Nautilus - from FX-Models

The Nautilus from Disney's fabulous 20,000 Leagues film might be a rather improbable mixture of electrochemical power and riveted iron plates, but it certainly captivates the imagination with its barracuda shaped hull and glowing fish-eye bridge windows. When the FX Models Nautilus resin kit surfaced on my workbench, its well-proportioned and nicely sculpted hull didn't disappoint. In the film, the deranged Captain Nemo used the Nautilus to thwart man's warmongering activities, especially on the island of 'Volcania', which housed a forced labour camp named Rura Pente. In a curious twist of fate, this would somehow later give it's name to a Klingon labour camp found by the crew of the USS Enterprise some 500 years later in ST VI: 'The Undiscovered Country'.

Kit Details

The kit is a solid resin casting, with several smaller separate accessory pieces including fins, white metal anchors, two shaped blocks which form the basis of a stand, clear vac-formed portholes, nameplate and a propeller in the form of six separate blades. The black-and-white instruction sheet is no more than a parts list. The sculpting on the Nautilus is excellent, especially on the rivet detail and hatches. The casting was reasonable for a resin kit, with lots of small bubble holes at the extremities and some thick flash round some accessories, but nothing that took more than a hour or two to fill or fix. Resin thickness was variable on some thin parts, but again nothing that couldn't be put to rights with a bit of Milliput filling and sanding.

The instructions suggest referring to the movie for painting guidance, so off I went in search of the video only to find that it's one of Disney's deleted titles: I eventually located a second-hand copy. I needed it too: the 'net is pretty well devoid of technical reference material. The film reveals a uniform rusty colour and Gothic-style riveted plate detail to the outer hull. What caught my eye though was the glow from the large portholes and 'fish-eye' bridge lights, especially when the Nautilus launched its surface attacks. Now, how on Earth was I going to do this justice, I wondered. The hull was solid, so I couldn't light it internally.... or could I? A quick but of sketching revealed that lighting was possible&endash; all I needed was a 21mm drill bit, some copper nails and some l.e.d.'s. Oh, yes &endash; and did I mention a drill press?

Standby Lights....

Putting the accessories on the hull was straightforward but, for lighting, there was a bit of work to be done first. The side portholes are supplied as clear vac forms that are positioned over resin 'window frames', which provided the intricate frame detail. Ideally, punching out these 'window frames' and backlighting them would give just the effect I wanted, but I'd have to create a deep, wide, hollow on each side of the hull for this. I'd also have to get power into the hull in a way that couldn't be seen, especially for photographing, so I knew I was going to have to run the wires through the hull somehow. The solution was to drill a 21mm wide hole straight through the hull, from side-to-side. This would be deep enough to accommodate wiring connections and the l.e.d.'s, while being wide enough to floodlight the side portholes. Power would be supplied by contacts on the outer hull, disguised as surface detailing, and running through to the central 21mm chamber, and then upto the upper deck for the bridge lights.

Now, here's the age-old lighting dilemma: should the model be lit to reflect the film or the studio miniature? The bridge internal lights were yellowish white, but when the ship is seen in the surface attack, the seawater imparts a strong and sinister green tone. Since I wanted maximum visual impact, I decided to have both white and green lights installed, therefore requiring 3 wires: two feeds with variable resistors and a common return.

Standby Camera....

I decided to supply power to the hull contacts via the display stand, but I also wanted a clean profile without the stand for photography. So, the starboard hull side was drilled to accept two 4mm bolts attached to a plate and a length of threaded rod. The Nautilus could be supported in this configuration for photography, with power would be supplied to the hull contacts via crocodile clips, and the wires simply taped to the threaded rod and hidden by the ship itself.


So much for the theory, now it was time for some engineering. Starting with the monster 21mm chamber, I worked up in steps from small bits, drilling into the centre of the ship from each side: I'd never be able to go centre-to-centre through the hull. I made a styroboard cradle to hold the hull, and kept the drill speed to about 300rpm.

With the hull drilled out, I drilled four 2mm diameter holes into the 21mm chamber at angles from the hull exterior (where it met the stand blocks) for power and a 4mm hole upto the top deck to supply the bridge lights. Another 4mm hole was drilled into the bottom of the chamber for a resin injection &endash; more on that later.

