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

  • Alan Klughammer

    Amazing… Using the right tool for the job…

  • DesertandSeas

    Problem solving using creativity and ingenuity and keeping it under budget. Thanks for posting Mr. Nedomansky.

  • bob cooley

    Well done! Great post – more of these please PetaPixel – less about paparazzi!

  • Alexander Petricca

    Great job :)

  • Brendan

    This was how Star Wars space scenes were done. I love the influence the process had on the end result of the visual aesthetic – they will forever be more iconic than the CG ones – proof that limits like this can inform and create art.

    It would be great to see this sort of skill re-emerge in the digital age where film creation is more accessible with a smaller budget.

  • Mark Plosser

    I think every filmmaker should force him/herself to do at least one film that relies solely upon in-camera effects. It definitely uses more creativity than the “fix it in post” attitude.

  • bob cooley

    another downvote by a paparazzi in our midst! I take that as a compliment!

  • Christopher John Sztybel

    Bravo. Very cool thought process.

  • Nick Levanti

    Awesome stuff, looked great.

  • TwiggyRamirez

    …well done! very neat

  • John Armstrong-Millar

    Can’t wait the see the 3D version

  • Orville Q. Zellafonger

    I love these techniques. In 1978’s “Superman,” a church can be seen on a hill past the cemetery. It’s really only a couple of feet high. I remember seeing a scene using toy helicopter. I was amazed when watching the “making of” video. A “giant” walked into the scene to move it!

  • Vashi Nedomansky

    My pleasure! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Vashi Nedomansky

    I completely agree! So many opportunities and practical techniques out there.