Filming The World’s Best Ship Models: Stockholm

November 2023

This episode looks at Llloyd’s Register Foundation’s new project Maritime Innovation in Miniature which is one of the most exciting maritime heritage projects of recent years and a leader in terms of innovation in the maritime heritage field. The aim of the project is to film the world’s best ship models. They are removed from their protective glass cases and filmed in studio conditions with the very latest camera equipment. In particular, the ships are filmed using a macro probe lens, which offers a unique perspective and extreme close up shots. It allows the viewer to get up close and personal with the subject, whilst maintaining a bug-eyed wide angle image. This makes the models appear enormous – simply put, it’s a way of bringing the ships themselves back to life.

Ship models are a hugely under-appreciated, under-valued and under-exploited resource for engaging large numbers of people with maritime history. The majority of museum-quality ship models exist in storage; those that are on display have little interpretation; few have any significant online presence at all; none have been preserved on film using modern techniques. These are exquisitely made 3D recreations of the world’s most technologically significant vessels, each with significant messages about changing maritime technology and the safety of seafarers.

The ships may no longer survive…but models of them do. This project acknowledges and celebrates that fact by bringing them to life with modern technology, in a way that respects and honours the art of the original model makers and the millions of hours of labour expended to create this unparalleled historical resource.

This episode looks in particular at the extraordinary models that were filmed in 2022 at the Swedish National Maritime Museum in Stockholm.

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    SAM WILLIS

    Hello everyone and welcome to the Mariner’s Mirror podcast. Now as you know the podcast comes from both the Society for Nautical Research and the Lloyds Register Foundation which allows us to talk about the exciting projects that both of these excellent institutions are up to.

    Today we’re talking about the Lloyd’s Register Foundation’s project Maritime Innovation in Miniature which is one of the most exciting maritime heritage projects of recent years – a real leader in terms of innovation in the maritime heritage field.

    The aim of the project is…to film the world’s best ship models with the very latest camera equipment. And I’m lucky enough to be involved so in this episode I’m going to give you a first hand account of the extraordinary things we have been up to.

    The idea behind the project is simple.

    Ship models are a hugely under-appreciated, under-valued and under-exploited resource for engaging large numbers of people with maritime history. The majority of museum-quality ship models exist in storage; those that are on display have little interpretation; few have any significant online presence at all; none have been preserved on film using modern techniques. These are exquisitely made 3D recreations of the world’s most technologically significant vessels, each with significant messages about changing maritime technology and the safety of seafarers.

    The ships may no longer survive…but models of them do. This project acknowledges and celebrates that fact by bringing them to life with modern technology, in a way that respects and honours the art of the original modelmakers and the millions of hours of labour expended to create this unparalleled historical resource.

    We’re doing this by getting the ship models out of their storage. Some in glass cases on display in galleries, others in the museum’s stores…and filming them in studio conditions. Sometimes we get to work in an actual studio. In other instances we have to sort of make one around the model if they are too big to move…then it’s a matter of controlling light, setting up black backdrops and black coverings on the table. This is fantastic as it makes the model seem to float…and then we film it using macro lenses and a probe lenses: an elongated barrel that attaches to the lens of a camera. It offers a unique perspective and extreme close up shots. You are able to get up close and personal with your subject, whilst maintaining a “bug-eyed” wide angle image. So close and wide at the same time! The beauty of this is that it makes models seem HUGE. It’s a way of bringing the ships themselves back to life.

    The project is now into its second year.

    In its’ first year the three filming locations were the national maritime museum in London the home of the world’s largest ship model collection…The first, a stunning diorama of Brunel’s mindbending ship the Great Eastern.

    The Great Eastern – built in London between 1854 and 1858 – was one of the most innovative ships in history. This remarkable diorama shows her under construction at John Scott Russell’s shipyard at Millwall on the banks of the river Thames in 1857.

    A true monster ship – she was at the time the largest man-made movable object ever built. At 210 metres long she was over twice the length of the largest ships then afloat. And at 17,274 tons – she was over five times the weight of her largest predecessors. The second a model of HMS Royal George a hugely significant first rate warship form themed 18th century and a model that was built for the King himself. It is without question one of the finest ship models of the eighteenth century.

