This blog is here to document my latest 2009 project, an extensive recreation of the Disney 1954 movie 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea through a series of detailed miniature dioramas, all contained under my model railroad table. This will be a "crawl-thru" type attraction (What is a crawl-thru? Read about it here).

Like Disney, I usually tend to keep everything under-wraps until I unveil the final product at the end. However, by keeping everything a secret, I end up not taking any photos of my projects and it is often disappointing to not have any documentation in the end showing how everything worked and was constructed. This time, however, I will document every step in the process of the creation of the project with photos and drawings (and maybe some video) illustrating each leg of the construction. Even though the posts here will be chock-full of spoilers, it will show the amount of work that goes into this and other projects--which is often under-appreciated.

This blog includes weekly updates that consisted of notes, ideas, photos, and maybe some video of what was worked on each week up until the estimated completion date of December 2009. (It was officially finished on December 10th, 2009).

December 16, 2010

One Year Later...

It's hard to believe it's already been a year since I finished off this massive project. It seemed like just last week I was hurrying along in construction trying to meet the deadline of our annual Christmas Party, throwing up the last few walls, hot gluing last minute items, giving the floor a fresh coat of flat black (on to take a hairdryer to it to speed up the process.

Through-out the course of the year, the weather really became a test of durability of the project, especially during the summer. In the past, when I basically hot glued everything, stuff would fall apart during the heat waves and I'd have to come in and fix it. Sometimes it was big polar ice-cap props, sometimes it was full-on mechanisms slumping to the ground. The 20k project held up extremely well, considering I did a very solid construction with wood and screws, as opposed to hot glue and cardstock. The only problems I had were the heavy card panels warping a little bit.

So what's next for 20k? Not much at this point. Since the project let it's first guests in, nothing had changed a bit; after working steadily on it for a good chunk of last year, I was ready to go back to other things. I was burned out on it. I did "blue sky" some plans for an overhaul of the project to freshen it up, like replacing the squid fight with a new scene, which would be the same scene, but from the inside of the Nautilus with one tentacle sticking in (fully mechanized of course) and fully detailed. My experimental automatic doors would be ditched for hardcore mechanized double doors, something more solid, durable, and reliable. The interior would receive more detailing, like the Nautilus motif, and my last minute cuts and sloppy seams would be cleaned up. And pretty much everything that I didn't finish would get.... finished.

However, I'm on the fence about going ahead with this overhaul, I have other plans on the horizon. Rapidly gaining speed is a new studio redo, which would include a bigger work table, but a smaller layout table--thus the end of 20k. Since I wouldn't have rood for another "crawl- thru" 20k would be my last.

Nothing is official yet, I still need to draw up plans for the studio refurb and go through the feasibility stage. Plus I invested a lot of time, effort, and $$ into 20k, and I want to keep up as much as I can.

January 9, 2010

Official Full "Crawl-thru" video

The final video of the 20,000 Leagues under the Sea project showing every scene as if someone were crawling through.

"Press Shots"


"Intro/'Whale of a Tale"

"The Monster attacks"

"Discovering the monster"

"Burial Ceremony"

"Dinner with Nemo"

"Nautilus heading to the island of Crespo"

"Shark Attack"

"Nemo plays his organ"

"Squid Fight"

"Nautilus approaches Vulcania"


"Looking on/ The End"

January 7, 2010

Squid Fight in 3D

Grab your Red/Blue 3D glasses, this shot is in 3D! The rain was added digitally to enhance it because there was no rain to begin with.

Quick Refurbishment

Now that I have more time than I did when I finished the project, the last few days I went back to fix a few things and make them better.

"Plus-ing" the sign

When I originally installed the sign for my project, I did it in a rush. The party that I was trying to get the project done and open for was only in a few hours and I simply didn't have the time to put it in properly. I simply took the fluorescent fixture that would backlight it and screwed it directly into the plywood below. I hot-glued the plexiglas sign to the edges of the fixture and masked the light leaks around it with black electrical tape. I later painted the plywood with a blue to try to mask the texture, but it didn't do much.

