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BA (Hons) Model Design (Special Effects)

Due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, examinations may be replaced by an alternative form of assessment during the academic year 2020/2021. Please refer to the Programme Specification on these pages for further details.

Design/make working SFX mechanisms, traditional and digital
Design/make working SFX mechanisms, traditional and digital
Benefit from fantastic links to industry and regular guest speakers
Benefit from fantastic links to industry and regular guest speakers
Outstanding record at Blades Model Makers Show, London
Outstanding record at Blades Model Makers Show, London

This course includes the sandwich year options of:

Work Placement*

Study abroad*

*No fees are charged for this year

Why choose this course?

  • Combine your artistic and technical skills to produce animatronics, action props, models and special effects.
  • Gain ‘hands on’ experience of special effects equipment used to produce, rain, fire, smoke, wind and snow etc. and learn about the safe use of pyrotechnics.
  • Use of traditional workshop machinery and cutting-edge technologies, plus access to specialist industry standard facilities for animatronics, model making and prop making.
  • Close contacts with industry, which provide outstanding work experience opportunities and collaborative projects.
  • High graduate employment rates for Special Effects students. 
  • The only Creative Skillset Tick accredited Model and Special Effects course in the UK.

What employers say about us

Over the last two years I have employed three graduates of the University, all of whom had completed the Model and Special effects Programme. These three graduates have not only successfully merged into my established film industry Special Effects team but also, are now actively contributing their ideas and skills to enhance and widen the scope of my team. 
Chris Corbould Special Effects MIExpE

With 3 courses covering different aspects of the Special Effects industry, (which I think is unique), they are the main supplier of graduates to our industry. More importantly these graduates are aligned with the needs of the industry and are readily employable. 
Mike Kelt, CEO Artem


The Model Design Programme is the only Special Effects course to have been accredited by Creative Skillset.

The programme has outstanding links with industry and these result in high profile work experience opportunities for our students. Our students have worked on major feature films at leading UK studios, including making action props on Guardians of the Galaxy, Jupiter Ascending, Exodus and Black Sea.

Graduates from this degree often work with leading figures such as Chris Corbould Special Effects MIExpE and a host of other companies including: Anarchy Ltd, Artem, Asylum, Darkside FX, Ferox Effects, Gerry Judah, Machine Shop, etc.

Articles about the work have featured in a variety of international publications including Wired Magazine and CNN.


  • Purpose built studio, situated above an extensive workshop containing a wide range of traditional and cutting edge technologies.
  • A variety of equipment/machinery and state-of-the-art rapid prototyping facilities including: Laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC milling and routing.
  • Well-equipped sculpture studio, which includes a plaster mould making area and industry standard extraction in the fiberglass/resin casting room.
  • Brazing, soldering and welding facilities for most types of metal fabrication and finishing.
  • Access to facilities across the School, including photographic studios and printing, and computer suites.
  • Follow the link to find out more about the excellent facilities we have on offer

What's the course about?

All three of our model design courses share the same First Year, giving you an excellent introduction to model making, prop making, sculpture and special effects. Building on this foundation, you’ll focus on developing your artistic and technical skills to produce models, animatronics and other effects. You’ll also gain hands on experience of the specialist equipment used to produce rain, fire, smoke, wind and snow, and learn about the safe use of pyrotechnics.

In Second Year, you will acquire an understanding of special effects design and receive a thorough grounding in the practical aspects of this. You will be able to combine your artistic and technical skills to produce animatronics, action props, models and special effects.

In your Final Year, you’ll work on major projects and create a professional portfolio to impress employers. Throughout your studies you’ll use a mix of traditional techniques and modern technology. This course is accredited by Creative Skillset, reflecting the highest standard of teaching and facilities.

What will I study?

The course emphasises the importance of 3D making leading to physical artefacts created through structured research and design; well-prepared written and verbal presentations; and computer literacy.

Alongside elements of standard lectures, seminars, tutorials and practical workshops, you also learn through case studies, individual and group projects and other student centred activities.

You will experience a wide variety of teaching styles on the programme including:

  • standard lectures
  • practical workshops
  • case studies
  • individual and group projects

First Year

You will be introduced to current materials, techniques and design processes in a combined first year (all three degree disciplines) and gain a strong grounding in workshop machinery and practices, which are relevant to the whole programme.

Second Year

You will acquire an understanding of special effects design and receive a thorough grounding in the practical aspects of this. You will be able to combine your artistic and technical skills to produce animatronics, action props, models and special effects. You will also gain ‘hands on’ experience of special effects equipment used to produce, rain, fire, smoke, wind and snow etc. and learn about the safe use of pyrotechnics.

All of our second year students have the option to undertake a professional work experience module with one of our many high profile industry contacts.

Final Year

Your final year is designed to prepare you for entry to the industry as a highly employable graduate. You will make a variety of project outcomes that demonstrate your professional ability and you will also spend time producing a professional portfolio and self-promotional material designed to impress potential employers at your first interview and beyond.

'The work experience opportunities are fantastic. The 3rd year timetable allows you to push yourself and get more projects and achieve a better quality of work done for your portfolio.'