    The model was built in the 1770s as means of inspiring King George III to take an interest in his navy. George III was the first monarch of the House of Hanover to be born and brought up in England and to speak English as his first language. This model was an important part of his education as a British king.

    The ship that it represents, the First Rate Royal George, had been built a generation before, in 1756, and was actually named after George II, the king’s father. It had been built at a time of great improvement in the Royal Navy, and in particular in the design and construction of the largest, most powerful and most symbolic ships in the fleet, the First Rate ships of the line. She was built at the royal dockyard of Woolwich in London over ten years and at the time of her launch was the largest warship in the world.

    The second location was the archives of the Lloyds Register Foundation in Woolwich Arsenal
    the third, where, to bring the theme of maritime innovation right up to date, a Liquified Natural Gas carrier a ship type that is leading the world in making shipping more environmentally friendly.

    As a cleaner and low-carbon fossil fuel, Liquid Natural Gas has grown hugely in significance in the past 50 years and its successful transportation marks a crucial moment in the history of the creation and movement of energy. One of my fabourites because the LNG ships look fantastic with huge domes on them…to contain the LNG.

    The third location was filmed at the dockyard museum in Barrow in Furness. Once the home of the barrow shipbuilding company and subsequently Vickers and sons. Barrow has an exception collection of shipbuilders models and the two that were featured were HMS Vengeance. a battleship launched by Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd in Barrow-in-Furness in 1899.

    Her construction was a major innovation in the history of shipbuilding as, for the very first time, she was the first warship of her kind to be built, engineered, armed and armoured by a single company in a single location.

    Designed for service in East Asia, at a time when the growth of Japanese naval power was a major concern for the British government, she needed to be able to stand up to the power of the Japanese Fuji class battleships but also be able to transit the suez canal – a vital link in Britain’s empire – which led to restrictions in size and draught.

    She was immensely powerful and yet was small, light and fast in comparison with previous battleships.

    The second at barrow was RMS Orion. Without doubt my favourite of those models from 2022 Built by Vickers Armstrong for the Orient Steam navigation Co, and launched in 1934, she was one of the most innovative passenger ships of her age, a landmark in the evolution of the modern liner. She really was a ship of the future. Orion mainly ran on the route between the UK and Australia, but also cruised to destinations like the Scandinavian fjords and the Mediterranean Sea.

    She was important for several reasons. One of the first British liners to have air condition….but Even her launch was unique – it was performed remotely by the Duke of Gloucester over the radio from Brisbane in Australia to Barrow-in Furness 12,000 miles away. In our modern world of facetime and remote meetings this may seem simple – but no such launch had ever been attempted before. It was not just his voice that was transmitted – he pressed a button that created an electric charge that was beamed directly to Barrow from Australia and which triggered the smashing of a bottle onto her hull and the launching triggers releasing her down the slipway. At the time this was described as an ‘act of magic’ and ‘epoch making’

    All of this can be found on the Lloyds Register Foundation’s Heritage and Education Centre’s website. Best thing to do is just Google maritime innovation in miniature and it will come up. The project is now in its second year and Lloyds Register Foundation are currently publishing the ship models filmed this year.

    The first location was Stockholm! The National Maritime Museum in Stockholm, Sweden is one of the world’s greatest maritime museums, and it has one of the world’s greatest collections of ship models. It also houses a vast collection of drawings, weapons, uniforms, works of art – a huge miscellany of material culture relating to Sweden’s fascinating maritime past.

    Over nearly a century, the Maritime Museum has collected approximately 50,000 objects that tell stories of maritime activities, both civilian and military, through the ages. The collections have enormous breadth and contain objects of every size – from entire icebreakers to works of art and brass buttons. The archives contain thousands of significant documents and include plans and drawings of a wide variety of ships and boats from numerous Swedish naval architects.

    At the core of the museum’s collections are some of Europe’s finest ship models, dating from c. 1600 onwards. Among these are unique models commissioned by the famous naval architect Fredrik Henrik af Chapman in the eighteenth century. These large-scale representations were built at the same time as the real vessels for educational purposes.

