Top 75 spaceships in movies and TV part 2

News Martin Anderson 15 Jul 2009 - 17:20
You hear me, baby? Hold together...

Continued from PART 1

60: Andorian Kumari class warship - Star Trek: Enterprise (US TV, 2001-05)| RETURN TO INDEX

We're obviously going to be hearing a great deal about Star Trek and its vast TV and cinematic branches in this list - there's no franchise anywhere that has contributed more fictional spaceships to the culture. Yet the prematurely-ended Enterprise (US TV, 2001-2003) is particularly well-represented here, since production designers Herman F. Zimmerman and Doug Drexler seem to have made a real effort to break away from the standard shapes of Trek, or at least do something more exciting with them. The fuselage has a beautiful forward motion which is followed through with avian wing design and an 'armed-to-the-teeth' aesthetic in the form of the end and interstitial pods on the wings themselves.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

59: Klaatu's ship - The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951)| RETURN TO INDEX

It didn't seem reasonable to me to over-fill this list with saucers; at the end of the day, it's an elegant but very basic design, and it's no coincidence that car hubcaps were used in some of the most famous UFO hoaxes of the 40s and 50s. However the spacecraft in which Michael Rennie makes his descent to Earth in Robert Wise's classic SF thriller has some beautiful innovations, and honours its art deco roots by the complementary design of the robot sentinel Gort.

The on-set spacecraft was constructed as a 100-foot wide three-quarter set, a section of which could rotate to provide the illusion that the fabric of the craft had simply slid open like mercury. In order to provide a 'seamless split', putty was inserted and painted at the join between the two sections, providing an apparently magical division through which a silver ramp was pushed for Rennie to disembark. The eight-foot model used in the optical effects was created by Fred Sersen, L.B. Abbott, Emil Kosa and Ray Kellogg, and can still be seen proudly sitting next to a Return Of The Jedi speeder bike at the museum of the American Film Institute in Orlando, Florida. The miniature was used both in optical composites, and as a hanging-miniature on location, wherein it was positioned close to a camera pointing at the cordoned-off Washington crowd set. This was necessary for certain angles, as the full-size set necessarily lacked a rear section, due to the need for the moving 'slice' to rotate round when the doors opened.

Gort himself has proved a cult toy and maquette over the years, rather overshadowing the spacecraft itself, but at least one person has mocked up it up in a diorama.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

58: Space Cruiser Yamato - Star Blazers/Spaceship Yamato (1974-80)| RETURN TO INDEX

All right, the Yamato appears to be a conventional 20th-century marine destroyer lightly adapted to space travel, and that fact constitutes both what's wrong and right about the appeal of the ship. The original 1970s Japanese anime series Space Battleship Yamato arrived in the west as the dubbed Starblazers or Space Cruiser Yamato, and went on to have a huge influence on the anime that would follow it.

The appeal of the ship itself lies both in those long, knife-life curves and the jutting sections of raw technology that stick out of it in selected areas, making it agreeable for pretty much the same reasons as its ocean-going counterpart. Where a rudder might be, a slightly smaller mirroring occurs of the bridge-section above. It's absolutely armed to the teeth too.

You can get a rather nice injection kit (Japanese site), and the EDF Drawing board, dedicated to the show in its various forms, has some good blueprints and instructions to make a Yamato-style cruiser.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

57: Eurosec rocket - Doppelgänger (aka Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun, 1969) | RETURN TO INDEX

The spacecraft in Gerry Anderson's first (and to date only) dedicated cinematic outing has so many components and stages that it's difficult to know what to concentrate on. The Phoenix is the most familiar, Apollo-like multi-stage launch design, most of which is jettisoned leaving Earth's atmosphere. The module that remains is beautifully ergonomic without losing too much NASA-ness, whilst atmospheric daughter-craft the Dove is just a beautiful fusion of JPL gloss with classic lines designed to smooth out a drop from orbit. Of course the Derek Meddings miniatures are flawless as well as beautifully designed, with the Dove a particularly elegant and convincingly-engineered craft. The one thing that slightly spoils the conceit is narrative rather than ergonomic: having needed Apollo-level separation to depart 'Earth 1' in Doppelganger, the Dove is somehow able to just lift off like a Harrier and zoom into the stratosphere when departing Earth 2!

