Before special effects went digital with CGI, part of the magic of movie making included artists laboring over tiny scaled-down sets, creating little worlds that look totally real until a normal-sized human hand appears in the scene. One museum in France lets visitors explore over 100 such sets, each standing out for its incredible realism. At Musée Miniature & Cinéma in Lyon, you can gaze upon these miniatures as well as a collection of over 300 full-scale movie props.
Painstaking attention is paid to textures and weathering in the miniature scenes, like a kitchen with cooking implements smaller than sewing needles, peeling floor tiles and grimy windows. A thick layer of dust covers the floor of a brick-lined underground storage space.
A dimly-lit hair barber shop boasts photos of Elvis on the walls, with stained towels crumpled on the counters. The lighting is half of the magic, often coming in through windows or illuminating only one small section of a scene so the rest remains shadowy and mysterious.
Pick up a magnifying glass and examine the museum’s 1,000-piece collection of arts and crafts in miniature, including stringed instruments, origami, micro paper art and other tiny delicate creations. Then, move on to the Cinema Collection, which “unveils all the tricks that are used by cinema magicians” like masks, prop guns and robotic dinosaurs. Walk onto scaled sets that are somewhere between miniatures and full-size, which made train crashes and spaceship scenes a lot easier to film.
The Musée Miniature & Cinéma is owned and curated by Dan Ohlmann, himself a famed miniaturist responsible for many of the scenes that can be found within the museum. You can even go ‘backstage’ to watch him and other miniature artists work on commissioned pieces and restore artifacts from famous films, like the giant Alien Queen body from the movie Alien vs. Predator.