Giant Squid Kinetic Sculpture From Found Materials




About: I am a kinetic sculptor who works from found materials.
This sculpture grew out of a long time fascination with the Giant Squid. My name being Nemo has meant a lifetime of "Captain Nemo" references, thus making me aware of these monsters since an early age. I am a sculptor who works almost exclusively with found materials, though typically I like to build things that look more like classic robots. For that reason this project posed several challenges. For one, I really wanted it to be a Giant Squid which meant finding some large objects, and it would mean breaking a lot of habits to depart from more human like forms. I also decided not to limit myself to aluminum, as I had been at the time, and integrate some brass pieces as well.

Step 1: Layout

I generally start all my pieces by laying parts out on the floor and arranging them until things start to look right. For this project, large street light covers were going to be the most important forms. These were used for the head, and determined the scale of the whole sculpture. Some rather cheesy brass chandeliers were easy choices for the smaller tentacles. The trick was coming up with the two long tentacles. They needed to look similar to the small ones, but still be flexible and durable. After some fooling around I decided that candle sticks, and fireplace hardware would work if they had aluminum electrical conduit threaded through them. Brass drawer pulls would later be attached to each section to act as suction cups.
It was important to me that the sculpture have a somewhat fluid movement, it is a sea monster after all. I liked the idea of a sort of antiquated machine look, so I came up with a simple belt drive mechanism based on some nice old belt wheels that I found.

Step 2: Mechanism

Once I had a decent idea of what the general design was going to be it was time to focus on some specifics. I basically had to work backwards from the mechanical portion of the piece because it required the most precision. The rest could be improvised. From the first stage of laying out the parts, I had determined that the head would be elevated with the tentacles draping down towards their drive system (no sense fighting gravity). This meant mounting the belt wheels in a fixed position to each other that provided the right angle for the head to wind up at the right height.
After a good deal of advil and cursing I had the wheels mounted on bearings welded to stands made from railing sections.

Step 3: Head

Having worked out the basic mechanics, it was time to make some more decisions about the head. All changes here would affect the weight, and potentially mess with the mechanism, so better to settle it early on. Added to the street light fixtures was a small beer keg, a lawn sprinkler base, and a mysterious aluminum cone. The bag attachments from some old vacuum cleaners made nice oval eye sockets with brass candle stick tops for eyes.
Perhaps the greatest challenge of this project was developing the mount that would hold the head. It had to allow for movement on 2 axis, support some weight, and look cool. Eventually I came across part of a motorcycle frame (I think), and welded some bearing mounts to it that i had turned on the lathe. After some messing around with height and distance from the belt mechanism, the new mount was fixed to the top of some more railing sections.

Step 4: Structure

Unfortunately, though it may seem that everything was moving along smoothly, I still did not have any way to support all of this moving mass. The temptation was to bolt each of the three railing support pieces directly to the floor. This would have meant only displaying the piece in places with concrete floors and much agonizing alignment issues at the start of each install. I have learned over the years that a sculpture of this size had better be portable if you ever hoped to find a home for it. What was needed was a base of some kind that would allow me to permanently fasten the three posts and the motor to. Then all other parts could be removed for transport.
Fortunately for me my friend Reuben happened to have some huge planks of wood laying around outside his studio. I decided to go with a sort of sunken pier / ships deck look.

Step 5: Details and Wiring

Once all the big dirty stuff was tested and working, it was time to focus on the little details that would make the piece worth more than a glance.
All the lessor tentacles had to be bolted around the mouth opening, leaving room for the large ones to attach inside. I had to machine an adjustable pivot with spring connections so that the head could respond gently to all the random stresses that the motor would produce.
I ordered some glass taxidermy eyes to mount in the brass candle holders to give the beast a little more soul. Tiny LED mounts were machined behind the eyes to make them glow. The inside of the mouth got the same treatment.
the motor was concealed with the help of lamp pole base covers, and a timing device was installed to keep it from running constantly.

Step 6: Results

And here it is. It is difficult to convey all the details and size of this thing. There are a few detail shots attached here, but the video on the intro page probably describes it best. Better yet, visit my website for a higher resolution file.



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    36 Discussions


    9 years ago on Step 6

    well, nemo i came across your work by accident and i just love it! i was surfing for giant squid images, and you came up too. and, to top it off, your work is here in san diego at device gallery right now. i can't believe my luck. the gallery is closed on sundays, but can't wait to go later this week. looking forward to owning your book, too

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

    Hi. Thanks for the kind words. Glad you like what you see. I don't have much work at Device at the moment, but I'm sure I'll send down some more before too long.


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

    hi, my outlook account is lousy, could you please add me to your mailing list? thanks! molly


    10 years ago on Step 6

    This is pretty sweet, nice work.


    10 years ago on Step 6

    Wonderful melding of "fantasy tech". Jules Verne would be proud!


    I know the horrors of big scuplture but mine have never been kinetic before, beautiful work there oh and the chopper too.... If my 8 foot tree hadn't been so damn dangerous I would have had branches that swayed using a similar idea but I'm now intimidated by the quality of workmanship and finish of this piece.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, we can use squid as an alternate source of energy! This is a fasinating project. Occasionally I think of doing something similar. Nothing so grand. Now I have some ideas on the mechanics. Unfortunately, sort of, we are using less metal so fewer pieces to reuse. Plastic is easier to glue, sometimes, and lighter, but this metal is beautiful.