Derek Meddings launched more payloads than Houston in his many years in visual effects, and the ascent of the Phoenix in Doppelganger was not rivalled until Meddings own work on Moonraker in 1979, many years before CGI came on the scene.

EXCLUSIVE: 'Doppelganger' Writer and producer Gerry Anderson talks about the late Derek Meddings' design for the spacecraft of Doppelganger:

"The Eurosec rocket design was totally Derek Meddings'. We were making stuff where all the vehicles were miniature, and in this particular case Derek - in his own words - wanted to 'shoot it against God's sky'. The rocket was about six feet high, and the shots were absolutely spectacular. Even today I think it's amazing, and I think that was Derek doing absolutely his best work."

Click here for the full-length, exclusive interview with Gerry Anderson.

The Eurosec rocket doesn't seem ever to have been made available in model form. The movie was part of a move towards adult sc-fi by Gerry Anderson, as signalled by the darker tones of UFO (UK TV 1970), so we'll just have to enjoy what was shot. You can find out more about the vehicles here.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

56: Icarus - Planet Of The Apes(1968) | RETURN TO INDEX

Designed by Bill Creber, the Icarus is the spaceship that bought sole surviving astronaut Charlton Heston back to Earth (as it transpired) to face up to his new simian rulers. The ship is a delightful combination of classic retro-styling (check out the 'Flash Gordon' fins) and pure-white NASA sensibility. The wing styling suggests that the vehicle was intended as a free-landing space-shuttle breed of ship, and that its ignominious landing in water, though the preferred method for NASA missions at the time, is not what it was designed for.

In an interview with Sci-Fi And Fantasy Models magazine, Bill Creber spoke of the design and execution of the Icarus:

"We wanted something that wasn't just a capsule. So as I looked around, I noticed this sort of 'paraglider' idea, and that seemed a bit more futuristic. We hit on our initial design and just carried it through to completion. We did a couple of sketches of how it would look floating...we didn't spend a lot of time designing it. There wasn't much time to get it thought out. We just tried to emulate what NASA was doing back then...I think it was Constantine Moros - a Russian model builder - who built the original spaceship maquette. It was about 12" tall, half-inch to the foot."

There's a detailed description of the state of the 'practical' Icarus in the 1970s here, which recounts just how solidly built the location prop was. At one point it may have been intended to actually drop the mock-up into Lake Powell, where the 'crash' sequence was filmed, and hence the prop is described as boasting "two layers of one sixteenth sheet steel for skin", rather than the more usual plywood and sealing-wax arrangement.

The spacecraft in Apes is never actually named in the movie or the script; the rather poetic moniker was applied later by fan Larry Evans. Cloudster.com has just about everything you could ever want to know about both the practical and miniature Icarus, in the form of a scanned article from sci-fi and fantasy models, noting also certain inconsistencies in detail between the full-sized and miniature versions. There's even more detail on the ship at an ancillary article on that site. Phil Broad has modelled the Icarus in CGI too.

Wilco models produced an Icarus kit in 2004, and notable sci-fi modeller Mateen Greenway created an Icarus mesh too (direct image here). Here's another replica by Alberto Lopez.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB | TV Icarus |

55: Alien spacecraft - Flight Of The Navigator (1986)| RETURN TO INDEX

Director Randall Kleiser and his visual-effects wiz brother Jeff provided a memorable mirrored spaceship for Disney's tale of a kid who is taken forward in time by a well-meaning but rather mischievous automated alien spaceship. The shape-shifting craft proves once again that silver and art deco go together just beautifully, and the entire dynamic seems linked in with the chrome age of the 1950s. It's really a stunning design, originated from production designer Bill Creber.

Wavefront technologies, destined for an important role in the transition to CGI effects, provided part of the early software, but specialised reflection-mapping programs were also created by Jeff Kleiser and Omnibus Computer Animation. The effect of the 'melting steps' was created by stop-motion replacement models, but everything else to do with the VFX version of the ship was way out on the cutting edge, providing Hollywood with its first 'photo-real' spaceships in the wake of the pioneering work done on The Last Starfighter a short time earlier.


