Model Maker

The Job and What's Involved

Developing new products is an expensive process, so models are often used to test various aspects of the design before production begins. Model makers design and make models of a wide range of items - from products such as mobile phones and DVD players to construction developments such as new libraries and shopping centres.

Their clients may be involved in a variety of sectors, including manufacturing, engineering, biosciences, architecture and construction, stage, film and television production, and heritage.

Model makers work in a number of different areas:

Architectural model design - building scale models of construction developments.

Product model design - making prototype models of new products to be tested before going into production.

Visual effects design - making models to use in film and TV special effects, as well as producing models of film, TV and theatre sets, exhibition stands and displays.

Model makers may also assist in market research by developing models to show potential purchasers or clients what an item will look like.

The work involves:

  • Discussing ideas, requirements, budgets and timescales with clients and designers.
  • Working from technical drawings or computer-aided designs.
  • Using a range of hand, power and machine tools, although model makers increasingly using specialist equipment which can produce a 3D item directly from a computerised design.
  • Using a wide range of materials including wood, metal, clay and various plastics.
  • Using a range of finishing techniques, including spray painting and hand painting.
  • Making amendments to designs according to feedback received from clients.
  • Working accurately to detailed specifications.
  • Working to strict deadlines.

Model makers usually work around 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, but evening and weekend work may be required to meet deadlines.

They are normally based in workshops or laboratories. Work environments may be noisy, dirty and dusty at times. Some of the products used, such as adhesives, may give off unpleasant or dangerous fumes. Safety equipment, such as eye protection, masks and gloves, is provided where necessary. The work can combine a lot of standing at work benches or machinery with sitting at drawing boards or computers.

It may be necessary to travel to meet clients or visit sites, so a driving licence is useful.

Salaries may start at around £12,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Many model makers are freelancers who work on projects for a number of clients. There are also opportunities with design, specialist model making, civil engineering and production companies. Most employers are based in large cities across the UK.

In recent years, demand for traditional model makers in the UK has been affected by outsourcing of model making contracts to overseas companies. This has resulted in UK companies placing more emphasis on IT skills and computer-aided model making in order to remain competitive.

Vacancies may be advertised in Jobcentre Plus offices, in Connexions centres, and in local and national newspapers. Specialist publications such as Design and Design Week, and the newsletters of professional bodies such as The Institution of Engineering Technology (IET), may also list job vacancies.

Education and Training

In some sectors there are no set academic requirements to become a model maker. Employers normally expect to see a portfolio of work (which may include model making done as a hobby). In engineering and manufacturing, many employers offer Apprenticeships. Entry is very competitive, and it is best to have some GCSE's/S grades in subjects such as maths, design and technology, and physics.

Relevant courses/qualifications include:

  • NOCN Award, Certificate and Diploma in Art and Design at Levels 1, 2 and 3.
  • City & Guilds Level 2 Certificate in Design and Craft.
  • City & Guilds Level 2 Progression Award in Applying Engineering Principles.
  • City & Guilds Level 3 Progression Award in Production Engineering: Pattern and Model Making.
  • City & Guilds Level 3 Certificate in Engineering.
  • ABC Level 3 Award in Software Skills for 3D Modelling.
  • ABC Level 3 Award in Model Making and Presentation.
  • ABC Level 3 Award in Digital Modelling for Architectural Environments.
  • ABC Level 3 Certificate in Interior Design Modelling and Visualising.
  • ABC Level 3 Diploma in 3D Modelling and Animation.
  • BTEC/SQA Higher National Diplomas (HNDs) in Design (Modelmaking) and 3D Design.
  • Foundation degrees in subjects such as model making or 3D design.
  • Degrees in subjects such as model making, model design, product design and 3D design (some illustration and animation degrees also have modules in model making).

The Diploma will give you the knowledge and skills that you will need for college, university or work in an exciting, creative and enjoyable way.

Entry requirements vary depending on the level of the course and educational institution. Check with individual institutions before applying. As a guide, the usual entry requirements for an HND are five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and one A level/H grade, or the equivalent. For a degree course, the usual entry requirements are five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3) and two A levels/H grades.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Some employers may provide training in tool use, machine operation and specialist software packages.

Model makers may get the opportunity to work towards relevant vocational qualifications, including NVQ's/SVQ's in Performing Engineering Operations at Level 2 and Engineering Woodworking, Pattern and Model Making at Level 3.

Professional organisations such as the Design Council and D&AD provide details of ongoing training and development opportunities, and run design award schemes. The Institution of Engineering Designers operates a membership scheme with events and workshops for members.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A model maker should:

  • Have good hand-to-eye co-ordination.
  • Be creative.
  • Have good drawing skills.
  • Be able to think in three dimensions.
  • Be able to use computer-aided design programmes.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Have an eye for shape and colour.
  • Pay attention to detail.
  • Be able to work to detailed specifications.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines.
  • Be able to use maths and geometry to make calculations.
  • Be aware of relevant health and safety issues.

Your Long Term Prospects

In large organisations, there may be opportunities for promotion to team leader or senior model maker. With additional qualifications it may be possible to progress to positions in design. Model makers in smaller companies may have to move between employers in order to progress.

Experienced model makers may choose to work freelance, creating models for a range of different clients.

With appropriate experience and qualifications, it may be possible to teach model making perhaps by using models such as Lego Mini Figures and then progressing to CAD (computer-aided design).

Get Further Information

Chartered Society of Designers,
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088

D&AD, 9 Graphite Square, Vauxhall Walk,
London SE11 5EE
Tel: 020 7840 1111

Design Business Association (DBA),
35-39 Old Street, London EC1V 9HX
Tel: 020 7251 9229

Design Council,
34 Bow Street, London WC2E 7DL
Tel: 020 7420 5200

The Institution of Engineering Designers (IED),
Courtleigh, Westbury Leigh,
Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 3TA
Tel: 01373 822801

SEMTA (Science, Engineering and
Manufacturing Technologies Alliance),
14 Upton Road, Watford,
Hertfordshire WD18 0JT
Tel; 01923 238441

Prospect House, Focus Point,
21 Caledonian Road, London N1 9GB
Tel: 020 7713 9800

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