A Night to Remember 1958

Arguably still the best movie depiction of the Titanic disaster to date with miniature work done at Pinewood supervised by Bill Warrington.

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The model Titanic for the film was built by Shawcroft models Limited in only 6 weeks. It was built on a steel frame attached to steel drums for floatation and detailed predominantly on the port side. The starboard side was left open to allow access to the many interior lights. According to IMDB The model titanic was 35 feet long (10.7m) however a local newspaper article on the model builders has it at 40 feet (12.2m).

Shawcraft models' 40 foot Titanic

Shawcroft models’ 40 foot Titanic

The tank at Pinewood was not deep enough to sink the whole model so sections were progressively removed to allow the different stages of the sinking to be filmed.

Miniature mechanised rowboats filled with tiny survivors were also constructed. These can usually be seen bobbing about in the foreground of the sinking shots and in many instances in very soft focus due to the depth of field problems common in miniature photography. Filmed at night using artificial light, these scenes are particularly problematic not having the sun to assist in achieving a small aperture (see this post for more on this subject). In Hollywood during the 1940’s and ’50’s it was more usual to shoot miniature model ship night scenes during the day using the day for night technique. In fact in order to get a convincing day for night effect the models were often painted black to maintain a convincing contrasty silhouette.

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Four miniature shots in the film are taken from the German Titanic movie made in 1943. Sunny daylight shots of the titanic steaming along before the iceberg and a shots of the engine room flooding have been flopped horizontally for use in this film. For a more detailed examination of this have a look at this article on the very comprehensive Matte Shot Blog.


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Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

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Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

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Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

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Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

Shot taken from the German Titanic of 1943, flopped left to right.

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BG is a miniature plate.

BG is a miniature plate.

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More information on Shawcroft Models can be found at the following link.


Shout at the Devil 1976

A model of a pre World War One German battle-cruiser the Blücher features in the really brilliant miniature ship work of Derek Meddings. My guess is the miniature work was shot in Malta where a part of the live action was shot. It could have been shot in the tank facility but I think its more likely the Mediterranean Sea, it’s a bit hard to tell, but it is definitely a real horizon and sky. I can find no information of any kind about the model ship effects in this movie save for this one photograph with Derek Meddings and others standing in front of the miniature. It shows that the model was pretty large and in the film it is very impressively photographed giving a really good sense of weight and scale. It is only when the bow is coming right up into the lens when it rams the heroes’ boat that some tell-tale miniature depth of field issues arise.

UPDATE Jan 2015

Two legendary British effects supervisors Ian Wingrove and in Brian Smithies have contributed some details of the miniature work for this film in the comments section. I thought the information is worth putting up front here.

Ian Wingrove – I will fill in a few blanks for you persons in picture left to right;

Sid Cain-Production Designer Michael Klinger-Producer Derek Leon Davis-Construction Manager Bob Laing-Art Director. You are right it is (filmed) in open water off St Thomas Bay in Malta. Peter Biggs was the driver the rest of the SFX crew were John Evans, Brian Smithies & myself Ian Wingrove.

Brian Smithies – Derek sent me out to Malta to supervise the construction of the German battle cruiser and the dhow, while the rest of the crew went down to South Africa to shoot the live action. It was shot in St Thomas’s Bay with the open sea behind. The boat was 36 ft long and powered by a 1.4 litre marinized car engine and gear box, it had a crew of two, myself and Peter Biggs
The british flag ship was a glass shot photographed in St Pauls Bay ,along with another glass shot of the passenger boat that brought the hero to Zanzibar.


Derek Meddings (third from left) in front of the Blücher model

Derek Meddings (third from left) in front of the Blücher model.

Just a hint to click on the pictures for the full size version. Its worth it for this post.

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Matte painting of the British Flagship

Glass shot of the British Flagship

Mystery Photographs DEFA (Die Schwarze Galeere 1961)

In  a break from the usual style of post I have here a photograph I acquired of three model ships with a floating smoke ring . I have no idea what the title of the film this is taken from. I do know that the DEFA logo, which is in the bottom right corner of the picture, is the acronym for Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft, which was the state-owned film studio in the German Democratic Republic or East Germany before the fall of the Berlin wall. If any reader knows any information about the subject depicted I would be very curious to know. Please use the comments by pressing the new talk balloon icon.

DEFA_mystery  UPDATE 15/10/2014

Thanks to the detective work of readers Mathias and Ronald P the photos have found to be from the 1961/1962 DEFA film, Die Schwarze Galeere (The Black Galley). I have also managed to aquire three more photographs from the same film.

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As reported by Ronald P one of the models is on display at the Film Museum Potsdam.

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Fair Wind to Java 1953

This Republic Pictures title is filled with the wonderfully executed and photographed miniature work of Howard and Theodore Lydecker. There is a 26 foot (8m) long miniature square rigger the “Gerrymander” and a lateen rigged Javanese pirate ship sailing around a miniature volcano Krakatau.


The miniature action was filmed on Lake Mono in California with the real sky and mountains in the background. Naturally occurring rocky outcrops were dressed with miniature palm trees and Javanese huts to represent islands. A large wooden framed, chicken wire and concrete skinned miniature volcano was constructed on one of the rocky outcrops to stand in as Krakatau.

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The miniatures team built camera barges that sat low in the water, buoyed by 44 gallon drums as well as rafts for the large wind machines to augment any natural wind. There were two power boats and a couple of row boats to assist in positioning the models and the barges. They even constructed a jetty and store for the base of operations. The final explosion of the volcano used bags of cement to throw enormous plumes up into the sky. There are some very nice pictures (though scant information) of the miniatures shoot on Lake Mono in the book “The Legendary Lydecker Brothers” by Jan Alan Henderson.

While the volcano pyrotechnics are not as good as the volcano effects in Krakatoa East of Java, it is pretty spectacular none the less. The only slightly disappointing effect is the resulting tidal wave where the miniature ships are all too obviously shot at a beach in the surf.

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The remains of the volcano structure still exist and have been adapted by bird researchers as a base for field study. The water level of the lake is around 24 feet (7.3m) lower now than at the time of filming in 1953.

The remains of the Volcano on Lake Mono with a much lower water level .

The remains of the Volcano on Lake Mono with a much lower water level .

The film was restored by the UCLA and the Film Foundation in 2006 though I can only find a digital copy from a poor vhs source. It would be nice to see the restored version on DVD or Blu Ray someday.

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