Pegasus Hobbies 1/144 'Nautilus'

Kit #9120                    MSRP $65.99                  Market Value $52.13
Images and text Copyright © 2013 by Matt Swan

Developmental Background
       Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues under the Sea was a movie that captured many firsts and captured the imagination of generations of Nerds. This was the first Science Fiction movie produced by Walt Disney Productions, it was the first and only science fiction film direct by Walt Disney, it was the first feature film distributed by Buena Vista Distribution and it was the first example of a genre now recognized as "Steampunk". The fictional submarine "Nautilus" as designed for the Disney production came from Harper Goff and Disney still holds the license for that design (no surprise there). As a result of this license we don't see any mass production accurately molded kits of this boat, it is simply not economically feasible to put this into production. The alternative then are models 'inspired by' the movie ship 'Nautilus' as is this kit from Pegasus.
       We have two artists involved in the creation of this kit; the sub is designed by Greg deSantis and the squid which acts as the kit base is done by Scott Willis of Pegasus and is based on an initial rending by deSantis. Obviously Greg did not let himself be constrained by the original Jules Verne descriptions but did take some inspiration from the Disney 'Goff' boiler plate construction of the movie sub and similar tail structure. The frog-head like bridge is a rather unique idea that could use some further development in my opinion - we'll get more into that later on. The kit molds and production was actually done by Trumpeter in China which in itself is rather unusual as they don't typically farm out their services. Paragon specifically sought them for this job as having the best potential to capture all the heavy rivet detail featured in the original design.

The Kit
       I had been waiting anxiously for this kit to arrive, watching it progress through the system via the Fedex tracking app and at last it found its way to my doorstep. This is a pretty hefty box well packed with lots of goodies. The box itself is of heavy duty construction so will survive well in the stash but seriously, who could let this languish in the stash? The box artwork is well done and has a slightly faded look to capture an underwater feeling. The side panels have some nice shots of the model assembled and unpainted giving the modeler a tantalizing preview of the fine detail inside. Inside each sprue (with the exception on one small duplicate sprue) is individually bagged and in many cases sensitive pieces are wrapped in foam sheet prior to bagging. Clear parts are wrapped and bagged separately and the photo etched and mask sets are sealed in with some reinforcing cardboard. All in all a very impressive pack job which keeps everything right where it started and nearly guarantees the kit will arrive free of damage.
       We have eight sprues of medium gray injection molded parts, one sprue of clear parts and thirteen vinyl parts comprising the squid base and data plate. The detail on the parts is simply amazing, Trumpeter did a super job of capturing the Victorian feel of the design on the exterior with bunches of heavy rivets throughout and inside things look just as impressive. Check out this shot of the main salon walls (you can click on that for a larger view), look at that book shelf detail. Not only that but we have a complete organ with keyboard and desk. As center pieces in the salon we have the large semi-circular viewing couch and a floor mounted globe. Sadly, while we have all this great stuff going on in the salon we get nothing at all in the wheel house. The frog head viewing ports look into a blank wall and the clear inserts don't do much for visibility there. The clear parts are more than adequate everywhere else it's just that there are so many small windows in such a confined space for the wheel house that it doesn't work well.
       General parts fit is very good on both the salon primary panels and the overall exterior hull panels. I like the use of overlapping tabs on the hull panels to not only align things nicely but they will aid in blocking any escaped light when the kit is wired for LEDs. The kit also includes a large fret of photo etched brass that includes hand grips, railings, steps and various supporting cables. Lastly the kit includes two sheets of adhesive backed paper masks. While not the typical vinyl masks we normally think of they do fit fairly well and don't seem to be inclined to let paint bleed under the edges. Clear parts look good with a distinct flavor of the old Harper Goff design in the main salon windows. We get some inserts for the wheelhouse windows and a couple of small pieces for the side light lenses. During a test fit of the wheelhouse inserts it does not appear they will provide a good view into the interior which is no big deal should that area not be detailed however if the modeler chooses to detail this section then the clear inserts most likely will need to be replaced with some liquid crystal clear.
       Besides injection molded plastic parts, photo etch and paper masks we also have a very cool vinyl squid base to look at. This is a really nice, solid base to hold our finished model with squid arms gently embracing the hull of the sub. Each arm is uniquely keyed to the base so they will fit in one and only one way. This is both good and bad. On the good side you don't have to worry about screwing up the assembly and the connection of each arm to the base is very solid, so solid that it could be painted then assembled and leave it right there. On the bad side; there is only one way to assemble the squid so individual modeler creativity is severely limited. All right, it is not really that big of a negative but for some modelers it may be a concern. The large squid tentacles appear to be pretty solid and able to support the model well but the two smaller tentacles have a hard time holding their shape. I assembled my squid and left it on my modeling desk for a couple days, one of these days it got pretty warm and probably hit 90 degrees F in there. When I came back to the desk I found those smaller tentacles drooped right down to the desk surface. I think once complete something will need to be done to ensure these two pieces stay where the modelers wants them to be.

