Help me

If you have any information or anecdotes about movie or TV ship models and miniatures, their construction and filming, or any photographic material, or know of someone who was involved I would love to hear from you.

I would really like to hear from model makers who built these things as well as visual effects supervisors, directors of photography, tank filming facilities and technicians who manipulated the models for the camera and their families who may have an old box of photos hidden away in an attic somewhere.

Screen credits were a very rare thing on old movies. Usually only the head of the visual effects department received a credit on screen if at all. I would like to find out the names of the technicians and craftsmen that created these shots that have so captivated me over the years and celebrate their enduring work.

69 thoughts on “Help me

  1. Hi!

    I’m very interested in that theme too, because I love old sailing ships and classical 1940’s /1950’s swashbuckler flicks like “The Sea Hawk”, “Captain Horatio Hornblower” or “Against All Flags”. Nevertheless, good informations about handcrafted wooden movie miniature ships or interesting “behind the scenes” water tank shots are extreme hard to find. By the way I’ve got my own personal backlot tank. It’s completely made from plywood. Originally the bassin was constructed in 2009 for the shooting of a short sequence showing (the model of) a medieval crusader ship wich is crossing the mediterranean sea from France to Palaestine.

  2. Hello

    I am looking for a photograph, preferably from the 1950s showing a frigate in a tank on a film set with Special Effects Supervisors working on it. Do you know where I might find something like this? Thank you very much.

    • http://www.life.com/image/50375331

      Follow this link to a photo of the master special effects man John Fulton in a tank with a model ship dated from the fifties. I’m not sure this is a frigate or not and I am not certain which film this is from.
      It is difficult to find behind the scenes photos from the decades before the end of the seventies. Star Wars heralded a new era in publishing details about visual effects in film, before this it was kept fairly secret as the production companies generally didn’t like to spoil the illusion for film goers.

    • I have been to your site before but must have missed the pages on the 1953 Titanic. Great photos and really interesting story of the miniatures. Lots of really great titanic movie stuff. I will add your site to my links. Thanks

  3. There are excellent miniature sailing ships, circa 1640, in the MGM film PLYMOUTH ADVENTURE (1952). Some of the best simulated ocean waves and model movement – not an easy task at the best of times. Arnold Gillespie won an Oscar for the superb tank work including a truly outstanding storm at sea – some of the best work of it’s type I’ve seen.

    I can send you frames if you like. Good site by the way!!

    NZPete

    • Thanks NZ Pete, Plymouth Adventure is high on my list with one of the most violent ship in a storm sequences ever committed to film. The only film that comes close is Ridley Scott’s White Squall but Plymouth Adventure I think is more effective. I have been slowly collecting what stills of the miniatures I can find and plan to cover it sometime in the near future.

  4. I’m looking to possibly making, with help of course ..?? A large troop transport ship or battleship of WW2. Wondering if you can give me some pointers or direct me in the correct websites. I forget, it’s in 1/6 scale. Hope that’s not to large …..??

  5. Brilliant blog, I love miniature ship effects. I have a little-shown made-for-TV movie from 1991 called Ironclads. It depicts the Battle of Hampton Roads (very effectively, it must be said), though the bulk of the film is standard cornball stuff. As my copy is on VHS I’ve not yet got around to digitising it. However, someone has edited out the battle scenes and uploaded it to youtube:
    http://youtu.be/vmnnqJm_4Pc

    I also have a copy of Model Boats magazine from 1992 (which I’ve scanned in high-res) which has a fascinating five-page article about the filming of the miniature sequences, replete with BTS photos and information about the models. For example, to depict the heavy shot hitting and bouncing off the ironclads’ armour plating, they used thin sheet pewter to simulate the plate and fired ball-bearings at it with air-cannons. This dented the plate most realistically.

    You can also see a 1936 forerunner to Ironclads called Hearts In Bondage which also features a miniature re-creation of Hampton Roads, this time by the peerless Lydecker Brothers!
    http://youtu.be/NOM0KdbAWzw

    I also have some BTS images from this movie too. Email me and I’ll email everything I have to you.

    • Hello Roger, some really useful info there. I have a rough copy of Hearts in Bondage and have some BTS photos in a book about the Lydeckers, but I was not aware of the TV movie Ironclads. Strictly speaking as it is Model ships in the Cinema I was not going to cover TV, but as with the Hornblower series the quality of the work means I may very likely break that rule. I would certainly like to see the Model Boats article do you know in which month the article appears? Thanks for taking the trouble for pointing me to some very useful links.

