Category Archives: Art & Design

There are lots of small worlds out there

Model villages. We’re not talking about Legoland here, though that does kind of count I suppose. It does indeed appear I am not alone in my fascination for recreating the real world in miniature form. This chap, Tim Dunn, has taken his childhood fascination to an extra level and is busy documenting and recording—even saving parts of—model villages and towns of all kinds.

I salute him.

Prepare to spend some time

As you know, I enjoy modelmaking of all kinds. I was always fascinated by models and miniatures used in film and TV work when I was a kid. I loved to try and work out how the effects were done, and how big the models might be.

Somehow, I found a link to a blog called Matte Shot – a tribute to Golden Era special fx, by a chap in New Zealand. In particular, I fell down a rabbit hole about miniature work in films. It’s a very deep hole, too, but well worth the time as it showcases some extraordinary miniature work from film makers around the world. Prepare to be surprised, too, at just how big some of the miniatures actually were!


In a galaxy far, far away…

In the olden days, before computer generated imagery was easy to do and so commonplace that it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s made up any more, most special effects were accomplished using scale models. If you needed a battleship to blow up, you’d get the props people to make a large scale model, float it in a tank of water and blow it up. If you needed to stage a train crash on a limited budget, you’d call in the model makers and get creative with lighting. If you needed a spaceship, or a complete space fleet and a Death Star or two, who are you going to call?

The original Star Wars trilogy was typical of this. In fact, the special effects company that did the work was created specifically for the films—Industrial Light and Magic. They developed many innovative ways to use models for many feature films. I challenge to you spot one in the linked list you haven’t seen at least once!

I still love watching films and TV shows were real craft is used for special effects. I love the insane amount of detail that gets crammed into spaceships, often only to be seen for a split second—or blown to bits! I love the fact shortcuts are made by repurposing commercial plastic construction kit components, as well as ordinary household objects. I love trying to figure out how big models are, and how they’re made.

Take this detail shot, for example.


This is from an Imgur site, sharing dozens of detail shots of Star Wars special effects models. As a railway modeller, it’s not hard to spot the use of a steam locomotive firebox backhead, complete with fire hole doors, gauges, lubricators and the regulator handle! In the right context, though, this makes a perfectly acceptable maintenance or access hatch on a spaceship.

Spend a few minutes wandering through the images in the site. You won’t be disappointed, and if you grew up with the original Star Wars films you can enjoy a pleasant trip down memory lane. You will be forgiven if the Star Wars theme plays in your head while looking!

Incidentally, it’s also worth a look at the imgur site of joinyouinthesun, who posted the Star Wars images.

Thanks to my friend Mark Casey for linking to these photos in a post over on X404.

The Paige Compositor

Enter James William Paige. Paige, from Rochester, NY, patented a machine in 1872 that could set agate (5½ pt) type.4 In 1877 he went into partnership with J. M. Farnham and the Farnham Typesetting Co in Hartford, CT with the intention of combining his typesetter with their distributor.5 This turned out to impractical and soon Paige began work on a completely new design – the Paige Compositor. By 1878 he had a (barely) working prototype.

In my younger days, I worked in a design studio attached to an offset litho printing works. I have nurtured an interest in printing technology ever since, even to the extent of harbouring a desire to get into proper letterpress print.

The story of James William Paige tells of dogged determination in the face of insuperable odds. In some ways, I wish Paige had succeeded in his desire to perfect the automatic compositing machine, but it must have been painfully obvious he was destined to fail spectacularly.

The recurring newspaper of Tinseltown


Who’d have thought art departments couldn’t be bothered to cook up fake newspapers for their shows? It seems art directors fall back on using the same prop newspaper time and again, and it appears to have become a sort of in-joke in the US TV and movie world.

Wonderful. I liked the comment made about web sites. The BBC, in particular, has spent a good deal of time making backup “fake” web sites for some of their sci-fi and drama productions. It makes you wonder why Tinseltown can’t muster the same level of skills.