Doctor Dolittle 1967

Supervised by L.B. Abbot,this film features an effective miniature storm sequence. Doctor Dolittle’s boat the Flounder was represented by an 11 foot 6 inch model (3.5m) at 2 inches to the foot scale which is 1/6 of the full size boat’s dimensions. It was photographed in Fox’s Serson lake at Malibu.  If you look carefully you can see regions of white water being created by underwater airlines which is then whipped away by the blast from a series of wind machines, making a very effective stormy ocean surface. The Flounder model is then capsized by a wave from a dump tank.

All the miniature construction was supervised by the head of the miniature prop department, Gaile Brown and included an 8 foot (2.4m) long mechanical whale attached to a flange wheeled dolly which traveled along an underwater track and pulled by a steel cable and a winch. It was able to dive and surface, had a working blowhole and a flapping tail mechanism along with air hoses to produce the wake and tail fluke white water effects.

A miniature version of the floating island Seastar, was built 80 feet (24.4m) wide, which employed a number of 44 gallon drums that could be partially filled with water enabling it to float at the right level.  There was a matching section of African coastline 300 feet (91.4m) wide and what appears to be a close up larger scale section where two halves of a tree come together.

Added to the mechanical whale creatures was a miniature flying giant moth complete with a miniature Doctor shot against blue screen and composited against a matte painted sky and a miniature version of the giant sea snail also shot in the Sersen tank.

I remember being totally captivated by this film when I was taken to see it at the cinema as a child of around 5 or 6. I really believed that the Push me Pull you double headed Llama creature was real and I was astounded when the two bits of land and particularly the tree came together like a jigsaw.

Source: Special Effects – Wire tape and Rubber Band Style by L.B.Abbott, ASC Press 1984.

 

Brides of Fu Manchu 1966

Thanks to Dennis Nicholson for spotting this title which features a couple of shots of a model ship that appears to have been photographed on location, probably just being pushed on a dolly. The ship looks like it may have been a display model from a shipping company although it does not match either of the two actual ships that were named “Windsor Castle”.

It is followed by a dodgy split screen superimposed explosion where the matte line is clearly visible.

There is also a miniature aerial/ death ray and a sort of mountain/ volcano/ pile of rocks which is the baddies base which explodes at the end.

Jason and the Argonauts 1963

As I have mentioned in the introduction to this website found on the About page, this was my favorite film as a child. It captured my imagination in many ways. The scenes I liked the most were when the giant bronze statue of Talos came to life along with the eerie groaning metal sound effects and the model ship action as the Argo negotiates the Clashing Rocks with the help of another giant, in this case an actor in costume, playing the god Triton.

Triton helping the Argo past the clashing rocks

The Argo model appears in two scales in the film, a tiny one that the animation puppet Talos picks up and flings about and a much larger one for the clashing rocks sequence. I assume the larger model is also used for some close ups in the Talos scene, mostly of its underside. The deck is populated with scale figures.

The Clashing Rocks themselves were made of plaster, about 6-7 feet (2m) high mounted on wooden frames and with car inner tubes for flotation. These were moved and shaken by technicians in a water tank, specially constructed for the production, on a small stage at Shepperton studios. The tank was equipped with agitators to generate small scale waves. The tumbling rocks were originally made of plaster covered polystyrene foam but on the first day of shooting were found to float, ruining the effect. Solid plaster replacement rocks which would sink were subsequently made to rectify this oversight.

The shots were filmed high speed at 96 frames a second imparting a sense of immense scale and weight to the shots. This is 4 times faster than normal speed so if you have a player that can play at 4 times speed you can get an idea of what it was really like on the shoot.

 

A full size section of the Argo was built on the stage for to put the miniature rocks background behind the actors using the Sodium Matting Process which used a yellow screen rather than the more common blue screen.