Case Study: Model Maker - Rhonda

What do you do?

I'm a model maker and I work mostly on architectural models, though I also do some prototypes of industrial equipment. My work involves constructing three-dimensional models and prototypes from plans, painting the details on the cut pieces and assembling them.

What is your background?

After studying three-dimensional design I knew I wanted to do something artistic and work with my hands. I didn't realise it would end up being model making.

After graduating from university, I applied for several different positions and was accepted as a trainee model maker. I've been working as a model maker for 15 years.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

Model makers should be perfectionists and pay great attention to detail. We must also be good with our hands and able to think in three dimensions.

The ability to learn new things is important (especially with the advances in technology), and a high level of skill in fixing mistakes is also an asset (since mistakes can never be completely avoided).

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

Model makers can become pattern makers (who make very precise models of machine parts), jewellers, sculptors or carpenters. Any job that involves precision craftsmanship is a possibility.

What changes will there be in the future?

I believe the demand for model makers will remain about the same. I think there will always be a need for people to have something concrete and three-dimensional to look at when they are considering a product or building, and computer simulations can only go so far.

In the future, the design and cutting of model parts (but not their assembly) will involve increased use of computers. This will improve the precision of the parts and of the entire model.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

The most challenging part of my work is checking the initial drawings for omissions and errors and solving these problems with the architect. Sometimes the client doesn't give me enough information, and sometimes I don't notice one of his or her mistakes. Either way, an imperfection results, and I must come up with a way to solve the problem.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

There are opportunities for model makers. I suggest you visit different employers and show them your portfolio and your desire to work. It helps if you have good computer skills.

What do you like about your job?

There's a lot of variety in this job, which keeps things interesting. Some work is done on machinery and some by hand. There are easy and more difficult parts, and often there's a lot of problem-solving.

Also, model makers are able to use their artistic skills. We work a lot with colours and textures to make the model look like real buildings with glass, brick and metal finishes.

There's a lot of job satisfaction, as well. People who see our work are always amazed by the detail and how real they look.

What do you dislike about your job?

There can be some frustrations in this job. Model makers tend to be perfectionists. But so many things can go wrong when you're building a model, you just have to be patient, take your time and fix things.

Short deadlines can also be wearing, because they usually mean that you have to work a lot of long days and late nights.

Finally, some clients don't give you enough information or they change their mind part way through. As a result, you might have to tear a part of the model apart, which can compromise the finished work quality. You might even have to start all over again!

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

What I love about this job is that it's artistic and hands-on. There may be tough times when there's not enough work around, but generally, you can make a good living at it.

A day in the life

8:00 am - 8:30 am

Cleaning and organising work station; making coffee.

8:30 am - 9:30 am

Continuing to assemble a model of a large building that I started before. Measuring, cutting and gluing the pieces of clear acrylic material and adjusting them as I go.

9:30 am - 10:00 am

Making the last piece of the model. This involves using a table saw to cut it to the exact angles and proportions, scraping it to create the perfect fit and using a polishing machine to bring back its shine.

10:00 am - 12:00 pm

"Scribing" vertical lines onto the building model to represent the window panels.

12:00 pm - 12:30 pm

Eating lunch.

12:30 pm - 2:00 pm

Meeting with an architect to discuss another model I'm working on. Getting her approval and taking notes on additional details she wants included in the piece.

2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

Working on the model I've just been discussing, such as fixing one section of it by taking out all the surrounding pieces, creating a few new ones and reassembling it and touching up the paint job.

3:00 pm - 4:00 pm

Working on the base the model sits on by adding extra details to it.

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