You may click on these images to view larger pictures

       There are no decals with this kit so nothing to report on there. I could go on describing the comprehensive instruction sheet for some time but I think it is simply easier to give you a nice pdf file and you can experience the Pegasus package directly so follow this link for The Nautilus Instructions.

       The Harper Goff Nautilus has always fascinated me from my earliest modeling days. I remember once as a teen I scratch built one from plastic bits and balsa wood. To finally have a well done injection molded production kit available to me is nothing more than fabulous. And this kit does a great job of satisfying all those childhood memories. While not a duplicate of the Disney design it retains enough of the flavor to blur the lines within the imagination. The detail of the kit is well represented with the Trumpeter casting, the parts fit well and the instructions are top of the line. The inclusion of photo etched details and painting masks simply makes it that much better but even with all this the kit is not 100%. It lacks a wheelhouse and could use some interior lighting. These items were quickly addressed by Paragrafix who released a full PE upgrade only days after the release of the model kit. At about $26 this is not an especially cheap upgrade but it does address a lot of issues like open grid lighting panels for the salon, a fully detailed wheelhouse with surgery instructions and lots of other nifty detail pieces.
       Overall I give this kit an excellent rating. Are you a ship modeler? You'll most likely want one of these. Are you a Sci-Fi fan? You'll definitely want one of these. Are you a Jules Verne fan? Chances are you'll want one of these. Overall I have to say Pegasus and Greg deSantis hit this one right out of the park.

Construction Begins 5/23/2013
       Nothing would have made me happier than to just jump right into the construction of this kit but I wanted to do this one right. I let the kit sit basically untouched on my desk for nearly a week while I considered lighting issues, painting issues and wiring issues. I feel like this patience has paid off in that I now have a fairly comprehensive plan and have formulated solutions to several potential issues. Some details are still percolating inside my brain but enough of it has congealed to start work. I'm kicking things off with the salon carefully cutting out the lighting panels and attaching the PE open grid panels. After the salon is assembled I will test a couple of different ideas in LEDs and spacing to achieve the best interior lighting through those grids. Also the ceiling beams are being installed. Here I think I will be filling the interior areas of the beams to create solid structures. I know this is really small scale but I just can't help myself on this detail issue. Once the ceiling modifications are done I'll be going for a wooden panel paint job with iron beams.

