Top 75 spaceships in movies and TV part 3

You hear me, baby? Hold together...

Continued from PART 2

47: Dark Star – Dark Star (1974) | RETURN TO INDEX

Conceptual designer Ron Cobb – then an official artist for NASA as well as a satirical comic artist – famously sketched out the design for the titular craft of the John Carpenter/Dan O’Bannon cult SF movie on a Pancake House napkin. There’s something rather Star Trek-like about the Dark Star, but it’s also informed by the NASA-ised detail of Kubrick’s 2001. The connection with 1960s ST:TOS is strengthened by the vast white expanse of hull, smooth an aerodynamic curves – and also by the generational remove of the source footage in the opticals, which seem rather similar in quality to many of those in old Trek.

Ad – content continues below

There’s something very exciting about the Ron Cobb sensibility – his technical imagination is grounded in available technology yet just far enough ahead that you feel you can expect his designs in the showrooms within ten years, and the Dark Star falls nicely into the aesthetics at the end of the Apollo age. Greg Jein created the model from later designs by Cobb, though information about the miniature seems hard to come by. Most of the visual effects of the ship moving between solar systems were created by Dan O’Bannon with rostrum animation.

There’s a desktop miniature of the craft on display here. If you want to make a paper model of the craft, just print this jpeg out and follow the instructions! Modeller Ward Shrake has attempted the very challenging curves of the ship. In the commercial world, Stargazer Models’ resin Dark Star kit is tantalising but currently unavailable.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

46: Shuttle – Outland (1981)| RETURN TO INDEX

Peter Hyams’ tale of corruption on a Jupiter mining colony was both enjoyed and criticised for exactly the same reason – it’s basically High Noon in space. But if it’s insubstantial in the canon of sci-fi movies, the sky-high production values make Outland a work of continuing interest, both in the area of set design and miniature work. The only spaceship in the movie is the brutish shuttle that ferries Sean Connery’s putative assassins to the remote Io outpost where a contract has been put out on his life.

Ad – content continues below

The design of the shuttle is a hideous exercise in reductionism. It needs a means of propulsion, space for a payload and something to land on a surface with – and that is absolutely all it has. The shuttle is a flying brick, and if you’re flying on it, you’re definitely flying ‘freight’. The miniature’s introduction is dark and sinister, which – though very effective – is a bit of a shame, since it’s awfully hard to see the wonderful abutment of shapes and the wealth of detail applied by master modelmaker Martin Bower.

Bower provides extensive details and photos about the shuttle at his site. The model contains a lot of brass-etched detail as well as selective kit-bashing, and took four months to build. The powerful landing jets were provided by liquid nitrogen, which kept freezing the vents, and had to be cleared out after each take. The basis of the model is a Perspex box with brass overhangs, and the landing legs are detailed with several layers of parts from the Airfix H.M.S. Belfast model kit. The exit vents for the landing sequence had to be made out of brass, as the liquid nitrogen used would have shattered plastic or lighter materials.

EXCLUSIVE: Martin Bower has provided these full-size pictures of the Outland shuttle.


Check out Martin’s page for loads more background on the model. Philip Harrison (Outland production designer) and Malcolm Middleton (art director) are the likeliest sources for the ship-concept and blueprints supplied to Bower, but this information seems to have been lost to posterity. This design never had a chance in the modelling community, as the ship itself is too shrouded in darkness in the film to form a clear impression of its design.

Ad – content continues below

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

45: Starbug – Red Dwarf (UK TV, 1988-?) | RETURN TO INDEX

Designer Mel Bibby’s cut-size spaceship seemed a refreshing change after the industrial grimness of the Dwarf itself. For one thing, its green finish is just practical enough to give the miniature scale, while also endowing the craft with some of the fun of a toy. This is an arse-heavy comic spaceship without a threatening bone in its metal body, kind of like a fat dog/lizard that wants to play, but also having a bit of fun with a 50s/60s conception of spacecraft. The four landing legs seem permanently in evidence, as if to accentuate the canine aspect, and if it really is a bug, it’s a Disney bug.

The original motion-control model is beautifully worked, though later versions tended towards CGI.

You can get Starbug die-cast, as a kit from Comet Models, a laser-etched block, and as an electronic playset, amongst various other forms.

