Fitzcarraldo in a Bottle 2021

Photo: Andy Orin

Eight years ago I thought of one of the only good ideas I’ve ever had: I should make a ship in a bottle depicting the ship from Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog’s 1982 film about a deranged but determined opera lover played by Klaus Kinski.

In attempt to raise money to build an opera house in a small Peruvian city, the titular character tries to gain access to an untapped source of rubber trees by dragging his steam ship across land to another portion of the river. The production was fabulously calamitous — there were multiple plane crashes, Mick Jagger shot a whole part and then dropped out, the thousands of native extras were questionably cared for, a guy sawed off his foot when he was bit by a snake, Kinski was a bigtime freako — but the film is best remembered from the scenes depicting the ship being dragged up a hill. Not a model of a ship or anything like that — they just literally did the thing to film it, portaging a massive 320-ton ship across land, uphill, in the jungle.

It’s one of my favorite movies.

I also love ships in bottles. Not specifically the mystery of their construction, but the complexity and tedium required to create that mystery around an object that is completely useless. They’re little works of sculptural art that also perform a magic trick by existing in an impossible space. That being said, just depicting the Fitzcarraldo scene was more important to me than constructing it with any guise of traditional ship-in-a-bottle trickery. I was particularly inspired by this bottle depicting Jaws. A movie! In a bottle! A movie-ship-in-a-bottle!

In 2013 I drew this on a post-it note:

fitz doodle

I briefly looked for existing model kits of similar ships but didn’t find anything that would work. So I modelled this ship in Autodesk 123D (a free design app which no longer exists):

Six years later in 2019 I printed the model about three inches long using Shapeways:

In “smooth fine detail plastic.” Photo: Andy Orin

There were two factors in deciding that scale: first of all, it needed to fit through the neck of a bottle. And secondly, a smaller print is cheaper (this cost $21.69 and scale increases price exponentially-ish). In 2013 I did toy with the idea of slicing the model so that it would be glued back together inside the bottle, piece by piece, but as I said, performing the traditional construction magic trick wasn’t that important to me.

And I didn’t have a bottle yet anyway. No rush.

This month I happened to have a glass jar from a soy candle that was just about right for this scale. (What’s… the deal... with soy candles? Are normal candles a big problem we need to solve? Are soy candles…. edible?) Jars are obviously less compelling than narrow-necked bottles but it was good for the purpose. A little clay and a bag of miniature trees (insert referral link here) and I had this:

Do you like my improvised light box? Photo: Andy Orin

I’m not over the moon with the outcome but I am over the hill. It looks fine; if you know the movie you know what I’m depicting. I don’t plan on working on it anymore unless I happen across a good model kit that compels me enough to increase the scale of the whole thing.

Why did it take eight years? Did my creative vision persevere through years of setbacks? Did I need time to germinate the idea until a plan bloomed? No! It was a low priority and time was abundant.

There are no lessons about stick-with-it-ness here, pal. This isn’t even a pandemic project; I just have the stupidest long-term goals around.

Fitzcarraldo-in-a-Bottle Recorked


In 2013, I had an idea to make Fitzcarraldo’s ship in a bottle. I had planned to 3D print a model, maybe in modular parts so it could actually fit in a bottle, and designed a fairly simple model of the ship in one of Autodesk’s free apps. Then I got a little busy in the intervening years. I am now less busy.

(Fitzcarraldo, a film by Werner Herzog, follows a fanatic’s dream of funding an opera house in the jungle by harvesting rubber from trees in an untapped territory, but to reach them, he needs to drag a boat across land where two rivers almost meet. Herzog famously filmed the sequence by actually doing what’s depicted: dragging a giant boat up a hill.)

Werner Herzog.

So obviously the bottle would depict that scene, with the boat mid-hill.

I got to thinking about it again, and decided to see what sort of new 3D printing materials Shapeways has added since I last tinkered. They now offer a “fine detail plastic” that’s particularly well-suited for scale models and miniatures.

Another reason I hadn’t done any more work on it in six years ago simply was the price; at the time I uploaded a 6″ version, but printing a nearly banana-sized boat would cost $100 today (and significantly more back then, but I don’t remember how much).