       Over a period of several modeling sessions I have gotten all of the ceiling panels opened up and all of the PE grids in place. Once the ceiling beams were in place I used Bondo glazing compound to fill them with. The part was airbrushed tan then the beams were brush painted with burnt iron followed by a dry brushing of steel. The tan panels were brushed with an oil paint blend of Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber and Japan Dryer to give some semblance of wood grain. Moving to the floor and bulkheads everything got a couple coats of White Ensign Japanese Navy Gray as a base color. Gloss brown was used for most of the wood furnishings and Testors paint for the fine details. I went on-line shopping for Victorian era rugs, found a couple images I liked and copied them to Photo-Adobe. Here I simply resized them for the salon floor, printed them out on white paper then trimmed with a razor knife. From here it was a simple matter of brushing some white glue on the backsides and pressing them to the floor. The Paragrafix details really brought something extra to this area with the nifty hand rails and accessory furniture. Try not to drop these little pieces on the floor when putting them together because you'll need about 20 minutes on your knees with a flashlight to find them - this I know. The primary assembly of the salon is almost there now, I have the bulkheads held in place with masking tape until I can finish my crew figures then will complete the assembly and work up some lighting. For now here are some progress pictures.

       Progress has been slow not because the kit is difficult, it's not, but because it's June and there are so many great things to do out in the sun. I have gotten a few hours of evening modeling time in though. I have had zero luck finding good 1/144 figures so I had ordered some 1/150 model railroad figures to work into crew but they were a little on the small side, 1/100 are definitely too large so now I am searching for a few 1/120 or TT scale figures. That means that for the time being the salon has to wait. Now I'm going to work on lighting for the exterior side viewing lights. First I need a basic board for my resistors. I'm using 480 ohm resistors which will give each LED the same intensity if they are paired one on one. However if I run a couple LEDs in series on one resistor that will reduce the light intensity which is exactly what I have in mind for the interior salon and wheelhouse lights. The number of LEDs per resistor is going to dictate overall end intensity. With all that in mind I put together a small board with five resistors, the hot sides of these are all linked together and the output side is kept individual.
       Working with the first side panel I assemble the two outer ridge pieces and test fit to the hull. The end cap which includes a clear lens is also test fit. Here I immediately run into trouble getting a good mask on the clear dome lens. If I mask the lens before assembly I cannot get it to fit into the snug mounting hole. If I mask it after assembly I cannot get a good mask demarcation around the edge due to the close quarters and the large detail rivets. In the end I figure I can leave the end cap off, stuff some tissue into the opening to protect the LED during paint and paint the end cap separately then do a final assembly. Installing the LED I cut a triangle of scrap plastic, drill two small holes through it for the LED leads and glue this into the ridge pieces after soldering the wires to the leads. A note on the wire I'm using. Typically you see wire with a plastic insulator which is somewhat bulky. I'm trying to keep this as low-profile as possible so am using a fine magnet wire which uses a lacquer insulator that can be removed for the solder connection with a little 400 grit sandpaper. You can buy this stuff at Radio Shack and it's dirt cheap.
       Let me divert here and talk about soldering for a moment. In the past I've used a cheap soldering gun from Radio Shack, the kind you have to wait for to heat up then have to watch out for while it cools down. Recently I picked up a very nice resistance soldering unit from Micro Mark and it has completely changed how I solder stuff. This thing heats up in a split second, does the job without a hiccup then cools as quickly as it heated. I can solder a connection, drop my soldering tools and return to plastic modeling in a nice smooth, uninterrupted flow. I can also shape the carbon tips to any dimension I like with some sandpaper before use. Bottom line here, if you are doing any soldering beyond the very occasional you seriously want to head over to Micro Mark and do a quick search for soldering tools.
       Okay, back to the game at hand, once the exterior ridge piece was done I drilled two small holes in the hull to feed the wires and attached the assembly to the hull. Two LEDs per side will be paired to one resistor on the board. Now on to the other side, if you have this kit you may see this and the search light over the wheelhouse as the only exterior lighting jobs but not for me, there is one other place to do something special and I still have to deal with that search light. I've already seen one modeler deal with the searchlight by running a piece of fiber-optic cable into it but that's is not going to be my approach, no I'm going to do something completely different but you have to wait a bit for that little surprise.