  6. Fantastic site!

    It was a ‘ship’ of sorts that got me into visual effects here in Australia.
    Gerry Anderson’s Stingray had me hooked from episode one.

    The water work in ‘Sink the Bismarck’ is another favourite, in fact, I borrowed the ‘gypsum’ idea for a plane crashing into the ocean for a film I worked on titled ‘Sky Pirates’.

    Another film you have listed is also quite amazing for its battle sequence, and that is ‘That Hamilton Lady’ Directed by Alexander Korda in 1941 (made by Alexander Korda Films, Inc).

    The entire film can be found on YouTube at…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evl7ldotkRI

    Also the main miniature used in the film (HMS Victory) can be found on Wikipedia at…
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ChathamHDY_Victory_3109.JPG

    Best regards,

    Dennis Nicholson

    • Hello Dennis, I have followed your work since the early 80’s and have your Anderson merchandise guide book. it is a long time since I have seen Sky pirates. I started in Visual effects in 1987 working at Mirage effects in Sydney. I was predominantly a model maker but ended up doing pretty much everything from floor effects to props and rigs as well as miniatures. It only lasted 3 glorious years, by the beginning of 1990 I could see the writing on the wall for traditional effects work and knew that to stay in the industry I would have to retrain and learn CG. I’m still doing CG visual effects but I always wanted to be Derek Meddings. There is simply nothing so much fun as building models and blowing them up. There is nothing that gets the adrenaline going as the whine of the high speed camera getting up to speed. Alas those days are long gone never to return especially in Australia where we are always so quick to discard the old and wheel in the new. Anyway that’s enough of that sad old reminiscing Thanks for taking the trouble to point me to that photo of the Victory. “That Hamilton Woman” is a favorite of mine with some really excellent miniature ship action. Its fascinating to see the flat bottom typical of the British special effects preference for not building a full hull.

  7. Number 1, I keep trying to post a reply to your earlier reply to me about Ironclads but they don’t seem to be appearing. I hope this one works, check out my blog, you can download the whole Model Boats article from it.

    • Hello Roger,
      Thanks for putting up that article it was very illuminating.
      All comments are moderated by me and sometimes I don’t look at the website emails for a fortnight or so there can sometimes be a considerable delay before they appear. In this case your comments on my comments ended up tagged as spam, no idea why. I looked for them and approved them. Usually every comment has to make it past the spam filter before I see it. I tried emailing you directly but my email may have looked like spam at your end. Spam is such a bore, there is so much pointless wasted bandwidth.

  8. You are missing the Ealing film ‘San Demetrio London’ (1943). Special Effects by Roy Kellino and Syd Howell. Based on a true story. Lots of miniature British Merchant ship action. I can supply a still of the model, found in the UK book titled “Boys’ and Girls’ Book of Films and Television”

    • Hello Dennis,

      San Demetrio is definitely on my mental list even if I have neglected to add it to the list of films. That has now been rectified. I have the DVD and would love to get a copy of the photo you mention. In fact I have found the book of which you speak on ebay and ordered a copy. Thanks for the tip off.

  9. I do have a copy of the pretty rare (but still quite inexpensive) publicity book “The Making of 1941.” It contains quite a bit about the sub model, including photos of its construction, etc. Is this of interest to anyone?

  10. Yet another UK film…

    SAILORS THREE (Ealing) is a 1940 British war comedy film directed by Walter Forde and starring Tommy Trinder, Claude Hulbert and Carla Lehmann. Three British sailors accidentally find themselves aboard a German ship during the Second World War.

    Quite a lot of miniature work.

  11. Hi there

    Another excellent WWII miniatures showcase is the MGM picture STAND BY FOR ACTION (1942) which has outstanding maritime warfare in miniature by the great Arnold Gillespie and his chief model specialist Donald Jahraus. The show received an Oscar nomination that year for it’s special effects and is available from Amazon on one of those Warner Archive editions. It’s a nice transfer and well worth it – especially now that the price has dropped to half.
    Keep up the excellent coverage.

