Planet Express Ship, Futurama (part 1)

This is going to be a 2-parter, since the total mass of the entire build log would be enough to crush most RSS readers. I’ve been told I can be a bit long winded when summarizing my process, but I prefer to think of it as “thorough.”

From my previous Holophonor build you might guess I’m a bit of a Futurama fan. When I work in my shop, I typically prefer to stream videos instead of listening to music. For some reason it occupies my brain enough so that I don’t get distracted. I can’t explain it, but the point of this bit of background is that I’ve gone through the entire series of Futurama a couple of dozen times while in my shop. I’ve never scratchbuilt a model ship before, so ol’ Bessie seemed like a great place to start.

I grabbed a TON of screenshots courtesy of Netflix and got to work making a set of blueprints.

These were then transferred to 1/4″ thick MDF to create a series of spines, and the cavities in the form were filled with urethane foam blocks.

Then there was a bunch of shaving and smoothing and dust, starting with a rasp and moving through 50 grit sandpaper, followed by 80, 120 and 220. This gave me a pretty solid foundation. I also trimmed the fins out of some 1/2″ MDF blocks.

Divots on the body were smoothed out with passes of bondo and filler putty until the little bullet shape was to my liking.

In order to create recesses for the assemblies on the belly of the ship (landing struts and staircase) I vac formed a few MDF blocks and used the negative plastic shape as the recessed form.

Pictures might explain the rest of this process better. Here’s the rear strut cavities:

And the forward landing skid stairwell:

The center cargo bay door area was done in a similar manner, using .060″ styrene to form a box for the inset area.

These doors won’t open, instead they’ll eventually be an access door to the interior electronics held on with magnets. The plug for the inset door was made from more urethane foam and styrene spacers to simulate a door seam.

Back to the fins – mostly the shaping was done with a dremel by hand, then the MDF forms were skinned in resin to give them a bit of strength.

I made a quick mold of the side fin in order to pull a couple resin copies for the left and right wings. There would be a bit if customizing done later on but the base shapes would be nearly identical.

In order to make the lip around the base of each wing/fin fit flush with the body of the ship, I sculpted them directly on the ship itself. First I laid down a strip of masking tape and waxed the surface with automotive wax. After this hardened, I super glued the fin to the tape itself. The glue will still bond lightly despite the wax, enough for the purposes I’m using it for anyway.

The lip on the fin was sculpted with Apoxie Sculpt. After this cured I was able to pop the fin loose from the masking tape because of the wax laid down earlier, and any left over material was easily cleaned off the ship body by removing the tape. I repeated this process for the back wings as well.

To make assembly easier later on, I added some large tabs to the fins and corresponding slots to the ship body. The process here is largely similar to the insert for the bay doors mentioned earlier.

Unfortunately a few rough assemblies made me realize the rear wings were way too stubby. I ended up chopping them in half and adding a 5/8″ spacer to each fin to stretch them out a bit. Blending these shapes back together took way, way more time than I anticipated, but the results are worth the effort.

Growing a bit tired of sanding, I fired up the lathe to turn out some of the round parts. These include the landing struts, landing feet, turret, barrel and window port hole. All of these are turned from urethane resin (ONYX for the black parts and 320 for the pink barrel and white port hole) – ONYX tends to turn very harshly and will chip easily. 320 is smoother but will chatter if you try to trim off small amounts with anything but an extremely sharp chisel.

I used my laser cutter and a bajillion pieces of styrene and acrylic to make the front landing skid staircase. It was when I made this part that I realized the scale of my ship would be a nice, round 1:50.

The mounting frame for the stairs was also cut from acrylic, while the curved base is a piece of hand-shaped heated sintra.

Back to the main body! The base for the turret was made with apoxie sculpt, and a negative impression of the turret itself was made to ensure a proper fit using the “bondo squish method

Finding half round trim nearly 3/8″ wide proved somewhat difficult, so I used some PVC rod cut in half lengthwise for the red bumper around the midsection of the ship. This was heated in sections and glued to the perimeter. Any gaps were later blended in with filler putty (U-POL Dolphin Glaze, in this case)

After molding the single port hole and making 8 copies, I set about recessing them into the body of the ship. They don’t seem to have a standard amount of distance between them, though I’m sure there’s a formula that can explain the incremental increase of space between each window. These were etched into the body then carved out by hand with a dremel before inserting the porthole castings.

More accents and details followed! Starting with the vents & door on the rear of the ship: I initially planned on cutting styrene and simply heating it to shape onto the ship body. This didn’t work, as the precisely cut shape warped and stretched as I laid it over the curve on the rear of the fuselage, resulting in a lumpy mess.

My solution was to cut a shape in masking tape first, and lay it on the ship in the desired location of the vent plate. I then took a larger sheet of .040″ styrene , heated it, and layered it over the taped section.

Doing this actually left a very thin impression on the inside of the styrene which I could use to trim out my curved form. In order to make sure everything was as straight and even as I could make it, I cut a mirrored piece of tape and laid it over this faint impression to use as a guide when cutting.

Small pieces of quarter round styrene bar were cut to shape and rounded over on their edges to make the individual vents. This. Took. Forever.

The process for the windscreen was largely the same, though I did spend a lot of time tweaking the initial masking tape overlay to make sure it had the right shape when viewed at various angles. half round styrene bar stock was used to make the trim, and the gaps were filled and sanded with green modeling putty.

Adding rivets to the fin trim rings started out simple. I planned on using small scrapbooking ornaments to simulate these, but after getting all of them secured they just seemed too flat and too small. Off they went, and in their places I used the heads from straightpins instead. Much better.

Couldn’t resist taking her for a spin. WOOOSHHHH….

Oh wait. The engines.

The main form was shaped in the same manner as the main hull – cross section spines filled with tooling foam and smoothed over with putty. On the back side I had a laser cut template for the placement of the individual engine nozzles.

These were added using styrene tube, trimmed roughly at first then smoothed more uniformly with a dremel and sanding blocks.

Utilizing a bit of bondo squish again, I mated the rear trim ring on the engine to the bumper trim on the ship.

(There was one little detail left on the ship before I could call it “final” but I totally spaced on taking photos of it – the ends of the fin tips. Just pretend I said something about apoxie sculpt and sintra, since this is getting pretty lengthy as is and I haven’t even molded it yet.)


Part 2 will cover moldmaking, electronics and paint. Thanks for reading!