       Next I turn my attention to the ventral fin area. Just like along the sides of the hull there is a protruding fin along the ventral surface of the hull. Centered in this fin is a set of grills. The aftermarket PE fret includes new etched grills for this area. Rather than just shave off the surface layer of detail and attaching the grills I decide to completely remove all the plastic then insert a red LED slaved to a couple of resistors to tone down the intensity. I also layer the area with some crumbled aluminum foil to create a reflector and to cause some light dispersal. Inside the new PE grill I layer a piece of clear plastic stock painted first with transparent red then coated several times on both sides with Micro-Flat dull coat. Prior to installing the red lens material I painted the fin and grill first with Alclad Copper then with Model Master Burnt Iron.

       When it comes time to paint the entire model this grill area will be masked off to protect the lens from overspray. Now I come back to the salon. For some time I have been searching for appropriately scaled figures to place inside the model. The box lists this as 1/144 but when I place a 1/144 scale figure into the salon it looks like a child in a room of adult furniture. I looked at several different scale figures trying to find something that fit well including 1/100 and 1/150. Finally I got my hands on some TT scale or 1/120 railroad figures from Preiser and these seem to match the interior accommodations very well. Now the salon can be completed and installed in the hull base. Included with the aftermarket PE fret are some armor shields that mount along both sides of the salon viewing ports. I guess the idea is that in times of combat these shields would iris close in the event of damage to the glass hull area. These get installed inside the clear part but sit slightly proud of the surface so some careful trimming of the salon front edge is needed to get the hull components to fit nicely. The PE instructions do warn of this problem so it was not a surprise.

       Combat shields are all done and the side sections of the hull are glued in place. The overhead lights for the salon area will be that last electrical work to be done inside the hull. Next I need to address the bridge. The aftermarket PE set includes a bridge but it seems to be actually scaled at 1/144. This means that the figures used in the salon do not fit in here. I think my best option is to enlarge the bridge interior to 1/120 and make things internally consistent. Detailing the bridge area also means I have to remove a fair amount of plastic from the upper hull section here and have to work in a new search light. Several conversions are going to have to come together here. I begin by grinding away at the hull plastic with a burr bit.
       In the first image you see the PE bridge floor and bulkhead, not a lot involved here yet. After grinding out the plastic for the viewing ports I can see right away that internal lighting is going to be difficult and running wires for a search light will create another challenge. I guess I should get the search light dealt with next. I have some RTV mold making material from Bare Metal Foil that is great for making fast molds and use this to create a two-part mold of the kit light. Working with a 1.8mm clear white LED I grind off the domed lens then solder wire leads as close as possible to the emitter. After a quick test of the LED to ensure I did not burn it up with these modifications I can mix some clear resin. The LED is placed into the mold followed by clear resin and it's all clamped together to cure for 48 hours. Afterwards out pops a nice clear searchlight. I'll mask the lens with some liquid mask prior to paint. Now to work this into the upper hull, with my welder's tip drill I bore two fine holes through the hull for the wires and thread things through. The light snuggles down perfectly to the hull and the fine wires are conformed to the bridge ceiling. Care must be exercised where these wires will feed back into the main hull as I don't want the PE bridge bulkhead damaging the lacquer insulation and shorting out the electrical system.
       First thing I need to do on the bridge is lower the floor. With a fresh razor knife I score the bend line for the fore and aft bulkheads and then they easily snap off. Next 5mm inserts of grooved Evergreen plastic stock is super-glued in place. I have to add this to the sides as well to block the view into the rest of the hull from the portholes. I intentionally left openings in both forward corners to place some 1.8mm red LEDS. The LEDs have domed lenses which focus the light into a concentrated beam and this is removed to provide a more dispersed lighting effect. After a base coat of Japanese Navy Grey the rest of the PE details are added. I made a couple of additional ladder rungs from magnet wire for the forward ladder. I know they don't match the PE ladder but it will be hard to distinguish when looking through the porthole lenses. After a sludge wash treatment the 1/120 figure is added and I'm ready to go back to prepping the hull for this sub-assembly.

