is the beginning of a compendium for scattered information about Jules
Verne, and the novel and movies of 20,000 Leagues Under the sea
Yah! An absolute treasure! Links and lots
Someone is up to something - but what? - this looks like a beautiful
on Jules Verne
A letter from the Disney Nautilus Designer
Date: 8 September 1999
Summary: Production Designer Harper Goff
Below is a transcript of a hand written letter from Harper Goff
in 1974 of which I have a copy which I think might be of interest.
This is an unusual comment entry, but I hope you will find this
letter a fascinating rare glimpse into the process of creation, and
will give a better appreciation of the artistry of the design of the
Disney 'Nautilus'. Harper Goff was responsible for the 'look' of the
submarine in the Disney Production, along with much of the film's
set designs. Enjoy!
Harper Goff writes....
I was assigned the task of getting together a 'true-life' adventure
film using some exceptional underwater footage shot in a laboratory
aquarium, by Dr. McGinnity of Cal-Tech's Marine Biology lab in
Carona Del Mar. Walt (Disney) thought inasmuch as "20,000
L.U.T.S." was in public domain we might do worse than use the
title for a current True-Life adventure short subject. Walt went to
England and I stayed in Burbank and made a story-board of a live
action version of the classic using McGinnity's footage as a sort of
ballet episode where Nemo shows Aronax the wonders of the deep. Walt
liked the story-board well enough to have me give an 'A.R.I.'
(Audience Reaction Inquiry) to a group of exhibitors who were in
town. They were enthusiastic and the rest is history.
In motion pictures, the text of a classic like this subject is
sacrosanct like the Bible! The 'word' of Jules Verne is not to be
made light of, so the duty of the production designer like myself is
to take the sometimes arbitrary descriptions of the Nautilus as
recorded by 'J.V.' and "make it work".
a. Jules Verne while foreseeing brilliantly the atomic submarine of
today, did not at that time invent the periscope, the torpedo tube,
or sonar. He did not prophesy closed curcut television. According to
Verne, if Nemo wanted to see what was going on the surface, he
simply poked the glass ports of the conning tower out of the depths
and took a direct look. He risked his vessel, himself, and his crew
by ramming the enemy at frightening speed. If he wanted to study the
marvels of life under the surface, he reclined in his elegent bay
window lounge, and passed the hours studying the marine life outside
the amazing pressure proof window of his luxurious salon. These
items dictated much of the direction of my production designs.
b. Nemo is quoted by Verne as telling Aronax that "I need no
coal for my bunkers. I have instead harnessed the very building
blocks of the material universe to heat my boilers and drive this
craft". No one can doubt Verne meant Atomic Power.
c. It is not sound economics to study and design obviously unnecessary
parts of the Nautilus if it will not appear on screen. The crews
quarters were thus unaccounted for. In Verne's original text Nemo
from time to time leaves the chart room and steps directly into
other diversified areas of the submarine. Directors do not like to
slow down the action and clutter up a dramatic moment by showing
actors leave a room, lift a hatch, enter another room.
d. At the time Captain Nemo constructed Nautilus on Mysterious
Island, the iron riveted ship was the last word in marine
construction. I have always thought rivet patterns were beautiful. I
wanted no slick shelled moonship to transport Nemo thru the emerald
deep and so fought and somehow got my way. On Mysterious Island Nemo
had the white hot heat of a volcano to help him build his dreamship,
but I am sure that flat iron plates profusely riveted would have
been his way. His stock pile of material was always the countless
sunken ships uniquely available to him alone. Even the Greek amphora
and the works of art that graced his great salon was salvaged from
e. The free diving suits - (self-contained) were developed by myself
with the assistance of Fred Zender, and exceptionally able
underwater man. The helmets were souped-up Japanese pearl diving
helmets. We masked the scuba gear, let water into the the helmet,
put a breathing tube in our mouth, the clamps on our nose and one
night in 1952 Freddie and I walked slowly from the shallow end to
the deep end of the Santa Monica pool. Lead around our middle and 16
lbs. shoes...it worked! Many had predicted failure. This formed the
basis of the suits that appeared in the film. We spent 9 hrs. a day,
7 days a week for 8 weeks at Lyford Key in the Bahamas, underwater!
Never lost a man, Fred was in charge of safety.
f. 20,000 Leagues was the second cinemascope picture to go into
production. Fox had the world rights to the anamorphic lenses
developed by a French inventor named Cretien. This lens
"squeezes" the horizontal dimensions of a scene into half
the normal area on a cinema frame. If projected thru an anamorphic
projection lens it "unsqueezes" this image and the
resulting image is wide screen. Fox had only one lens to lease and
this meant that Disney could not shoot miniature set ups while the
main action sequences were before the cameras. I hit upon the idea
of having the prop miniature shop build a "squeezed"
Nautilus miniature. The model was built half as wide and half as
long, but just as high. Even the rivets were "squeezed".
This one miniature was shot with a normal lens. If care was taken to
insure the Nautilus remained on an even keel, the resulting footage
was more than adequate. When "unsqueezed" by anamorphic
projection, the image of the Nautilus was stretched to normal
proportions. Of course the bubbles looked strange, but no one seemed
to mind. The success of this experiment made it possible for the
special effects department to make its necessary footage of many of
the underwater miniatures simultaneously with principal photography
of the actors.
g. My idea has always been that the shark and the alligator were the
most terrifying monsters living in the water. I there for combined
the scary eyes of the alligator that can watch you even when it is
nearly submerged....with the dangerous pointed nose and menacing
dorsal fin - its sleek streamlining and its distinctive tail. The disgusting
rough skin of the alligator is well simulated by the rivets. As
Verne insists that the Nautilus drove its way clean threw it's
victim, I designed a protective saw tooth spline that started
forward at the bulb of the ram and slid around all out jutting
structures of the hull. These included the conning tower, the diving
planes, and the great helical propeller at the stern.
Artist and Production Designer Harper Goff's film credits include
'Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, 'Fantastic Voyage', 'The
Vikings', 'The Great Locomotive Chase', and Disney's '20,000 Leagues
Under the Sea'. Mr Goff died March 3, 1993 at his home in Palm
Springs at the age of 81.
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H. Kevin Long -Nemo's Mind TM
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