EXCLUSIVE:
Visual effects supervisor Jeff Kleiser talks exclusively to us about the ground-breaking CGI on Flight Of The Navigator...

"The design of the spaceship came from the production designer, Bill Creber, and since the ship in the story could change shape from a bulbous slow speed shape to a sleek high speed shape, Bill designed two models that we used to digitize the two shapes, and then reorder the polygons so both shapes had identical topology. Then we could interpolate from one to the other and effect the shape shifting for the film. The idea of shape shifting also arose back at Digital Effects when Randal was visiting our studio and we showed him examples of objects interpolating from one shape into another.

"Omnibus was using Wavefront Technologies software as their animation package running on a VAX, and we were able to digitize moving video resolution images from videotape that had been transferred from the background film plates in which the spaceship was to be seen. These images were then mapped frame by frame onto the animated spaceship scanned onto 35mm film and composited optically over the film background plates. To render the spaceship and get it onto film (along with a matte for the optical printing department), they had their own rendering software running on a prototype “supercomputer” called the Foonly F-1, which had formerly been used by Information International, Inc to drive their film recorders. The Foonly had very little disk space, so we had to render on the fly and send the data directly to the film recorder as it was being computed. That meant we had no way of reshooting a scene other than re-rendering it from scratch each time. Coupled with the fact that the Foonly would randomly crash five or six times a day, we had a very shaky and spooky production pipeline. As we approached the deadline for the movie, we wanted to give ourselves more of a chance of completion, so Bob Hoffman went down to UC San Diego and ported the rendering software onto a Cray XMP (or something like that) at the San Diego Supercomputer Centre. This gave us a second rendering pipeline that turned out to be critical in completing on time..."

Click here for the full and exclusive interview with Jeff Kleiser.

You can still see the full-size on-set version of the spaceship at the MGM backlot at Walt Disney World in Florida. The design doesn't seem to have hit the hobbyist world much, though there's a FotN painting here, and Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate structure at AT&T Plaza at Millennium Park, Chicago, is strangely familiar...

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

54: Pod - Planet Of The Apes (2001)| RETURN TO INDEX

We'll not let the awfulness of the surrounding movie detract from the lush lines of this petite and elegant little spacecraft in Tim Burton's disastrous re-take on the 1968 classic. Production designer Rick Heinrichs pre-empts the Macintosh/WALL-E obsession with white and pure, clean surfaces and lines in this engaging shape that shares a little DNA with the classiest early work of Ron Cobb. It's about as unfit for the purpose as could be, with an enormous unshielded visor that couldn't possibly stand up to atmospheric re-entry, and barely any room for a single occupant, never mind the considerable engines that it would need to break orbit. This design is basically a surface-only runabout that's been seconded into space-work, but it is beautifully trimmed with some NASA-esque details that make you wonder if it actually could take off...

The lack of success of the movie kept this design largely away from the hobbyist community, but the shape proved far too tempting for toy manufacturers to resist.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

53: Dalek saucer - Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 (1966) | RETURN TO INDEX

Only a British design sensibility could have come up with the uniquely homely alien invasion craft of this second cinematic Doctor Who outing with Peter Cushing in the central role. Just look at those rounded-off edges and frosted glass panelling - wouldn't that look at home in the Great Exhibition of 1851? Can't you just see yourself pouring a nice hot cup of tea out of it? Or splitting it open and toasting a crumpet in it on some grey morning in Skegness? It's gorgeously hideous, as if the metallic nasties had run out of money for space vessels in 1949 and were making do and mending.