    Unusually, the museum is in a purpose-built building designed in 1938 to house Sweden’s maritime and naval collections. The original maritime museum was in a small building in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s ‘Old Town’, on an island connected by several bridges to the mainland, while a separate naval collection was displayed in a building overlooking the harbour. The new museum was conceived to unite these two collections. It was designed in a neo-classical style by Ragnar Östberg, one of Sweden’s most famous architects and maritime themes run through its construction from the door handles to the magnificent sailing ship laid in marble in the museum hallway.

    Filming in the museum was a great pleasure as the fantastic curatorial team lent the film crew the use of their purpose-built photography studio for two days and they worked tirelessly to prepare the models and move them into place to be filmed.

    Choosing which models to film was very difficult. On an initial scouting trip we explored the mighty Vasa, the seventeenth-century warship which sank on its maiden voyage and was rediscovered in the 1950s and raised in the 1980s. The maritime museum commissioned a fully rigged replica model of her to be made and it is now displayed alongside the actual warship in the museum; a very clever way of helping the audience conceive of the ship in its heyday – complete with painted sculptures and towering rigging. This would have made a fantastic model to film (and we hope to do so in the future!) but posed so many logistical challenges that we moved from the Vasa museum to the maritime museum to explore their astonishing collection.

    Yet again, however, we were faced with numerous challenges. The museum’s ship model collection is not only large, but also many of the models themselves are huge. Some of the fully-rigged sailing ships stand well over seven feet high. They are also beautifully displayed in a contemporary gallery and moving them would be impossible. With the purpose-built photography studio in the basement available we therefore decided to film models that we could easily get to and from the studio.

    We settled on four: The Argentina, 1930s diesel-driven cargo vessel; an un-named ‘votive’ ship model from the late Middle Ages that was once hung in Stockholm Cathedral; the Aeolus, an early twentieth-century steam passenger ship; and an un-named Swedish East Indiaman. These still posed significant and different logistical challenges, but with careful thought, careful planning, and careful carrying we succeeded in our plan and have given these four ships an entirely new lease of life and a new global audience.

    They tell a variety of different stories, but all significant in their own way to global maritime history as well as the more specific maritime history of Sweden. The Argentina tells us of international maritime innovation, entrepreneurialism and the rapid rise of the South American economy.

    built in Gothenburg, and launched in 1935. She was an international freighter, designed to carry cargo in bulk and also offer accommodation to passengers willing to take on one of the longest maritime journeys possible. As her name suggests she sailed regularly between northern Europe and South America, and tells the story of the growth of international trade in the first half of the twentieth century.

    She was a ship of the Johnson Line, founded in 1904 as a subsidiary of the Swedish investment company Nordstjernan

    Nordstjernan was founded in 1890 by Axel Johnson, one of European history’s greatest entrepreneurs. He founded a dynasty that still exists today. His original business imported coal and exported iron and He grew astonishingly wealthy and expanded his interests. By the 1930s they had moved into shipping. company had firmly embedded itself in international shipping.

    Nordstjernan was committed to maintaining a competitive edge through constant innovation and in particular became a pioneer in the transition from steam to diesel power for ocean-going cargo vessels. Nordstjernan adopted the new technology and sold its old vessels before its rival shipping companies had realized what was happening. By the start of the 1920s, Nordstjernan had the world’s first diesel-driven ocean-going fleet.

    The model is astonishing as it has one entire side of the hull cutaway showing how she was crammed with cargo form south America and, interestingly how little space is taken up byher diesel engine.

    Her cargo tells us of the huge changes that were brought about in global maritime trade by ships like this in the first half of the twentieth century. With the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914, suddenly the far side of the world was more accessible than ever before. New shipping routes opened up. And with them endless commercial opportunities. Now ships could sail from Europe to the pacific coast of north and south America without having to sail around the dangerous cape horn. The Panama Canal made maritime trade faster and safer.

    The model is shown as if she is ready for her return trip from south America. We actually know exactly what she was carrying on her final voyage: cotton, coffee, rice, and oilcakes (a mass of compressed plant material used as fodder or fertilizer). The cargo hold at the bow is empty – waiting to be loaded perhaps at her next stop on a route which took her – to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile.

    The second was a model of a medieval galleon that dates from the 1590s. It is a ‘votive’ ship model – meaning that the model was built to be displayed in a church, by suspending the vessel from the roof so that it appears to float in the air above the congregation, a practice that was known throughout Christian Europe.

