Build a Life-sized Active Volcano




About: My girlfriend and I run a company called Deville's Workshop in Toronto, Canada. We build weird props for film and television and love this website - such a great resource for inspiration and discussion!
I love my day job! Tina, James VDK and I were fortunate enough to be invited to help build a life-sized volcano (well, it was actually about four stories high...) for a television show. The purpose of the show was ultimately to allow scientists to test various theories on volcanic activity but the fun part was having an explosive special fx team in to blow it up at the end of the experiments. We worked with a great production designer, Andy Berry, who tirelessly drove the construction forward for almost a month and a half (here is a link to another Instructable, a show we worked on with Andy where we got to build, and then blow up, a small town in WW2-era Germany).

I don't have much photos of the intermediate steps of the build (we didn't have time for photos and we were covered in mud and concrete!!) However, here is a very quick summary of the build:
  1. Use a massive crane to stack 20' long shipping containers on each other to form a pyramid.
  2. Chain and weld the containers together.
  3. Using a 60' telehandler lift and build an exoskeleton of pallets, 2x4s, and other scrap wood around the containers.
  4. Cover the wood with industrial rebar mesh. 
  5. Dip 100' rolls of burlap in tubs of watery concrete and drap it over the mesh.
  6. On a 60' cherry picker go through and zip tie all the burlap to the rebar mesh. Very messy, don't wear your Sunday best.
  7. Use a hopper and spray every inch of the surface with a liquid concrete/Hydrocal 50 mixture.
  8. With a massive spray gun hose the whole thing down with black and brown and gray paints.
  9. BLOW IT UP.
  10. Tear it down. Go home and relax, that was a good day!
I'll post comment tags on the photos to explain the process. Enjoy! (I was going to say "don't try this at home" but actually it would be pretty hilarious if you did. If you do, please post photos!!!  :)

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    33 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Umm. Lovely work, but why the unicorn??


    5 years ago

    Really wicked but I have one question that has been nagging me. Why did you make it?

    1 reply

    5 years ago

    That is really cool! To bad I can't do that, I live In a big city.

    Very cool project! By the look of the flame you loaded it up with thermite and perhaps some pneumatic cannons throwing debris? I'm not sure I know what pyrotechnics or explosives throw thick brown smoke like that at low velocity.

    7 replies

    You're spot on, it wasn't Pyro for the smoke, it was five massive air movers (like this one but much bigger - loaded with a half ton of fly ash. The fly ash had similar behaviours to pyroclastic flow (we tried beer, ketchup, water, all these things to mimic lava); this helped the scientists test some theories on how lava flows in a controlled environment

    I have another question. How did you regulate how much ash was fed into the air during the duration of the burn? Was it in some sort of hopper or did you have a guy standing in the back tossing buckets into the air stream?

    Hey, you're a pyro guy, I'd love to catch your thoughts on the explosions for this build :

    The fx guys blew up the entire town we built. I know they were using 400 grain det cord; from the video do you recognize any of the other pyrotechnics?

    Well, the det cord was clearly used often in the video. I've seen it tied in knots and placed under bottles of gasoline to achieve the smaller fiery explosions before. As to what the other explosives were I don't think there's any way of telling for sure just by seeing it touched off, but I would guess most of it was ANFO because it's inexpensive and versatile. Gasoline bottles strapped to the explosives would again be what makes for the accompanying fireballs. There are some interesting explosions right around 2:30 into the video that look like typical pyrotechnics rather than high explosives - the ones that seem to throw shrapnel that gives off bushy tails of orange sparks. I would guess those to be a type of firework called a comet, fired into the air with black powder. Something like these:

    Hmmm it wasn't a duration burn - just a series of Independant one-off blasts, timed microseconds apart. They would fill one canister with 1/8 of a ton of pyrolyte or flyash, then each canister would pop in succession. This gave the effect of a prolonged explosion.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the accolades on my At St. contact me at my flickr site and I'll see what I can do.


    6 years ago

    That was awesome.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    This is really cool, but I wonder how much it costs :P


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I thought this was another "punny" Instructable, such as instructing you how to photoshop a life-size volcano. But I was wrong.
    And impressed. Great job, this is all what Instructables is about.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    BOOYAH!!! now recreate the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.........hey, one must always strive for greater achievements.