Interview with Mikel Sauve

This week we are talking with Mikel Sauve from the Vulcania Volunteers, a group dedicated to creating and recreating the beauty of Harper Goff’s vision of Captain Nemo’s Nautilus in Disney’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. In addition to model maker Mikel, the group includes artist David McCamant, sculptor Tom Dultz, and archive analyst Wayne Orlicki.


Airship Ambassador: Hi Mikel, thanks for joining us for this interview.

Mikel Sauve: Hi Kevin, thanks for inviting me.


AA: We first met in person at Gear Con, where I got to see some of the Nautilus props you and the Vulcania Volunteers created. Before we talk about that work, tell us about the group. How did all of you come together and what is your goal as a group?

MS: We got our name from something we did. We were all members of a fan website called DisneySub, which I had joined back in 2005. I wandered into the group while doing research for a screenplay.

I’d heard Disney was considering a remake of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and I thought I’d try my hand in it. I went looking for a site of Nautilus-knowledgeable people and came across the DisneySub website which had a lot of members who were familiar with the Nautilus. It was there that I started to fall in love with the Nautilus all over again, even though I already had many years before.


Some of the club members possessed an intense focus similar to my own, but I naturally gravitated towards two individuals in particular, Wayne Orliki & David McCamant.


How we started the V.V. group was when the DisneySub website experienced financial concerns related to annual operating expenses. The three of us got together and started a ‘Call to Action’ fundraiser offering 50 signed & numbers limited edition prints of David’s ‘Giant Squid Astern, Sir’.


We offered them in exchange for a suggested donation of $40, though some members donated much, much more. The three of us became fast friends, having started our own group within a group to help-out DisneySub.


AA: How did things work out with that poster?

MS: We raised $2,222. It was a lot of fun but unfortunately the website succumbed to web-politics and further operating expenses. It all got to be too much, the following year the site faltered.


AA: But then, your group continued and you have your own website.

MS: Yes & no… We’re better at what we do than site designing. We enjoy archiving and doing all the Nautilus research we do. We are NOT web designers and the first time we built it in Flash resulting in half the people couldn’t see what we posted. We are now working through those earlier hurdles and bumps and we’re hoping to create a greater web presence in the very near future.

AA: I enjoy the website now, so I’m looking forward to whatever more you come up with. You’re also on Facebook.

MS: Yes, we just started up a little Facebook page basically combining the two facets of our groups. We have the original, ‘Nautilus Works’, where we make & offer our incomparable Nautilus props and art, …& the ‘Nautilus Symposium’, a safe harbor where we host, present & archive Nautilus information.


AA: The first time I saw 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, when I was barely in first grade, I was completely enamored with the Nautilus and all of the design work. What is it about the Nautilus which has inspired such passion and dedication in your group?

MS: I think the key word in that question is “passion” and ours came from being young boys who gravitate towards design, dinosaurs, military uniforms and such. The ‘boys will be boys’ aesthetic of the Nautilus was such a big part of that. As a boy, I grew up reading National Geographic and things like that, so the ability to travel in that world of romance and adventure and science, it seemed such a perfect blend of all those things together and that’s what pulled me underwater.


AA: Together, you have created pieces intended for a larger Nautilus model, and several drawings, include a side view, longitudinal poster. How did each project come about, and what is the status of each?

MS: I work it multiple scales, large & small. Besides models I make props for home theaters / personalizing their home &/or office workspace, etc. David does drawings of them for the collectors who might like Nautilus art or a blueprint on their wall.

I make parts for 1/35 scale and 1/72 scale Nautilus models like the propeller, speed indicator, skiff & rakers. I also make a 1:1 scale like Captain Nemo’s underwater rifle and the cabin vents seen in the different rooms aboard the Nautilus.


AA: That’s impressive work. When a piece is done at that 1/35th or 1/72nd scale, how big is that?

MS: Basically one inch equals 35, or 72, inches. That’s the easiest way to explain it. When I started model making, that was a great visual that my father taught me – one inch equals 35 inches, so for 1/35th scale – one inch represents almost three feet.


AA: That’s a great way to remember what those numbers mean, and that creates a pretty good sized model.

MS: Yes, it is, and there are various sized models being made. The original ‘hero’ model that was made for the Disney movie was eleven feet long. There are model makers out there who are interested in making a Nautilus in that scale as well as all the way down to miniature desktop & pocket sizes. There was also a larger twenty two foot model made for the film which was my favorite. It’s very close to 1/6th scale, which is the same scale as G.I. Joes. I have a dream to one day build a 1/6th scale Nautilus waterline-model that could be displayed in a shallow pond, looking like the Nautilus resting on the surface, …just the wheelhouse, deck and tail fin sticking up out in back. When complete the entire display would be 33 feet long. 1/6th scale figures are my collecting guilty pleasure.


AA: Talking about projects, there’s some big news regarding a well known entertainment company. Can you share the details of what is coming soon for other Nautilus enthusiasts?

MS: As of the last few weeks, this is literally breaking news. We had always intended for David’s Nautilus art-work to result in ‘official / licensed’ representation.


Once David had completed the last of his Nautilus plans & drawings, he was going to approach the House that Mouse built. David is still about a year away from finishing his grand opus, a complete set of plans for the interior and exterior of the Goff Nautilus.


