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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Diorama

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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Diorama
I purchased the 32" Seaview model and the TV conversion kit from Lunar Models in 1994. I began to build it in 1995 and it took almost 10 months to complete (a weekend project). This was definitely the most difficult kit I ever built as it took a lot of work to get the parts to fit, plus the added challenge of lighting the model in such a way that the bulbs could be accessed if they ever needed to be replaced. I chose to light the model using a 6 volt system of "grain of wheat" bulbs connected to a transformer for the power supply. I initially wanted to use a 12 volt system, but quickly discovered that the bulbs got too hot! I figured I'd route the wiring through the base of the diorama, and then up into the sub. That seemed like the best way to tackle the lighting problem. I used a very thin gauge wire to resemble the diving bell cable and added a plug in the diving bell release chamber. All wiring runs through the interior of the sub and back to this connector. The rear Cadillac fins could not be lit with bulbs, so I painted the tips with "glow in the dark" black light paint. I also used the same paint on the diving bell view ports and the Flying Sub headlights. The undersea lab was scratch built and it was lit from the inside using the same 6 volt lighting system. A partial interior was also scratch built for the nose of the sub and some n-scale figures were added to complete the effect. The ballast tank vents were all painstakingly cut by hand using an x-acto knife. The missile hatches were all hand made, as the factory supplied pieces didn't look correct in scale to the deck of the sub. A template was created in order to get the rear fins to set perfectly symmetrical to each other. Lots of priming and sanding was done to remove any seams between parts, and finally Dove gray and White Krylon were applied as the finish coats.

I knew before building the Seaview that a diorama was going to be required to complete the effect. A great deal of thought went into the design before any cutting or sculpting was started. It had to be something that could showcase all the undersea vehicles associated with the show, plus I wanted to add an undersea lab (I know it's not exact to the one in the show, but I was looking at the overall effect). I first had to solve the problem of how to position and support the Seaview in relation to everything else. That problem was solved by using 1/4" thick x 2" wide clear acrylic, cut to the shape of the underside of the sub and then polished to make it as "invisible" as possible. Those two pieces were then secured to a series of wood ribs which were cut to the profile of the terrain. Floral foam was then added between the ribs and sculpted to the desired shape. After that, plaster was then applied to the surface and colored with a wash of acrylic paint to kill the stark white of the plaster. I then purchased model railroading ballast (in various colors and sizes), aquarium plants (fake of course), collected some sand, rocks and coral. I glued the ballast and sand into place with a mixture of Elmer's Glue, water and a drop of dish soap, delivered by a hand held spray bottle. I gave this a week or so to completely dry, and then the plants, rocks and coral were added with the help of a hot glue gun. Once the effect was satisfactory I then finished the edges on three sides with Masonite which was cut to the shape of the terrain and then painted gray. The Seaview (Lunar Models General Plans) plaque was the final touch to the diorama. This took another 8-9 months to build (weekends only).

I decide to enclose this entire thing in glass because I figured it would be almost impossible to dust! So, two custom made oak frames were made with a 1/4' wide x 3/8" deep channel cut into them. That channel would hold the 1/4" thick plate glass on all four sides. The dimension of the front glass is 41 1/4" x 29 3/4". So, there is a frame on the top and a frame on the bottom holding the glass in place. The top oak frame also has a 1/8" deep x 1/2" wide lip routed into it in order to hold a 1/8" thick piece of glass which supports a reflective royal blue backdrop into which was cut a narrow opening to allow the florescent UV light to shine into the diorama. The backdrop is an "underwater photo" that I had blown up at a local printing company. I then added a white frame with a top on it to hide the UV lamp.

So there you have it. Eighteen months later it was finished!

Photo Credits

David Holderbaum