On The Bench 198: Eliot Brown’s Nautilus

Eliot Brown gives us a look at a scratchbuild project that he’s been working on. Eliot lives with wife Arlene and son Nick in Kingston, NY where he started the Kingston Vacuum Works and the new Amazing Colossal Models Co. He says he has a giant pile of unbuilt models and cheerfully refers to himself as a “kit mangler.”

On my last trip to a major comic shop, I was drawn to the distinctive cover stylings of Kevin O’Neil. I was delighted at Alan Davis’s interesting use of literary fantasy characters in a thrilling yarn. But I was particularly drawn to O’Neil’s take on Nemo’s Nautilus. Sure, I had a nit or two to pick, but all in all, it was a thoroughly original and interesting design. The use of giant domed windows on the bridge was a doff of the Tam O’Shanter to the Verne descriptions and the immortal design of Harper Goff. It was the glowing orbs that made me think of a lighted model.

So, I sat back and went to CultTVMan’s vast archive of David Merriman articles and soaked up some inspiration. Merriman is a no-holds-barred model maker, using every method under the sun to get that model right and he shares his information with us, for free. If he’s a little hard on so-called kit-assemblers, well, I invite all of us to look over our shoulders and take in the teetering piles of unbuilt models. What Merriman places on this website –alone– is more than my output of a lifetime; and I do have quite a few un-built models. On the other hand, I wear the mantle of kit-assembler proudly and look to Merriman’s work as something to aim for and certainly learn from.

I only hope I finish this Nautilus. Anyway, after soaking up some Merriman flair, I cleaned up my work space and got to work.

I had the mad plan to make several copies of a lit model in a display case (a la Wah Chang’s little Time Machine in a velvet-lined box) for the writer and artist of the book. Also to offer it as a kit (ahem, some fine day). So size and manufacturing methodology had to be thought out. Since I was going to make a circuit board that would serve as the frame around which the ship would be attached, and I was going to make the circuit board, it had to fit within my manufacturing abilities.

Overall length of 6″ was it. I was going to make a 3-D skeleton framework in centerline halves with the idea of vacuum forming it in clear acetate for easier lighting. The distinctive squid arms would have to be done in white metal (gulp! but Merriman shows the way in his clear demonstrations of working up the deBoer’s 57″ Seaview) because they are so thin and spindly. They would also have to be designed when the hull was complete as that hull is so comlex a compound shape. So Phase One would be the hull halves.

Armed with xerographic enlargements of the comic pages, and one shot in particular that is a perfect profile, I began preparing the section profiles. The ship is shown in various proportions and sizes; my two quibbles with the design are the scandalously large size of the ship and the arms doing a little too much. So, I did not feel too bad at having to settle on a few design compromises. That said, I really tried to tie all the various images together.

The profile shot I included in this article was the cleanest version. The profile sections are so smudgy and sloppy that only if asked, will I include cleaned-up versions of them. Suffice to say, they were the most guessed-at part of the conversion of flat side view to head-on view. I transferred those sections to .040″ white styrene by rubbing the edge of a soft pencil on the back of the drawings. I was careful to maintain a centerline thickness during this process. Those left and right halves would have to be as ideal as I could make them. When they are vacuum formed, they should mate up pretty well. .

I picked out two places that were out of the way of the framing and glued in a bunch of short lengths of brass tubing. Into which would slide “pins.” These would keep the two halves in register as I went along. As I cut out each profile’s pieces, I used each one as a master for its opposite side to insure symmetry. The glued-together results are shown in the first three pix (1, 2, 3)

Note in #1 that the pins are sticking out of their sockets. You can also see some of the reference pix and working drawings. In #2 and #3 you can see that I tried to make the stiffening ribs also conform to the surface where possible, or ahem, clear to me

Once satisfied that the two halves were as close to symmetrical as I could get them. It was time to “flesh them out.” To that end, I used cheap (relatively) plumber’s putty. Once I began to fill in the sections, I realised that I would be using many pounds of this stuff so I quickly framed in some styrene boxes and made use of small blocks of bass wood to take up some of the volume. I knew that I would be drilling through whatever was inside, to make the pattern “vent” to the vac-former table, so the less material the better.


One thing to note about the plumber’s putty I found as my Home Depot (Oatey Epoxy Putty in 4 oz. tubes) was that it claimed a 15 minute working time, which sounded great to me. Plumbers must use large wrenches on the stuff to “work” it for the last ten minutes, because it became un-workable to me after only 5-6 minutes. My dream of laying on a big chunk for each half and bringing it quickly to a neat, ready-for-sanding shape quickly faded. Small section by small section was built up, sometimes in an upper and lower application. (Do wash the stuff off your hands before is sets.)

Note in pics #4 and #5, that I left the most complex middle section open while I refined my negative templates and conceptualization of the origins of the arms. The neg templates are simply surface shapes that I can hold up to the hardening putty to “get it close.” The eyes are 3/8″ ball bearings cyano glued into carefully cut styrene rings. ‘Careful’ for purposes of symmetry, I used quick gauges to check for angles and symmetry when I puttied them into place– for that I used Milliput epoxy putty, which I know has a longer set time. It’s also quite sticky which helped in this case.

onto part 2

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