For Marina Totino, thinking small has a big payoff. The Montreal miniature maker is enthralling the internet with her whimsical sets, capturing moods, ideas and whole stories in the fine details of teensy-weensy scenes, some no larger than a shoebox. What began as a hobby has become her profession. Totino has produced miniatures for television, album covers and video game developers. On Instagram, she has amassed over 200,000 followers.
She traces her passion back to a 2017 miniature build for a stop-motion film script she wrote.
"I fell in love with it instantly," Totino told Narcity's Alex Melki. "I couldn't stop building miniatures."
They became her professional focus, but they're also a personal outlet. "What draws me to it is the ability for me to express myself and express a lot of the darkness and isolation that I often feel."
Of particular interest, she said, is encapsulating the feeling of nostalgia, which she achieves by "revisiting" lost spaces and "playing" with vintage aesthetics.
Totino's miniatures are often devoid of people, but their presence is palpable, she explained. In one miniature depicting a — possibly haunted — laundromat, a dirty, slime-covered mop stands in the corner, an open newspaper flaps on a bench, a poster advertises a "back room" staff party, and shadowy figures move behind an opaque window.
Her miniature designs begin "with a very small idea" that "grows over time," she said. "I think about scenes. I think about how they would look cinematically."
"In the laundromat, for example, I'll think of what's happening in there." She'll also consider actions and their impressions on the scene. "I love the idea of creating spaces where it seems like someone was just there and just left."
All of her miniatures are made from scratch. Sometimes that takes some craftiness. Totino pointed to her use of branches and twigs littering the streets of Montreal following an April ice storm in a set portraying a funhouse surrounded by barren trees.
She also has to consider how to arrange her composition, how to scale objects and then, how to mould them out of simple shapes.
Every miniature, Totino suggested, poses a different challenge and advances her craft. That can mean taking on the unfamiliar.
"I kind of just say yes to things and hope for the best later."