Behind the Scenes: How the model maker from Dune reached the End of the World

Danielle Versé was modeller and set designer for David Lynch’s masterpiece Dune. I found her work showcased at the End of The World, and here’s how.

It’s a cool day in Ushuaia at +5° Celsius, and the wind’s barely breaking a chill. The Southernmost City in the World is smaller than I expect, and quite well suited for a solid day’s exploration. It really is the end of the world: beyond this it’s just Antarctica, and Ushuaia knows it well. Gift stores with slightly apocalyptic names abound, and there’s even an End of the World museum.

I am earlier than I expect, and find the aforementioned museum closed. Cue walking down side streets until I stumble upon this gem, the Museo Yámana di Ushuaia, a cultural beauty of a museum that details the lives of the indigenous people’s of the Tierra del Fuego (lit. The Land of Fire), which is the part of Argentina that Ushuaia resides in.

Image from flipflopflyin.com
Image from flipflopflyin.com

The museum is tiny, and mostly consists of little dioramas depicting scenes from the typical lives of the Yámana and Onas peoples. As I pass through, I can’t help but marvel at the smoothness and skill of the modelling. One in particular, an image of people scaling a rock face, strikes me as familiar although I cannot think why.

Then I see it. At the end of the exhibit is an information board about the creators, one of whom is model maker Danielle Versé, best known for her work on the sci-fi epic Dune.

Image from storiesbywilliams.com
Versé working on an ornithopter model.
Image from duneinfo.com

Versé, as it turns out, has worked on models and stage setups for a few iconic Eighties films, including Jaws 3D and Highlander II. Her style has a familiar Eighties vibe and she really excels at depicting other worlds – another of her credentials involves model making for Carl Sagan´s informative science series ´Cosmos´.

After departing the Hollywood scene, Versé has increasingly applied her expertise to exhibitions, museums and cultural work. A result of that was the dioram for this indigenous museum. Currently, she is devoting more of her time to creating her own invented world, ´Gabelandia´.

It seems somehow fitting that the model maker for a film which chronicles the rise of an oppressed indigenous people in a harsh and unforgiving environment would go on to do the same but for an indigenous people in real life. Amazing how what starts with sci-fi becomes reality; it’s something we often say with regards to new inventions, but lovely to see it applies to historical, social and cultural things too.

Sadly, there are very few actual Yámanas left in the world today, as a result of West European colonization, but you can always find them, and Danielle Versé’s faithful models, at the end of the world.


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