Pop-Up Scale Model Furniture

The entire exercise would be a great deal harder without the pre-drawn model pieces that I provide the students.  This drawing is merely an extension of the CADD drawing that they already know how to do.  It requires only a little imagination to create such a drawing from the orthographic drawing of the chair.  Even so, students must take care and master cutting skills using the the tip of  #11 Exacto-style knives in order to end up with respectable results.

Years ago, I ran across a retail product known as Pop-Out Furniture that takes out a lot of the tedium for creating scale furniture.  Available from Paul Pape designs, these scale models take the form of sheets of heavy stock with laser-cut scale furniture suites in a number of period styles including Elizabethan, 2 variations on Chippendale, Colonial American, Early Victorian, Late Victorian, 19th Century German and Twentieth-Century Modern.  Available in 1/2″ and 1/4″ scale each sheet costs between $10 (1/4″ scale) and $15 (1/2″ scale).  The furniture is pretty detailed and easy to release from the sheet by cutting small tabs (like the sprues on a plastic injection-molded model).  Most of the furniture pieces can be created by lightly scoring  and folding the flat pieces  and gluing the parts together.  While a designer might find these useful on occasion, they are quite limited as to the exact style of furniture in each set and as to the items of furniture included.  Furthermore, if a designer is to use these model pieces in a production model, the director could be excused for expecting that precise furniture in the finished set.

I find it much more satisfying (and accurate) to create furniture models that resemble the precise furniture that is to be used. As an example, the Pop-Out Furniture does not feature any furniture that resembles Stickley Arts and Craft style furniture such as the chair featured in my last blog.  It is not that difficult to adapt the construction drawings for any created furniture into some version of a Pop-Out Furniture style model.  Even existing furniture can be converted into a CADD drawing with a little work.

PhotoOfChairScaledToHalfInchThe process begins with a series of photos: Front, Side and Top of the item of furniture.  Take the photos with a telephoto lens if possible to minimize the effect of perspective that a wide-angle lens will feature.  Import the jpgs of the photos into a CADD file (I use Vectorworks) and scale each view based upon critical measurements taken from the actual item of furniture.  The example at right shows such a series of photos taken of a chair that we used some time ago for a production of One Flea Spare.


Once the JPG images are properly scaled,  one can rather easily trace the members of furniture over-top of the JPGs creating drawing in orthographic projection.  A little further manipulation of the orthographic projection can yield a drawing that can be cut out, scored and folded in a similar manner to the Pop-Out Furniture.  I have found that the need to completely cut out the entire furniture piece out of heavy card stock or Bristol board makes it difficult to achieve quite the detail that the Pop-Up furniture has, but with a little patience, a sharp knife and practice, the neophyte modelers can achieve impressive results.  I also tend to make more use of layering and often cut out and glue tiny parts rather than try to score and fold.


Above is the sheet that I created so that I could model the chair used in the production of One Flea Spare at Theatre Simpson in 2007.  I have since re-used the model for an exercise that I have the students do in the  Techniques for Costume and Set Designers course at Simpson College.

Meanwhile, that’s enough for now! Have fun!  But be safe!



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