While the stereotype might be that Japan is hi-tech, some of its biggest news broadcasters use low-tech dioramas and models to explain current events.
While respected Japanese network NHK has a full CG department, able to churn out impressive computer graphics, it still uses models made by its stable of master prop makers. NHK’s prop department, which also makes things for numerous historical dramas, is vast and extensive. And talented.
It’s no wonder because the Japanese entertainment industry has a long history of building miniatures and models, which is best seen in the country’s iconic kaiju movies, such as Godzilla and Gamera.
“When I’ve been on NHK,” author and game localizer Matt Alt tells Kotaku, “I’ve seen them break down and take apart sets so quickly. Backstage, it’s more like a theatrical production.”
That physicality extends to the dioramas. On Japanese news and variety shows, Alt points out, there are typically panels of commenters. Dioramas give them something far more tangible to interact with than CG.
What’s more, the dioramas might be easier to understand—especially for the country’s older viewers.
During the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, for example, the dioramas even seemed somewhat comforting—something Alt wrote about for The New Yorker.
Dioramas are both tangible and somewhat abstract. Newscasters can pick up the model buildings or cars. They are “real” in an analog sense. However, they are also somewhat abstract, because they are smaller and even “toylike”. This can make them non-threatening.
The dioramas and models might take longer than the CG, but NHK continues to use them to explain everything from the Fukushima reactors and nuclear cores to new Tokyo Skytree and to the sprawling Tokyo subway labyrinth.
However, NHK isn’t the only network to use models instead of relying only upon CG.
Case in point: TV Asahi, with a recent weather pressure explanation.
Or Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Fuji Network News explaining Japanese military legislation.
Or these programs that used helicopter models this week to explain a domestic military crash.
This story was originally published on April 15, 2013. It has since been updated.