How does a person become a model maker? There are a variety of ways that today’s model makers started out before becoming professionals in the business. While most model makers will tell you that they enjoyed working on hobby model kits in their youth, some found their way to the craft later in life. All model makers have advanced dexterity, a keen eye for detail and artistic sensibilities. Another prerequisite is the ability to visualize in 3D. And no amount of model building skills will parlay themselves into a career unless the work can be done in a timely manner. In other words, there are people who can build a decent model if given enough time, but professional model makers always work within particular time constraints.
College degrees specifically in model making do exist. A quick search on the internet brings up BA’s in Model Making, Model Making for Design and Media, Model Making for Film and Television and Model Design and Model Effects. There are Bachelor of Science Degrees in Industrial Technology – Model Making, as well as Associates Degrees in Applied Sciences in Model Making and Design Model Making and Rapid Prototyping. Plenty of model makers hold degrees in Industrial Design, or come from Engineering or Fine Arts backgrounds as well.
Of course, formal education is not a prerequisite to model making. Some model makers learned through apprenticeship or come from backgrounds in crafts or other skilled trades.
Increasingly model makers are expected to be proficient in computer programs. Plans and designs are frequently sent through AutoCAD, Rhino or Adobe Illustrator. More model parts are being drawn on the computer before assembly. Computers are used to make parts as well, with CNC mills, lasers and 3D printers.
Model making remains an intriguing mix of talents that require mental focus, creative problem solving skills, design appreciation, fine motor skills and willingness to embrace new technology as it presents itself. In spite of some pessimistic predictions about the future of model making, it’s still a thriving profession. It turns out the demand for concrete objects will never go out of style.
Here is an interesting UK article about the qualifications and background needed for Junior Model Makers in the Stop Motion Industry: http://www.skillset.org/animation/careers/stop/article_4638_1.asp
How many people won’t admit that they have trouble reading blueprints or maps? They might smile and nod as they look over a 2D plan, but not everyone’s mind can translate the information spatially into a 3D image in their head. When it comes to safety training and emergency preparedness, do you want to leave things up to chance with a map? Probably not. If you are going to take the time to sit people down and run through a training exercise or plan of action, it makes sense to do everything in your power to make sure everyone understands the procedures being discussed.
How more frequently would you train personnel on a particular apparatus or piece of equipment if you had a realistic replica to work with rather than the real thing? Gaining experience with a product, or learning how to maintain or maneuver equipment is imperative, but not always possible to do with the real thing safely, cost-effectively or without risk of damage through mishandling.
Training models can be of assistance in both of these scenarios.
A scale model of a particular space – be it a building or other structure – reveals its anatomy accurately and clearly. Exits, entrances, traffic flow, escape routes, locations of important objects, all become readily recognizable to the observer. It makes training procedures to follow during an emergency or other incident more understandable. Instead of everyone pretending that they understand the 2D image presentation of where things are located and what directions to follow in particular scenarios, more people will actually be on board. In an emergency, this lay person’s understanding may make the difference between a positive outcome and a hugely negative one. And isn’t that the purpose of preparedness training after all?
Similarly, using a replica of your product or products to train personnel on, is often more cost-effective and efficient to execute. Realistic training models of your products are less expensive versions of the real thing. They can be used in training exercises without risk of damaging the actual product and without the time or logistical complications of procedures done within the real environment. From firearm simulators like BLUEGUNS, to loading and packing training tools for industrial purposes, models are able to improve performance in an economical, yet productive, way.
Recently KiwiMill shipped out 5 display models for our client, Anaren, representing the circuit boards they make for radars. These will be trade show displays and include a plane, ship, 2 trucks and a satellite that house radars within them. More photos at http://www.flickr.com/photos/ammodelmakers/sets/72157626468589207/.
When it comes to sales presentations, having an industrial model sets your product apart from the competition. A color brochure of your product, or a video demonstration will not deliver the impact an industrial model in hand does. A model is ultimately informative, answering specific questions about your design. It can highlight particular features or strengths of your product while providing the necessary focus and excitement to your presentation.
The product itself is often too large, too heavy or simply too cumbersome to travel between sales meetings or trade shows. A model, on the other hand, is portable yet instantly recognizable and understood. No need to worry that the potential client cannot visualize your product from a 2 dimensional drawing or photograph. This direct understanding about what you are offering will likely translate into a more positive experience and increased sales.
A model maker can work with you to provide an accurate, visually pleasing, detailed-as-you-want model in a user-friendly scale. Specific features can be emphasized on the model, making it easier for your sales staff to illustrate your product’s uniqueness. Duplicate models can be constructed for whole sales teams. No one should go into a presentation without this necessary sales tool in hand!
Today when I looked around the shop for the model maker‘s latest project, my eyes scanned the work tables for something small in scale. I couldn’t find anything. Where was the model?
It was staring at me at eye level, not on a table, but sitting on the floor.
It’s a seven foot tall industrial model of an asphalt plant. It will have all working parts. Anything that functions in an asphalt plant will be represented with moving parts on the scale model.
Why so large? Well the client has his can’t-be-divulged reasons for wanting this industrial model and the specific scale it is being built in. It makes for a great project in the shop. Take a look at some pictures of the job in progress:
Just shipped: a model of a trade show model of a cooling container for Schneider Electric.
