James Cameron's Full Scale Titanic and 5 Other Incredible Movie Models

The full scale Titanic built for James Cameron's Titanic. (Paramount Pictures)

Big budget films and CGI go hand in hand. Creating movie magic digitally is cost effective, and can cut production time down significantly. Yet no matter how realistic computer generated scenes may look, there's something special about an epic film model.

The full scale model of the Titanic James Cameron created (see: the large picture above) took countless hours to build, and cost millions. It's also incredibly bad ass. As are the other extravagant models and set pieces that have popped up in various films. Just because you may not remember them all, doesn't make them any less incredible.

The Full Scale Titanic in Titanic

After receiving the blueprints from the original ship builder, visionary director James Cameron meticulously recreated the Titanic. The full scale ship was built on 40 acres of Mexican waterfront, purchased by 20th Century Fox. It floated in a seventeen million gallon water tank that allowed Cameron to film 270 degrees of fake ocean.

Nearly every part of the ship was recreated using old photographs and blueprints. This included various interior rooms, and the Titanic's first class staircase, all of which were destroyed when Cameron shot the sinking scene. Ultimately, the director's rigorous attention to detail paid off, as Titanic would go on to become the highest grossing film ever made.

Noah's Ark in Noah
In 2014, director Darren Aronofsky will bring Noah's biblical journey to life on the big screen. While the film is certain to utilize extensive CGI, Noah's ark will be real, and gigantic. "I dreamt about this since I was 13. And now it's a reality. Genesis 6:14," Aranofsky tweeted in July 2012, attaching this photo of the work-in-process.


The Domino Scene in V for Vendetta
As the movie nears its climax, the film's masked protagonist, V, knocks over a few thousand black and red dominoes that spell out his single-letter name. While the sequence easily could have been created via CGI, a team of four professional (yes, professional) domino assemblers spent 200 hours building the pattern out of 22,000 dominoes. It wasn't exactly a model per se, but the end result is simply too awesome to exclude.

The film's production notes explain that the "stage had to be closed to everyone but the assemblers," which is a good thing, lest some random assistant hairstylist were to drop a comb and ruin the whole thing. Oh, what do you know, that almost happened! "Loud gasps were heard when an assistant hairstylist dropped her comb while grooming V's locks as he sat cross-legged at the head of the domino chain," says the report. "Fortunately, the comb narrowly missed the first piece. The dominoes were then officially 'touched off' and fell into place perfectly." Here's the beautiful result:

The Stop Motion Terminator in The Terminator
Long before Cameron rebuilt the Titanic, he created The Terminator, a low (by his current standards) budget sci-fi classic. In the film's tense final sequence, a terrifying metal skeleton, red eyes glowing, hunts down Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, the soldier sent back in time to have sex with protect her. Rather than rely on Arnold Schwarzenegger's acting, or go the CGI route, Cameron decided to employ a 3:1 scale of the Terminator to carry the climactic scene. And while the stop motion model looks a bit cheesy to our 21st century eyes, it's also intense, creepy, and perfectly satisfying.

The Exploding White House in ID4
Doomsday aficionado Roland Emmerich oversaw the destruction of America in Independence Day, the best alien apocalypse film ever made. Among the movie's more explosive moments is the scene where a gigantic UFO obliterates the White House. Thankfully, it was just a 10-foot by 5-foot model that was destroyed. But the detonation, which took a week to plan, and required 40 explosive charges, sure looked real.

Honorable Mention
The Good Witch's Courtyard in Oz: The Great and Powerful
The upcoming Wizard of Oz reboot was filmed in one massive studio in Michigan, where set designers planted real grass, and built a waterfall with a pond. Film investor Linden Nelson told the New York Times a courtyard was built around the good witch's castle, and it "took 75,000 hours of work to build and used $9 million worth of wood." Since this is technically a set, and not a model, we give it an honorable mention. But $9 million worth of wood? Really? That's wild.

I'm a former Associate Editor at Zimbio.