To recap: for my project I wanted to build a model embodying the steampunk aesthetic, specifically drawing from the works of Japanese animator/filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Steampunk media in general is characterized by a retrofuturistic design philosophy that draws primarily from the Victorian era of steam-powered machinery. Steampunk works often incorporate elements of science fiction and fantasy, creating worlds inspired by the works of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. These works inspired many of the early films of Hayao Miyazaki, in particular Castle in the Sky (1986), a rollicking adventure film dominated by sky pirates and flying cities.

The opening sequence of Castle in the Sky (1986), plus a still from the film depicting the Tiger Moth airship

Castle in the Sky was a defining work for steampunk media in Japan, spawning a long-lasting legacy of airship design in other anime and even video games, notably the popular Final Fantasy franchise. I wanted to draw on this legacy to design a unique airship that I could turn into a physical model.


My model was predominantly built out of cardboard, supplemented by various knickknacks I had lying around. In particular, one element I wanted to incorporate was a small plastic lightbulb cover, which I thought might make for a sort of cockpit or bridge.

I sketched out several concepts incorporating this idea, eventually settling on a design with a classic dirigible-style body, four wings, and a protruding bridge area at the bow. 

With this design finalized, I began building the model proper. I started with the bridge, building a cardboard frame around the lightbulb cover then filling out the structure around it.

Next, I moved on to the main body, using a similar technique: building a frame with horizontal cross-sections, then layering cardboard panels on top.


Next, I started working on the tail fins. These were mostly flat pieces of cardboard, which I reinforced using pieces of model kit frames (sprues), another material I collected.

I added the underbelly section to the main body by layering sheets of cardboard at different angles, to approximate a rounded shape.

When I attached the tail fins, I added the ship’s rear propellers: three round discs of clear plastic mounted on a wire, which connects the tail fins to the main body.

Next I attached the main wings and the bridge.

Finally, I glued on some extra details using the model sprues again. I drew inspiration from the practice of ‘greebling’, which is commonly used in miniature and prop making for movies.

Here is a shot of the final model:

Overall, I’m satisfied with how the project turned out. Artistically, I think I achieved the aesthetic I was hoping for; the design is fantastical enough while still being grounded in the characteristics of actual aircraft. Functionally, it pretty much does the one thing I wanted it to do, which was look cool. And I think I learned some cool construction techniques for cardboard that I could use in future models. I definitely want to keep the final product, as there are a lot of things I’d like to add. I didn’t get around to attaching larger propellers to all of the wings, and there’s a protruding observation deck in the original sketch that I wasn’t able to include, plus small details like cannons and windows. I think I’d also like to paint it once I have all the details I want.

One thing the ship is definitely missing is a name; if anyone has any ideas, I’d love to hear them!



  1. Castle in the Sky (1986), dir. Hayao Miyazaki.
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4 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Sean, great job on the carboard construction techniques, it looks like you were able to successfully create some complex geometries using the method that you did. I really like this specific aesthetic as well, I am glad you were able to put it into words. Have you ever seen Nausicaa? That film also has some really cool Miyazaki-style aircraft and it is one of my favorite movies. I also agree with you that painting this would take it to the next level. What color of paint do you think you are going to use if you decide to paint?

    • Hi Alex! Thanks for the comment. I love Nausicaa! I didn’t bring it up in this post since the final project turned out much closer to the Castle in the Sky aesthetic, but I definitely looked at the ship designs from Nausicaa quite a bit early on in the design process.
      As for color schemes, I’m not quite sure yet. I’m definitely going to be favoring duller, more earthy tones; looking at pictures of actual dirigibles, there seems to be a lot of white or light beige, and the Tiger Moth from CitS is a uniform brown. For sections like the underbelly and the bridge, I’ll probably tend towards grayer colors to give it a metallic appearance.

  • You did an amazing job capturing the essence of the steampunk aesthetic, particularly influenced by the works of Hayao Miyazaki. The incorporation of elements from Castle in the Sky (1986) adds a nostalgic element and I recently rewatched this movie and recognized the aesthetic immediately. I’m impressed by your resourcefulness in utilizing cardboard and various knickknacks to bring your vision to life. The attention to detail in your design process, from sketching out concepts to building the intricate framework and adding final touches, showcases your commitment to both the artistic and functional goals of this project. The final model is a striking embodiment of the steampunk aesthetic, blending the upcycled elements with the recognizable characteristics of actual aircraft. It’s evident that a lot of thought and effort went into its construction, and I applaud your craftsmanship. If you had more time on this project would you have painted the ship or kept the raw cardboard look?

    • Hi Max! Thanks for the comment. I’m happy to hear you think I captured the aesthetic I was going for; it’s a style I really wanted to be faithful to while still creating something unique. And I really appreciate your thoughts on the construction process; I had a lot of fun building this thing. I definitely think I’d like to paint the ship at some point, even though the raw cardboard look does have something of its own charm.


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