How to build a catapult part 3 – Hollywood inspirations

How to build a catapult part 3 – Hollywood inspirations

Bill Gurstelle is your MAKEcation counselor for the make-a-trebuchet Family Challenge. Build a trebuchet and post pictures tagged “MAKEcation” in the MAKE Flickr pool to enter to win a $100 Maker Shed gift certificate!

Has anyone else noticed a lot of movies with trebuchets and other catapults in them? I sure have. For instance, they were the special-effects stars in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, particularly, the Return of the King. They’ve been on TV as well: Fox Sports, the Simpsons, Northern Exposure, PBS Nova, Warner Brother’s cartoons and probably many others.


I built a fairly large and historically accurate trebuchet a couple of years ago. I named it Ludgar, the Warwolf, after the huge trebuchet built by Edward I of England in 1304. Ludgar was really big, accounts say that Edward cut down an entire forest to obtain enough wood.

Here’s my list, admittedly incomplete. If you’ve got more, send ’em to me.

  • Chronicles of Narnia
  • Night at the Museum
  • Kingdom of Heaven
  • Alexander
  • King Arthur
  • LOTR Return of the King
  • Gladiator
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail (I especially like the part of this movie where John Cleese says “Fetchez la vaca” in a cheesy French accent.)
  • Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
  • Robin and Marian
  • Robin Hood Men in Tights
  • The Scorpion King
  • Flesh and Blood (the Rose)
  • Jabberwocky
  • Army of Darkness
  • Timeline
  • Young Einstein
  • Willow
  • Star Wars #6
  • Richie Rich
  • The Messenger
  • Excalibur
  • Joan of Arc
  • Troy
  • El Cid

Timeline was a so so movie but the trebuchet is wonderful. Kingdom of Heaven and Gladiator have excellent battle sequences with catapults. The LOTR movies have well done CGI trebuchets.


4 thoughts on “How to build a catapult part 3 – Hollywood inspirations

  1. rjnerd says:

    For the band “Dirty On Purpose”, in the video for the song “Car, No Driver” I built “The Piano Mover From Hell”. During the video you can see us erecting the machine (in timelapse), and the final few seconds of the video has me pulling the release cable, the piano arcing out the top of the frame, and a tight shot of the piano fragments.

    The design was very different from Bill’s historic machines. It was constructed entirely from steel, and featured a single upright cantilevered design. (so it could be erected without use of a crane). The throwing arm was 7.3 meters (24′) long overall, and the pivot axle was 6 meters (20′) in the air. The counterweight was about 2 tonne of steel I beam. (I admit, we cheated, we only threw the case of a piano, the producer only had budget (and time) for that size of machine)

    This crowd might enjoy seeing (partly) how it got built.

  2. Wilson! says:

    The trebuchet on Northern Exposure (CBS, late 1980s- early 1990s) first got me interested in flinging stuff. IIRC, it was a fixed-counterweight design, and one thing they flung with it was a piano…

    I also read a 1980s or 90s Car & Driver article about Huw Millington (hope I got that right), a British guy who I think consulted on that show. Article included a photo of a very nice pig-shaped imprint in the soil on Millington’s catapult range (the pig was already dead before flinging, PETA).

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William Gurstelle

William Gurstelle is a contributing editor of Make: magazine. His new book, ReMaking History: Early Makers is now available.

View more articles by William Gurstelle


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