The sign looked alright when I did it, but I wanted to clean it up and make it better this time around. And for safety reasons, I want it to be as close to the plywood as possible, so that it doesn't snag any clothing or for the sign's safety, not get broken. To do this, I cut a hole directly into the plywood for the light and into the scene behind it (the one with the blacklight Nautilus cruising). To ease the installment of the light fixture, I removed the scene so I can access the wall. That scene also had developed a leak in the  bubble water box so the removing of that temporarily for maintenance made putting the sign in easier.

Here's the plywood wall on the outside with the light fixture now recessed into it. You can see the blue painted around it for a quick (and unsuccessful) fix for the plywood texture.

From there, I smoothed out the plywood and areas around the light fixture with joint compound, and when it was dry I gave it a sanding.

At that point, the entire outside of the table was different colors and different materials. The entire thing was given a coat of paint to make it monochromatic with a neutral color. It looks a lot more streamlined.

Around the light fixture I airbrushed a sort of "glowing Nautilus"; this is to give the sign a glowing look even when the sign isn't on, and when it is, help accentuate the lighting. Since the shot below was taken, I redid it so it was a little more subtle.

Then I drilled some holes in the plywood and bolted the sign on (it has bolts epoxy-ed to it from the back). 

Here's the finished sign installed during normal daytime lighting. It just got polished and cleaned so it's reflecting all the clutter on my desk!

With the fluorescent bulb turned on...

And at night:

Now the sign only sticks out about 3/8", rather than 1 1/2" which makes it less susceptible to damage. And it looks much cleaner than before.

I hoping for the final video through the table to be done by Saturday.

January 1, 2010


A look at the sign mounted on the outside of the table. It was lasercut by an anonymous source out of black plexiglas and is backlit with a fluorescent bulb. Eventually I am going to cut into the plywood that it's mounted on and recess the sign so it won't protrude out as much without creating chances for clothing snags and damage. The plywood will also get a better treatment, the painted look was a temporary finish.

Above the sign is the "control panel"; this is where I can turn on all the power for the show and also control the work lights (it's a 3-way switch, so I can turn them on and off while I'm inside too).

A "ride-through" video is being worked on at the moment. I'm trying to get all the edits right so it'll be a while until it's posted. For all the shots of the scenes and in the interior, I usually take many shots from different angles and then stitch them together in Photoshop for a large picture (cheap wide angle effect), but since it's so dark, the Photomerge feature in Photoshop can't align the pictures so I have to composite them by hand. Because of that, the finished photos and the video won't be showing up too soon, but they will eventually.

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

I had an extra diver that didn't make it into the Burial scene. So, I decided to make him into an ornament for the tree to commemorate the project.

December 21, 2009

Interior Shots

A couple shots of what the interior of the table looks like, with the viewing windows, caption books, and everything else blacked out.

The very beginning scene, which is a "woodcut" print of the "Whale of A Tale" scene in the movie with the caption below. This one basically sets up the characters and the story.

Looking at the first two physical scenes, the "Monster attacks" and "Discovering the monster".

On the left is the Burial scene, in the very back is the last scene (which is a print of Ned, Aronnax, and Conseil in Nemo's boat), in the middle is the Shark attack scene, then the Nautilus cruising scene next to it, and finally the Dinner scene on the right.

The Dinner Scene with it's "caption book"

The "Nautilus Cruising" scene

Looking towards the squid fight scene. The Nemo playing the organ is on the left, a print of the Nautilus approaching Vulcania is in the middle, and out of frame right next to the camera is the shark attack scene. Also, around the corner across from the Vulcania print is the finale scene.

A shot of the Squid fight window at the moment of lightning. Also shown is it's caption below. The organ scene, while out of frame, is right on the left.

