"Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of The War of the Worlds" is a 1978 concept album by Jeff Wayne and others, retelling the story of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. It starred Richard Burton as the narrator-protagonist. That, along with excellent music and lyrics, made the album a success that is still going today. I liked the album but as a modeler I was even more interested in the "blueprints" of the Martian war machines that were part of the promotional materials. Really only three view drawings, they were still more to work with than usually is availablel to science fiction modelers.
This "blueprint," which was published in the Official Poster Magazine, helped push me into actually starting the diorama.
I started work on this diorama based on the album cover almost as soon as the album was released, which makes this one of my oldest surviving models. The cover depicts what is one of the best scenes from the Wells' novel, a battle between the Martian war machines and a British warship, the Thunder Child, in the Thames. The battle is also one of the featured songs on the album, titled "Thunder Child."
In the story, Wells' narrator speculates that the Martians do not fire on Thunder Child immediately because they are not sure what it is. Since, at that time, a warship was the largest and most complex machine produced by humanity, you would think that the Martians, who had "studied Earth," would have recognized it as a threat.
In the novel, Thunder Child is described by Wells as a "torpedo ram." At the time I was building the diorama I had limited references (and the internet did not yet exist) so I was unable to determine what exactly a torpedo ram was. Now, of course, it is easy to discover that there was only one torpedo ram ever in the Royal Navy, HMS Polyphemus, and that it probably really was the model for Thunder Child. But in 1978, along with the cover of the album, most other illustrations portrayed the Thunder Child as sort of a pre-dreadnaught battleship.
I used the Revell USS Olympia kit for the basis for my model. So, in the diorama, the Thunder Child is a cruiser, not a battleship, but it definitely has the pre-dreadnaught look.
The color scheme of black hull with white superstructure and buff funnels was typical of Royal Navy ships in the late 1800's.
Several changes were made to the Olympia kit to make it visually different from the American cruiser. One was to replace the Olympia's rather short and spindly masts with more substantial masts such as were mounted on the British Majestic-class battleships.
Another distinctive style borrowed from the Majestic-class battleships was the side-by-side funnels. This made the Thunder Child model both interesting visually and distinctly not the Olympia. One thing I liked about using elements of the Majestics is that one of the Majestic-class ships was named the Mars.
For a very early plastic model (the Revell kit was originally released in 1959) it is surprisingly well detailed. Careful construction and painting produced a very attractive ship model.
The "water" was built up from artist acrylic modeling paste, the waves shaped with a palette knife. When the paste dried, it was painted with blue and green acrylic artist paints, and finally clear coated with artist acrylic gloss gel medium (for the "wet" look). The ship's wake and bow waves were stippled on in white matte acrylic artist paint.
The smoke from the funnels is dyed cotton built up over a brass rod armature.
The figures of the officers and sailors were modified from Preisser Z-scale railroad figures.
The Olympia did have a ram bow and a bow torpedo tube, so it was sort of a "torpedo ram."
The funnel house was made from sheet plastic. The funnels were made from Chapstick tubes.
The final change I made was to modify the round pill-box main turrets to a more angled shape. This is a bit too modern for the period of the novel but it did make the model look less like the Olympia plus it resembles the cover painting of the album.
Two Martian war machines were scratch-built for the diorama.
The body of the war machines was made by heat forming sheet styrene plastic over the bowl of a regular spoon. The bottom was flattened by very carefully heating the shaped plastic over a candle and then pressing onto a sheet of glass.
The grooves in the body were scribed with a dental tool.
Other details like the "tail" were made from sheet plastic or various bits salvaged from kits.
The legs were built up from brass rod and short lengths of plastic tubing. "Y" shaped separators were made from plastic sheet to fit inside the tubes and insure proper spacing between the brass rods. The "knees" at the top of the legs were made made from plastic.
The tentacles and antenna were made from stretched sprue.