Find out more about the Dalek saucer and its descendents at this Doctor Who site. Meantime, there are publicity stills from 2150 here. Illustrator Daryl Joyce has depicted the 2150 saucer, with a particularly nice example here. It's a terrible shame, but the lack of success of this movie seems to have led to an utter absence of this 'knitting ship' in any shape or form, and a search on the hobbyist communities yields nothing either.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

52: Geonosis Solar Sailor - Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones (2002) | RETURN TO INDEX

The idea of sailing between planets on the 'solar winds' has usually been relegated to the covers of SF novels, as perhaps too esoteric a notion to include in expensive sci-fi movies. But having systematically trawled through every spaceship design conceit available (and invented others on the way), Lucasfilm finally decided to give the concept a cinematic airing in Attack Of The Clones. Count Dooku's Punworcca 116-class interstellar sloop initially seems little more substantial than one of the droid fighters seen elsewhere in the prequel trilogy, until (in a rather 007-like flourish), it triples its size at the flick of a button, unfurling a gorgeous reflective sail/parachute design to help the evil count speed away from his noble pursuers.

Production designer Gavin Bocquet was unable to chat to us about the vehicle due to legal considerations with Lucasfilm, but full credit to him and his amazing team of concept artists for making space travel elegant again!

It's a no-brainer that the core section of the ship is available in Lego (though that's hardly the ideal medium to express the elegance of the design). You can find out more regarding the concept for the ship in this article with Cross Sections author and compiler Curtis Saxon at force.net.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

51: Guild transporter - Dune (1984) | RETURN TO INDEX

I was happy to chat a little with sci-fi and fantasy illustrator Chris Foss for this list, though not about Dune, as the hugely influential work he did on Jodorowsky's lost version of the Frank Herbert epic in the mid-70s never officially had any influence on the David Lynch version. But this is utter nonsense if one only looks at the spice-mining vehicles during the 'worm-attack' sequence; those spherical wheels are pure Foss, as is the highly Egyptian influence of the Atreides transports that ferry the doomed clan to the interdimensional 'mothership' early in the film. That's not to the discredit of production designer Anthony Masters, who created quite an impression by taking a fairly aerodynamic Flash Gordon-style ship and turning it on its side until it seemed impossible that it would fly.

The scene of the fleet of transports queuing up into the heighliner for the journey to Arrakis remains spell-binding and incredibly graceful, with a sense of the exotic and of immense scale. Master model-maker Emilio Ruiz del Río was behind most of Dune's impressive miniatures, and the superb duneinfo.com has a fantastic insight and great behind-the-scenes photos of the master at work on the enormous miniature used as a 'hanging miniature' in the reception sequence.

Del Rio discusses the shot at the site: "The scale model was to complete a wide shot of the arrival of the Duke Leto Atreides and his family, in a spaceship. For this scene the door of the ship with its stairs was constructed in parking lot of the studio; when the door opens the travellers exit. In addition a portion of ground in front of the stairs was made, where there are the people that welcome them. The scale model included all the rest of the ship, joining with the portion of the ship-door, and in addition the rest to floor that joins with the real floor at the foot of the stairs, where there are several rows of 7 centimetres high troops in formation. Behind they appeared other ten ships, those that have come giving escort to the Duke Leto, and at the bottom, the steep strong wall is already seen that it protects to them of the desert. "The construction of this ship was quite complicated...

"The dolls were of latex. Once we decided the scale of the set, the size was calculated so to have them match with the set. One in clay was modelled, from which a mold took control of stucco and it filled up of latex. As there were lots of dolls, enough molds were prepared to reproduce them in bulk. The scale model caught people's attention, and they christen my system of scale models 'Emiliós miniature', and they still call them that today."

The use of the huge models as hanging miniatures during the official reception on Arrakis ranks as one of the best employments ever of this venerable technique. In March of 2009 several of the original shooting miniatures from the film were sold on eBay, including the beautifully industrial aerial tram, the Foss-esque spice harvester and a medium-size miniature of the Guild transporter (click here for pics, and scroll down a bit). Well, Dune proved no Star Wars, and the Revell kit of the Atreides transport was not to be (picture of the mocked-up model box during prototyping).

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

50: Klingon Deuterium Tanker - Enterprise (US TV, 2001-2005)| RETURN TO INDEX

Production designer John Eaves, no stranger to the Star Trek universe, managed to inject some new excitement into the already thrilling basic configuration of Klingon vessels for the endlessly innovative Star Trek Enterprise. There's an industrial griminess and sense of motorway-wear on this charming yet menacing ship, which wears its cargo rather dangerously on the outside (though knowing the Klingons, it'd be even more dangerous to make their volatile loads hard to jettison in an emergency). The sense of a 'forward station' that emerges in (chronologically) later Klingon craft is scarified here for a superior sense of aerodynamics.