For the hull power connections, I soldered short lengths of 2mm wide copper nails onto wires and tapped them carefully into the hull &endash; nice snug fit, and they wouldn't look out of place when the hull was painted. The photography mount holes were drilled close to the 21mm chamber, but clear of the wire access holes.

I bent and soldered the leads from the white and green l.e.d.'s to form a cage that held one white/green pair pointing to port and another to starboard, and another pair for the bridge, and connected them to the wire tails running in from the outer hull. The wires were then 'persuaded' to fold into the 21mm chamber with long-nosed pliers. Some crocodile clips made test connections to ensure everything was ok.

Now, the porthole backing 'window frames' had to be drilled out, and I used a 3x19mm conical sinter in a mini-drill for this. Health and safety regulations require suitable goggles and respirator for dealing with resin dust, of course. To add strength to the fragile window frame structure that remained, I spread a 2mm-deep pool of DEVCON 1-hour epoxy on a sheet of polythene and dropped the window frames face-up onto the resin. The DEVCON sets crystal-clear and can be tidied up to conform to the outside of the window frames, leaving the mini portholes in the window frames as a single strong structure. Buffing the back with 240 grit paper frosts them and helps to diffuse the light from the l.e.d.'s. The edges of the 21mm hole were worked with the sinter to clear the back of each mini porthole on the window frames. The completed window frames were bonded in place on the hull. If you don't want to light the Nautilus, just bond the clear parts onto the original frames.

The bridge was lightproofed first by spraying internally with auto black primer then wheel trim chrome. This was sealed with lacquer &endash; otherwise the resin injection would cause the chrome paint to run. A 1mm hole was drilled between the uppermost 'horn' portholes to let air escape during resin injection. The bridge windows were cut from the vac formed sheet and glued into the lightproofed bridge from the inside. I used solvent-free UHU for this, as it seals as well as fixes, and doesn't bloom the plastic like superglue. With the bridge set up, it was epoxied onto the upper hull.

To diffuse the light from the l.e.d.'s, I decided to inject the ship with clear epoxy tinted with white paint. I made up several concentrations and decided on 1 drop/50ml of resin. The injection was handled with a 20ml syringe and a short length of aero-engine fuel tubing with a 4mm brass tube insert pushed into the spare 4mm hole in the central chamber. It took exactly 26ml of resin to fill the whole thing, and I watched the filling process through the clear windows, going very slowly as I approached the air hole atop the bridge. If you're going to do this step (it really helps to diffuse the l.e.d. light evenly), practice the routine first as the resin jams the syringe after about 5 minutes.

Hull Attachments and Stand

The only assembly step that had me thinking was the curved plate between the upper and lower rudder halves - it doesn't appear to matter which way up it goes. The propeller blades on my example were a little bent, so I made another set out of plasticard. The stand blocks were drilled out to take power wires soldered to small copper plates, which were bonded onto the block surfaces. The completed blocks were then bonded to a Perspex box and the wires attached to the variable resistors and power jack: resting the ship on the display stand thereby supplies power.


Before painting I masked off the windows with Humbrol MASKOL. The entire hull was sprayed with auto black primer, then dry-brushed first with Humbrol bronze 171, then again with Revell brown 83. A patchy finish on the dry-brushing will bring out the best of the surface detail. Needless to say, the whole thing was vigorously degreased at the start of construction.

Set Design

I wanted my set design to reflect a sea bottom location, with a shipwreck nearby, and a sandy bottom with lumpy coral outcrops found in Nemo's underwater 'garden'. The lighting was a uniformly washed-out grey/blue, which I replicated with blue filters on lamps and smoke pellets to give the impression of murky seawater.

The shipwreck was a steam powered 3-masted vessel (kit 11307 from Minicraft) sprayed with grey primer and swirls of sand and olive. It was weathered with several dunks into a vacuum cleaner bag between wet paint coats: a combination of cat hair, fluff and dust worked wonders!

The Nautilus was supported on its threaded rod clamped in a hand vice, and I draped a dark blue cloth behind. The seabed was sand spread over a large sheet of hardboard, and my shipwreck was buried strategically in the seabed near the Nautilus. I took a range of photographs with different smoke densities and lighting arrangements to give the best results.

The end result....

back to the Gallery

meet the team

what we do


work bench




contact us

• top of this page