Earth vs The Flying Saucers

A garish poster for the film which was typical of 1950's B science fiction movies during that time.

As you may have guessed, I'm a big Ray Harryhausen fan and I thoroughly enjoy making kits or scenes based on his work. The scene before you is of my own design and is based on one of his earlier films from 1956 called “Earth vs The Flying Saucers”, sort of a poor man's version of “War Of The Worlds” which was done so magnificently three years before by George Pal. This not to say that EVFS is inferior but the budget that Harryhausen had to work with was significantly lower than WOTW but he still managed to impart personality (of sorts) into the spinning disks as they bring havoc to the planet Earth.

The plot is fairly straightforward as the title suggests with the major action scenes held towards the last third of the film. The main actors/characters, Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor were no strangers to science fiction with Marlowe's performance as the self-centered “bad” guy in the sci-fi classic “The Day The Earth Stood Still” (1951) and Taylor who later appears in another of Ray's black and white classics, “20 Million Miles To Earth” (1957). Spoiler alert: Marlowe's character manages to invent a sonic ray that disrupts the saucer's ability to fly which causes them to crash into various Washington DC's famous landmarks with spectacular results hence this build.

My scene in all its glory. It measures 24" x 10". If you look carefully, you can see another saucer WAY in the background getting ready to join the fun.

As far as I know, there are only four kits available featuring the film's iconic saucers but I don't think there are any depicting the scenes of destruction in our nation's capitol as shown at the conclusion of the film. I had been thinking about building something based on this sequence for a while when I came across a roughly N scale model of the US Capitol building put out by Glencoe which made up my mind for me. I painted all the stone work walls with a flat light gray acrylic to kill the sheen and give them a more marble like appearance. I happened to have a jade green color in my rattle can arsenal which matched the actual roof color of the structure(s).

The kit is a standard snap together plastic model with very nice detail but I would recommend gluing it together instead of relying on the snap joints to hold it together. Before assembly, I kept in mind what parts I'd have to destroy, realizing that plastic is very difficult to 'wreck' in such a way that would resemble the stonework of an actual structure. I came to the conclusion that I would have to cast the proposed destroyed sections in Hydrocal plaster which is more durable than plaster of Paris. The sections that I decided to cast were the Capitol building's dome and the pillared entrance to the House Of Representatives that were destroyed in the film by saucers crashing into them. I made rubber molds of these parts which was a fairly straightforward process followed by the casting step.

  • Right side of the scene. Click for a larger image.

  • The center of the scene. Click for a larger image

  • Left side of the scene. Click for a larger image

My ray effect on the US Senate building. It came out a lot better than I expected if I do say so myself.

The House's front entrance area was easy to cast but I had to make the Capitol dome pretty thin so that I could break it up easily and still maintain a thin profile if this part was to be seen from the side.

I accomplished this by finding a rubber ball of a slightly less diameter that would be later placed inside the dome's negative mold. After I filled the dome mold by roughly one third with the Hydrocal, I pushed the ball into the soupy plaster, raising the plaster level so the negative surface of the mold was coated with a layer roughly 1/16 “ (2mm) thick (think Achemedies getting into his bath tub and yelling “Eureka!”). This method took about four attempts before I ended up with a usable plaster dome I could wreck that had a uniform wall thickness.

After I painted the plaster dome to match the color of the whole structure, I broke up and then reassembled the dome with CA glue to about 60% completion leaving a large hole in the side to accommodate a saucer. In the film, the dome is totally destroyed because the saucer explodes but I wanted a more dramatic scene so I placed the saucer in the dome gap along with a plume of smoke made from cotton that I had painted with blotches of black and various shades of gray craft paint.

I should mention that I made the four saucers on my good old 3D printer from a recipe I downloaded from Thingaverse. In my scene, one of the saucers is in flight zapping the roof of the Senate building which is exploding colorfully from its deadly ray. I fashioned a ray gun from a small nail bent 45 o, using the head as parabolic cup from which the ray came, I built it up slightly with molding paste to make a cup shape. Once the molding paste cured, I cleaned it up with a small file and CA glued the whole assembly into a hole that I had drilled in the underside of the saucer. For the ray effect, I got a short length of coat hanger wire (~6”) that I painted with florescent orange paint and CA glued this part to the ray gun's cup described earlier. I then drilled a same diameter hole at an angle in the Senate roof into which I could insert my ray. I made the explosion out of a small burst of insulating foam from a spray can (this took a number of tries before I ended up with an explosion shape I was happy with) and made several passes of clear yellow and clear red paint from a rattle cans to complete the fiery blast. Fortunately, the coat hanger wire was stiff enough so I didn't get any sagging when I attached the saucer.

To further capture the look of the film, I added another saucer that had just landed with its force field turned on. This proved to be fairly easy to make. I just cut a length of acetate into a strip about an inch wide and I glued the ends together with liquid model glue. Once this dried, I hit it with a very light coat of semi-gloss clear paint from a rattle can to copy the 'ripple' effect Harryhausen had in the film.

  • Still from the film showing the US Army's 'ray gun' truck. Click for a larger image.

  • My take on the same vehicle in N scale and parts from my junk box. Click for a larger image.

I had a pair of Metal Works Ford F-700m Delivery trucks in my stash so removed the rear container section on one and made it into a flat bed. I fashioned a small piece of wood to act as the generator and built up the ray gun apparatus from various odds and ends I had in my junk parts box. I added short pieces of fencing on either side of the bed to match the film. I painted both trucks olive drab and added other detailing like wrinkled tissue on the generator and rear sections to look like canvas.

I had a lot of fun building this scene which seemed to get more and more complicated as I went along, but that is the real fun of the hobby or so it seems to me. 2/7/20