BA (Hons) Model Design (Special Effects) student

Student Blogs

Eleanor - Week at a glance

My week at a glance

Model Design is an all coursework course, some practical and some written. Typically, this will mean that not a lot of the week is kept to a specific timetable. Each year you will have a 3 hour lecture each week for your written work module. (This module is about 25% of the course). For my first year this was on a Thursday afternoon and for my second year it was on a Tuesday afternoon. This is the only fixed regular contact time you will have. The rest of the time will be filled with your own planning around your current projects and depending on at what point of the project it is there will be tutorials timetabled in. Here is a day to day of what you could expect on those days (but not all in one week):


  • AM – Intro talk
  • PM – Tutorial (group A)


  • AM – Tutorial (group B)
  • PM – Lecture [fixed each week]


  • AM – Tutorial
  • PM – Nothing will be timetabled here


  • AM – Tutorial
  • PM – Tutorial


  • AM – Show and Tell Presentations (group A)
  • PM – Show and Tell Presentations (group B)

These are when they may usually happen but not always. During the rest of the time when nothing is timetabled it is your time to manage. This could be a mixture of things you could be doing. Some pieces of equipment need booking onto so you will need to look ahead to see what is available and whether it lines up with what is timetabled at the time. Time management skills are vital with this course and they will develop throughout the years, they certainly have for me!

Student Blogs

Eleanor - Useful tips

Useful tips for studying Model Design at Herts

Here are a few things I wish I knew before coming to study Model Design. They aren’t obvious to you until after you have already started in my opinion.

Keep drawing 

I came to university straight after school and so had a very long holiday from the end of school to the start of university. When I started in first year, I realised how my drawing skills were lacking compared to what they were like at school. What I wished I had done was carried on drawing over the summer in the run up to uni. Even if this would have been a few sketches every now and then I really think it would have helped. During the first few weeks and projects in first year I was slow to get back into the swing of sketching and accurate drawing.

Useful tools to start with

Where they do give you a list of tools that would be useful to have before you start, I do think that some are more important to get the right kind or just were missing off the list.

  • Cutting mat – I think a cutting mat is useful for not only cutting on but also making the desk you are working on clear and a nice flat surface. It also makes it clear to see any small pieces you are working with.
  • Scalpel - A lot of first year is based on advancing your hand skills and a scalpel is essential to be able to do this. I would also make sure you have lots of spare blades as well.
  • Steel ruler – This is essential for not only measuring with but using to cut a straight line with the scalpel. The steel ruler is best if you get the type that has the 0 measurement at the very end.
  • Engineer’s square – This is the best tool I own and is so helpful especially at the beginning. When I read the tools list before I started, I made the mistake of getting myself a big one (way too big for what I needed). The best type to get is the one that is small and made of metal.
  • Spring clamps – Once I got around to buying these, they made my life so much easier and I wish I had them from the start.
  • Safety specs – Having your own safety specs is a necessity, not only for your safety but also the ones you can borrow are just not as nice as well as there only being a few. It’s also just nicer to have your own in general.
  • Pencils – It sounds obvious, but a good sharp pencil will help a lot.
  • A4 sketch books – All projects will need 2 A4 sketch books. I made the mistake of getting a ‘really nice’ sketchbook at the start of the year when all I needed was basic ones to keep me going as each project ideally needs 2 new sketch books. There is really no need for expensive sketchbooks (The art shop on site is good for these!).

These are just what I would recommend starting with. Over the years you will know what works best for you and will acquire your own set of helpful tools.

I hope this helps as I feel if I had been told these I would have had a smoother start to uni and felt more prepared.

Student Blogs

Eleanor - Guide to the facilities

A guide to the Model Design facilities

The model design course is part of the School of Creative Arts and because of this it means as a model design student you have access to all the creative arts facilities. Most of the facilities not directly related to the model design course will need booking onto. The main two buildings you will be working in are the Art and Design building and the Todd building.

The Art and Design building is made up of three floors: LG, G and 1st. The area specifically designated to model design students is the 3D design studio on the 1st floor. Within the studio there are individual benches to work at. As a model design student, you will have your own desk to work at and store your tools and materials in the locker attached under each desk. Many of us like to add personal touches to our desks to make them our own. This is not only for the practical purpose, but some like to do it to make them feel comfortable in their environment. For me I made two standing shelves to go on top of the desk to allow it to be more organised.

The 3D design studio is a large area where all three years work. At the front is the first years, then the second years and at the back of the studio is the third years. At the back there is also a route to the one of the 3D workshops downstairs. At the front of the studio there is a side room which is where most the lectures for all three years takes place.

The 3D workshop directly below the studio is heavily used by the model design students. Within the studio there are lathes, milling machines, pillar drills, laser cutters, 3D printers, bandsaws, disc sanders and many more. There is also a spray booth and moulding room just off to the sides of the workshop. I am in this workshop for a lot of my work. As well as this 3D workshop there is another one which is used by model design students. In this workshop you will find our character students as there is a much cleaner space to do sculpting. The workshop also has areas to do metal work. There are other workshops around the Art and Design building which are used more by other students of the School of Creative Arts.

The Todd building which is attached to the Art and Design building is mainly used by model design students to do any computer work in the computer suites. The is mainly for and CAD work that needs to be done. The main programmes we use are Corel Draw and Rhino 6. There are some computers up in the studio however in busy times it is easier to access one in one of these suites.

Student Blogs