Monday 4 June 2018

The Poseidon Adventure 1972

L.B. Abbott and A.D. Flowers received a Special Achievement Academy Award for this film.

The Poseidon Adventure started the disaster movie cycle of the 1970s.

L.B. Abott was called upon to supervise the miniature ship visual effects after having retired as Fox studio's head of the effects department two years earlier. He decided to build the miniature at 1/48 scale (1/4 inch = 1 foot) as he could obtain a full set of plans at that scale from the owners of the Queen Mary which had been docked at Long Beach California since 1967. Some of the pre-capsize live action sequences were shot on board the stationary ship.

At 1/48 scale the miniature, supervised by Gaile Brown, was 21 feet 6 inches (6.5 m) which was considered a little small at the time, the general rule being that miniature ships should be at least 3/4 inch to the foot or 1/16 scale. After having experience shooting the Tora Tora Tora miniatures at fairly high frame rates L.B. Abbott reasoned he should be able to employ this technique, shooting at seven times normal speed or around 168 frames per second and achieve the desired shots. Another bonus to the smaller scale was that the miniature could also fit in the 32 foot by 14 foot deep (9.75m x 4.2m) Green tank for the underwater shots so only one miniature would be needed. The cost of the miniature to build in 1972 was $35,000 and it ended up weighing around 3 tons.

Poseidon miniature bottom up in the Green Tank.

For the above ocean sequences the model was shot in Fox Studio's Sersen lake. Unfortunately the plywood sheets on the backing screen had warped over time in the elements, so most of the surface shots were shot as if from a helicopter looking down and avoiding the sky. In the stormy sequences the sky backing was hidden by fog and smoke so couldn't be seen.

The capsizing wave was generated by two dump tanks placed in the far right back corner of the tank. The first take had the two towers dumping a full 1200 gallons each which resulted in a massive wave that instantly engulfed the ship obscuring it completely. The miniature was hurriedly repaired ready for the next take where the dump tanks were only half filled. That take had only one of the dump tanks trigger producing an under sized wave so a third and ultimately successful take 3 was called for.

The Poseidon miniature in the Sersen lake with the dump tanks in the back corner.

The weakest visual effects shot in the movie is the last one with a not too convincing matte painting of the upturned hull as the survivors are taken off in a helicopter.

The miniature Poseidon of the film is preserved and on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum in San Pedro California.



  1. Was that model prototyped off the Queen Mary? The overall style is of an interwar (e.g. 1920s/1930s) built/designed ship.

    1. Yes. The live action shots on deck were shot on the Queen Mary


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