Dan Vint's Personal Website
Projects

Building Walt Disney's version of Jules Verne's "The Nautilus"

Ever since I first saw this movie in the early '60s, I have wanted to own my own model of this boat. I'm surprised that no one ever created a commercial kit of the Nautilus, but I guess this was before the age of over commercializing movies.

Anyway, I found some information and plans for the Nautilus in Scale Modeler around 1984. At that time I had access to a CAD/CAM system and I took those plans and built a 3D surfaces model from those plans. It took about 100 hrs to build and document that model. From that digital model I made a set of full size blue prints that I hope to build a model from. The idea of building this model has laid around since then, the two biggest problems I had with taking on this project was reproducing the "teeth" and the rivets.

I have a scan of the original plans in that article here nautilus-plan.zip. See related links at the bottom of this page for more sources of plans.

Nautilus blueprints I purchased [plans]
Nautilus blueprints I purchased [plans]

About November of 1997 I was surfing the web when I got the idea to look for model boat sites. It had been a few years since I had last built a model and all my catalogs were out of date. I wanted to lookup the addresses of these manufacturers as many had moved or blended together. While I was looking that information over I came across a website for model submarines and from there I discovered another website that showed a completed model and listed a resource for parts to build this model. This site has moved, and I no longer have a source for these. I bought the teeth and their set of plans (for comparison) and waited until August 1998 to start my model. In addition to the previously mentioned website, I found a site devoted to the Nautilus and the movie memorabilia that got me started collecting some of the old lobby cards, press books, posters and comic books that were issued with this movie.

Lobby card with scene of natives jumping from deck [lbcnativ]
Lobby card with scene of natives jumping from deck [lbcnativ]
Lobby card with ramming scene [lbcrammi]
Lobby card with ramming scene [lbcrammi]
Lobby card with interior of the Nautilus. Notice the large pipe organ at the back of the salon with the Nemo crest [lbcinter]
Lobby card with interior of the Nautilus. Notice the large pipe organ at the back of the salon with the Nemo crest [lbcinter]

Work begins

Having built several plank-on-frame models of sailing ships, I decided to use this basic approach to building the Nautilus. I cut a solid keel (vertical profile) of the submarine out of 1/4" modelers plywood. Any of the sheets of plywood thinner than 1/4" had too much flex and had already achieved a bow in the middle. The horizontal planes were also cut out of this plywood, and initially I was only going to cut the 2 halves, but I had forgotten that the horizontal planes on the Nautilus, start to rise about mid ship. The bulkheads were cut from 3/32" bass wood.

My kitchen table workshop with my CAD/CAM drawing on the wall and table top and the plywood keel pieces. Bass wood bulkheads are in the box [starting]
My kitchen table workshop with my CAD/CAM drawing on the wall and table top and the plywood keel pieces. Bass wood bulkheads are in the box [starting]
Assembly of the bulkheads with the keel pieces [bldkeel2]
Assembly of the bulkheads with the keel pieces [bldkeel2]
Final assembly of the keel [bldkeel3]
Final assembly of the keel [bldkeel3]

The bulkheads had to be cut into 4 sections and the appropriate space removed for the keel pieces. All but the first and last bulkhead had sufficient mass to be cut in this way. At this stage I was beginning to realize that both ends of the model were going to be difficult to try and plank and build up.

I used several small machinist's squares and 90 degree supports to help assemble these pieces. One side of the hull could be built directly on the keel, the other side had to be assembled separately. I used the side elevation taped down to the table top to help align the horizontal keel pieces and then to position the bulkhead parts.

I built a quick cradle from a cardboard box to support the model while I work on it [cradle]
I built a quick cradle from a cardboard box to support the model while I work on it [cradle]

I need to determine how I will display this model when finished so I can design the proper supports for it.

This photo shows the gap where the horizontal planes rise towards the bow. Also note the small 1/16 x 1/8" basswood supports between the bulkheads. These will help support the planking. [gap]
This photo shows the gap where the horizontal planes rise towards the bow. Also note the small 1/16 x 1/8" basswood supports between the bulkheads. These will help support the planking. [gap]

Planking the Hull

The hull of the Nautilus is a 10 sided polygon of regular structure. I decided that I would use 10 planks (some split in two because of the keel and horizontal planes). I cut strips of 0.4mm modelers plywood slightly larger than the widest portion of each of these sides.

Each planking strip was then ruled down the center and the location of the bulkheads were laid in at 90 degrees to the center line.

The next step was then to measure the width of each face of the bulkhead and transfer it to the appropriate plank and bulkhead location. The width of each face was then divided in two and laid out from the center line of the plank. This produces a plank that gets skinny and fat at various locations along its length.

The following photos show a trick I learned as an illustrator for scaling or dividing a measured length into parts with just a set of dividers and a piece of paper.

In Photo 1 you see a pair of dividers on a piece of paper with a chart on it. The chart is simply a set of horizontal and vertical lines drawn perpendicular to each other. (Normally I would use a piece of grid paper for this.) From an intersection (0 point) I layout a 1 inch distance on the horizontal scale. On the vertical scale I measure the portion of the value I want to set (in this case I want 1/2 of the original value so I set it to 1/2"). The intersection of these two points is then connected to the 0 point or origin of the graph. The other diagonal in this picture is the 1 to 1 scale line or a line drawn through a point measured 1 inch on both the horizontal and vertical lines.

