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Inside the Nautilus

October 1, 2005 By Jean Penn

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Introduced in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870, and popularized by Walt Disney in 1954, the Nautilus is still the most famous of all submarines. Kirk Douglas and James Mason starred in the movie, but the novel’s menacingly sharklike vessel, with its opulent Victorian interior, was the real star, and ignited the dreams and imagination of many a youngster.

“It was rewarding to see the clients’ faces light up when they visited our facility to view the theater in progress. They realized we could do anything.”  —Mike Dillon, architectural details designer (Click image to enlarge)

One of those youngsters included Randy Moran—a Dallas dentist who is also a lifelong science fiction devotee. Unlike many fans, however, the dentist and his wife Brenda were not content to merely collect small-scale replicas of the Nautilus. “What could be more simpatico with the needs of a home theater than the Nautilus’ submarine theme?” he says. “In both, you are isolated from the outside world in luxurious comfort.”

Inside the Nautilus

Captain Nemo’s ironclad underwater machine, as described by Verne, bore a fierce, futuristic exterior resembling a sea monster, complete with barbs for ramming slave traders, his sworn enemies. Inside, however, was a floating mansion furnished with all the creature comforts a man could want, as well as the most elegant and opulent Victorian fabrics.The Morans consulted with about 10 custom integrators in the Fort Worth/Dallas area before hiring Audio by Design, the company that most appreciated their interest and passion for the concept. From there, everything fell into place, says Moran of the 18-month project.


“From conception to deception” is the motto of Dillon Works Inc.—the company that designed and assembled the decorative theater elements. The portholes are made from Plexiglas airbrushed with a variety of paints, including pearl-like colors that mirror the depths of the ocean. Paul and Sebrena Bohnsack of Audio by Design selected the theater chairs from Acoustic Innovations. The flowery carpet, à la Victoriana ballroom, was a sample found by Sebrena at a local carpet store. The architectural details, bottom, in progress at Dillon Works Inc.’s facility. Previous page: Jules Verne envisioned technology that looked more like the locomotives and steam engines of his Victorian era, says architect Michael Malone of the home theater’s design touches, including the rusted metal decor. “The Nautilus was also a floating palace. And in Victorian times, red velvet was the ultimate statement,” he says. (Click image to enlarge)

“Paul Bohnsack of Audio by Design knew an architect in Dallas, Michael Malone, and 20,000 Leagues was also one of his favorite movies,” recounts Moran, who, with his wife, is also a devoted Disney fan and Disney memorabilia collector. As a result, the architect was also commissioned to transform the downstairs garage into an elaborate mini museum for the Morans’ Disney collection, which includes 1930s porcelain figurines, mouse watches, and animation art.

The theater is located above the new garage addition. Malone handled the original sketches, which were approved by the Morans without question. During the design stage of the home theater, Malone refrained from watching the Disney film. “The idea of a Victorian submarine presents such a broad palette of ideas and it’s fun to experiment,” he says. “I didn’t want imagery from the movie to find its way into the theater.” Still, he admits that he couldn’t help but be influenced by his childhood memories of Harper Goff’s imaginative vision for the movie’s mysterious submarine.Malone, who had teamed with Dillon Works Inc. on the themed Shell Oil store in Dallas’ Galleria Mall, knew they could bring his Nautilus sketches to life. Based in Mukilteo, Wash., and established by Mike Dillon in 1985, the company designs and builds dimensional elements for theme parks, casinos, retails displays, restaurants, and commercials. Despite the distance involved, it was an easy sell to the Morans after Dillon told them the company previously worked with Disney Imagineering on projects such as Tokyo Disneyland. 


“I got interested in architecture as a child by going to places like Disneyland and thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to create something fantastical like this?’”  —Michael Malone, architect (Click image to enlarge)

The home theater is nearly 900 square feet and is shaped like a football with narrow ends and a wide center. The walls are curved and the steps are tiered. Bohnsack says the configuration did cause some concern in terms of how it would affect the acoustics, but he found that the fixtures, ceiling, and theater seating all worked to overcome the effects of the unique wall design.
Before the trusses, wall panels, screen frames, and portholes —all built and fabricated by Dillon Works Inc.—were bolted to the walls, the dry walls were faux painted. The heavy trusses were assembled from foam and wood, coated with a urethane product, then painted to resemble rusted metal, says Dillon. Although they look extremely heavy, they only weigh about 10 pounds each.Malone is known for his contemporary, crisp, and clean environments. He has never designed an installation as “baroque” as this, and though he has orchestrated many home theaters, this is his first thematic screening room.

“You know,” the architect says wistfully, “my kids like it better than anything I have done.” (Click image to enlarge)



I am a big fan of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea! This is a wonderfully designed theater - a work of art... 18 months to complete... WOW! Absolutely incredible. Would love for you to come to my house and design a Star Wars theme theater! Congrats on a job well done! On further research I had no clue Twenty Thousand Leagues was written in 1870... for some reason I thought it was closer to the end of the century.

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