Using Toys and Forced Perspective to Get Professional, Low-Budget Visual Effects

While working on a feature film called The Grind, filmmaker Vashi Nedomansky had to come up with a way to shoot a flashback scene, complete with Humvee, in the desert of Iraq. The only problem? He had neither Iraq, nor a Humvee to work with.

Fortunately, he did have the sand dunes outside of Los Angeles and a 1:18 scale model of a Humvee purchased at Walmart for $23. Combine those things with a bit of creativity and you get some low-budget, professional-looking visual effects.

As Nedomansky explains on his blog, “In filmmaking, sometimes the simplest solution will be the cheapest, most realistic and easiest. This doesn’t happen often … but when it does, embrace it and enjoy it.”

That’s the situation he found himself in with this Humvee scene. Taking a leaf from Steven Spielberg’s book — Spielberg used this effect in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” when he made a 20-foot model look like a massive ship — he decided to use a model and forced perspective to try and get the shot he needed.


As you can see in the clip at the top, it turned out pretty well. On the technical side of things, Nedomansky used a Panasonic HVX-170 with a 1/3″ sensor at the widest lens setting and f/11. That meant that everything from about 1 foot in front of the camera to infinity should be in focus. He then placed the Humvee about 2 feet away, had the actors 40 feet away, and started filming.

Normally, a professional miniatures shot like this would take some serious time to set up, but as Nedomansky explains, you don’t always have that luxury. “We only had a couple of hours of good light and 4 pages of dialog to shoot,” writes Nedomansky, so instead of trying to figure out formulas and ratios, he “eyeballed the shot until it looked and felt right.”

To find out more about the setup for this scene, and hear about the experience from the man himself, be sure to head over to his website by clicking here.

(via Imaging Resource)

Image credits: Photograph by Vashi Nedomansky

  • Grive

    As stated in the article, small sensor and very narrow aperture. Basically, use the gear that will get you the largest depth of field. One of the benefits of smaller sensors.

    As for adjusting focus, set the camera to the hyperfocal distance, and don’t worry about it.

  • TSJones97

    I used to do this ALL the time when I made Super 8 movies in the 1970s as a kid. Forced perspective with models is a wonderful real life effect that doesn’t require compositing. The real trick is to match the ‘ground’ perfectly. IF you’re shooting on a sunny day, the sunlight will ALWAYS match :D

  • DatBus

    Nice work!!

  • Virginia Solomon

    This is a disgusting article. This technique has been used in movies for decades. Why are they giving this guy ink over such a silly shot? Ugh, these “new generations” are just so “struck” over the simplest things…

  • Artie

    Virginia, go and take a nap. Nobody’s saying this is new, nobody’s saying this guy is the best filmmaker ever, it’s simply an article. If you do not like it, go to a specialized forum.

    Seriously, stop being such a donkey.