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A miniature effect is a special effect created for motion pictures and television programs using scale models. Scale models are often combined with high speed photography or matte shots to make gravitational and other effects appear convincing to the viewer. The use of miniatures has largely been superseded by computer-generated imagery in the contemporary cinema.
Where a miniature appears in the foreground of a shot, this is often very close to the camera lens -- for example when matte painted backgrounds are used. Since the exposure is set to the object being filmed so the actors appear well lit, the miniature must be over-lit in order to balance the exposure and eliminate any depth of field differences that would otherwise be visible. This foreground miniature usage is referred to as forced perspective. Another form of miniature effect uses stop motion animation.
Use of scale models in the creation of visual effects by the entertainment industry dates back to the earliest days of cinema. Models and miniatures are copies of people, animals, buildings, settings and objects. Miniatures or models are used to represent things that do not really exist, or that are too expensive or difficult to film in reality, such as explosions, floods or fires.
Some of the most influential visual effects films of these early years such as Metropolis (1927), Citizen Kane (1941), Godzilla (1954) The Ten Commandments (1956). The 1933 film King Kong made extensive use of miniature effects including scale models and stop-motion animation of miniature elements.
The resurgence of the science fiction genre in film in the late 1970s saw miniature fabrication rise to new heights in such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (1977), Star Wars (also 1977), Alien (1979), Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Iconic film sequences such as the tanker truck explosion from The Terminator (1984) and the bridge destruction in True Lies (1994) were achieved through the use of large-scale miniatures.
The release of Jurassic Park (1993) was a turning point in the use of computers to create effects for which physical miniatures would have previously been employed.
While the use of computer generated imagery (CGI) has largely overtaken their use since then, they are still often employed, especially for projects requiring physical interaction with fire, explosions or water.
Independence Day (1996), Titanic (1997), Godzilla (1998), the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999-2005), The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-3), Casino Royale (2006), The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010), and Interstellar (2014) are examples of highly successful films that have utilized miniatures for a significant component of their visual effects work.