The Life Aquatic. Belafonte Models

Life Aquatic If you just want to see picture of my Belafonte model then skip to the end. If you want to gain a disturbing insight into my mind then read on. Since I first saw The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou on DVD back in 2006 (2 years late for seeing it in the cinema) I have been obsessed with it and fallen in love with all of Wes Andersons movies. I realise many people are not a Wes fan and either don’t like, or don’t get his movies but as far as I am concerned those people can go and poke themselves in the eyes with a spoon. Of all Wes movies The Life Aquatic is my favourite. I don’t know if that’s because it is the first I watched or just because Bill Murray plays such a large role, but the whole thing just makes me happy inside. A quick search of the internet reveals I am not the only one who feels this way. There are many other fans out there who are trying to find that red beanie which is ‘just right’, many others who are buying Adidas ROMs so they can deface the central stripe with light blue paint and put yellow laces on them, and many others who long to build a model of their very own Belafonte. This last point is of particular concern to me as no one ever seems to get the model right! Of all the different models I have seen on the internet of the Belafonte the makers always seem to miss one point: Belafonte & Calypso are not identical. The Life Aquatic is a satire/homage to the life and work of oceanographic explorer Jacques Cousteau. No big secret. In the Movie Steve Zissou’s ship is the Belafonte, a ton class British WW2 minesweeper purchased by Disney for the making of the movie. Jacques Cousteau’s ship, also a minesweeper was converted to a ferry before becoming a research vessel and underwent major reworks. The two resulting boats look distinctly different, particularly the chimney, bridge, upper decks and cabins, and rails.

I think some of the confusion stems from the fact that the cross section of the Belafonte shown in the movie is based on the plan of the Calypso. The movie also uses the Revell Oceanographic explorer (a model of the Calypso with all references to Custeau removed to avoid royalties) 1:125 plastic model kit painted as the Belafonte on Steve’s desk and he is holding it when he says “Let me tell you about my boat”.

I bought one of these model kits from a hobby shop while they were still being made and used it to make my very own Belafonte about 2 years ago. I spent weeks nerding over the movie and pictures of the props and movie production online so I could alter the model to make it ‘right’. It ended up especially detailed and accurate as I was supposed to be writing assignments at the time. The only bit really used from the model kit is the hull and deck but they are both heavily altered. Here are the fruits of my labour.

11 thoughts on “The Life Aquatic. Belafonte Models

  1. I absolutely love it. Amazing attention to detail. The best Belafonte model I’ve seen. The differences in the upper decks has always bothered me with other efforts. I’ve already ordered the Revell model so I can have a go at building myself a Belafonte model.

    May I ask for a bit more details on how you modified the hull in particular? What material, and how did you get such a nice finish. I have done lots of work with abs from 3d printers, where an acetone/abs mixture is used for welding parts.

    Thanks so much for posting this build, with such great photos. I will try my best to document my build as well.

    1. Hi. Sorry for the slow response, I have been tied up with work recently. I modified the hull using sheets of styrene plastic, about 1mm or 1.5mm thick depending on what was needed and I also used a lot of micro-strip. These are packets of plastic strip made to particular sizes and shape. For instance the section at the back of the ship with all the wooden slats is all micro strip as are the railings where I made a jig to cut lengths to the same size and glued them individually. A pair of tweezers and a lot of patience was required here. Fine stuff like that should also be one of the last things you do as it is liable to break with excessive handling. I used methylene chloride glue to stick it which melts the plastic into place, the brand I use is called Plastic Weld. It doesn’t set instantly but is still quick which means you can create a bond and then get the position right. Then I reinforced some joins with superglue on the interior of the hull where it couldn’t be seen.

      The finish I got was just lots of coats of watered down acrylic on top of a white base coat/ primer from a spray can. I was using games workshop citadel paints for this as they are relatively cheap and have good strong pigment in them.

      I hope this helps, good luck with your Belafonte

    1. Thanks very much. I haven’t had it out and about yet. I keep meaning to take it to the beach at low tide to take some photos. Whilst making it I glued fishing led shot inside the hull so that it sits right in the water.

  2. Do you know if there are any cad drawings available somewhere? I’d love to give 3D printing it a try… I found a model online a while back but it was pretty expensive and also it said experience level: advanced… As I’ve never built a ship model I don’t think it’s for me…
    Did you sell yours?

    1. Hi. I did my own CAD drawings for the elevations but have since changed computer a few times and lost them. I bought paper drawing, scanned and traced them, modifying them to the Belefonte’s layout. Some model ship companies may have some for the ton class mine sweeper you could modify. I sold the smaller of the two models. My first one made from the modified revell kit i still own and am going to improve later this year as it needs some repairs.

      1. I found stl files for Calypso on Thingiverse so I think I’ll print that one first and then maybe try my hand at altering it.

      2. Cool. The calypso and belefonte had a lot of differences. Hopefull the photos of mine and images from the movie will help you. Good luck!

  3. This movie has a special place in my heart. My husband and I consider this “our movie.” We probably quote lines daily in our everyday lives. I’m wondering if you sell these? I’m on the hunt for a unique Christmas gift and would love to have one of these!

    1. Hi Casey. Unfortunately I don’t have any for sale right now and wouldn’t be able to make one before christmas. If you can’t find one else where you could always try and get your husbamd a Revell ocean exploration vessel kit 05101 for him to build himself. They were discontinued but you can sometimes find them on ebay still.

  4. Hi ELBLANDO, your Belafonte looks fantastic. I had seen the movie years ago and enjoyed it but recently watched it again and have a new love for it. I’ve been collecting the diver watches that the characters wear and have an interest in props but the boat is something that I would love to have a model of. Tempted to buy the Revell kit and modifie it but my kit skills are basic. There is a guy selling a 36” long one, custom built from wood. Its has lights inside and the deck rails are made of brass. It’s a beautiful thing but it’s $600. If I had that spare I probably would buy it but I don’t. Anyway it’s nice to see others appreciate this movie. Best regards.

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