Monthly Archives: February 2012

Advanced Camera; shooting miniatures?

I had the unique opportunity through my work to attend a pair of lectures on using the Camera by UCLA Cinematography Professor, Bill McDonald.

We went over Photographic Lenses, Lens Focal Length, Camera Operating and Camera Movement, Depth of Field, Camera Movement, and Frame Composition, citing camera techniques and examples. It was a really great class and in addition to the examples he walked us through;  from films ranging from Goodfellas (zolly) to The Graduate (telephoto, wide angle, zoom lens) to Citizen Kane (depth of field) he demonstrated what he was explaining with a video camera plugged into a large monitor. So we were better able to see/visualize concepts; like the compression of space when using a telephoto lens and the increased Depth of Field  from a wide angle lens. He also talked through and demonstrated the narrative impact of camera movement  and how it unconsciously effects the experience of the film.

While I could go on about the class I feel like the most important thing to get written out right now is this question I’ve got;

How do focal length and Depth of Field relate to shooting miniatures to match with live action plates?

Specifically I want to be able to take plates of my N-scale miniatures and comp them with live action backgrounds and add actors. Do I need to convert the lens’ focal length, match the angle of view exactly?

Here is a test I made a year ago when I started thinking about these problems to see if the elements can be made to work; The tracking is terrible, color is wonky, and extraction isn’t very clean. I could tweek this endlessly to make those aspects work better, but ‘you can’t gold plate a turd’. I just need to study this and turn out more tests.

The things I’m most focused on are the issues of camera, Depth of Field, camera angle, and matching lens distortion/focal length;

The problems I’ve been running into have mostly been relating to focus, my 100mm Macro lens gives me this lovely slice of shallow Depth of Field, but that doesn’t really help me make the miniature look bigger, I just end up with this;
Out of necessity of my stage,  I’ve been shooting my miniatures with the 100mm macro, and my actor with a 14-40mm wide.


Here is what I need to know about DoF;

Shallow Depth of field;

-longer lens

-wider apeture

-closer to camera

Deep focus;

-Wide lens

-further from camera

-smaller apeture

(needs more light to accommodate for wider f-stop)

I’ve been reading Stu Maschwitz’ ‘DV Rebel’s Guide’, and recently finished the chapter on effects and matching cameras. and there is a great breakdown of a Rolling Stone video shot by David Fincher, There he explains that the camera doesn’t see anything differently between a small object or a large one apart from Depth of field.  Use the same lens (focal length). So the things to record are; distance from the model/actor, distance from the ground, and angle of the camera. Then either scale up or down the distance when you shoot the opposing part.

I suppose this makes sense, but more testing is going to be necessary.


I like rust. The patterns of oxidization and weathering of old things… its beautiful.
I mean look at it, the color and texture. yum.

I’ve spent a lot of time researching methods of faking weathering, scale model forums have been good for that 😉

I’m curious about this stuff but at $120 a gallon not curious enough to buy it;
The sophisticated finishes stuff works pretty well and you can get from the craft store. I love that they have a full range of metals, brass, copper, steel… and a variety of patinas for bringing out different colors in the ‘paint’.

I used a variety of these on this Annexbot;

The basic idea is there is a paint which contains metal, and an ‘activating agent’ which is essentially a patina, to trigger the rust. Different metals have unique reactions, ferric metals tend towards orange while cupric metals towards green. Its a good idea to familiarize yourself with this process.

I like to use atomized metal suspended with a bonding agent, then force it oxidize quickly.
I like to mix something like this:

As far as bonding agents, I’ve tried mixing it in paint, liquid acrylic medium, floor polish, all of these will work to some degree, but can tend to have a bit of a ‘plastic’ sheen to them. The other problem I’ve encountered is they can potentially seal the metal and prevent the patina from penetrating. One solution for this is to mix some of your patina with your paint mixture, but this can lead to a very even and unrealistic pattern. The thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to seal the metal away from the chemicals and air, so keep the paint mix thin.

Most recently I’ve been using a mix of steel with plaster as my bonding agent. It can be a bit chalky, but the plaster holds water/oxidizers and prevents the seal as well as adding more texture.

The other possible bonding method is to spray an adhesive over the surface and apply the powder directly. Don’t go over board and grab the Super-77, you just need something subtle to hold the powder in place without messing up the rest of the surface, hair spray, or matte spray work well.

Now as far as ‘activators’, there are a few solutions. You can use water, a bit of salt will make it rust a bit faster, but that is not fast or dramatic enough for us, now is it? What we want is a stronger patina. These are essentially ‘oxidizers’ because they speed up the effects of air’s weathering on the surface of the metal.

The real stuff, used for treating bronze statues and the like, will work great;

The ‘Sophisticated finishes’ stuff is basically re-branded patina chemicals, so it works really well both on faux metal as well as real metal plates;

But I’ve even had great results from simpler stuff, for example Hydrogen peroxide…


KRAWLR interior set construction pt.2

One element I kept seeing in my reference was the big metal door. Inspiration “Door” blog I even took a bunch of reference pictures on the Iowa of one;


I knew I’d have to make one.

To hang such a door I’d need to make a fake section of a wall, which made sense and I figured I would need to anyway because I’d need to be able to change the shape of the room for the different sets.

The flats for these walls started with thin plywood with a frame.

The first flat needed to be at least 7×4 to fit the door

The next I did in sections, so I could mix and match the details and move/swap them around.

I carefully cut the shape of the door into it, and a piece of insulation foam to form the door itself.

Door cut out, first coat of paint applied

Painted the flats with a grey base to match the walls.

Built the and detailed the door with some greebles, as well as a light/cage for an industrial feel.

The door from inside, you can see how I used a coat rack for the door latch and reinforced the hinge attachment with wood scraps. I also added some gutter screen ‘vents’ for more detailing and to break up the surface a bit.

A little bit of paint and weathering goes a long way towards selling the realism here.