So I tried a 3″ version, and it only cost $21.69 in fine detail plastic. Sure, why not. (Plus shipping and taxes and a expedition fee unless you are very patient, making it thirty something dollars altogether.) That’s where I am now.

DSC_8003web.jpgI haven’t found the perfect bottle yet. The boat is specifically 2.7″ and .99″ tall at its highest point, the smokestack thing. I’m thinking about something like this:


That’s about 3″ long; it would be a pretty tight fit if I want a substantial hill in there. A little bigger and I might be able to fit some little trees in there too. And the wide neck is essential, since I’m not actually bothering to assemble the boat in the bottle. More of a ship in a jar.

So now I’m just thinking about jars, looking at jars. I can go ahead and paint the ship (although the translucent plastic is itself fascinating, maybe good for a ghost ship).

But I’m in no rush, so it might be another six years before I stick a cork in this idea.

Throw Me the Idol!


Adam Savage occasionally mentions what he calls “everyday cosplay,” a casual use of movie-related clothing in everyday life. Sometimes he wears replicas of Captain America’s gloves, for example, as just normal gloves. Sometimes he wears NASA jackets. And of course Savage often wears a wide-brimmed hat, no doubt influenced by Indiana Jones. I have my own bit of Dr. Jones kit that I use almost every day: the bag.

Jones wears it in all the movies (somewhat curiously under his jacket; I guess that keeps it from swinging around too much while he’s doing all that adventuring). It’s probably most clearly seen and utilized in The Temple of Doom when he’s carrying the Sankara stones and they burn through the bag. You might call it a satchel bag or side bag or whatever, but it’s actually a specific, unique thing: a British World War II gas mask bag called a Mark VII. If you google it you can find dozens of places to buy various reproductions, as Indy is a pretty easy and popular costume to put together. I got one from Todd’s Costumes. (It’s not a vintage bag from the war, but an accurate recreation of one.)

Is a gas mask bag really the best option to carry around my bits of daily junk? Not really. There are a few odd quirks in its interior design, being that it’s literally for gas masks. There are odd metal gaskets at the bottom for ventilation (though useful for a wet umbrella!), and a few bits and bobs of ambiguous metal and string.

Satchel Bag worn by Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) as seen in Raiders of the Lost Ark

I had to modify the interior a little bit to make it actually usable; the interior was separated into two horizontal pockets–obviously for whatever mask device it was designed for–so I cut the bifurcating flap of material to create a single, open space. It also has a couple of little other pockets that can hold earphones or a pen. Otherwise it’s just a small tote bag. But it looks cool. It’s too small for something like a laptop or even a full-sized magazine. But it looks cool. It can hold a book! You bet I toss a Chipotle burrito in there like it’s an ancient fertility idol.

At first I used a strap from another bag I own–a vintage Soviet map case that I happen to have–but I didn’t have an elegant way to attach it so I eventually bought the leather strap from Todd’s Costumes as well. But! The leather was bright and clean and new when it arrived; of course it was new, but I didn’t want something that looked brand new. So I flexed around to loosen the rigidity of the leather, roughed it up with sand paper a little bit, and stained it a darker brown color that seemed truer to the movie, or at least more like a vintage object. And it’s corny, but I like that it’s unique that way; my stupid Indiana Jones gas mask bag is now one of a kind, and looks the way it does because I weathered it that way.

So what’s the point of using part of a movie costume that is less usable than a bag that’s actually designed to be a daily bag? Does it make me feel like Indiana Jones when I’m buying batteries at Walgreens and carrying them home in my accurate gas mask bag? Yes.

Cursed 3D Printed Chachapoyan Fertility Idol Brings Me Great Strength

1About three years ago I digitally sculpted the fertility idol from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Why not! Throw me the idol! Doctah Jones! It was just a fairly simple, familiar, and interesting object for me to create.

There are a number of ways to approach 3D modeling, but starting a model from scratch is usually more akin to drawing architectural plans than getting your fists into a lump of clay. It’s also much easier with traditional 3D modeling software to create hard objects with simple geometric forms (a cube, a cylinder, etc.) than it is to create a believable organic form. But there are some applications that take a completely different approach to 3D modeling. With Sculptris, designing an object is quite literally like manipulating clay. You start with a base shape like a sphere in the simulated 3D space and add and subtract from it, just as you would with a real life malleable medium. (Sculptris is the free, simplified version of Pixologic’s ZBrush, which is their professional-grade offering. No need for ZBrush when I’m a Play-Doh level sculptor.)

