Interview with the creator of ultra-realistic tiny Tokyo buildings

In the second issue of my newsletter, The Magnet, I interviewed Christopher Robin Nordstrom, who makes ultra-realistic scratch-built 1:20 scale replicas of Tokyo's buildings. Here's an excerpt:

Could you briefly go through the process of making a model and the materials you use? How do you "age" the materials?
Since I don't live in Tokyo, I use Google Street View to find the houses I want to build. Like taking a digital walk in Tokyo. When I have found a house I want to build, I screen grab and make plans using Photoshop and Illustrator.

Then I build a base, often in MDF [medium-density fibreboard] board. I use whatever materials that suit the build I'm doing — brass, plastic, wood, etc. I love using brass that I can solder and photo-etch. You can get amazing details using the photo etching technique. I also cast in plastic and sometimes I laser cut and 3D print.

When I start a new build I often want to add a new process that I haven't used before just to learn something new. My latest project is to use hide glue. Same as the old Renaissance painters. A fantastic glue if you ignore that the apartment smells like dog bones…

Weathering and aging the builds are really close to doing a painting. I use oil paint and dry pastels, slowly adding grime, rust, etc. Almost like painting the building's history. A really fun process, but easy to overdo, so you have to take it easy.

I have chosen to build in 1:20 scale because nothing is available off the shelf in that scale, and that forces me to build everything from scratch.