'THE UK's best model railway' near Didcot has been brought to life in spectacular 3D.

A retired engineer who spent six months painstakingly photographing the tiny terrain at Pendon Museum has blown the miniature world up to thousands of times its original size in large three-dimensional photos.

The exhibition, which opens today, has already been described by British Railway Modelling magazine as a chance to see 'the UK's best model railway in 3D'.

Trustee of the museum in Long Wittenham, Martin Ray said: "For us, this is special.

"Several heavy hitters in the 3D world have been extremely complimentary, and people in the model railway world have said they're fantastic.

"One of the photographs is a tandem bike which is just an inch long: we have a 3D photograph of this blown up and every single spoke is correctly placed.

"For all the people who have been involved in creating the world at Pendon this is finally showing their incredible craftsmanship."

The man who has 'blown up' the Vale landscape – based on 1930s Oxfordshire – is 72-year-old Paul Ellis.

A former engineer for an oil company, Mr Ellis – who lives in South Oxfordshire – has never been a professional photographer.

He started taking 3D photos of icebergs and glaciers when his work took him to Alaska in the 1970s, but until now it was purely a hobby.

He has never even built model railways, but this year when he met up with his old schoolfriend Martin Ray, they decided to combine their two passions.

The original idea was to create some images for a View Master – the 1950s toy where you look in a viewer and see two photographs which combine to make a 3D image.

That worked well, but then Mr Ellis printed one of the photos as an Anaglyph – the classic red and blue 3D image.

He said: "It was immediately so impressive, that's how the whole exhibition started."

Over the summer and autumn, Mr Ellis visited the museum in Long Wittenham seven times.

On each visit he spent up to two hours taking enough photographs for just one final image.

The project presented an endless stream of new challenges: firstly, 3D photography normally requires two photographs taken roughly the same distance apart as human eyes, but in order to create the same effect in a miniature world, Mr Ellis discovered you need to shrink the distance between the photos down to the distance between the eyes of a person on that scale – in the order of 5mm.

Next, they realised that in order for a 3D image to work, all parts of the photo need to be in focus, but when you take photographs incredibly close up the camera can only focus on a very narrow field.

Therefore Mr Ellis found that for each final image he had to take 20 or 30 shots going from the 'front' to the 'back' of the scene then digitally stitch them together.

In the end, each of the 14 final images took between six and eight hours to create.

Mr Ellis said: "I'd never done anything like it, but for me as an engineer it was fascinating to work out how we could do it.

"The thing that I really like about Pendon is not so much the trains but the buildings: the fantastic detail.

"When you take photographs and blow them up you see the detail down to the roof tiles: someone has painstakingly created and weathered each one – it's just amazing."

Now the team are holding their breath, waiting for the public to come and visit.

Pendon is open over the New Year period December 30 to January 2, and its Madder Valley set-up will be operating on Tuesday.

For more information about opening times see pendonmuseum.com