Ad – content continues below

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

44: Serenity – Firefly (US TV, 2003) | RETURN TO INDEX

The eponymous craft of Joss Whedon’s short-lived space-western is more clearly than most a collaboration. Whedon worked with visual effects supervisor Loni Peristere and production designer Carey Meyer to come up with the ‘Firefly’-class serenity vessel, which was brought to life at Zoic studios. Though many screen sci-fi vessels have played with adjustable rotating thrusters, Serenity gets better value out of them than most, making impressive 180-degree by swinging round the thrusters against each other. That said, the ship has a cobbled-together and non-cohesive look suggestive of quite a few points of input. But, being a spaceship, it’s none the worst for that.

Quantum Mechanix produce a pretty nice set of blueprints, whilst Monsters In Motion sell a mounted 6″ ornament. Chris Doyle has rendered the Serenity in Lego, and Andrew Privett has made a superb Maya recreation of the vessel. If you want to see even more commitment to this oddball craft, check out the Firefly Ship Works.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

Ad – content continues below

43: Alien derelict – Alien (1979) | RETURN TO INDEX

The original Dan O’Bannon/Ron Shusett script had featured two locales for the crew of the Nostromo to explore: first a derelict spaceship whose occupants had been decimated by the xenomorphs, and later a pyramid-style structure in which the deadly eggs are located. This created a number of problems, not least one of budget, since Giger was slated to be creating both designs. But a Giger spaceship and a Giger temple would have created confusion as to the origin of the xenomorphs; why would this stranded spaceship, a spiritual predecessor to the doomed Nostromo, share culture with the pyramid containing the aliens? The original ‘temple environment’ in which the eggs are found suggests genuine civilisation – a second alien race? Combining the locales saved money and skirted around these issues (even if it gave rise to further plotting problems). Excellent analysis of the derelict and its inhabitants are to be found at the Alien Explorations blog, which also chronicles the development of the Giger derelict. In one entry, Ridley Scott is quoted on the design of the alien derelict:

“I took the drawing of the space ship off a section of one of Giger’s paintings, ’cause we couldn’t work out what the hell the spaceship was going to look like, and so I was staring at his book, the Necronomicon, and he’d drawn something up that almost looked like a musical instrument, so I kind of drew around that, and said “what about this, it looks like a giant croissant, but actually it worked, like a boomerang.”

Nothing quite like the derelict has ever been seen in space vehicle design; it’s like a broken hip-bone, with detailing more like scarring than panelling. It presents an unconscious figure of two legs stuck in the air , which lead to the three distinctively vaginal openings into the ship (and if you check out this pic at Alien model-maker Martin Bower’s site, you’ll notice that there are at least five more such disturbing openings on the left aspect of the craft).

In Starlog, September 1979, Giger said: “Time was very short; time and money; too short to make everything good. Peter Voysey built the derelict and we worked very closely together. He was one who could understand my…my visual language. I am happy with the derelict…it was filmed very dark. It’s more imposing to backlight the object. It seems more sinister…the ship is made of plasticine and polystyrene over metal arms.”

Ad – content continues below

According to Martin Bower’s site, the derelict model was sculpted in polystyrene and sat 10 feet in width, adorned with over 100 pounds of plasticine detailing applied by modeller Peter Voysey. The alien landscape on which the model stood is said by Bower to have contained large, rotting cow-bones, causing a considerable smell! A full-size section of the three openings into the ship was built by the Shepperton art department. The most significant pre-production painting of the derelict has actually been lost, and H.R. Giger would like the help of anyone who might know where it is.

I’m afraid my non-existent French can give me no insight into this recreation of the derelict, but the pics provide a rare aspect of the craft. There’s also a spectacularly heavy-looking brass desktop sculpture available in what I can only assume is a very limited edition. Australian company Scale Solutions also produced a kit of the derelict, and you can see a great build of it in progress at this Flicker page.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

42: NSEA Protector – Galaxy Quest (1999)| RETURN TO INDEX

Production designer Linda DeScenna and concept artist Wayne D. Barlowe have had to tread a fine line between parody and lawsuits in this ersatz Enterprise clone, in Dean Parisot’s increasingly popular and slightly barbed love-letter to the cast of Star Trek. In the decal markings for the ship, NTE-3120, the first three letters are known to stand for ‘Not The Enterprise’!

Ad – content continues below

The Protector seems to have combined the saucer shape of the Enterprise front section with the nacelles and blown up the central section to something resembling a galaxy-class luxury cruiser. It’s a nice little mover, even when inexpertly handled.