On the right is the finale scene and on the back wall on the left is the very end with the main three in the skiff marking the end of the movie and this "crawl-thru". The sign at the very top in the middle just tells the viewer to pull the cord to open the exit door.

December 14, 2009

12/14/09 Update--Finished and the End of Weekly Updates.

As of last Saturday, I'm proud to say that the 20k project is finally finished after nearly a year of work and construction. The last few days and hours leading up to our annual Christmas party consisted of frantic working and stuff being rushed in order to meet the deadline (the next party won't be for 2 years!). But, as the paint finally dried, the relatives who squeezed their way through and approved delightfully. So in the end, the work paid off even though I nearly broke my back doing it!

At some point during the week I'll be documenting the finished product showing every little thing I did as well as with a "ride-through" video showing exactly what it's like to move through the table. Also included will be some really nice "press shots" that I'll be taking of each scene. That will take a while to do since I want to do it right, so don't expect anything popping up here too soon.

Since construction has come to an end, so will the weekly update of this blog. It was a tedious task to document everything for this project, but I don't regret doing it all; this blog provides a very valuable insight into how such a complicated project gets down and all the steps involved. I've never documented something this extensively ever.

Just because I won't be doing weekly posts doesn't mean I'll never do another update; planned for the future is "Phase 2" of the project which is essentially all the stuff I never got to do on the first go-around. This might include the extensive Nautilus themed interior, new props for the sets, upgrades and improvements of scenes, or even a whole new scene. But that's the future at this point. Right now I want to get back to my very neglected projects that includes my Mine Train Thru Nature's Wonderland model above the 20k project as well as some smaller projects. When "Phase 2" begins, I don't know. I really want to get away from anything 20,000 Leagues under the Sea for awhile!

Thanks to those who have followed and commented on here and the YouTube videos, and Happy crawling!

December 10, 2009

12/10/09 Update--Still almost finished.

Well, it's December 10th, guess what still isn't finished? Luckily I have a few extra days to get it done before Saturday (that's when it needs to be done) so I'll get some major work in. I've been extremely busy working on other stuff besides the 20k project, but now that some school finals are done and out of the way, I can get back to the project.

Because I was so busy the last week or so, not much was done unfortunately. I did get the entrance door completely finished and the burial scene given it's water effect back. I've also started on the "caption books", which explain what's going on in the scene as well as give extra info to transition from the scene before or to the next. Here's an example, which will go below the Discovery scene.

I kind of did it like a book of the period. The illustrations are filtered screen shots from the movie, since I have no time to actually draw them out myself. Even then, they look pretty good. Although color probably wasn't used at the time in books, but it adds that much more in my situation. These caption books are going below every single scene. Here's another which goes below the Burial scene.

These work pretty well since I have no more room for what's being depicted in the caption books!

I'm working on the sign, which is going to be very similar to the Submarine Voyage sign I did a few years ago with the backlit letters. The overall shape is being lasercut at the moment, but here's a concept art I did of it to kind of show what it might look like:

As of Friday night, pretty much all of the caption books are installed. All the lights for the captions are lit by 12V lights along my new 12V line that I installed through-out the table. Now I can just tap into the line if I need power for a set (if it runs of 12V).

 Now it's a matter of doing touch-ups and cleaning everything up. Almost finished.

I'm also happy to say that the squid fight is finally done. The characters were added today and now the squid has something to battle now. The characters are very rough sculpts of crew members. I was able to get away with not sculpting any faces, by either turing the head away, or wrapping it with a tentacle.

Not the best shots, but here's what it looks like with the lightning going off.

Since I am working on the project the over the next two days, I will be constantly updating this post with more stuff, so check back often! 

December 1, 2009

12/1/09 Update: Getting closer...