Sometimes a scale model is more interesting before it is painted and detailed, rather than after. This is a model of a generator, which will be part of a larger model of an ESS (expandable shelter system). Looking at the unfinished model allows the observer to notice the variety of materials used in its construction.
OK. Maybe the scale model looks better when it IS finished….
A little talked about aspect of a model maker’s job is to figure out how to pack and ship a finished scale model. No matter how intricate and difficult a build might be, nothing compares to the challenge of getting a model safely to the client in one piece. Scale models can be delicate works of art (though certainly not all of them are) and white glove handling by a dedicated carrier is not always feasable. Shipping companies like Fed Ex and UPS are reasonably priced but do not generally ensure (or insure) that models will arrive unscathed. It’s up to the model maker to give as much thought to the way a scale model will be packed as he has to its design and construction. A project isn’t complete until you get word that the model has been received undamaged.
Different packing methods are used for different types of scale models. Smaller projects (under 2×3 ft) are usually packed in premade hard shell boxes called Pelican cases. They come with solid foam inserts that are then carved to fit the model snugly inside. Similar to how a camera or cell phone is sometimes packed when you buy it at a retail store.
Some models are not as hardy and will be unable to lay in the foam openings without damage. These projects are often secured at their base to a crate and the rest of the model is encased in a protective shell and wrapped securely with packing tape. Mummified in a way.
Some crates are built in the model shop, particularly for bigger pieces. Wood crates were custom made for these trade show models, secured on shelves with screws. A local courier then transported the crates to the client.
A scale model might be delivered by the model making company itself, anchored by way of wooden blocks and screws to the bottom of a truck floor. Some common carriers may pick up a model on a skid or pallet, depending on its over all size. Often the shipper is UPS or Fed Ex. With these carriers, there is a chance of the model being dropped, or otherwise roughly handled and occasionally a project will need to be returned for repairs or the model makers will go on site to fix damage in transit. It’s easily one of the most frustrating parts of the job, but skilled model makers know exactly how to repair their work.
Today in the shop our model makers are carving foam. That can only mean one thing – besides a mess – a topography model! A topography model depicts the 3D nature of a particular terrain, accurately recording elevation levels and identifying specific land forms.
A topography site plan is used for this project.
The site plan is then transferred to a foam block for carving. While in the past topographic models were layered up, using cork, mat board or foam core, modern techniques use the opposite process. Starting with a foam block, the relief is then carved out of the solid piece with a router. The depth that the router plunges into the foam is determined by the scale being used on the map. Different colored lines on the map represent different elevations. Once the routing is complete the different steps created in the foam are then sanded down to make a smooth transition in elevation levels.
The foam will then be painted, roads glued down and the remaining surface flocked.
KiwiMill recently shipped out a spacecraft model of the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. This is a NASA launch set for 2014, where 4 identical spacecraft will be sent in a capsule to probe Earth’s magnetosphere. http://mms.gsfc.nasa.gov/.
The cone of the model was vacuum formed and laser cut ribs were later added to the inside. On the outside of the cone, ribbed sheet stock was used. The solar panels are decals. The 4 spacecraft housed inside the cone were molded and cast out of resin, complete with their instruments.
Out the door and on to our client, Carestream. This sales model is 13x its original size. It’s part of a Digital Radiography System used by dentists for x raying teeth.
Our shop has been working on a project that involves extensive use of 3D mechanical drawings. The scale model, an asphalt plant, will be 7 feet tall when completed. The size and structure of the scale model requires it to support its own weight and traditional model making materials would not be appropriate. Sheet metal will be used instead, and the parts need to be sent out of the shop to be laser cut and bent.
Model makers typically design a project as they build it, problem solving, adjusting and refining their techniques as they go. As craftspeople, they can transform a rough idea into something both accurate in design and beautiful to behold. The sheet metal parts are being sent to a laser cutter unfamiliar with the project’s nuances, so more precise, documented dimensions are needed.
Using a program called Autodesk Inventor, our model makers have drawn up the sheet metal parts on the computer to be sent to the laser cutter. Then the parts will be bent next door at Clad Industries. The finished pieces will arrive back to the model shop for assembly and detailing. Check back for pictures of the finished scale model!
A trade show booth should draw potential customers in to explore, interact with, learn about and bond with your product. What better way to meet these goals than with a scale model of your product? A trade show model can represent your design with the utmost accuracy while drawing attention to the features you want to emphasize.
- It’s often easier to transport a scale model than the product itself, and costs less.
- Your scale model can be touched and examined close up to see how it functions.
- A demonstration of your working model draws customers in to interact personally with your product.
- A 3D model is vision friendly – not everyone can imagine 2D objects in space.
- Cutaways, see-through design, high impact colors and working parts draw attention to your product’s special features.
- Custom cases are provided to house and transport your model safely to various shows.
Everyone loves models, making them natural magnets at trade shows. Customers are drawn to these replicas more than the actual product, sparking curiosity and interest in what you have to offer. Interacting with a scale trade show model creates a lasting impression that can translate into more sales.
Our model makers built a Tactical Airport Surveillance Radar model series for ITT. This particular design is called the TASR-2020. Using photo-like images for reference, the majority of the pieces were made out of brass for strength, beauty and longevity. The CNC mill was used to cut the brass parts which were then soddered together. The fixed location unit was built mostly of styrene, which is a more flexible, durable material than plexiglass. The radar dishes were motorized to attract attention at trade shows.