       When I was first working with the PE bridge floor/bulkhead piece I tested moving it into place with tweezers working inside the hull. While this seemed to work well with the single PE part once I expanded it to include the plastic inserts and wheels things got a bit more difficult. Not impossible mind you, just difficult. I found that by upgrading my tool from tweezers to flat needle nose jeweler's pliers I was able to manipulate the bridge into place and secure it with super glue. Once in place the upper hull over the bridge could be glued in as well. Here I created a few small gaps from placing the bridge so you'll see some red glazing compound. I believe this is the only place I had to use any filler with the kit. Now I can deal with the last piece of internal electronics - the salon lighting.
       Here is what I am looking at; I have 16 lighting panels in the salon ceiling and don't really want to install 16 LEDs to light every single one. I would much rather use 3 or 4 LEDs and spread the light through all the panels. To do this I need to move the surface of the LED away from the surface of the lighting panel. To achieve this I build a structure of plastic mounting bars that the LED can mount into and will suspend it above the ceiling. The LEDs are wired in sequence and soldered into the main board. Lastly I place the model into the arms of the squid and locate a contact point between the hull and a squid arm. Here I drill two very small holes and feed the main power leads out of the hull. These will be incorporated into the arm of the squid after both the model and the base have been painted. At last I am ready to close up the hull.
       Once the final hull panel is secured in place all but four of the plastic detail pieces are glued in place. The four that are not are the two bridge frog ports and two cooling (?) vents in the upper aft hull. The frog ports will be masked internally and tacked with white glue and the cooling vents will be secured after painting. Now all the little PE goodies can be installed. Remember, I have both the original kit PE and the aftermarket PE so lots of nifty things here to add fine detail. Finally major assembly is complete and I am ready to start the tedious process of masking those salon windows.

Here is the lite model in good studio light and without studio light

Here is the model with a medium level of studio light. For photography this shows things best but in person the model in a dark room is simply awesome.

       Time for "Adventures in Masking!" When I first started this build I looked at these paper adhesive masks that are included and wondered how well they were going to hold up to the paint and how well they would prevent paint bleed. As it turns out this was not the concern I should have entertained. What I should have been wondering was if they would even fit the panes correctly. Very quickly I discovered that when cutting these masks the manufacture tried to use a series of short, straight lines to create the curved areas which may look good on paper but does not work well in practice. Most of the masks that required only straight lines worked out fairly well and were usable. Those that used curved edges did not conform to the frames and in most cases (not all) were too large for the target pane. You can read into this that while all those curved edge masks look the same they are most definitely not all exactly the same size. Additionally the masks do not cover all the clear panes so the modeler must choose to either create his own masking elements or simply elect to paint over some panes. All told, the entire whole production mask thing with this kit left me disappointed. It was a good thought but in practice was a fail.
       Now, to address these issues. As stated previously the masks consisting all of straight lines were usable so I used them. The adhesive backing on the masks is not that great and to ensure they stick to the plastic the surface must be clear of any fingerprint oil or other contaminants. Once those were in place I shifted over to a bottle of Miskit liquid masking agent. Miskit is simply a brand name of a latex masking agent, similar products can be found under the Liquitex and Great White Mask names. Application is the real trick with this stuff. I took a toothpick and shave one end to a fine point and used this to not only apply fine drops of material where I wanted it but to help push it into the tight corners it need to go into. I also found that a 10 power magnifying headgear is very useful when doing this. I spent several sessions at the workbench applying masking agent until all clear panels were covered. I also used this to cover the lens of the searchlight. Before masking the searchlight I applied a heavy coat of acrylic flat black paint to the back and sides of the light to kill and light bleed later on. That red lit area on the ventral fin that had been completed previously was masked with a piece of tape lightly pressed into place and the side panel lights next to the salon windows were stuffed with tissue. The Bridge windows are stuffed with tissue then attached to the hull with a few spots of clear parts cement so they can easily be popped off after paint. She seems ready for paint at last.

