I started by sculpting a rough 1:24 maquette which was then used to get the basic 1:1 profile and cross-section silhouettes. This was also digitally scanned using the 123catch app so the support structure could be built in SketchUp and approved by the structural engineer. Ghetto, but it worked.
The whale had to be delivered in 8 sections to fit through the aquarium doors and reassembled onsite with little to no mess.
We began with 32 blocks (4'x'3'x8') of 1lb polystyrene foam. There's a EPS manufacturer a few miles away, conveniently.
A 1'x1' grid system was used to enlarge my maquette silhouettes. This is the starting point of the gigantic head.
Hot wires were used to cut the silhouettes and various carving tools then refined and shaped. EPS (white foam) is glued together using an expandable polyurethane (yellow foam).
This is a tricky stage for carving. I used the maquette for reference at this point but there was more than a few times I glued more blocks on thinking I miscalculated my initial cuts… only to carve off all the added foam down the road.
Cross sections silhouettes were drawn every 6 ft using the enlargement grid system.
Our support system is a 3'x3' steel frame, basically a tunnel. This is drawn on and used as registration points between the cross sectioned pieces.
The whale body also is split down the middle for transportation and door clearance. The steel frame also splits down the middle and bolts together from the inside. These are various 6ft half sections being prepped for attachment to the support frame.
Starting to fabricate the support frame. It separates down the length and middle. You can see top and bottom bolt plates down the length. The tall vertical tubes will be the hang points. 8 total.
Steel support frame is finished and pieces are waiting to be permanently attached to it. We added steel hang collars to the ceiling, designed and signed off by a structural engineer.
Head section has the support frame installed and is flying by its hang points!.
Body frame installed and bolted to head section. Serious carving is about to go down. You can see some wacky yellow foam areas, that's the parts I thought needed more bulk… they do not.
This gives you a good idea on the size of this beast. At this point we (me and my brother) were filling up six 55 gallon sacks of foam scrapings* (tesh) a day using only reciprocal saws and scraping brush. I use a chromebook while carving to reference the huge library of pics and video I gathered. Keeping reference nearby was an absolute necessity.
*you can only recycle clean white foam, mixed with yellow it cannot be recycled. We saved as much as possible.
Final welds going in the tail bolt-up cross section. This can be a little sketchy. We had fire extinguishers at the ready. Polyurethane foam can flame up pretty easily.
… this shows our bitchin' whale tunnel.
This skips ahead a few months. The 12 ft. pectoral fins have been added, these will also bolt-on onsite. 14ft wide fluke section is making an appearance too.
Carving is done and we are starting to hard coat the foam. We use an in-house mix that is Class A fire rated and tested for approval by the local fire authority.
The triangle door on the back is our tunnel access to bolt together the sections inside, the door was added and seamed after onsite assembly.
There is a 19ft calf we did as well. He's not covered here. Pretty straightforward.
We use a mesh between hard coat and foam. The polyurethane yellow balls are the tubercles (bumps with single hair). You can see the seam down the middle. It will be smoothed onsite.
Whale eye! It only took me 12 tries to get it right.
Eye installed and hard coat is finished… it actually took 3x longer than estimated. I didn't cover it much here but I had quite the battle with carving and coating the pleats. We still haven't made up.
Whale is primed and ready for paint!
Coronula Diadema or Humpback whale barnacles. I sculptured 4 different sizes, they look like pumpkins. These barnacles are specific to humpback whales.
Painted humpback whale! We couldn't have the left pectoral fin attached in the warehouse, didn't have high enough ceilings.
Humpback mom is dissembled and ready for transport to the aquarium. We improvised a cart system that inserted into the support frame for transport and assembly onsite.
Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
We took over the aquariums cafeteria for 10 days while we assembled and seamed the whale, then hung the mother in one night. The final weight was 4200 lbs. I originally estimated 6000… so that was a good thing.
You can only get the full length in panoramic mode.
Also, I'm not sold on the placement of the calf, we actually installed hang points directly underneath the mother so we can move it later. Long story.
(Calf looks derpy here)
Thanks for reading!
I also have a giant squid, sperm whale, whale shark and 4 manta rays at this aquarium, The Living Planet Aquarium in Draper, UT (USA)
You can follow the fun on instagram: @stephenkelser_tusk