Friday, April 16, 2010

Tom Scherman Tribute

Tom Scherman was born on July 11, 1940, in the county of Westchester, a suburb of New York. His family was musical and artistic and so was Tom. His boyhood sketches were of fantastic machines rather than clouds and barns and animals. In fact, the animals Tom drew were mostly dinosaurs, and he had an exhaustive knowledge of each dinosaur's size, power and hist

When Tom's interest was piqued, he studied that subject extensively; and, possessing an encyclopedic memory, never forgot what he learned. In 1954, Tom saw 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Then he saw it again a few days later. He began building Nautilus models, and studying not only 20K, but all the works of Jules Verne. It was an interest, a passion, really, that was to last for the rest of his life.

Tom studied art formally at Rhode Island School of Design, where he made his first animated film, a sort of campy homage a King Kong. Tom was captivated by the idea of film, and filmic special effects, which led him to move to California, to be in the center of the SFX world. He worked at several of the LA commercial production houses, notably Jon Urie and Associates, and Cascade. His model-making skills were noted and he worked on an impressive list of television commercials including Alka Selzer, Paper Mate, Pillsbury, Norelco, Bird's Eye, and Arco.

These jobs were means to an end. Tom never forgot the reason behind his move to California, and became friends with Harper Goff, the Production Designer of 20,000 Leagues. In fact, it was a meeting of the minds. Harper once said that Tom "was the son I never had." Harper showed Tom the design for the Nautilus Two and the concept of Vulcania. Tom built many Nautilus models, scores of them. The author Ray Bradbury had one on his desk that was shown every week at that author's TV show.

Tom was once again smitten by the fantasy world of Jules Verne, and expanded upon Harper's original concept, even after Harper passed away. The work he did heavily influenced the design of Tokyo DisneySea's Mysterious Island theme park. Tom, never idle, did models for films Airport 2, and Darkman.

Tom had met Richard Fleischer, the director, and attended the lectures he gave about 20K. Fleischer often asked if Tom were in the audience because he knew that Tom's grasp of the facts connected with the film were superior to his own. It was therefore acknowledged that Tom was the ranking aficionado of all things concerned with the film.

So when Disneyland Paris WDI Imagineers needed an interior design for their Nautilus, Tom was the choice to do it. It was the culmination of a dream, and even though Tom was in remission for the cancer that would eventually kill him, he finished the job on time and under budget and was thanked by WDC Chief Michael Eisner.

His memorial service was attended by scores of his friends, and the eulogy was given by Ray Bradbury.

We like to remember him proudly standing on the deck of his ultimate creation.

From an interview with Rowland Scherman

Pictures: copyright Rowland Scherman. B&W framed pictures: Thanks to Richard Allsmiller. Last picture: copyright Disney


  1. Tom spent his life immersed in 20k and this site fully illustrates how well he executed on his passion. It was total and so is the site. Thanks to Alain and the Scherman family for making this site possible.

    The most interesting thing to me are the "Napkin" sketches. Tom decided to do the simplest document he could to clearly communicate his ideas. I was trained to do 8.5 by 11 sketches (to scale) to do details in the field and to sketch simply as to distribute the idea to others. This saves money if coordinated well and keep the designer directly in control of the design. Tom did this at an even a greater economy and look at what came of it? His projects are faithful to the napkin sketches. Of course, they had to de interpreted by skilled draftsmen, but his sketches were explicit enough and had detailed notes (the important ones) to move things forward. He knew what not to say too. How many bad projects are there in the world built from volumes of design?

    Tom didn't just live in his dream, he also taught us an interesting way to design that is cost effective and works. Alain, thank you for posting these great sketches and the great site.

    Eddie Sotto

  2. This is terrific! I am so pleased that Tom is remembered and his work is shared.

    Will you be able to post photo of the "Nautilus under construction" that Jim Danforth painted for Tom?

  3. To say that I am blown away by this tribute to Tom is an understatement. I was lucky enough to know Tom and even visit that fabulous apartment of his. We both shared the love of the Nautilus and Jules Verne. I am pleased that his memory lives on in his work.

    Kathy Bushman

  4. Tom was a great guy who often had that serious Scherman expression on his face. You were not always sure if he wasn't mad about something! Lots of us were lucky to work with him and help on side projects of his like DISCOVERY BAY. Harry Walton shot that, did some nice matte paintings and I did the location sound. I have stills of that shoot as well. I think somewhere I have one of those infamous napkin sketches too. Like David Allen he was taken away way too soon.
    ---Paul Gentry

  5. I never saw anybody as talented as Tom with Foam core, he could make anything from almost nothing. It was my pleasure to know him and learn from him.