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I'm preparing to film portions of a miniature ship 1/35 scale. It's on fire, and about time of dusk. I am making full scale plates for the fire and smoke effects, but it would be nice to have some actual smoke as well. Is there a kind of smoke effect that would look sufficiently large and billowy to work on a miniature ? If necessary it could be slow motion but only to say 64 fps.

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No, puffing clouds of moving smoke do not miniaturize just like fire doesn't. Better to leave that for post. You can do an even haze of smoke for a miniature though.

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Well, you can create some animated haze by playing lights with dimmers over a piece of screen door material (usually bent over double) that is in front of the camera as a scrim. I remember having to do some pickups to match to a smoke environment on a live set, but for the retake we couldn't put any atmosphere into the room. With this method it actually looked more interesting visually than the shots with the real smoke, as the highlight edges of the screen mesh, even out of focus, gave the fauxsmoke some punch, though obviously there are limitations, like you can't have anything come through on the Z-axis.

 

One other thought ... if it is a static shot, you could also take a piece of glass at right angles to your setup, and reflect in a large smoke source set up at 90 degrees from your scene. I used to do that to put laser beams into a model setup, just by illuminating chalk or lines of blacklight paint that I had lined up on this adjacent right-angle setup. (yeah, I am a seriously old-oldschool guy for this stuff, backwinding in the camera for double exposures, shooting models in daylight against a huge backlit starfield and I've never shot a traveling matte in my life.)

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A few things I tried that were successful while I was experimenting with miniatures for storyboarding purposes was lighting cotton fibers with gels and or paint to mimic smoke. I also had some success using canned smoke, cigarette and cigar smoke in aquariums where the air inside was not significantly effected by the room's turbulence. It worked best when the ambient temperature was stable letting the smoke just hang in the air.

 

There are ways to make scale models look VERY realistic but 1/35th scale tends to be too small for a realist look in general terms. The detail tends to get lost. I actually prefer 1/6th scale, myself. For a ship, I'd probably look for a model that is close to say 6 ft long minimum as water also has scale issues and you'll want the bow and waves to scale reasonably well. Just my opinion.

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Thanks folks :)

I take David's point that smoke doesn't miniaturize, but also see from KH martin and James that maybe things can work. I like the idea of randomly lighting the scrim which I would probably have anyway somewhere in the miniature set. Yes maybe 1/35 is rather small. But that's one reason I'm going for a dusk/twilight effect so there's not too much detail seen. As for the bow wave (it's a warship) I was hoping to get away with projecting a plate that I've shot, onto the miniature, frame by frame. I definitely don't want actual water ! The miniature smoke effects I am seeking would not be in these animated shots. They would be in other rather brief shots, showing the chaos unfolding on the ship (intercut with smokey shots of sailors).

So the miniature smoke effect doesn't have to last long. But because of the somewhat frantic camera movement I wish to use it needs to be in real time or in not very slow motion.

I was even wondering about dust. Talcum powder or something like that ? If it was puffed in somehow would that look like smoke ? I guess as it's small with limited depth of field whatever you use it can be soft focus. I'll probably be using a U16 Bolex with 10mm.

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I'm finally (!) there with a reasonably realistic miniature, which was quite hard as James has said, at 1/35 scale. But it's only the front portion of the ship I've built with the funnels etc in forced perspective. What I need now is a scrim to be positioned somewhere halfway to give an illusion of atmosphere and as a way of projecting previously-shot smoke effects. Please does anyone know a source of really fine-weave scrim ? As it's not very far from the camera lens in sharp focus I'm worried that the weave pattern will be picked up. It also needs to be non-shiny. I thought of using plastic sheeting but this would be shiny and get reflections from the front probably.

If I used smoke this would present problems when doing the single-frame shots.

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I'm finally (!) there with a reasonably realistic miniature, which was quite hard as James has said, at 1/35 scale. But it's only the front portion of the ship I've built with the funnels etc in forced perspective. What I need now is a scrim to be positioned somewhere halfway to give an illusion of atmosphere and as a way of projecting previously-shot smoke effects. Please does anyone know a source of really fine-weave scrim ? As it's not very far from the camera lens in sharp focus I'm worried that the weave pattern will be picked up. It also needs to be non-shiny. I thought of using plastic sheeting but this would be shiny and get reflections from the front probably.

If I used smoke this would present problems when doing the single-frame shots.

I'm not sure that KH Martin's screen idea would work if in focus. And I should have added that I have more-or-less given up the idea of miniature smoke, because of the scale and because of the fact most of the filming will be done single-frame with plates of people projected within the miniature, 2001-style. Having said that, I'd like to try brief shots at say 64fps, so I'd be grateful for any more suggestions for billowing smoke. :rolleyes:

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You might try a Tiffen Smoque filter instead of a scrim, or a heavy UltraCon filter.

