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North Pole Square of The Polar Express

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  • North Pole Square of The Polar Express

    Welcome to a build of a HO scale diorama, depicting a scene from the 2004 movie "Polar Express". It's one of the first ever completely motion captured-computer animated major features. Actor/producer Tom Hanks plays several roles. The original children's story and book was written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg in 1985.

    The film has been both widely praised and criticized. Praise for the storyline, characters and pacing, and criticism from the cold (some say creepy) animation of the humans,
    especially their "dead eyes".

    I personally like the movie for its artistry and rendering of the 1950's Christmas, Santa Claus and steam train themes.

    One scene, near the end of the film, is the focus of this project. It's at the top of the world, called "North Pole Square". It is a circular city of factory buildings,
    populated with small elves in a huge toy making complex.

    Due to copyright infringement issues, I will not post screenshots of the movie on this forum.
    I will post links to other web sites where you can view the movie stills that depict the look I am trying to achieve..

    A general overview of the visuals of the movie are here from Google Images- ved=2ahUKEwjCmJLHlYbzAhWOIN8KHTfqBm8Q2-cCegQIABAA&oq=north+pole+square+polar+express&gs_l cp=CgNpbWcQAzoECAAQGFCOI1ijP2CQQWgAcAB4AIAB5QGIAZA OkgEGMS4xMi4xmAEAoAEBqgELZ3dzLXdpei1pbWfAAQE&sclie nt=img&ei=YJ9EYcLoF47B_Aa31Jv4Bg&bih=855&biw=1472& hl=en

    The diorama will contain 4 main elements, a scratched large 4 story brick administration building where Santa has his "office",
    and a multitude of workers.. . a scratched section of curved brick archways, a coach car arriving at the square (a Labelle kit),
    & a HUGE Christmas tree... on a 12" x 24" base.

    I'll begin in the next post.

  • #2
    The 4 story Santas' administration building at North Pole square is modeled after the Pullman Car Factory Office building in Chicago.

    See a still of the building from the movie here:

    I have drawn my interpretation on large paper, only the left side, (the right side is mirrored) and the center clock tower. Even with some condensing its approx. 20" wide and 13" high. This thing is BIG for HO scale. It will be built as a 3 wall background flat.

    Click image for larger version

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    It needs over 90 windows! The main office type units are Tichy 40 pane #2523 N-scale masonry versions, where I removed the bottom sash and replaced it with a single vertical muntin. The half moons I made of 2 x 4 styrene strip, that I formed and kept the shape inside this circle template, while the glue dried. Will trim the side legs flush later.

    The small rectangular units in the upper left were made by cutting the same Tichy units down and trimming them out.

    Click image for larger version

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    I created these templates out of .03" sheet styrene. The left side unit contains all the window openings needed.
    The right side is the shape I need for the arch trim build out of the top floors of each section.

    Click image for larger version

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    I'll be using Monster Model Works 1/32" brick sheet for all the main walls, due to the ease of cutting. Unfortunately, it's fragile and too light to support itself. Therefore, I'll have to build sub-walls for everything, which is .05 chipboard. Here I have begun the task, which requires about 50 wall sections.

    Click image for larger version

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    This 6" x 12" basswood brick sheet is very expensive, so I set out to use them in the most efficient way I could, to use as few sheets as possible. I cut paper templates of every wall and moved them around until I could fit in as many as possible. I started at 5 and 1/2 sheets needed, but a few hours of "puzzle" work reduced it to four sheets.

    Click image for larger version

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    I could then cut the actual brick sheet pieces away, and I have begun working on window and door cutouts.

    Click image for larger version

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    I need 4 very large arched windows. I chose Tichy 3521 "S" scale masonry units, and sliced and diced them to fill out the necessary shapes. One continuous 2 x12 styrene strip for the head and jambs, and 2 x 2 strips were used for stops to frame out the perimeter casings.

    Click image for larger version

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    A coat of paint on every wall, just two colors used, randomly mixed together. Americana Burnt Sienna and Heritage Brick.

    Click image for larger version

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    Till next some walls....



    • #3
      Carl, this looks like a very ambitious project! However it appears your off to a great start already.
      Will this be a gift for someone in your family, or just for yourself?
      Looking forward to watching you bring this to life!

      Greg Shinnie


      • #4
        Carl those looks like very complex buildings; but if anyone can pull it off you certainly can.
        This looks like a great project and should make an awesome diorama. I'll check in from
        time to time and see how your doing.
        Owner, General Manager, and all around "chief cook and bottle washer" of the Caz Coal-and-Wood Railroad


        • #5
          I'm on board the Polar Express to watch this build.

          Learned something already. How to make half moon windows using a circle templet.

          New York, Vermont & Northern Rwy. - Route of the Black Diamonds


          • #6
            Well after getting the old 403 BS again!!

            I see the Master is at it again! A bigger project every year!

            Carl beautiful windows and great the way you made them.
            A true scratch builder!

            I've got my ticket to the land of Claus!!

            All aboard that's going aboard!!

            "And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." A. Lincoln


            • #7
              Carl, that's a very interesting project.
              I remember taking the kids to see it when it first came out.
              I will definitely be following your progress on this one.


              • #8
                I'll be watching and expecting another great build.


                • #9
                  Wow!!! This is the sort of project that would take me fifteen years or so to get done. More if it requires interior lighting! I'm in and will be up here in the peanut gallery watching closely.

                  in Michigan


                  • #10
                    Thanks for stopping in Greg, Larry, Bernd, Jerry, Rick, Fred and Pete!
                    Appreciate your interest and following along...

                    Greg- No sale on this one. This is for ME!

                    Bernd- Hope you can get some other ideas using the template too.. The only problem was... I could only make one-at-a-time!

                    Pete- It took me several weeks of on and off work to get to the point of 8 pix for this first post!
                    And FYI- It will be lit up-guaranteed!


                    • #11
                      Hi Carl. So this is the exciting new build you had told me about.
                      Looks like it's going to be a big project. As usual, I'm really looking forward to this, and seeing how you go about working it all out.
                      You're off to a good start already. All those windows, especially the very large ones will give it a lot of character.
                      If you ever decide to sell it, I'm sure Tom Hanks would pay you a pretty penny for it.
                      Regards Rob

                      Despite the cost of living, it's still popular

                      My current build.



                      • #12
                        Carl, being able to design and build a diorama like's a gift!
                        When done it will definitely be more than a 'stocking stuffer'. I'll be following!


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Carl_B View Post
                          Bernd- Hope you can get some other ideas using the template too.. The only problem was... I could only make one-at-a-time!
                          Now, if you owned a small lathe you could have used a piece of tubing, or turned a few pieces of some Acetel or UHMW tubing to the correct size and made a bunch at once to the correct size. There would have been some advantages in assembly. One extra step maybe but you could have had many at once. But you did plant an idea in my head if I ever do round or half round windows.


                          New York, Vermont & Northern Rwy. - Route of the Black Diamonds


                          • #14
                            Rob and Bill, great to have you along for the ride and thanks!

                            ...Rob- If Tom Hanks wants it, I'll build him a separate one!

                            ...Bill- Stuffing this into a stocking would be a challenge!

                            ...Bernd-if you owned a small lathe- I wish!


                            • #15

                              I'm sure your latest project will be fantastic. It's very inspirational. And, it will teach all of us something new.


                              Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced. James Baldwin