    All the best

    NZPete

  12. Just in case the spam-bot gets my post (Colombian Coffee) , I have 1000’s of photos
    of the “early days” and some of them are boats and subs. The shelf above my computer
    has models from: Matrix, Captain Invincible, Time Guardians, Beyond 2000, Tripple M,
    Professor Poopsnaggle, and numerous TVC’s.

    David Pride

  13. Great site!
    Missing is ‘Submarine Seahawk’ (1958 AIP)
    The finale features one of the most spectacular miniature sea battles ever featuring
    Air and Sea in 10 minutes of exciting miniature explosive action,. I had the impression at the time when I saw it 1st run, that it must have been Japanese footage lifted (Tsuburaya?), but have never been able to nail down the source. It’s worth the boring movie though to get to it. 🙂

    • Thanks Doug,
      I am aware of that title but I never knew if there were any miniatures in it, I have so far not been able to track down a copy to have a look. Your confirmation of this will boost my endeavors to locate it.

  14. Hi!

    Recently I’ve bought “The Wizard of MGM” the memoirs of A. Arnold Gillespie.
    It’s 378 pages big and full of informations about model ships and water tank effects.
    The book wasn’t very expensive, but the printing quality is a very bad one, even the reproduction of pictures and photographs. Nevertheless it’s a book written for guys like you! 🙂

    • Hello Mathias, I’ve already got that book and it is full of fascinating detail as you say. It has also given me further movies with model ships in them that I didn’t know about to add to the list. It is a shame that the pictures are not printed on nice glossy stock, but it is better than nothing. It is written in a sort of nudge nudge wink wink style, as if the reader were in on the joke. Some of the technical terms are obscure. Gillespie talks about using siphons to produce foam for ship wakes. I haven’t been able to find out exactly what that means though I gather that it pumps water and sucks air into the system somehow. Unfortunately there is not a picture of a siphon in the book. If anybody knows exactly what the siphon is he refers to I would like to know.

  15. One that seems to have slipped through the net is the Alec Guinness/Dennis Price comedy “Kind Hearts and Coronets” (I think it was called something else in the US). One of the D’Ascoynes that Price doesn’t have to bump off in Uncle Horatio, an admiral in the Royal Navy who goes down with his ship after being rammed when a manoeuvre goes wrong . (Based on a true incident) . The two pre-dreadnoughts involved were beautiful little models.

  16. Hello.

    I’m an enthusiast of the traditional FX works, and love the model miniatures. I’m usual visitor of your wonderful site. If you are interested, I have three pictures of the Batavia model ship made for Krakatoa. Those photos were given to me by art director Fernando Gonzalez who was assistant of Lourie on that film.
    Domingo.

  17. Great site!

    I was a model maker at Industrial Light and Magic, and we used miniature ships on a number of films, including the Pirates of the Caribbean films, Pearl Harbor, Peter Pan and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds.

    There was an earlier mention of Hunt for Red October, which was all model submarines (but shot dry for wet).

  18. In 1969-1970 there was a U.S. TV series titled ‘Bracken’s World’ – about a group of people at a hypothetical movie studio called Century Studios (a 20th Century Fox production), but one episode was unique in that it showed a two and a half minute sequence of a studio director shooting a miniature warship sequence in the Fox water tank of the time. The character actually says to a technician… “Are the charges ready?”. That technician is A.D. Flowers. A great piece of behind the scenes miniature ship footage – if anyone is interested I have a Quicktime file of it, taken from a VHS I recorded in the 1980s – Dennis

  19. I am a model builder who had the chance to restore a few of the models that were in the movie Tora Tora Tora. A museum in Largo, Fl. Here is there web sight for you. http://armedforcesmuseum.com/

    I restore two destroyers two cruisers and one other. They are on display at the museum at this time. They have two other models that have not been restored at this time that I know of. The owner of the museum rescued the models from a warehouse that had them located somewhere up north. I’m not sure if they have any other info on the models or not may be worth the check on them. The models were of the Japanese navy. I know that the of the two models that had not been restored one is of a Battleship of the Kongo class, this model is roughly 20 feet long and all the models are in about a 1/24 scale if I remember correctly.

    Duane

  20. Regarding to an earlier post I submitted..go to youtube an search for Sea battle 1895 Sino Japanese war. It’s a two part movie although I’m not clear if the ships used are miniatures or CGI.

