Sunfish Joins the Ranks

The third sea creature to be featured in our series on the National Museum of Natural History’s Ocean Hall’s big models, the Mola mola (ocean sunfish) has been completed and is ready to be put on show. This life-size model measures an impressive height of six feet from fin to fin.

Instead of sculpting a giant sunfish for molding and casting, OEC modelmaker Natalie Gallelli sculpted a smaller version from clay, called a maquette. The maquette was then sent to Direct Dimensions, a company based in Maryland, who digitally scanned the sunfish and sent the information to another company to be machined out. A life-size reproduction made of dense, urethane foam came back to OEC. Gallelli then sculpted a thin layer of clay over the foam model so that it could be used to make a mold.

One side at a time, Gallelli made a plaster mold (called a “waste mold” because it is broken off in chunks and not used again) from this foam and clay model. The final model was then cast in fiberglass and polyester resin which Gallelli painted using a combination of techniques.

top photo: Gallelli and her ocean sunfish
middle photo: Gallelli sculpts the ocean sunfish.
bottom photo: Two ocean sunfish: foam and clay (red) and the fiberglass cast (grey)

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