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Providing hydraulic power for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Providing hydraulic power for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Hydraulic Controls Inc., of Walnut, California, recently provided all the critical hydraulic components to power the key mechanical effects for the new film, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. The film opened in theaters around the world in November and was shot primarily at Fox Studios in Baja, Calif., over 22 weeks in the summer of 2002. The movie tells the story of Captain Jack Aubrey and his crew of the HMS Surprise as they pursue, and are pursued by, an enemy ship.

With the rocky coastline of Baja, Calif., as a backdrop, the main hydraulic valve stand features four Bosch Rexroth custom high-flow manifolds and six Bosch-Rexroth 4WRZ25 proportional valves. Click on image for larger view.

In March 2002, Mike Rogers, Sales & Engineering Manager of the Walnut branch office of Hydraulic Controls Inc. (HCI), was contacted by Dan Sudick, the special effects coordinator of the project for Fox Studios. HCI had worked with Sudick previously on two other film projects. Sudick asked if HCI could provide hydraulic components to power a gimbal (multi-axis motion platform) that would control a full-size replica of a 19th century naval frigate that would operate in a six-acre water tank with a crew of over 100 actors and cameramen on board.

To simulate the movement of a ship at sea (and in battle), the gimbal needed to provide various axes of motion — like heave, pitch and roll — while being constantly bombarded with hundreds of gallons of water from a wave machine and, at one point, 2500 gal of water from a "dump tank." Another requirement was that the system had to work reliably 12 to14 hr/day over a five-month shooting schedule.

HCI, working with the Industrial Hydraulics business unit of Bosch Rexroth Corp.,Bethlehem, Pa.,, applied the latest hydraulic and electronic technology to make this difficult mechanical effect a reality.

The replica of the HMS Surprise is fully dressed on the motion platform just before a six-acre tank is flooded with water. Click on image for larger view.

The replica of the HMS Surprise that was used in the filming of Master and Commander was 179-ftlong with a design load of 200,000 lb. The ship was built on the set and mounted on the gimbal, which was approximately 40-ft tall with a 40-ft base. It weighed 60 tons.

When HCI first approached Bosch Rexroth with this design challenge, HCI spoke with Greg Gleason in Bosch Rexroth's Entertainment Division. Gleason suggested that Paul Stavrou (manager of Bosch Rexroth's Technology Group) run computer simulations on Mike Rogers' initial system design using Rexroth's exclusive HYVOS software to see if the gimbal, in various load and motion profiles, would operate as desired. Rogers then refined his design based on the recommendations of Stavrou and the HYVOS program.

It was determined that there would be eight cylinders that controlled the gimbals' structure. Four 10-in. bore by 108-in. stroke for the heave axis (to lift the ship up and down), two 8-in. bore by 38-in. stroke for the pitch axis (to raise or lower the bow) and two 12-in. bore by 51-in. stroke for the roll axis (to roll the ship from port to starboard).

All of the cylinders operated under water, usually under turbulent flow conditions. Each had a cable-extension position transducer that accurately tracked the position of the cylinder.

Hydraulic Controls Inc. provided the hydraulic components to power a gimbal (multi-axis motion platform), which controlled a full-size replica of a 19th century naval frigate. The gimbal measured 40 ft tall with a 40-ft base and weighed 60 tons. Click on image for larger view.

The central hydraulic system, which provided power to the cylinders on the gimbal, consisted of two 750-hp diesel engines, each driving four Rexroth AA10VSO140 pumps. These systems produced up to 500 gpm at 3000 psi to bring the gimbal's complex motions to life. Bosch Rexroth designed and built four custom high-flow manifolds for the project (two manifolds for the heave axis and one each for the pitch and roll axis).

These manifolds were machined to mount a total of six Rexroth 4WRZ25 proportional valves, which were driven by Rexroth VT11011 analog driver modules. The manifolds also included Sun Hydraulics anti-cavitation valves and relief valve cartridges. Plumbing from the HCI system to the gimbal was done through two headers (pressure and return) that were custom built in HCI's Walnut facility. Everything was tied together with hundreds of feet of 2-in. high-pressure and return hose supplied by Gates Corp.

In late May, the hydraulic components were assembled on the set and HCI's Rogers spent several weeks in Baja with Don Bogusky, of Bosch Rexroth's Service Department, helping Sudick set up the system so it performed safely and to the satisfaction of the film's director, Peter Weir.

Two 750-hp diesel engines were for driving four Bosch Rexroth AA10VSO140 axial-piston pumps. Click on image for larger view.

The results were spectacular and are earning praise from critics and talk of an Oscar for Sudick and his crew. "Our Oscar was a comment from Dan that during five months of difficult shooting, not one minute was lost due to hydraulic problems. The system worked flawlessly," said Dave Madden, assistant general manager of HCI.

HCI is the largest hydraulic distributor in the Pacific Southwest with 11 full-service offices in four states. Past film projects include Titanic, Jurassic Park, Men in Black, The Perfect Storm, Spider-Man and the upcoming Spider-Man 2.

Information for this article was provided by Hydraulic Controls Inc., Walnut, Calif. For more information, call (909) 869-7600 or visit