'CSI' Crime Scene Miniatures Are Big Work

The team of investigators on the hit CBS drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" prides itself on noticing the smallest details, and now, more than ever, they have lots of small details to notice.

A story line this season has a possible serial killer leaving behind miniature models that are exact replicas of the murder scenes.

It's not only a challenge for the investigators, but for the creative team behind the scenes at the show.

Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen took viewers there Friday for an exclusive look at how it's done.

She asked "CSI" set designer Robb Sissman what kind of mind it takes to make the detail-perfect scale models of grisly crime scenes used as props.

"It's hard to describe what the process is in your mind to produce this stuff," Sissman responded. "You're told you have to do it, and you do just it."

And the job is actually twice as hard as it looks, since Sussman must create not only the scale model actually used as a prop, but a larger model, as well, used for some of the show's more intricate special photography.

"I'm sitting all day, with my eyes down and my little tiny tweezers and my little knife," Sissman remarked to Chen, "and I think the thoughts run through my mind that ran through the fabled killer!"

The attention to detail is incredible: The coupons the victim was cutting-out are reproduced and scattered in the same places found at the actual crime scene. No shortcuts in making a stack of miniature newspapers. Open it up in the middle, and it's just as "real"-looking as the paper on top. Even the furniture fabric is an exact miniature replica.

"These models are brilliant," William Petersen, who plays Gil Grissom, said to Chen, "and it really is bizarre to be standing on a set, or in a house, and then be looking at the exact house. And you stand there and you look at it, and then I turn around to see where the (real-life) pan is, and the pan is in exactly the place where it is in the model. ... It's creepy, but it's fabulous, too!"

A special camera system has become one of the tools of the trade for Grissom's character. He uses it to inspect the miniature models. It looks like a long, narrow, thin, black tube with a bright light at the end. You look in one end to see what it sees at the other.

In the real world, it's called a "Hawkeye Borescope," made by Gradient Lens Corporation. The company's Web site lists its uses, which are numerous. Among them: close-up inspections of aircraft parts.
  • Brian Dakss

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