Growing up, the one piece of movie magic I was most obsessed with was the art of taking miniature props and somehow passing them off as the real thing on the big screen. It boggled my mind how a tiny little car or an entire town could be filmed in a way that made it look real, and as technology evolved -- with filmmakers turning away from miniatures and practical effects, and more towards computer-generated imagery -- it saddened entire generations of movie nerds who grew up dorking out over behind-the-scenes images and documentaries that explored that particular process in great length.
So how do they take a small car and make it look big and real? Well, the process involves combining scale models and high-speed photography so that certain effects appear real. Here's a more detailed description via Wikipedia:
"Where a miniature appears in the foreground of a shot, this is often very close to the camera lens — for example when matte painted backgrounds are used. Since the exposure is set to the object being filmed so the actors appear well lit, the miniature must be over-lit in order to balance the exposure and eliminate any depth of field differences that would otherwise be visible. This foreground miniature usage is referred to as forced perspective. Another form of miniature effect uses stop motion animation.
These days we don't see many filmmakers working with miniatures, but the process hasn't died out yet. What began in 1902 with the Georges Méliès film A Trip to the Moon is still used on some very well-known blockbusters, like Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, Casino Royale, Titanic and even The Dark Knight.
One of the scenes Christopher Nolan used miniatures for in The Dark Knight was the elaborate chase scene featuring an armored truck, police cars and Batman's tumbler. Below you can watch the scene in full, and then click through a gallery of some really cool behind-the-scenes images featuring the various miniatures they used to create the scene. Note the miniature school bus sticking out of the wall in that last shot. You Bat nerds probably know what scene that's referencing...
Here's the scene in question. See if you can spot where the miniatures were used.
Check out the images below...