  21. I have stumbled upon an obscure film. While searching for ship models on Google, I found an image of a model submarine:

    http://stillphototheater.deviantart.com/art/Submarine-Movie-Prop-379422404

    It is said to have been used in the movie “Men Without Women”, a 1930 film directed by John Ford.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021140/?ref_=fn_al_tt_1

    The photo raises the possibility that the model from the film is still extant; I haven’t tried to contact the DeviantArt member to find out.

    Ron

  22. Hello #1 & All:

    I am the unofficial historian for Malibu Creek State Park (the former 20th Century Fox Ranch). It was on this property that Sersen Tank #2 was built (a larger version of the original Sersen tank on the studio backlot). The Fox Ranch tank was used primarily for full scale boats (“Batman” – 1966, “Dr. Dolittle” – 1967, “Assault on a Queen” – 1966), but is where the miniature Icarus spacecraft from the original “Planet of the Apes” was sunk and was featured most famously in “Tora! Tora! Tora!”.

    It was my understanding that Fox removed the tank before the property became a state park, but I am pleased to report that photographs were recently found showing the tank being filled in with dirt. It remains today under the main parking lot of the state park. The 300 foot wide behemoth is still there!

    I also have never before published photos from the Torpin family who were the caretakers of and lived ON Fox Ranch for over 30 years. They have a good selection of tank photos – in and around – but only a few “Tora” photos and I’m looking for more for the park archives.

    I would be happy to trade photos for photos and would love to find production images like those from the 1971 American Cinematographer article. I’m at brian.rooney@R7Media.com. Many thanks!

  23. Greetings, mate! It goes without saying that yours is an absolutely wonderful site. One can peruse for hours and barely scratch the watery surface. The sheer amount of work and patience you put into all the fantastic screen caps is to be commended. It’s certainly appreciated, and on a scale far grander than anyone might expect given the unique subject matter. Aside from dropping by to check out your latest post, which was another well-done piece by the way, I do have a few links to share. Although they’d hardly qualify as “helpful” at this early juncture, they do provide a glimpse of a project currently in the works that may well provide you with yet another batch of cinematic vessels to add to your already impressive collection.

    The project, which will employ craft both above and below the surface, is to be shot entirely live-action and will involve zero CGI of any kind. Shot on traditional 35mm cameras, using extensive miniatures, glass paintings, backlit-animation and old-school suitmation, the end result might best be described as a globe-trotting, sci-fi period piece with Cold War overtones. The kind of quirky, Thunderbirds meets The Mysterians by way of Mario Bava-type flick that I’ve been waiting on someone to make for decades, but the #@%&s never do!

    With every fiber of my being bent on seeing this offbeat opus to fruition, I’m documenting its creation as thoroughly as I can, and, God willing, this same time next year I’ll have you some exclusive pics and footage to back-up all this hot air.

    Until then,
    Michael P.

    S.S. TSUBURAYA:
    http://www.dropbox.com/sh/ghf9x8nswb98an5/AADISnH0CD9ttic_FQXUI9L2a?dl=0

    Scale filming model crafted in 1989 using identical building techniques & materials:
    http://www.dropbox.com/sh/hwbix0lu0yei3e5/AAA7K2zDFBSgAk63ksMRyHQna?dl=0

    Random frame grabs of past projects give some idea of the film’s eventual aesthetic:
    http://www.dropbox.com/sh/9kqih0mv26gs1rz/AAANNel3NPUKETnGwd_eRp_Sa?dl=0

  24. Check out this relatively recent film of the First Sino-Japanese War, that makes a lot of use of physical models — apparently with green-screened figures added on deck. The first battle, at about 13:20, is the Battle of Pungdo. Lots of good pre-dreadnought action in this one.

  25. We have just purchase a 8′ long x 4′ wide pirate ship. We were told it was in the movie Against all Flags. Looking for more info on it you can see it on our web site.
    under spotlighted items.

    • The photos at first glance do not appear to be of a filming miniature. The details are very crude and it has a flat bottom. Also the sails are of a too thick material. Generally the size of a filming miniature would be much longer than 8 feet. It certainly does not look like the ships as depicted in the trailer. I will have a look at the movie to check.

  26. The miniature ship from Fitzcaraldo was in the museum of film here in Berlin. I have a photo of it if you want to put it on your website. Also, check out my Facebook page for my documentary on miniature effects in movies called, Sense of Scale.

