Thursday, October 7, 2010

1/2" scale Lighthouse Model

This is a 1/2" scale Lighthouse model my friend Jon Stewart & I made for the movie "Commandments" back in March of 1996. Jon made the entire body of the lighthouse tower including all of the brick mortars all the way around, the platform & handrail up top and all the underside brick inlay details.
We made this for a couple of blue screen visual special effects shots done on a stage at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
They found that it was easier, safer and cheaper to contract a scale model that to get helicopter shots of a storm sequence 8 stories off the ground on its actual location in upstate New York. Typically miniatures are used for obvious effects like Sci Fi space ships etc, but when done right they could just be everyday shots in a film that blend seamlessly as a cost savings to the overall production.

They needed the interior to be fully functioning, so I made the rotating reflectors from 4 'mini-Maglights' with the really powerful focused beam. I had to cut part of each of the 4 reflectors to fit inside the miniature bezel. There is a 5th bulb on top to light the inner cap of the bezel. Its all made of plexiglas, cut for the ribbed effect, then layered with gold & silver reflective tape.

I made the frame that housed the gears out of 1/8" plexiglas, the gears & variable speed motor are from RC race cars. I soldered wires inside brass rings that are then 'hugged' with ladies hair clips, as a way of transferring the low voltage power to the mag lights above. Otherwise the wires would have twisted into a knot after a few rotations of the bezel above.

The gearbox had to fit under the floor of the lighthouse deck so there is a long brass shaft with the wires inside that goes up through the floor and rotates the bezel above. I had to rig up some power supplies and a transformer with variable speed for the motor, then run all the wires long enough to be several feet away from the lighthouse model and out of the camera shot.

The roof of the dome is made out of 1/16" plexiglas. Each 'wedge' is like a flat slice of pizza that I heated on a cookie sheet in the oven, then pressed between 2 wood forms that I had pre shaped on the bandsaw. The lightning rod, ball & turning underneath are just wood. The vertical windows are also 1/16 plex with thin styrene mullions over the mitered seams. The brickwork along the base is a resin casting bent around a curved form.
Nowadays they would do all of this in a computer rather than make a scale model. Who knows, maybe there were special effects shots in the last program you watched, and didnt even know it!
To see more, please wisit my website RND
Let me know if anyone has seen the movie!


  1. enough Maglights to go around
    ...and around and around and around!

  2. I enjoyed reading how you used different materials to make the lighthouse beacon and housing. Very inventive. Bet you both had fun making it.

  3. Thank you Margaret, it was alot of work in short amount of time, just two of us, and it all came together in the end. It was a great experience in combining so many different materials

  4. How interesting, looks complex with all the electrical bits, - I live very near a real light house here on the rugged coast of North Devon - enjoyed reading.

  5. Thank you Debs. There was easily as much hidden workings going on inside as what you could see outside.