Imagine creating a retro small town where you could relive your childhood. How amazing would it be to be able to experience only the parts that you want? What if you could leave out the parts you want to forget? Heavily bullied as a child, Michael Paul Smith used his imagination to cope and escape. Imagination and seclusion often work hand in hand to breed artistic ability, as it did in his case. Artistic ability leads to appreciation. Michael’s appreciation lead him to become a car buff and collector of 1/24 scale die cast models. He was not interested in horsepower, the beauty and design of the vehicles is what captivated him.
Unlike most collectors, Michael Paul Smith wasn’t satisfied with letting his collection sit on the shelf. He wanted to create buildings and photograph his models in real world context. The logical starting point would be to build a gas station for all the cars. Michael moved on from there, constructing more buildings and taking more photos. Michael’s love for art and beauty have inspired him to do some amazing things. With a low quality digital camera, his collection of 300+ die cast cars and trucks, and a vision… the retro small town of Elgin Park was born.
Elgin Park – A 1/24th-scale creation of a fictitious mid 20th century American town.
Amazing detail goes into these tiny photo sets. Scale shovel, 2×4, grocery bag and tow chain accentuate the man made miniature snow and mud covered foreground.
Positioning objects of different size so that they appear to harmonize is called forced perspective. Most photographers have a difficult time grasping this concept. Michael admits that he powered through quite a steep learning curve.
The idea of using forced perspective to photograph the automobile replicas came from filming practices of the 20’s. They used to build smaller buildings and place the actors closer to make the buildings appear larger.
Wow! This photo looks like it’s simply a retouched photo from a retro small town.
Visualizing die cast cars, hand built buildings and props with real world backdrops really is the magic behind making these photos truly look real!
High Resolution Cameras have too much detail and accentuate the difference between models and reality.
Low resolution digital cameras work very well as they blur just enough to mock old school retro photography.
Die cast models are from the Danbury Mint and Franklin Mint. 1/24th-scale models provide amazing accuracy and add authenticity to the photos.
Each photo session is usually done within an hour and only nets 3-4 usable photos. Michael feels that if you push too long, the magic between subject and lens will be lost.
Weather can be an antagonizing factor. The weather in the model has to match reality. Here, carefully placed baking soda creates the illusion of a snowy road in a retro small town.
Sets usually take a couple of days plus to build depending on their intricacy. The model of Michael’s childhood home, for instance, took over 4 months to complete.
When creating forced perspective images, it is important to keep it simple. Minimize the information in the photo, but make sure your scale is correct or it won’t be believable.
Moisture will be added to sets to assist in creating realism and depth. The muddy ground in this photo really makes it come alive.
Photoshop filters will be added to only to make the photo look more time correct.
These photos make it really difficult to tell where the set ends and the real world background begins.
Studying old photos and snapshots will enhance your ability to take a believable retro small town photo. This one is nearly flawless!
Michael Paul Smith and his amazing attention to detail have truly created a window into a land of imagination and possibility. The beautiful retro small town of Elgin park is a great place to visit and I believe I will find myself returning often.
Elgin Park is a window into the past. This window allows your imagination to run wild in the popular ‘Retro Age’ of the 1930’s – 1960’s. Maybe it will spark a memory or allow you to escape to an alternate reality momentarily. The limits are only within your own imagination. Though this retro small town exists only in pictures, with over 76 million visitors to date, Elgin Park proves to be a very popular cyber travel destination.
For more photos check out Michael Paul Smith’s Flickr page.
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