CaptureIt goes without saying that I have no actual, real world experience with sculpting. But I do have a pair of eyes that can see what’s right and what’s not, so I just slowly manipulated my imaginary clay to roughly approximate the various reference images I had gather of the Chachapoyan idol. I don’t remember how long that took–quite a few hours of clumsy digital sculpting over multiple days.

indyidol2And then I let it sit on a hard drive for three years.

I thought about ordering a 3D print from Shapeways, but printing a 1-to-1 scale replica was prohibitively expensive. I’d be better off buying an actual lump of clay if I wanted a life-sized version (or I could just get one Amazon, but the idol itself wasn’t the point.) Even half scale was much more money that I would spend on a mere trinket of curiosity.

But it just happened to cross my mind recently. Small objects are quite to cheap to print of Shapeways, and they have more material and color options than ever (including actual gold). So I settled on a little 2 in. figure, in yellow plastic, for $25.

TEMP1Not bad! Quite good! I had ordered “polished” plastic, and it ain’t polished, but I’m guessing that’s because the details were too fine to be polished, and the Shapeways staff were smart enough to know polishing it would reduce my idol to a meaningless peanut. Instead, it has the rough sandy surface that comes as a default to that sort of printing. Plus the yellow–which I think is just on the surface.

temp2So there you have it, a genuine 3D-printed Chachapoyan fertility idol. It belongs in a museum, but I’m keeping this one on my desk.

Cross post from Kinja.

Throw Me The Idol!

My latest pet project was sculpting a digital model of the Chachapoyan fertility idol from the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I’m telling you, Sculptris is a hoot to play with and a powerful tool.


Not exactly right, but mostly right. Including the little happy newborn baby Supermaning his birth:


Interestingly, when searching for some clear images of the idol, I discovered that it was originally designed to have its eyes follow Indy around the room, but that idea was scrapped. See some cool photos of the various props at

I might try to get a little 1.5 inch figurine printed, but it won’t really be permissible since I don’t own the design.

UPDATE: Here’s an interactive 3D viewer courtesy of Sculpteo:


Designing a 3D-Printed Phone Camera Lens Mount

I’ve long wanted to order a 3D print from Shapeways or Sculpteo, but wasn’t interested in buying a meaningless trinket designed by a stranger. The novelty of 3D printing lies in the physical manifestation your own idea.

So before I had an idea, I needed a problem to solve. Luckily I have a lot of those. I have a small, cheap fisheye lens that’s designed for smartphone cameras, but it’s suggested method of mounting the lens to the camera is decidedly less than smart. The kit came with a small metal ring, like a washer, that you are supposed to glue to your phone, and the lens itself has a magnet that holds it to the ring. I actually did stick the ring to my iPhone 4 with its provided sticky goop, but then the phone had a slight protuberance and thus wouldn’t sit flat on a table (which really doesn’t matter, but annoyed me). Soon the ring fell off the glass-backed iPhone, so I just used the lens by holding it up to the camera. That works but it’s pretty cumbersome.

More expensive kits come with a nice mount that slides onto the corner of the phone, holding the wide angle lens in place. They also cost over fifty bucks while the lens itself only costs around eight bucks. So I decided to invent a solution. Or rather, to make my own knockoff of the expensive solution.

I’m already a bit familiar with modeling and design software as I’ve always had a cursory interest in 3D modeling and animation, and I was lucky enough to take a brief AutoCAD course in high school. For the most part I taught myself when I was a teenager by pirating high-end software. I didn’t really want to sail the high seas of The Pirate Bay anymore, so after a quick googlin’ I found that Autodesk has a suite of cool, free design apps that are oriented towards amateurs.

And so I measured my phone with a ruler, sketched my design on a post-it note, and went to work. Ninety percent of modelling in 3D is simply trying to figure out how to get the software to do what you want it to do and 123D has a very approachable interface. I do wish it allowed for a multiple window view to see top/side/front elevations of your object simultaneously.
Anywho, I designed my widget to the best of my abilities, uploaded it to Shapeways, and ordered. Tada!