       My base color for this kit Alclad copper. I airbrushed the entire kit with this making sure every spot was coated. I have to admit that even as base copper this looks pretty cool. Now to add some depth to the finish I came back with Model Master Burnt Iron and worked over just the interior areas of the surface panels. I did this very much like you would if you were doing panel fading on an aircraft kit just used contrasting colors rather than lightened colors. I really like the results. Next I moved on to the teak wood deck. First I brush painted the entire deck area light tan. Once this was dry I blended some artist acrylic paste sienna and burnt umber with some Japan dryer. I did not mix this as much as just barely swirled the colors together. Now with a wide stiff brush I pulled this mixture across the deck to create a wood grained finish. The Japan dryer makes the acrylic dry within a day really cutting down on the wait time for these paints. Next the deck was washed with a black wash and the boarders with the copper/burnt iron finish were touched up. From here some Model Master Steel was dry brushed across rivet heads and other raised details. The anchor chains were painted with steel then the entire model gets a sludge wash. The anchor chains are dry brushed with pastel chalk sludge to dirty them up. The last detail was to place a little red and green enamel inside the marker lights on the deck.

       Time for the masks to come off. The paper masks lift right off and seem to have done their job well. The Miskit masks are removed using a toothpick with one end beveled to a sharp wedge to lift the masking agent off. Here I run into a few minor issues as the adjacent paint wants to lift from the frames in areas requiring some touch-up after the fact. The tissue is removed from the side lights and the lenses are placed inside the cover plates which are then glued in place. The masking tape from the ventral fin comes off and takes a few piece of paint with it - more touch-up. The masking agent comes off the searchlight perfectly and a system test shows no light bleed. The Bridge windows are quickly and easily popped off and the tissue mask is removed. I used some clear parts cement to make panels for these windows and let them dry for a few days then reinstalled the windows to the hull with a more aggressive line of clear parts cement. Another test of the lighting system to make sure everything is as expected and this part of the build is complete.

       So now it is time to deal with the giant squid. As many of you are most likely aware, squids are masters of the chameleon arts. As such just about any color combination could be conceivably valid however I wanted to do something in the red or red/brown range. The kit paint guide leads one towards magenta as a base color. Many who own this kit have expressed concern about the ability of the vinyl material the squid is made of to take conventional modeling paints well. I decided that I would first apply a base coat of Model Master light gray enamel thinned with lacquer thinner. I figured this would create a compound "hot" enough to band to the vinyl. Next I used Tamiya Hull Red and applied a very spotty coat to the squid leaving the underside of the arms mostly base light gray. I had some overspray which was actually acceptable and desirable. Next I boosted the Hull Red with more Red and applied another spotty layer of paint. Once this was dry the entire thing was washed with black sludge wash. Now the suckers are dry brushed with the original base light gray and the upper areas dry brushed with the original Hull Red. Now I lightened some Hull Red with white and did another round of dry brushing. I showed my wife and she said it looked 'creepy'. I said "Excellent that is what I was going for."

       So once the basic paint scheme had been proven the rest of the squid was treated the same way. After the eye was painted it got several coats of Future floor polish to give it a nice malevolent shine. The beak was done with some Testors cream. The base was airbrushed with a dark blue gray then treated to a couple of light gray dry brushings followed by a series of black, brown and green washes. Two very fine holes are drilled into the flat part of the base adjacent to where the squid will rest, these will be for the power lines to feed through. I think I am ready to start assembling all the major components of this build now.

       The squid is attached to the base with some hot glue. The sub is placed into the squid arms and secured with superglue. The two long tentacles do not hold their position well so I moved them into place then held them with some wire while spots of superglue cured. I opted to use the photo etched data plate rather than the large vinyl plate that came with the kit and there it is ... complete.

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