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.


Phantom 2013

Thanks to a reader Bruce for directing me to this title.

As  Bruce pointed out in his comment, the underwater submarine effects in this film are wholly depicted by computer graphics, however there are a couple of surfacing shots that are done with a miniature in a tank.

Fantasy Film Effects are credited with the tank work and they had a tank in Sun Valley California which was subsequently closed in 2014.

There is also a newspaper article written by Mathew Lickona, concerning the technical advisor on the film who also wrote the book on which the film is based which makes interesting reading. The full article can be read at the link below but I have included part of the article which talks about the model details below;

San Diego Reader
Interview with Phantom technical advisor Kenneth Sewell

By Matthew Lickona, February 27, 2013

ML: Your expertise is submarine stuff, though, right?

KS: When it turned out the special effects were going to be a little too pricey, I built a 23-foot model of the sub in my garage in Ohio and brought it to Burbank. I got the plans for the Foxtrot sub, and I built it to scale. They said, “Can you just build a 10-foot model?” but I said, “No. You can’t make a water droplet any smaller than it is, and you can’t make a wake any smaller than it is. All you can do [to keep scale] is make the model bigger.” It’s what you see on the poster. It cost just $23,000 to build and ship over, which meant we had a lot more money to spend on special effects. I wanted to build a 50-foot sub that you could put a man in and put it in the ocean. But directors like to shoot in tanks – conditions where they can control everything. I was going to build a November-class sub, too, but time was against us.

ML: All in your garage?

KS: It’s got a wood keel made with 2x6s. I cut the ribs from three-quarter-inch plywood. Then we took 5 mil plywood and cut strips for the hull. We laid them laterally, so they looked like plates. I sat down and watched every submarine movie before I built the thing, and every model that they use looks like it’s brand new, like the first sub I was on when I was in the Navy. But if you look at the hull of the sub in the Maritime Museum, it looks like crap. The pressure of the water bends the plates – they’re made to bend. We laid the plywood, filled in the gaps with wood putty, then wrapped wire around the sub to mimic the appearance of the ribs [between the plates]. Then I coated it with fiberglass, like you put on a boat. Finally, we textured the hull and painted it. My son helped me; he’s an artist, too.

ML: So much for the exterior.

KS: Inside, I put trolling motors in with extended shafts for the propellers. And I had ballast tanks with valves. We had remote controls to open the valve so the sub would sink, and then to close the valve and blow air so that the sub would rise. I drove it two-and-a-half days from Ohio to Burbank, the Fantasy II Film Effects studio. The place was like a Hollywood junkyard. There was a million-gallon pool in the back, and a big warehouse with all these props from the movies lying around. They had a couple of wooden shelves in this old, ratty office, on them were two Oscars, an Emmy, and three Saturns. They’re covered with dust, and the guys says, “My grandpa won this Oscar for The Time Machine, and my dad won that Oscar for The Terminator.” I’m in a corner of the shop putting things together, and there’s this Terminator-bot. It’s ten feet tall in the movie, but it was really just four feet tall, and it was just sitting there.

ML: So you built the sub.

KS: I also built two half-scale torpedoes torpedoes with motors. And I’ve been a diver since ’65, so I worked in the pool to catch them after they got launched. There would be this fog of water, and all of a sudden this thing would be coming at me. We’d catch it and it would force us back six feet, and we’d stop it. It was spooky; I never got used to it. We also had to build torpedoes from cardboard for the torpedo room. When we got down here, we found the sub had only one torpedo! So I sketched one and called my son. We put a prop on it from one of the old boats in the museum, and we decided to leave them in the tubes after shooting was done.

ML: Is there anything you didn’t do?

KS: I got the nickname “The Dos Equis Man” during the shooting. I was working with the sub, doing the models, helping with directing…But the whole movie industry is nuttier than a fruitcake. Think about this: you want to buy a car from me. I say, “Fine,” and I build a factory, hire people, build one car, give it to you, and then shut everything down. That’s why movies cost what they do.

ML: What was cool about the project?

KS: This was the first submarine film actually shot inside a sub, because digital cameras are small enough now, and because we can manipulate the image in post-production. We brought a lot of attention to detail to the project to get it to where it was really accurate and a little gritty. Usually, the inside looks too clean and well-lit.


(1A PHANTOM Gordon) A scale model of a Soviet submarine, that Gahanna resident Kenneth Sewell built in his garage, arrives in California for use in filming the Cold War submarine drama, “Phantom.” Sewell, an author and submarine veteran, was a technical consultant for the movie. Credit: Alex Dallas


From watching the movie I got the impression that all the torpedo shots were CG so whatever footage was shot with miniature torpedoes didn’t look like it made it into the movie. Even the miniature submarine shots are pretty minimal for what appears to be a decent sized model. Fantasy II Film effects are very experienced at miniature photography and particularly with water effects. I can only imagine there must have been some budgetary issues involved or the production had a preference for CG over miniatures.