The Longships 1964

Solid work by British special effects men Syd Pearson and Bill Warrington. My guess is that Bill Warrington handled the miniature viking longship in the two maelstrom sequences. He had already been involved with Sink the Bismarck(1960) and supervised the fantastic miniature storm sequence in the Guns of Navarone (1961) before this rollicking tale of vikings, moors and a huge solid gold bell came along. The maelstrom churns chaotically with many crashing waves from the dump tank and bursts of what looks like dry ice fog, battering the model and the miniature rowers. The first sequence is given a warm almost sepia colouration where as the second sequence is standard daylight. I suppose this is to differentiate the two sequences which as far as the action depicted is basically the same.

The 12 foot (3.658m) longship model was built by legendary British model making company Master modelsĀ  responsible for some other famous Film and TV work. As their website can attest they’re still going today.

Master Models 12 foot Viking Longship.































Sealed Cargo 1951

The second model ship movie starring Dana Andrews in succession (the first being Deep Waters; see previous post). This is a tightly scripted and directed little RKO B movie with some very atmospheric miniature shots. The story concerns a Nazi Submarine supply vessel disguised as a partly wrecked sailing ship. In the end the hero ( who is the skipper of a fishing boat) lures three U-Boats to the ship and destroys them all via the waves caused when the supply ship packed with Nazi torpedoes explodes. Lots of fog surrounds the model ships and U-boats which are often no more than silhouettes. Note also the common use of foreground objects to lend depth to the miniature scenes. There are a few examples of the miniatures being used in rear projection process shots. These shots get quite close to the models and they are really well detailed. The backgrounds would have to be filmed first before the live action unit could complete the shot.

Unfortunately no credit for the miniature work can be found. It is all a bit easier to see when in motion than the murky frame grabs would suggest. There are a couple examples where the explosions have brightly exposed the models and surroundings only for a frame or two.




Hero’s fishing boat miniature.










Rear projected miniatures background.




Matte Painting














Searchlight on miniature U-Boat.




Explosion flash frame


First U-Boat gets hit by wave.

















Deep waters 1948

Nominated for an Academy award for special effects, supervised by Fred Sersen. Has a storm sequence at sea with some dangerous rocks, a lobster boat and an overturned dingy, clinging to which is a small boy played by Dean Stockwell. A largely forgotten film which is very difficult to find these days. The frame grabs are from a NTSC VHS to DVD dub from an Ebay vendor.
















The Black Swan 1942

Nominated for an Academy award Special effects.

A more colorful Pirate movie will be hard to find, with the Technicolour cranked up to 11. An uncredited Fred Sersen delivers some terrific model ship action complete with a miniature bay and harbour that comes under attack. According to IMDB the ship is the same one as used in “That Hamilton Woman”, “The Princess and the Pirate” and “CaptainKidd” a title now in the puiblic domain. As can be seen the main ship model is really finely detailed, in particular the miniature sails which display some detailed construction in the close shots.



There are a few examples of miniature shots being used for Rear projected backgrounds. Colour rear projection was much more difficult to achieve than black and white. The Colour film stock was very “slow” having an asa of 5. It meant the projectors had to put out a huge amount of light. This was solved eventually by having three projectors all projecting the same background in sync at the same time, to achieve the necessary light output without melting the film. The other problem is that re-photographing colour film results in the colours shifting so the background colour no longer matches the foreground. Grain is also increased and this is evident in the “process” shots here where the actors are in the foreground and the miniatures comprise the background. It also means that at least some of the miniature shots have to be photographed before principal photography.

There are also a couple of shots where live action people have been matted into the miniature ship shots. This is a technique Fred Sersen used a few times on various model ship movies, bringing to life the top down shots where otherwise the decks would be conspicuously bare.



































Live action pirates matted into the deck area.