 

I know that fine salt has been used for miniature water sprays and waterfalls before but not smoke, but a puff of talcum powder isn't a bad idea, just that eventually it would settle on the miniature unless shot as a separate element.

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Only necessary if something moves in a way that needs to be scaled, like a giant stomping the dirt with his foot... a model for a spaceship floating through space doesn't need to be shot over-cranked, usually the opposite, it is shot under-cranked in order to get more exposure so the lens can be stopped down.

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Thanks David. Yes I'll certainly play around with some talcum powder, maybe have to rig up some kind of pump underneath. Meanwhile I'm still searching for really fine scrim. There are thousands on ebay but it's so difficult to judge from their photos how fine they actually are. Maybe i'll try some plastic sheeting again, or non-reflective glass. The trouble with a filter on the lens is that it will affect the near parts of the miniature as well, so not too effective for adding atmosphere further away. However, I will certainly put some diffusion on the lens to help break up the detail.

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It's probably more trouble than it's worth, but consider cloud tank effects for the smoke. Dyes in water scale differently compared to particulate clouds in air.

 

P

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At the point, though, you might as well shoot real smoke elements and comp them into the miniature.

 

Even on "Blade Runner" and "Return of the Jedi", explosions and other flame elements were shot separately in a larger scale and then projected onto a white card in the area of the model (with the beauty light on the model turned off) where the element would go, and then that separate element would be comped over the beauty pass of the model, or double-exposed.

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And for Aliens, they actually reflected a gas jet into a live-action scene.

 

At least Michael Biehn's character has the good grace to sound weary when he says "...how long 'til it blows?"

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It's probably more trouble than it's worth, but consider cloud tank effects for the smoke. Dyes in water scale differently compared to particulate clouds in air.

 

P

Thanks Phil, I'll try some of this. But I don't think my heavy miniature will like being turned upside down, if that is needed for cloud tank effects. Perhaps though it would work with a portion of the ship. Do you know what kind of dye to use ?

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Not a clue, I'm afraid. People have used all kinds of things. As Mr Mullen says, it may be more worth simply shooting smoke, although really large smoke effects, as would be created by a coal-fired ship under way, might be inconveniently large to do.

 

P

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I'm not a DP/Cinematographer, I'm a special effects artist by trade that has worked alongside effects cameramen, but I think I can help you?

Ever hear of Forced Perspective? It's an age old practical special effects technique that I enjoy and still use whenever possible. Place your miniature in the foreground lined up with the billowing smoke back a few feet (you'll have to calculate exact distance, amount of light and f-stop required for maximum depth-of-field) furthest from the camera lens to give the illusion that it should by doing it in-camera instead of resorting to opticals or in post as they say these days. Hope that helps.

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Thanks for that suggestion Thomas. It's a possibility if I managed to get the ship outside in the open air later on. And the miniature is constructed in forced perspective anyhow, with the rear funnel smaller than the front. I've been held up doing the filming for various reasons, though have been collecting plate-footage of real fire (Guy Fawkes night :lol: ) and smoke to add, as David suggested. But hopefully it may work in a single pass as I now have an array of homemade 16mm single-frame projectors ready.

Meanwhile I've been concentrating on doing POV effects... real ship tracking footage with smoke and fire footage projected together onto white card, and it seems to work OK.

 

Any other ideas always welcome, thanks.

 

I just thought, Thomas, your idea would indeed work for side-view shots, as I could hide the source of the smoke/fire if camera was fairly low and get nice silhouette of the handrail etc.

Edited by Doug Palmer

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Not a problem. I'm happy I could help. Although I would strongly recommend setting everything up in doors in a controlled environment or studio or warehouse. You don't want any gusts of wind to ruin your shots plus can't control weather outside anyway so make sure it's all inside. You can use a fan, wind machine or even waft the direction of the billowing smoke with a sheet of cardboard. And utilising this technique can be done in almost any POV, you just have to do the research and calculations to get it spot on for the scene. It may take the better part of the day to complete but it will look beautiful. I wish you all the best to nailing the shot!

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I really miss that show (movie magic) not to mention all the practical FXs of old.

Yes me too. Amazing how the focus was held in those 35mm forced perspective movies. They must have pined for 16mm to get some more depth !

And thanks again Thomas for your helpful points. I guess the ideal situation for adding smoke/fire would be to have it near the entrance of a warehouse or hangar, sky behind. Otherwise I guess you'd have to use a big cyclorama or something. Still pondering, but I reckon I'll probably go for the projected smoke mainly. My ship is quite small scale 1/35 and I don't want the camera too close to give the game away, so wide-angles only. Although I'm planning to make a more detailed stern portion at about 1/12, and this could be better for doing forced perspective from a lowish angle, and if so I'd like to put some people up there on deck. Maybe find a suitable mound or structure for them somewhere....

I'm avoiding the sea at all times, except for backgrounds and for night shots probably, hoping to project the bow wave onto the 1/35 boat.

Edited by Doug Palmer

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