But the Sea is impatient & after discovering some of his Nautilus art-work on the internet, Acme Archives Direct, a major Disney licensee, found & contacted David to make him an offer to create “official / licensed, original Nautilus Art for Disney! David is a fine-art painter and it was a natural progression for him to create artwork of the Nautilus because it’s one of the things he loves the most.


We couldn’t be more proud of this well deserved recognition of his talent & skill.


AA: That is really amazing! Congratulations to everyone on this achievement! Any hints of what might be coming next from all of this?

MS: When David creates a painting, he also designs 3D renders of buildings and objects that he’d like to use, so he can set them into the picture to help him decide which lighting to use and which side of the building looks best.


This led him to create a 3D model of the Nautilus, basically a complete virtual Nautilus. From that, virtual & static 3D models can be made.


There’s a new model-making process, which is about twenty years old but is recently coming to the forefront, called – rapid prototyping. Instead of using a CNC machine to carve a model, now there’s a device that can literally knit one together – out of resin. Rapid prototyping can ‘print’ a model in 3D.


There’s also the Nautilus book that I’d like to see get written, about the making of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, featuring Harper Goff’s design of the Nautilus and all the different models & sets used to make the film.


There’s also the news that David Fincher, the director of Seven, Fight Club & The Social Network, has been signed to do a remake of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. It would fantastic fortune if David was asked to contribute concept art to the motion picture. David Fincher has a great writer working on the screen 20K play, Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the best of the Bourne films, ‘Ultimatum’. I think it would be great to see the Goff Nautilus rise again instead of something newish. Hopefully, this work that Mr. McCamant is doing now can have some influence & direct connection to a Disney / Goff’ Nautilus resurfacing.


AA: All of that sounds great and I cannot wait to add each piece to my own Nautilus collection, along with all of the other Nautilus enthusiasts. Another project which caught my attention at GearCon in Portland was the drawing by Wayne of the Albatross from MGM’s Master of the World, with one of my all time favorite people, Vincent Price, as Captain Robur. What motivated Wayne to create this and what challenges did he face?

MS: That’s one of the things that some of the science fiction models of 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, while having amazing detail on screen, very little is know about them.

Maybe a set of plans, which helped in the initial design and building of the models, and a few behind the scenes pictures. Typically these models are built just for quick use & once filming is wrapped the model was either stored & subsequently lost, or worse, damaged or destroyed.


This was the challenge that Wayne faced, in that there was only the DVD and a single B&W photo to use as reference. Taking these limited resources, Wayne extrapolates the design, size and features – based on an amalgam of different parameters, like a character walking along a hallway and then seeing that hallway near an exterior door or window. From that it’s relatively easy to discern how big that window is and where that window is located on the ship and from that determine how big the ship might be.


Wayne was able to extrapolate all these points of data and from that reference he was able to determine how big the ship would be if it were real. He incorporates these guidelines into his all plans by including a scale-ruler which will inform the user how large different details are.


Wayne spent almost a year and a half on the Albatross & you’ve seen the results, it’s just amazing! Now & for the first time, fans can enjoy & study a model which wasn’t on the seen that long on screen.


Wayne has an interest in that era and its design aesthetic, creating Albatross plans was a natural thing for him to be doing and satiated his interest in that vehicle.


And with the rising interest & enthusiasm for steampunk – it was perfect timing.

On the other hand, David thinks the Albatross is one of the ugliest things he’s ever seen, but he’s intrigued by Wayne’s art-work. It’s akin to a Rorschach Test for sci-fi geeks, comparing the Albatross and the Nautilus. David sees ugly when he looks at the Albatross, but with Wayne’s drawing, he’s provided with a perspective & able to walk around the decks to study closer the aesthetics and design features.


If I may talk about myself for a second, on Wayne’s dime, I for one did not like Nemo’s under water rifle. I thought the UWR was one of the most hideous things above or below the water. And if you were wearing a dive-helmet, it is impossible to sight the rifle.


But building the UWR, I fell in love & was imbued with divine inspiration to become a UWR expert. Now I love all of its shapes & contours, they are sublimely perfect. Everyone who sees my UWR replica is enamored with it, I couldn’t be more proud.

With the Albatross, some people have never seen it before and ask “What is that?”. It’s truly fascinating & appears very busy, with all the umbrella-style helicopter propellers looking like old oil derricks from the turn of the century – it looks like the whole Industrial Revolution happening all at once, in one place.


Wayne and I like our sci-fi vehicles busy and active, with lots of gadgets & things to look at.


We’re working a number of other sci-fi icons, too.


AA: With those items, Wayne’s drawing and your underwater rifle, are those available to fans and collectors?

MS: They’ve been available on and off, it’s just been that when we are in full creative mode – we aren’t printing prints or making the props to sell. We’re working on being more accessible, hopefully it will come to pass this year…



We’ll pause here in our conversation with Mikel and next time as we continue, we’ll talk about conventions, reactions, and model making.


Until then, check out the website for Vulcania Volunteers and their FaceBook page.

Also, here are a handful of other links about Harper Goff and the Nautilus

A letter from Harper Goff

Trivia about the Nautilus

Harper Goff’s Nautilus as the Genesis of Steampunk


Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 9:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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