Monday, October 22, 2007

The Pirate Ship

So this year, 2007, a former co-worker of mine put me in touch with someone who wanted to meet me. This person puts on an amazing display! His name is Peter Montgomery. He wrote his own software to be able to automate run his show unattended. He also built animtronics that rival what one would see at Disneyland. We got in touch with each other and agreed to help each other out. I would help him build a ship and he would help me build animatronics.

This year, he wanted to build a (life-size) sunken pirate ship on his front lawn. So I drew up some ideas. Here is the initial concept:

Then it was a matter of plotting out the size and placement:

Here is part of the metal framework he welded together:

Then I drew up some plans on how to assemble the hull exterior to and around the frame. We went trhough a few design approaches because we wanted to avoid seeing the metal famework as much as possible. Here are those plans:

Here's a drawing of the ship's wheel:

The original plan was to use cardboard but then he got a deal on huge sheets of half-inch styrofoam so we decided to make it out of that. Here are some work-in-progress pictures:

I took the above image into a paint program and drew on to of it to see how I envision it to be:

Here's a view from the reverse angle:

He also wanted to do a "dock scene" and make his front doot the entrance to a tavern so here are some sketches I drew up for the general layout and tavern signs:

Here's a picture of the finished sign:

Don't ask me how I have time to do all of this! I took a hiatus from work for a few weeks and was able to work on it about 4 hours per day. Peter must have put in 10-12 hour days. In all, it must have taken us 3 weeks from the time the metal frame consruction was built to completion.

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

...of the Glendale News Press section in the L.A. Times!

Here's a link to the article (Sorry, you'll have to cut and past the URL-I can't get the Link function to work):

Here are some pictures of the "close to finished product":

(I carved out and faux painted the signs and stenciled the writing. I also decided to make the arrow out of the skeleton of a dead fish. At the last minute, I came up with adding "DEAD" to Tavern ahead. That's why its written in red "blood" paint.)

(I faux painted the wood texture on the boxes and Peter's friend, John, followed it up by "aging" it with a dark gray wash. Then I painted the lettering.)

First, the entire ship was painted black, then both Peter and I went over it with a wash (using a spray bottle and rag) of two separate colors to create the aged wood appearance. (I carved out the jagged opening with a hot knife.)

Peter and his friends did a fanatsic job rigging up the mast and making the crow's nest. Peter distressed it by cutting-away pieces of the mast and inserting styrofoam to fill the inside of the hollow sonotube. The step-ladder can show you the scale of the thing. I think it's about 15 feet high!

The rocks I formed out of heavy-stock paper that is used for protecting floors during construction. Then I faux painted them using black and brown paint.

The skull I made with wire mesh and plaster wrap and DAS sculpting compound. It was then faux painted by my friend, Ernie. Originally, the jaw was hinged and was going to open and shut with a soundtrack of laughter but alas, time was up!

Here's a short clip of the animation that Peter did for his show. Both he and his writing partner (who voiced the crow) wrote the script. His friend, Dan Bond, did the voice of the skeleton. It's funny banter-you have to see the whole thing!

To see more of Peter's work and his past Halloween shows, please go to his website:


Carrie said...

Please post where this is... we really want to come see its majesty in person ;)

Sean Covernton said...

Sir, you make my heart ache for the days when I lived in a house with a yard. I can't wait to see the finished photos!

denise said...

amazing - would love to see this in person

Timothy said...

Great blog... you belong at Imagineering, dude. Hi from Tim S at Renegade.

Crimson Penguin said...

Jamie, you are insane. It did not beat my Plantation Themed Holloween. :)


Jeremy Bernstein said...

James! Wow, I love it! I regret not checking your blog more often or I would have stopped by! Dang! Guess I'll have to wait for next year. Great job on that ship...looks spooktacular.

Anonymous said...

That is so freaking cool! I thought just the drawings over the photos was awesome, but the final product looks great, too!

jasmine said...

pirates are really cool but their ships are more cool than they are just like in this blog


CampoMom said...

A friend just sent me this link to your work on the pirate ship. My husband and I will be building the stern of an 18th english ship for a grad night, and are trying to figure out what to cover it used sheets of did you get it to bend?
I thought about using foam core board and scoring it into "boards" so it would bend in one direction and also scoring it on the reverse side in a perpendicular manner, so it would bend in the opposite direction, then screwing or stapling it to the frame.
Any suggestions about how you accomplished this incredible pirate ship in styrofoam would be appreciated.

CampoMom said...

If you have a moment, plese follow up.

James Lopez said...

In answer to your question campomom, what we did was use large 4'x8' sheets of (either 1/2"-3/8") styrofoam. We used a LOW TEMP (not Hight Temp-high temp is too hot-it'll just melt the styrofoam away) glue gun to glue it to the metal frame. We then used a hot knife and "drew"/scored the planks-carefully so as not to burn through the styrofoam. We then used sandpaper and again, "drew" the wood grain texturing.

I hope this helps. If you have any additional questions, I'll try to check my Blog more often and I will be posting updates later. Good Luck!

CampoMom said...

Thanks for getting back to me Jamie. Yes, this is very helpful. We will see if we can get our hands on some styrofoam and practice. Are you familiar with any cheap (or free) sources of the stuff? We get free (used) foam core at the Moscone Center, as an example.

Gregorio said...

Now this is way to cool.

Jam said...

that was so cool. Loved the skulls!

wade said...

I was looking to do something like this for my little guy this June for his birthday. You have great talent. Blaine Gibson amazing!!. If you grow up down here you grow up with the Disneyland in your head, that far away land. The problem with me is I do not have your talent but I am going to give it a shot.Nice very nice.

jasmine.celion said...

nice psot and funny too

jasmine celion

DeadmansLog said...

Oh my; I'm terribly appreciative of this post. So very cool! I love Halloween, and these decorations are just so inspired. :)

mshock said...

WOW! Just WOW!

James, I have to get in touch with you! My name is Molly and I live in Noth Hollywood. My husband and I are throwing a pirate murder mystery dinner party on Saturday August 30th, 2008 and I am wondering if there is anyway we can rent some of your amazing decorations from you. You, of course, will be invited to the event, if you are available. You can email me through

Even if we can't coordinate it, we definately want to come see your next halloween display. Hope to hear from you soon!

Molly Shock

James Lopez said...

Hi Molly,
I'm sorry i didn't get back to you earlier. Thanks for the invitation. It sounds like it would have been fun. I hope you had a great party. As far as renting decorations- I'm sad to say that the pirate stuff we did last year had to be dismantled. The ship was too big to store anywhere and steel is expensive and can be re-used for next year. At least it's been well documented. Check out his site! Please come by this year. If I can get done everything I want to get done, it should be exciting!

mshock said...

Thanks for getting back me james. Tried emailing you, but if that didn't work, pictures from the pirate party are up at We will definately make it a priority to find your houses this year!

Best wishes!

Amanda said...

I was very inspired by your pirate shipwreck. For Halloween this year, my husband & I built our own low tech version.


Aparna said...

Its looks great and drawing photos are awesome. Web Designer | Web Hosting

jaycentee said...

Nice stuff, where is it that it can be seen at halloween time?

John Smith said...

Those are great photos. Its great to see how the work on a ship has turned out. It really looks like a pirate's place and the touches like the rum and gun boxes makes it more real.

Anonymous said...

James, if you are reading this, since this blog is very old, please email me,

I have a question regarding the exacts of what you did to paint the ship.

Thank you!


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