Now to use this chart:

  1. I simply take my measurement of the bulkhead face and place that on the horizontal axis (Photo 1), starting at the 0 point.
  2. Photo 1 [scale1]
    Photo 1 [scale1]
  3. You now pivot the dividers on the far horizontal point, until the point that was on 0 is now perpendicular (90 degrees) to where it was before (it will land on the 1-to-1 scale line when perpendicular). Now change the spacing set on the dividers (in this case squeezing them together) until the vertical point rests on the line drawn to the 1/2 the value (Photo 2). This is now exactly 1/2 the previous measurement if you did this accurately.
  4. Photo 2 [scalhalf]
    Photo 2 [scalhalf]
  5. The new measurement is transferred to the plank at the proper bulkhead location and then measured out from the centerline of the plank (Photo 3). Make a mark on both sides of the centerline for the complete width of the bulkhead at this location.
  6. Photo 3 [plnksize]
    Photo 3 [plnksize]
  7. Continue transferring until finished with a plank. Connect the points along each edge and then cutout. I was able to use a pair of scissors for this (Photo 4).
  8. Photo 4 [plankcut]
    Photo 4 [plankcut]

Next step is to start gluing the planks in place. I use a combination of Zap-A-Gap and regular white glue for this process. Zap-A-Gap is good for getting a quick initial positioning, but I like the white glue for permanence and strength.

Top plank being glued into place and held with masking tape [planks1]
Top plank being glued into place and held with masking tape [planks1]
The planked hull sitting in the temporary cradle [planked]
The planked hull sitting in the temporary cradle [planked]

Superstructures and Fin Details

After planking the hull I started to thin and taper the various fins to their final form. I used a Dremel tool with an after market flexible shaft. This after an hour of so of work smoked, sputtered and died. I had to order a new Dremel tool, this time I went for the unit with the built in flexible shaft and it seems to be much better than the other combination.

Underside of the model showing the built out and taper of the rear fin. The lines on the fin are the various layers of wood and plywood areas [undersde]
Underside of the model showing the built out and taper of the rear fin. The lines on the fin are the various layers of wood and plywood areas [undersde]

I added supports (actually cut from the original frames. These supports will hold the plywood sheeting that will form the deck and the base for the control superstructure.

Deck area of Nautilus, showing the supports for the plywood deck to be applied [supports]
Deck area of Nautilus, showing the supports for the plywood deck to be applied [supports]
This is my work area, with the new Dremel tool hanging in the background [workarea]
This is my work area, with the new Dremel tool hanging in the background [workarea]
This view shows the deck in place and the supports (backing) for the large observation windows on the side of the hull [sidedeck]
This view shows the deck in place and the supports (backing) for the large observation windows on the side of the hull [sidedeck]
The space under the deck and various areas have been filled in and shaped [filling]
The space under the deck and various areas have been filled in and shaped [filling]
A side view showing the superstructure in place [profile]
A side view showing the superstructure in place [profile]
This profile is starting to look familiar [bowend]
This profile is starting to look familiar [bowend]

Adding the teeth and deck details

It has been a while since I updated my progress. This is now 11/27/98 and I have primarily added the teeth and some other detail parts.

I decided to mount the teeth, by drilling two holes in the base of each tooth and the fin where it was placed. In the holes I then inserted small modelers brass nails to add some strength.

This shows the teeth mounted in place and some of the details like the intake vents on the underside (white areas) and the scales or hatch opening just behind the superstructure [teeth1]
This shows the teeth mounted in place and some of the details like the intake vents on the underside (white areas) and the scales or hatch opening just behind the superstructure [teeth1]
This view shows the fighting end of the boat. The ram is a dowel with putty built up to form the point [teeth2]
This view shows the fighting end of the boat. The ram is a dowel with putty built up to form the point [teeth2]

Completed Model

Here it is! The completed model. I finished this about the June 1st. The rivet details are small dowels (from a trunnel maker) each fitted into to a hole 0.031" diameter and then clipped to the proper length. Close up these "rivets" are too large, but sit back a little bit and they give the right amount of texture.

I spray painted the model with a Poly S Grimey Black and then applied a weathering finish of Rust all that gives the reddish tint. This is actually a transparent finish and in person some black does show through, but the photos registered the rust color more heavily.

Resources

Completed model and details of the salon area [nautcmp6]
Completed model and details of the salon area [nautcmp6]
Completed model and details of the rudder and propeller [nautcmp7]
Completed model and details of the rudder and propeller [nautcmp7]
Completed model from the bow [nautcmp4]
Completed model from the bow [nautcmp4]
Completed model looking down on deck and deck house [nautcmp5]
Completed model looking down on deck and deck house [nautcmp5]
Completed model showing anchor and details of the side raker and salon window [nautcmp8]
Completed model showing anchor and details of the side raker and salon window [nautcmp8]
Completed model [nautcmp1]
Completed model [nautcmp1]

Updates

Since building this model, I was contacted by the producers of "Hero Ships" for a segment on the USS Nautilus. They used my model when talking about Jules Verne's novel and his Nautilus. I haven't seen it yet on TV but I have seen the recording. If you go to the History Channel store you can see the segment about 5 minutes into the part 1 video. Here is a short clip that shows my model and the final credits that list me as a provider of archival images.

*Disclaimer*

This site is in no way shape, or form, virtual or real, sponsored, endorsed by, or affiliated with the Walt Disney Company, Euro Disney S.C.A., or Walt Disney Imagineering (formerly WED Enterprises) No infringement of any of their copyright is intended.