Captains Courageous 1937

This was one of my favorite films as a kid. It has a couple of miniature ship shots in it and a terrific title treatment using crashing waves to change the text. In these days the miniatures were the province of the art department, a separate special effects department was still not thought necessary. Its not surprising to find that Arnold Gillespie was an associate art director on the film under MGM’s chief art director Cedric Gibbons.

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Sphere 1998

The miniature effects were by Grant McCune Design. Clark Schaffer was the miniature set designer with Monty Shook the chief model maker. David Stump was the miniatures director of photography. Jeffrey A. Okun was the production’s visual effects supervisor.

The entire underwater environment was built at 1/16 scale, 40 ft by 20 ft (12m x 6m). It included the habitat base, the sea floor, coral reef and a forced perspective alien spacecraft with a 16 ft (4.9m) tall fin. Plywood was used for the under structure, and coral was represented by spraying polystyrene foam shapes with acetone giving a pitted texture to the surface.

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1cd8157277f9a28f2c69e19e737f8a8fLarger close up sections of the habitat were built at 1/6 scale. Both scales of habitat domes were built on acrylic forms covered with vacuum formed styrene panels.

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Also included in the sixth scale build was the descent submarine and an escape submarine. The escape submarine featured a pyrex glass sphere for its cockpit bubble as well as a complete interior with sixth scale costumed occupants.

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dd4688190f01c9535bf02b7feb71e146 8697497191c6d8abaa0446d71093375e 9c8ae1595d43615b456c3f71604eb404The arrival of the descent submarine at the habitat was achieved by mounting the 1/6th submarine model on an arm attached to a dolly at its stern. It was then moved into shot with the large habitat section casting its miniature lights onto the submarine’s surface.


Virtually all the models were filmed dry in a smoke filled studio for the underwater look, with CG drifting particulate added later in compositing.

The scenes of the escape craft surfacing were the only wet shots filmed at a tank at Universal Studios called Falls lake. Filmed with two high speed cameras by Pete Romano, the model was originally mounted on a surfacing rig but it was found that the escape craft had to be pushed by hand out of the water to achieve the speed required. The background ships were painted plywood shapes mounted on stands at the back of the tank.

While I have no criticism of the miniatures themselves I feel the production design by Norman Reynolds generally leaves a little to be desired in this film. As far as the miniatures go the habitat suffers the most as being very unconvincing as an underwater structure. I feel the production as a whole ( as flawed as it ultimately was ) would have benefited from some decent sci-fi concept design to start with.


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Source: Cinefex 74 July 1998, DVD special features.





Mystery film set

The grand daughter of Jimmy Snow, who kindly provided the behind the scenes photos from Battle for the River Plate in the last post, is trying to discover the titles of all the films her grandfather worked on and has a series of photographs from the set from an unknown film. A reader of this blog may recognise the set and be able to place the film title to which it belongs.

The set is of the deck of a ship and the ships name is visible on a board in one of the photos, namely HMS Dreadnought which was a famous British ship from the world war one era. Also the sailors on the deck appear to be in naval uniforms that correlate with the world war one era and there is one character wearing a Pith helmet.

If anybody has any clues as to the title of the movie and its year of release please use the comment system. Remember you can click on an image and view it at a larger size.

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