    The model was probably built between 1590 and 1610, possibly in the Low Countries. Originally it hung in Stockholm Cathedral. It is the oldest such ship model in Scandinavia.
    Votive ships were given as gifts by seamen, as a token of gratitude for a safe return from a hazardous voyage.

    It’s a powerful reminder of how dangerous seafaring was, how safety was once secured by faith alone. It was also an important way of keeping the distant maritime world at the forefront of people’s daily lives. With a ship on display in such a striking manner it was much more difficult to ignore the plight of seafarers: models like this kept lives at sea a hot topic.

    It is heavily decorated with the most wonderful mnistuare portraits of characters from northern Europe at the time. And wonderful mystical beasts. This remarkable model tells us about the role of faith in securing maritime safety before surveyors, engineers and maritime classification societies certified the safety of ships. The third model Aeolus tells us about the importance of local shipping networks to maritime nations such as Sweden at a time in which steam power was reaching its most efficient. It is widely considered to be one of the world’s finest ship models. She is named after Aeolus, son of Hippotes – the keeper of the winds in the odyssey. She was a Swedish steam passenger ship of 893 tons, built in 1884 in Gothenburg for the South Sweden Steam Ship company, one of the largest Swedish shipping companies of its time.

    They operated a wide variety of ships carrying freight and passengers around the world but primarily operated in the Baltic and North Sea. The Aeolus and her sister ship Zephyr were was commissioned in 1884 for the line’s new Stockholm–Malmö–Oslo Kristiania (- the old name for Oslo in Norway) route. But she also sailed to Copenhagen in Denmark, Lubeck in Germany, Riga in Latvia, and various Finnish ports. She was successful because she was fast enough to be able to compete with the railways and had ample passenger comforts.
    The man we must thank for be thankful for this perfect piece of maritime history is Frans Oscar Carlsson. It took him at least 30,000 hours to build: Working eight hours a day for thirteen years. Every tiny detail is correctly rendered to a scale of 1:40

    The final model – the East Indiaman – tells us of the role of European shipping companies in the establishment of a global economy and shared cultures. The model was built in the last quarter of the twentieth century by Woldemar Konga, an Estonaian refugee who escaped to Sweden during the Second World War. Its construction was based on original drawings by the famous naval architect Fredrik Henrik af Chapman who constructed a number of vessels for the Swedish East India company.

    This was a period when the science of shipbuilding reached new heights and Chapman – uniquely a mathematician AND a shipwright – led the way – he is considered to be the grandfather of naval architecture. Mathematicians who studied shipbuilding lacked the practical skill to implement their own ideas; while shipwrights lacked the mathematical understanding. The first person who combined those two skills was Frederick af Chapman.

    Chapman made it possible to predetermine and assess mathematically different attributes of vessels – such as stability and sailing qualities. By 23 he ran his own shipyard maintaining and repairing Swedish east Indiamen. The Swedish East India company had been founded in Gothenburg in 1731. The Swedish were late in joining this wealthy trade importing to import silk, tea, furniture and other distinctive and luxury goods from the east. – by then the Dutch East India company had already been in existence for 129 years – and the British East India company for 131.

    But now that the Swedes had committed to this trade, they embraced it. The Swedish East India company swiftly became the largest trading company in Sweden. East Indiamen such as this hold an important position in the history of ship design and innovation – here is a vessel that linked the two most physically distant and culturally distinct parts of the world together.

    One of the key things that makes Sweden’s National Maritime Museum stand out is that, ever since its opening in 1938, it has its own model-making workshop and a full-time model maker – Stefan Bruhn – on site. Stefan has not only personally cared for the historic models in the museum’s collection but also has personally built several models that are now part of the collection – including that great Vasa model. We were incredibly privileged to be able to explore the workshop and not only meet Stefan but also work with him on this project. We even give you a peak in Stefan’s workshop in our behind-the-scenes film.

    The resulting films are spectacular, intriguing and inspiring, each one in a different way. We hope you all enjoy them and will be inspired to visit the maritime museum in Stockholm and the knowledgeable and friendly people who run it; it is a trip that is guaranteed to change the way that you think about Sweden and the Baltic World.

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