Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I think I can trust all of my readers in telling them that I think I have a problem... I can't stop watching people build miniatures on Youtube. I spend a lot of late nights working on all of the content that we bring you here, at Plebeian, and I often spend even later nights falling into internet rabbit holes and becoming incredibly well versed in subjects that I will never need nor use. Lately that subject has been model building, oh my god are these things fascinating and these videos are not short. I lie to myself before every video with a, "oh, I'll just skip through it because the end result is cool," but every time I click that first fast forward I find myself saying, "now how the hell did they do that?" And then I have to go back to see what they did, then I ended up watching the whole thing. I'm totally hooked and I'm sinking 30-40 minutes into all that I'm viewing.
I should preface this by saying that I think I'm predisposed to this obsession because when I was young my grandfather had a "train room," which was his model train workshop and showroom. But "room," is an understatement if there ever was one, it was a whole wing of the house. Thinking back, I'm fairly sure that the train room's square footage was close, if not equal, to the square footage of the rest of the house. I spent a lot of time at my grandparents house as a child and I remember being obsessed with this room and not as I'd expect a child to be obsessed with a room that was filled with what were essentially toys, I was obsessed with the artistry of it. The models surrounding the tracks featured whole cities with working interior lights, ponds with small figures fishing them, cars, tunnels, mountains with living and dying foliage, all of this brilliant scenery constructed out of foam and plastic. Now that I really think about it, it was probably my first exposure to an idea of representational sculpture, if you can call it that. I remember my grandfather helping a friend and I to build a volcano for the science fair and this thing looked so awesome and real. That's the thing with these models, it's no easy task to make something look realistic, but I think it's easier than a lot of people think, it's really just a lot of technical mastering and I think that's why I'm so obsessed with these model videos.
When you watch these guys start a model, they're literally beginning as a few slabs of foam and they take a while to come together, but once the image starts to form your jaw drops. That's why I can never fast forward because I'm at the point where it's 4 slabs of foam stacked up and I jump to when it's a waterfall and I'm in disbelief at the fact that those slabs of foam just turned into this. Model making is really an unsung artistic form, we typically consider these people "hobbyists," and that's an understandable term, it's by no means slander in my opinion, but the artistic touch that goes into making a high quality and convincing miniature is nothing to scoff at.
There's even a cool touch of photography with these model builders because the best way to represent what they've made is to present it as an actual photo. So there's always a cool finished shot that can trick the viewer into thinking they're just looking at a photo of a waterfall, or subway station, the limits are endless. Adding the appropriate backdrop and subtle editing elements to these photos is no joke either. You're really playing with what is going to add a slight touch of realism to a photo and if you accidentally overdo it then you could work in the opposite direction and make it appear super fake. The delicacy of these projects is wild and leaves very little room for error which, again, makes the technical ability of these artists so impressive.
Another fascinating element of theses processes is the tools these makers are using. Their talent with common artist tools like airbrushes, plaster, foam, and general woodworking elements is impressive but there's a whole world of tools these guys have that I've never even heard of! Every model video that I watch, one of these makers pulls some fancy new hot wire tool that I've never seen, or could even think of if you gave me the chance, and then they use it flawlessly. One of these videos, the guy had a "static grass applicator," for putting grass on models cleanly. What?! That's wild, these model makers are extremely inventive too! I'm just continuously impressed by what people are able to make.
There's a whole world of people out there who have incredible skill with things like foam/plaster construction, airbrushing, a bunch of tools you've probably never heard of, and just general representation. These are all extremely valuable artistic skills and I don't think that these high quality model builders get the credit they deserve outside of their model building counterparts. I've included a few pictures that show off the final products of some of the models I've found, but I also included some of the videos I've been obsessed with lately and I challenge you to check these out and not get sucked in. There's a whole craft out there that I think is criminally underappreciated and it really makes me ponder what else is out there that we as viewers don't even know about.
Would an interview with a model maker be interesting and something that you want to see?