Scale models are used to create the miniature effect motion pictures and television. They are usually combined with matte shots or high speed photography, in order to create a gravitational effect, which makes the scene more convincing and believable. The contemporary film industry uses the computer generated imagery directly to achieve this kind of result.
The miniature or the matte, the painted background, are shot very close to the camera lens. The miniature itself has to be overlit, in order to balance the overall exposure and eliminate the depth of field, that otherwise would betray the use of a fake scale background. This practice is called forced perspective.
This technique goes back the early age of the cinema. The technique was used at the beginning to present to the public things that did not exist in reality, like skyscrapers, aliens, or to make scenes that would be very expensive to film in reality, like floods, fires or explosions.
Georges Méliès included this double exposure in his film Le Voyage dans la Lune. Metropolis, from 1927, Citizen Kane from 1941, Godzilla from 1954 or the Ten Commandments from 1956 also used miniature effect scale models.
The epic 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968 was and still is today one of the best movies in the history of cinematography that used the scale models technique to create convincing scenery. The Star Wars 1977 title, The Empire Strikes Back, Star Trek from 1979, or The Terminator, from 1984 have all parts that were filmed with the help of miniature technique.
Starting with the beginning of the 90s, the miniature effect started to be overtaken by CGI, Computer Generated Imagery. Still, there are some very recent movies that still make the most of miniatures to film some scenery. Some of them are Titanic from 1997, Casino Royale from 2006, Interstellar from 2014 and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, from 2015.