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  • Writer's pictureKonstantin Sumtsev

Set Design - Building 1/4 Scale Physical Model - Part 1

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

Welcome! Today, we will be putting together a physical model of "INT. CABIN" set that I have designed & drafted. You can check it out under the "Digital Drafting" section of my portfolio. I'm writing this blog to not only share my knowledge and experience with you but for it to serve as a digital journal/reference of my creative journey.


Let's begin. Why would you make a physical scale model? You have already drafted it in CAD and can generate a 3D model from it with quicker turn around time, realistic materials, and ability to make changes on the fly. Why spend hours making something physical? Isn't it a waste of time, money (materials, supplies, tools, etc.), and overall productivity that can be focused on something else?


The reason, in my opinion, that you should create a physical model is not only for presentation and communication, but also for something that is rooted even deeper in your brain.


As Architect Makoto Takashina says: "A scale model is not a real building; it is a human-made abstraction. When a human mind interfaces something abstract, it tries to create a wholeness that makes sense, using its sensuous capacity. This is the source of creativity."

In addition to Takashina's statement above, for me personally it allows for the understanding of scale, space, light and shadow, material interaction, and ultimately finding a solution to a problem. Remember that as Set Designers part of our job is to solve problems and come up with creative solutions for them. Additionally, walking away from a digital environment into physical one allows for necessary time to digest & compartmentalize the ideas. Looking at a physical model over coffee from various angles after having spent some time away allows me to start thinking creatively & with a different prospective. This way, when I come over to my computer and get into drafting in CAD, I have multiple ideas to start with.


Physical models are also a great form of communication with others and evokes a type of child's play, similar to playing with LEGOs as a child and creating/imagining all the different worlds & situations the LEGO Man is in. This allows for one to rotate, look from multiple angles of their own choosing, get a sense of scale, see the effects of light and shadow, and ultimately help generate new ideas, thoughts, and concepts. Anyone, from Production Designer, Art Director, Director, Producer, Cinematographer, Gaffer, and Key Grip (to name just a few), will understand it and be able to discuss it and ultimately make the final product better.


Additionally, and this is something more for me as an artist, is that you have created a physical sculpture. Something tangible. A snapshot of who you are/were at a particular time. I don't find digital renderings/models as enduring.


Now, let's get modeling. Below are materials, supplies and tools that I used to create the model.


Materials Used:

  • Balsa Wood (1/8 x 3/64 x 24) - (Deck & Roof Frame)

  • Balsa Wood (15/64 x 15/64 x 24) - (Pilings)

  • Balsa Wood (3/32 x 1/32 x 24) - (Deck/Railings)

  • BSI Accelerator (for CA)

  • BSI Cyanoacrylate (CA) Glue

  • Chipboard - (Base Elevated Terrain)

  • Elmer's Carpenter's Wood Glue

  • Elmer's White Glue

  • Evergreen Polystyrene (0.020 x .080" Thick (0.5 x 2.0 mm / 10 Strips) - Item #: 124 - (Exterior Window & Door Casing)

  • Evergreen Polystyrene (0.10" Thick (0.25 mm) - Item #: 9006 - (Window Glass)

  • Evergreen Polystyrene (0.30" Thick (0.75 mm) - Item #: 9030 - (Floor/Doors/Windows/ Window Sills)

  • Evergreen Polystyrene (0.40" Thick (1.0 mm / 100" Spacing (2.5 mm) - Item #: 4101 - (Roof)

  • Evergreen Polystyrene (0.80" Thick (2.0 mm) - Item #: 9080 - (Walls)

  • Paper (90 (g/m² or Better)

Tools Used:

  • #11 Blades (15-Pack)

  • 3/16 Drill Bit

  • Architectural Ruler

  • Architectural Triangles

  • French Curve Set

  • Hand Drill / Power Drill

  • Jewelers Files (Sanding)

  • Knife (for #11 Blades)

  • Magnetic Gluing Jig

  • Metal Ruler

  • Miter Box & Saw

  • Paint Brush (for Glueing)

  • Pencils

  • Pliers

  • Razor Saw Blade (1-1/4 Inches x 5 Inches, 54 TPI)

  • Thin Beam Square 5"(Perfect Right Angle)

  • Toothpicks (for Glueing)

  • Tweezers

  • X-Acto / Excel Knife


Chipboard, Evergreen Polystyrene, BSI Cyanoacrylate (CA) Glue, Balsa Wood, Knives, Ruler, etc.

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