Special effect miniatures for

The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus.


For Terry Gilliam's film, Mattes and Miniatures were asked to construct many miniatures of various scales and with specific requirements.

Instead of climbing the stairs, Martin visits Mr. Nick’s Lounge Bar, a seedy tavern with a roof shaped like a giant bowler hat, which explodes.

Mattes & Miniatures built the tavern walls out of plaster and vermiculite baked to remove all moisture.

Modelmakers sculpted the hat-shaped roof out of polystyrene, molded and cast in two-part urethane foam with a smooth vinyl skin, then fitted the hat with an interior framework laced with detonator cord and positioned the structure on an elevated set.

After test runs, a large beam on air rams propelled the hat upward and pyrotechnic mixture of naphthalene and diesel fuel billowed out, obliterating set dressing of a miniature Slipstream trailer and bar patrons’ pickup trucks.

Peerless then composited the exploding bar into a digital desert with an animating neon sign.


The desert contains a Mountain of Enlightenment, a towering structure etched with giant stone steps that lead to its summit.

Mattes & Miniatures created the mountain as a 15-feet-tall miniature, built as a timber structure clad in polystyrene, then laminated with plaster and sculpted with palette knives to create effects of rocky strata.

Leigh Took’s team assembled the mountain against bluescreen on a Bray Studios soundstage.


Gilliam shot live action elements for the sequence, and Mattes & Miniatures built two large miniatures.

The War World portion of the environment consisted of an apple-core-shaped blown-apart mountain, carved with rock sculptures of soldiers, capped by tanks on tracks that ran in and out of tunnels, and a carousel of helicopters and airplanes on rotating boom arms.

Modelers scavenged model kits of military vehicles and detailed the ten-foot-tall construction with lights and flowing lava flows of ultraviolet paint, KY Jelly and cork fragments.

Moving model parts were motorized on stepping motors synchronized with Ian Menzies’ motion control camera.

The adjacent piano practice cavern was an eight-foot-tall structure, containing giant sculpted stone elephants on plinths, backed by bluescreen into which Peerless planned to composite repeated elements of piano players and tutors.


An impressive miniature that made it to the screen featured in a later flashback where Parnassus recalls his first encounter with Mr. Nick in a remote mountaintop monastery.

The production filmed the monastery approach with a horse and rider on a Vancouver soundstage using a section of the Mountain of Enlightenment set dressed with fake snow.

Peerless generated Terragen cliff extensions and atmospheric effects to create a vertiginous mountain valley, and added digital flying snow and digital snow dislodged by the horse’s hooves.

Ian Menzies shot miniature elements of the mountain path and monastery, which is revealed as an immense edifice carved out of a cliff.

“Terry and Dave Warren gave us drawings for the monastery buildings,” related Leigh Took. “There was a huge Buddha, with elephants around its base, stacked up into the rock. We built our model in two halves, about ten feet tall at 1/100-scale. We happened to have a large cardboard tube lying around, so we used that for our central building and then built clusters of buildings around that. We spun a plaster dome to go on top of that, made a quick mold and then inscribed bricks and tiles.

We sculpted one elephant in clay, made a silicone mold, knocked out three of those, sculpted and cast the Buddha and sat him the middle. All the rock was polystyrene over timber with plaster carved on top. We covered that with rickety scaffold, a lot of which we built from stirring sticks from Costa Coffee -- we grabbed handfuls of those every morning on the way in to work – along with bits of bamboo roller blinds and hacked up fiber mats. We then gave it a good sprinkling of bicarbonate of soda and a bit of caster sugar to create snow.”

“We had to build the move on the monastery and scale it to the foreground,” explained Paul Docherty. “We used a lidar laser station to locate each piece. We shrunk the locked-off plate of the full-scale horse and rider to quarter-scale, fitted that to the foreground element that the horse was walking on, and then scaled that to the multi-pass shoot of the monastery. It was a real brain-burner.”

The camera swooped past the rider up to a monastery window, following a fanciful flying bird. “The bird started as a bald eagle, and then Terry had some very fantastic pictures of flamingoes and things with long furry tails. We kept coloring it up until he said ‘stop!’ It ended up as a bird of Terry’s imagination.”