The main difference between professional model makers and hobbyists?
It’s not necessarily talent. Many model maker hobbyists make BEAUTIFUL models.
It’s not access to specialized, expensive equipment and tools. A hand-built model, when done right, can be very polished looking and precise.
It’s not the materials used either – anyone has access on the internet to quality supplies.
It’s not even that professional model makers get a pay check. Hobbyists have been known to make money from their projects.
The biggest division is time. Professional model makers always work under deadlines – often very tight deadlines in the corporate world. The pressure can be fairly intense. A high quality replica needs to be built accurately and quickly to meet a client’s expectations and then it’s on to the next one.
How does a person become a model maker? There are a variety of ways that today’s model makers started out before becoming professionals in the business. While most model makers will tell you that they enjoyed working on hobby model kits in their youth, some found their way to the craft later in life. All model makers have advanced dexterity, a keen eye for detail and artistic sensibilities. Another prerequisite is the ability to visualize in 3D. And no amount of model building skills will parlay themselves into a career unless the work can be done in a timely manner. In other words, there are people who can build a decent model if given enough time, but professional model makers always work within particular time constraints.
College degrees specifically in model making do exist. A quick search on the internet brings up BA’s in Model Making, Model Making for Design and Media, Model Making for Film and Television and Model Design and Model Effects. There are Bachelor of Science Degrees in Industrial Technology – Model Making, as well as Associates Degrees in Applied Sciences in Model Making and Design Model Making and Rapid Prototyping. Plenty of model makers hold degrees in Industrial Design, or come from Engineering or Fine Arts backgrounds as well.
Of course, formal education is not a prerequisite to model making. Some model makers learned through apprenticeship or come from backgrounds in crafts or other skilled trades.
Increasingly model makers are expected to be proficient in computer programs. Plans and designs are frequently sent through AutoCAD, Rhino or Adobe Illustrator. More model parts are being drawn on the computer before assembly. Computers are used to make parts as well, with CNC mills, lasers and 3D printers.
Model making remains an intriguing mix of talents that require mental focus, creative problem solving skills, design appreciation, fine motor skills and willingness to embrace new technology as it presents itself. In spite of some pessimistic predictions about the future of model making, it’s still a thriving profession. It turns out the demand for concrete objects will never go out of style.
Here is an interesting UK article about the qualifications and background needed for Junior Model Makers in the Stop Motion Industry: http://www.skillset.org/animation/careers/stop/article_4638_1.asp