It took about a week to manufacture for about $9 bucks before it shipped. And it fits!


The mount snugly slides onto the iPhone and holds the lens without any glue or magnets. It’s a hair too tight on the phone itself, as I made the gap exactly the same thickness as the phone at 9.3mm without any leeway, but it has a strong grip. I’m a little concerned it’ll scratch the camera’s lens when sliding on and off. Then again, it’s already scratched up from riding around in my pocket for a couple years.

What no one tells you is that 3D printing is addictive, and designing practical solutions like this are a gateway drug towards making inane silly things.


While looking around for free modelling software I found that Pixologic has a free version of its Zbrush software called Sculptris. Zbrush is different from most modelers in that it emulates sculpting in clay.  The resulting high-polygon meshes are very messy and complicated, which is problematic for animation and video games, but not for stationary figures. And Shapeways’ algorithms when you send them a 3D model are surprisingly forgiving when it comes to messy meshes.

That matters, because polygons by themselves are impossible objects; they are 2D objects suspended in 3D space.  Polygons have no thickness unto themselves (think papercraft but the paper is infinitely thin), so the 3D object only makes sense to the printers if the figure is completely closed, or “watertight,” thus simulating a solid object. Some of the models I uploaded to Shapeways were messy, but their robots are evidently smart enough to ignore and fix minor problems. Anyway, Sculptris is a lot of fun to tinker around with even if you have no background in modeling. It’s just digital Play-Doh.

The ultimate goal for me? An original, 3D printed tiki mug. So far I’m just experimenting and learning, but I’ll get there.

Launch. A Day to Remember.

Hi guys and gals,
Andy here, founder and CEO of Cocopunk Industries. I’m excited to announce that today we are launching our very first iOS app, AutoComplain. It’s a groundbreaking new way to interact with your friends.

It’s been a long time coming, and really quite a journey. I remember when I had nothing but two lithe interns and a receptionist working out of my walk-in closet late into the night. After that first brainstorming session, I thought we’d never be able to accomplish our dream, but then when the brain lightning subsided and I changed my pants, my vision was clear and my team was biting at the chomp.

Today, I think it’s safe to say we’re going to change to world. It’s pretty exciting, amazing, and magical.

Tonight, join us at the launch party. Details pending. The interns are lagging and haven’t confirmed the venue.

Stay tuned.


Update: The intern passed out. Probably too much excitement, or exhaustion. Trying to feed her cookies. Oreos.

Update: The intern is okay but we’re afraid she might have inhaled some of the cookie crumbs. Trying to call expert at Nabisco.

Update: Lucy the intern quit unexpectedly. No two week notice. Unprofessional. She says I can have the party “Where the Sun Don’t Shine.” Probably the name of a new club. Checking Yelp.

Update: Finally reached expert at Nabisco. He says I shouldn’t chase after the intern. Checking her Facebook status.

Update: Does anyone know my Facebook password? Intern was in charge of the social networking. Nabisco doctor no longer returning my calls.

Update: Oh god having unexpected brainstorm. Can’t find thinking cap. Someone bring aspirin plz!

Update: Brain lightning stopped. Killer ideas but no one around to take notes. Something about a location-aware tea kettle and Doogie Howser reunion show.

Update: I’ve been told our app has been removed from the app store.  Tragic. Supposedly crashes the phone if you hold it wrong. I can’t confirm because the interns took the computers and I use a Nokia. Venue for the pity party TBD.


Hi guys and gals,

Andy here, founder of Cocopunk Industries. We’re pretty excited about our magical new product.

It’s called AutoComplain, and it makes bitching and whining to all of your online friends easier than ever.

In this day and age, you probably don’t have time to log into every social networking site to update your status, especially when you want to tell everyone about every single little inconvenience.

Luckily, AutoComplain does the work for you. Just choose from a list of pre-written complaints and we’ll let all of your friends know that you feel a little bit fluish, or that you had to wait a really long time at the bank. We employ several professional writers to come up with the amazing natural, organic complaints that work in a variety of situations.

The world is facing hard times, but that doesn’t mean your whining should go unnoticed.

Thanks for checking out our app.