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.


Underworld Evolution 2006

Fantasy II Film effects handled the miniature ship visual effects on this. The ship model is about 30 feet long according to this blog. It would have been shot in their tank which was in Sun Valley California. Some shots include a scale radio controlled helicopter.

The pyrotechnic destruction is particularly impressive.

The Spy Who Loved Me 1977

Supervised by Derek Meddings at his best, this is one of my all time favorite model ship movies which boasts possibly the largest ship miniature ever built at a length of 63 feet (19m). The subject is  a supertanker belonging to the villain Stromberg’s named Liparus. Three quarters of the length was designed internally as a catamaran as the bow opens up to swallow a couple of submarine miniatures. It had a Chevy 350 V8 inboard engine to power it and was controlled by an onboard special effects man.

It was built in England, weighing about 20 tons and shipped out in sections and assembled  in the Bahamas where it was shot on the real ocean . At first it was found to  ride too high so to get it to float at the correct waterline it was ballasted with cement.

In the long shots it is indistinguishable from the real thing producing a realistic wake and bow wave.  It goes to prove that it is hard to beat a really big model shot outside in natural light on a real ocean for verisimilitude.

For the sinking scene the model was mounted to an underwater rig that allowed for tilting the bow down while raising the stern up with a pivot at about 2/3rds of its length from the bow. Once it was at the maximum angle, the model then slid down on a carriage towards the sea floor. Under the rig was a number of compressed air lines providing all the turbulent bubbling and foam effects on the surface of the water. As is typical it was subjected to many pyrotechnic charges to effect its demise in the film.

Stromberg’s headquarters were depicted by another large ocean going model, the elegantly designed by Ken Adam, Atlantis which could both float on the surface and submerge. It was approximately 8 feet (2.4m) high.



The Lotus Esprit submersible car also appeared as a 1/4 scale model in a number of underwater long shots.

Another large scale model was built of the interior of the Liparus where the captured submarines are penned. It was used in shots where there are massive explosions and fireballs going off and a catwalk collapses.

There were two submarine models built for the film, one British and one Russian, in the same scale as the Liparus for the swallowing and subsequent escape scenes as well as some underwater shots.

Other miniatures to note are two miniature radio controlled helicopters that are blown up, one deliberately detonated by Stromberg and one from a missile fired by the underwater Lotus, a speed boat that is ejected from the side of the Atlantis and an escape pod that is jettisoned  carrying the heroes to safety at the end. There is also a small scale model of the Liparus displayed in a case in Stromberg’s office.