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How to be a Model Maker

Types of Model Maker

  1. Visual Effects Model Maker builds models for Visual Effects for film, television and advertising.
  2. Industrial Model Makers and Pattern Makers build models of almost every consumer product from automobiles to tooth brushes.
  3. Architectural Model Makers build models of buildings for architects.
  4. Dimensional Designers are Model Makers for Theme Parks.
  5. Display Model Makers build models to display at museums and exhibits and marketing models such as desk top models of new military aircraft to distribute to people in the Pentagon and the like.
  6. CGI and Computer Modeling uses computers to create 3D digital drawings, sometimes based on 2D CAD (Computer Aided Design) technology. These are virtual models with no physicality, they can not be handled and are only viewed on a screen or on paper.
  7. Hobbyists build models for personal creative purposes. Sometimes they do sell these. Doll House models are popular.
  8. Others.

The Future of Model Making

I receive about two e-mails a week asking how to begin a careen in Visual Effects Model Making. Visual Effects Model Making is still employing some experienced model makers, but it is on the way out. CGI, Computer Graphics Imaging, is rapidly replacing physical models. Even when building physical models, computers are replacing model makers with rapid prototyping, laser cutting, and CNC machining.

There will probably long be some demand for display models for museums and marketing purposes and some architectural purposes, and some hobbyists might sell models to collectors for low prices, but many of us experienced professional model makers believe there are only a few more years for physical visual effects models such as those used in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.

Most of the professional model makers I know are no longer working at that profession. As much fun as it looks, there isn't enough demand to keep experienced people working, let alone very many new comers. Even if you were to get a job, which is unlikely, it wouldn't be a career, it would be a short term job, for a few years at most.

Industrial model making is also being replaced by computers. Rapid prototyping allows a computer model to be made into a solid resin model part using a variety of methods. The only work for the model maker is clean up and assembly which are the boring parts of model making and not very creative. There are many experienced model makers available to do these tasks.

Model making will probably persist for many years as a hobby and for museum displays and such, but I don't think many people will make a good glamorous living doing so much longer.

How to Become a Model Maker

If you are still determined to try, practice, practice, practice. Make a variety of models using a variety of materials and using a variety of professional tools and equipment. There are many books and magazines available, many in hobby shops. Once you have a professional looking portfolio, send resumes and call every industrial designer, architect, museum, in your area to gain professional experience. Anyone can build a nice model if given enough time, a professional model makers needs to demonstrate experience building models quickly. Once you have professional experience, send you resumes to ILM and any other surviving model shops. Be aware that most model shops have a long list of people that they have worked with before, people with professional experience and credits, with the tools, and when necessary union accreditations to choose from first. Your name might be placed at the bottom of the list, if placed anywhere at all.

Conclusion

The sad truth is that Visual Effects Model Making as a profession will probably not exist in five years. The few jobs will have many experienced people applying.

Lessons

When I have time, I will add lessons. Until then, know that there are many resources available at your local hobby shop.


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This page last updated 3-31-04

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