to emphasize his point about the unique structure, he casually grabbed a pair of binoculars on the side of his desk, and plunked them into the void. The scale matched, the opening became a happening, and a now-iconic building sprang to life.

Stories like this bring to light the magic of models. When you can hold a building - or your set - in the palm of your hand, ideas of space and decoration can expand in ways that 2D sketching or digital model building don’t always support. Each medium has it’s own perks, but for me, making a space in model form - however rough - informs me and communicates to my team in ways I can’t replicate.

Please enjoy a sample of the model world - from scale replicas for museums, to fantasy models for movies, and a few strange stops in between:

Thorne Miniature Rooms

Narcissa Niblack Thorne’s miniature rooms are astounding in their detail, and curious in their history - she worked with skilled workers who were out of work during the Great Depression to make the little worlds.

Visit them at the Art Institute of Chicago here:

See them go marching by here:

Architectural Models

Frank Gehry’s Physical to Digital design process is well documented. Like the story above, his newer constructions involve ideation that involves happenstance in a way that - at least for him - keeps the doors to innovation open.

Movie Models

It’s hard to talk about models for movies and not bring up the ILM model shop, which was formally disbanded in 2006, but is coming back in bits and pieces as practical models and CGI find a balance in the world. Their inventiveness in model making was phenomenal, and they reveal some history and some tricks in this interview:

And if you can’t get enough, some Star Wars Model photos for you:

Model Train Sets

Models have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Heck, I grew up with Legos! My first experience as a Production Designer was on a music video shot using forced perspective miniatures. But where it all truly begins is in a basement, helping my father work on his Model Train world. The largest model railway on the globe is the Miniature Wunderland in Germany, and it truly is captivating.

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