There's a PDF of the basic layout of the tanker here, whilst you can find out a bit more about the ship's fictional Captain Korok here, and the taxonomy of Klingon spaceship design here. The Bird Of Prey originated in Star Trek III (which we'll meet again later) has proved to have the edge over the D5 tanker in terms of being an attractive modelling proposition, though.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

49: Thunderbird 3 - Thunderbirds (1965)| RETURN TO INDEX

Alan Tracey, despite having one of the most exciting-looking Thunderbirds, was unfortunately relegated to the role of 'designated-driver', getting to fly usually only whenever lonely brother John needed some supplies up in the space-outpost of Thunderbird 5. Thus this enormously exciting and dynamic-looking craft is effectively nothing more than a space-shuttle; but that doesn't detract from its colour, sleek lines or the sheer dynamism of its launches. Additionally it had one of the most comfortable automated-entries of any Gerry Anderson series: how many of us might not occasionally fancy getting all the way to work without ever getting off our sofas?


EXCLUSIVE:
Gerry Anderson talks exclusively to us about International Rescue's space-rocket:

"Thunderbird 3 was conventional science-thinking inasmuch as it took off vertically. And of course it took off from a silo, which was apparently next to a nice-looking little house. I can't prove this, because Derek Meddings is no longer with us. but I think in those days he probably would have designed a rocket as we know today, with a pointed nose-cone and engines at the base, but he then wanted to make it look different to all the other space-ships in the world, so he added the vertical wings. That was not science-fiction so much as making it an attractive vehicle."

Click here for the full-length, exclusive interview with Gerry Anderson.

Thunderbird 3 was produced as a moderately flimsy plastic toy in the late sixties, and due to the fragile nature of its side-struts, it was prone to damage. Rocket enthusiast Darren J. Longhorn actually got his own Thunderbird 3 into the air, and a spectacularly faithful build it is too (you can download the specs of his project as a Rocksim file). You can see various hobbyist CGI recreations of the big orange bird here (scroll down a bit), and Mateen Greenway has of course put his skills to a CGI recreation too. Particularly cool is a diorama of the Tracey rocket in situ in the launch silo, though the product itself seems unavailable. Granada Ventures (who own copyright on all Gerry Anderson TV shows) seem to have taken many of the free meshes down quite aggressively, but they're probably still in orbit somewhere...

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

48: Space Cowboy's ship - Battle Beyond The Stars (1980)| RETURN TO INDEX

For a film absolutely chock full of spaceships of wildly varying designs, there aren't that many memorable ones in Battle Beyond The Stars. 'Nell' is memorable of course, but only because it may be the only spaceship in movie history with breasts. The rest are generally creative off-cuts from the general SF aesthetic surrounding Star Wars in the period. George Peppard's ride is a bit different, however. Like Slave 1 from the Star Wars universe (of which more later), Space Cowboy's 'trucker'-style vessel upends itself to land, which is rather neat. It also tones down the fantastic stylings of the other craft to show a spaceship with some kind of grounding in space-flight as we know it. It has a blocky front that conveys the trucker idea without going absurdly over-representative, as with Dennis Hopper's ride in Space Truckers (though Peppard isn't carrying anything as hilarious as the 'square pigs' in that movie).

As for the provenance of the spaceship design, it's hard to say - the film has no production designers listed, though it does have two 'art directors' in the form of Charles Breen and bigwig-to-be James Cameron (check waaay towards the end of this list to see in what esteem I hold this man as a spaceship creator). For a film this ambitious, even the legendary (for Roger Corman) ground-breaking $2 million budget wasn't going to go far, so in the absence of better information, I'm going to be chalking this rather tasty design up to Mr. Cameron, who seems to have acted as de facto production designer and special effects wiz on the movie.

I have never come across any toys. models or hobbyist projects to do with BBtS, and would be glad to hear of any regarding Space Cowboy's ship.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

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