    • Hello Berton I purchased your documentary dvd some time ago, I fully recommend it, it is fascinating viewing and is chock full of my heroes talking about the subject I love…miniatures. Best documentary ever.

  27. I my uncle was a high up in costume dpt @ mgm 50s-70s and bring me movie props occasionally two of them being models of ships having something to do w Columbus if I’m remembering correctly (I was a bout 9) in the 60s is there anywhere I could find pics so I could correctly Id ship? I think I have the Nina or pints (I had the larger model but it disappeared) any info would b appericiated the model I have may have been re used as cannon r mounted fore&raft and sail markings r unfamiliar as well. Thanks

    • The only movie I know about from the period was Christopher Columbus starring Frederic March released in 1949. I believe this was made in England by the Gainsborough Pictures studio. As I recall it had no model ships in it being mostly concerned with the political problems of getting funding for the voyage rather than the actual voyage of discovery.

  28. Have you ever seen Otoko-tachi no Yamato, the 2005 Japanese film? It used a combination of miniatures, digital compositing, digital effects, and a full-size replica of the port side of the ship from A turret to a little aft of amidships. To the extent I understood it–I don’t speak Japanese and have never seen a subtitled print–I’d describe the plot as Titanic-meets-Task-Force-38, with a little bit of Saving Private Ryan stirred in, but the depiction of the actual events of the battles of Leyte Gulf and the final sortie is quite accurate, and the ship is gorgeous.

    The trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4QWqDTCk2A) and full movie are on YouTube. I remember seeing a “making of” featurette that went into a lot of detail (in Japanese) on the special effects, but I can’t find a link to it right at the moment.

  29. Hiya – Love the site and eagerly look forward to new postings. Was frankly taken aback by your recent “Alien Versus Predator” posting – I had no idea that anyone was doing such elaborate ship model photography that recently. In that spirit I thought I’d pass along this: While recently watching a 2013 US sub drama “Phantom” on blu-ray ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1922685/ ), I was struck by how un-CGI looking a specific exterior shot of the movie’s Soviet sub surfacing at sea (the camera and the sub break the surface together) was. The same shot (or the same set-up) was used again later in the movie and again to my eyes it appeared absolutely not computer generated like the rest of the film’s (actually pretty good for what they were) undersea exterior effects shots. Sure enough, I listened to the disc commentary and during the first of the two surfacing shots I mention, the film’s writer/director Todd Robinson briefly explained that the shot was accomplished with a “1:15 scale” sub model. Some googling revealed this: http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/life_and_entertainment/2013/02/28/submarine-veteran-adds-depth-to-film.html A news article about the film’s technical adviser who in addition to everything else actually built the model they used!! This photo shows the model itself: http://www.dispatch.com/content/graphics/2013/02/28/1a-phantom-art0-gvmlpqab-11a-phantom-2-jpg.jpg Little else is said about the model (other than it displacing the guy’s car in his garage) and nothing about shooting it, alas. Interesting, no? Keep up the great work. Best, bb

      • It was considerably better than I expected it to be – made on a modern era shoestring (somewhere between 10-13 million US), the sub interiors were all shot on an actual former Soviet diesel boat, and the CG stuff is actually pretty evocative. Saw it the same week as “Black Sea” and it was way more to my liking (apologies if you or any readers worked on that one…) Anyway, have a look some time and see if you can spot more of those practical sub model cameos!

  30. During the action between Hood and Bismarck, Hoods guns would have been firing over her starboard beam at the German ships as would be Prince of Wales. The German ships in return were firing over their port beams at the British. If you examine the movie action as well as the pictures on this site from the movie you will see the exact opposite. As a basically historically factual movie this seems to be a major goof of the film editor. Look at all of the paintings as well as the battle map and you will see that both forces were more or less running to the south-west on a converging course with the British coming from the east and south of the Germans. Therefore the British could only be firing to starboard in historical fact. Surprised that so few “historians” of the battle have noted this.

  31. Really loving this site! I can’t believe how far out my guesses have been on the size of some of these models when I first saw the films. As an example I had guessed that the SS Poseidon was about six or eight feet long, how wrong was I??? twenty one feet and it still looked like a model.

    Keep this up, it’s great.

    Thanks

    Steve

  32. The 1966 UK film ‘The Brides of Fu Manchu’ contains two shots of a miniature ship
    named the ‘Windsor Castle’.
    Around 54 minutes into the film.

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