I'm getting closer to finishing the project as all the paneling is complete for the entire attraction. I started out with cutting heavy cardboard or matte-board for all the main paneling. They're all screwed in, so they can be removed for heavy maintenance. On these boards, I cut holes for quick access panels, so I don't have to take out a bunch of screws if I need to do any quick adjustments. I made these quick access panels out of masonite and they fasten on with wire hooks into holes on the panel boards. All of the viewing windows were done the same way. The windows were cut in a way so that the scene is cleanly cropped and makes the scene look nicer and more convincing (especially for all the underwater scenes where you can't see all the equipment).

Here are some pano shots of the paneling:

This shot shows the quick access panels installed:

Once all the paneling was installed, the entire project was given a coat of flat black paint. It's really hard to believe it, but I can't believe how much darker the paint makes the project. (For some odd reason, it actually makes it look larger too. Seeing everything one shade of color really makes it look slick and clean, and it's really cool only being able to see the scenes only. I don't have any time for adding Nautilus motif around the walls, but I like being able to see nothing; it allows me to hide all of my flaws too.

The next step is to get all the caption books done, which I'll probably discuss next update. I'm also going to get the squid fight finally finished (hopefully!) and some other neat stuff like signs and rope lights. Then from there it'll be adding last minute details and testing and adjusting.

Next week will probably be my last scheduled update! By December 10th, I'm calling the project done! Although some elements were put aside, I may pick them up later on when I have more time. Since I've been ultra busy with school finals and stuff, don't be too surprised if I delay next weeks update for a week.

November 23, 2009

11/23/09 Update

Work has been progressing furiously on the project, though I really don't think I can finish it the way I want it to; there's simply too much to do to create a totally detailed and immersive project that I've had in mind. I'm trying to get this thing done as soon as possible, or by around December 10th--but since I don't think I can do that, I've decided to scale back the project. I'm trying to get this done by our family Christmas party, which will be the largest audience this project will ever see. But since I'm trying to meet a deadline for that, some stuff will be left out for now. But that means they'll never get put in eventually. I also want to get some work done on my Nature's Wonderland model before the party and I want to make room for overflow work time for my college final projects.

The current scaled back plan is this:

• The main focus will be to get all the scenes done and perfect; they're the main part of the show.

• Around the scenes will be streamlined and cleaned up with paneling, at this point to be painted flat black. My original plan was to completely theme the entire paneling like the Nautilus interior with rivets, pipes, and gauges. But since I don't have time for that, that aspect has been eliminated in favor of a clean dark surface. If I do have time, I may add patches of theming that will be only seen under lighting conditions that light up only those areas. (Otherwise, the entire area outside of the scenes will be totally dark, to focus the viewers attention on the scenes).

• As part of the scenes, a faux book in front of them will have a small caption and a black/white woodcut like illustration to give more information on the scene and to help blend the transitions between them. These will look like books from the time period, and will take a while to do, especially the illustrations (which I am doing half by hand and half by computer filtering of movie screen-shots. )

• I'm also going to make a sign for the front of the attractions, which will be a fun little project, as well as paint and streamline the outside of it, which is a mixed media of different materials at the moment.

So, if I can do what's on this list, I'll be in good shape; despite the compromises that were painful to make.

Anyways, this week I worked on the paneling of the project; essentially putting the matte on the canvas. This will give a very nice look to the project and will hid any unwanted areas.

Before I started the major framework, I did a quick video showing the inside and how all the scenes are laid out.

I started out with a wooden frame and then I screwed in walls of either Masonite, cardstock, heavy matte board, and heavy cardboard.

Here's a shot of the wood framing for the first part of the attraction:

And the areas paneled. The holes cut allow for windows for the scenes as well as quick access panels. (Technically, all the panels are being designed so the whole section comes out easily for any heavy maintenance or troubleshooting).

(That's the sign for my old Submarine Voyage project; it's kind of a nod to a former project that you have to look at a certain angle in order to see it.)

I should have pretty much all the paneling done (Luckily I have a few more free days because of Thanksgiving). I would also like to get the Squid fight done also, but we'll see.