A 1/1400 scale resin kit is available from Frontier Models, another from Starcrafts, and you can get the Protector for Poser too. Modeller Magic have some great behind-the-scenes shots of the model in greenscreen-land at ILM. According to Galaxy Quest fan site Questarian, the Protector was also available in foam rubber and as a hanging mobile in various PR items created for the film’s release. Those looking for more exact blueprints from which to model should check out the prop blueprints at Questarian (who in fact have really gone to town in attempting to recreate their favourite ship). Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

Starship Odyssey – Ulysses 31 (1981)| RETURN TO INDEX

As well as boasting one of the best opening titles of any kids’ cartoon, this sci-fi update of Homer’s Odyssey also features a rather spectacular spaceship design in the form of the eponymous vehicle. The best guess I have as to the creative force behind the Odyssey is artistic consultant René Borg (though art directors Morishige Suzuki and Shinji Itoh are also very much in the frame), but I stand to be corrected on that. The ship resembles nothing so much as a flat eye-shape moving forward, which is apposite to the premise of the show. Only the jutting cannons affixed to the front give the design any forward movement, and in general it follows the same blatant disregard for aerodynamic convention as the guild transports in David Lynch’s Dune (1984). HL Product sell a spectacular desktop model of the ship, and the design has also attracted the attention of CGI hobbyists. Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

40: Event Horizon – Event Horizon (1997)| RETURN TO INDEX

Ad – content continues below

Paul W. Anderson’s SF chiller seems to divide viewers between lovers and haters, but it’s hard to deny the great design work behind the ‘haunted house in space’. The Event Horizon has the aspect of a space station more than a spaceship, and the smaller Lewis & Clark makes a lengthy and impressive pass of the ship in much the same way that the Palomino checks out the Cygnus at the start of Disney’s The Black Hole. The side wings, though it’s hard to imagine what end they serve on a spaceship so patently intended never to make planetfall, are aggressive and hunched in the style of Alien Resurrection‘s Betty, while the forward nose section is narrow and confined and claustrophobic-looking. This vehicle really is Dracula’s castle in space, and it still makes a hell of an impression, as it were.

EXCLUSIVE: Designer Joseph Bennett talks about the Event Horizon

“[Event Horizon] is a ghost-story in space, so it had to be spooky, and it needed an atmosphere that was beyond a normal spaceship; it needed to be a haunted house, really. The idea was that it had this kind of fusion-core reactor, and we mixed with that this kind of gothic, Notre Dame kind of high gothic sensibility. So it’s quite S&M, it’s quite spikey…the whole thing had this feeling of some kind of giant insect, like a human fly or one of these spindly, scary wasps.”

The full-length interview will be up soon.

You can find more background info on the Event Horizon here. You can walk around it in a great Doom mod. The very talented Andrew Privett has a nice CGI version of the ship (more on that here); an dhere’s a tabletop miniature.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

Ad – content continues below

39: Mars Recovery – Mission To Mars (2000)| RETURN TO INDEX

Production designer Ed Verreux achieved arguably the most convincing and meticulous space vessel since Kubrick for Brian De Palma’s race to the red planet. The rotating section providing a gravitised environment is normally a VFX shortcut to stop directors spending half the movie’s budget shooting scenes on NASA’s ‘vomit comet’ plane (which can simulate zero-G environments for short periods), but when we actually enter the ship and see the sheer amount of work that has gone into backing up this design concept, it’s a jaw-dropping spectacle.

Metropolis interviewed Verreux in 2004, and discussed the design concepts for the movie:

“When I got the job–this movie was for Disney–I did a lot of research. I went to see Louis Friedman at the Planetary Society–he used to be an associate of Carl Sagan’s–and I went to a couple of NASA Web sites. There were several ideas about going to Mars. One of the problems is it’s at least six months to go to Mars, roughly. And we don’t know what people will act like or what zero G will do to them, so we did a lot of research on this. “Originally, the idea was that there would be two parts of the ship. But that was with the first director, Gore Verbinski, who left halfway through the project. So they brought in Brian De Palma, and Brian really wanted to have this big wheel. And I said OK, but Tony Masters did that in 2001. He said, “I don’t care, I want the wheel.” So we ended up making it. “[The wheel] is supposed to be a big gravitational habitat. It was also based on some NASA designs that exist. I used some artistic license, but I was basically trying to stay within sort of a known, NASA-esque look, and say, “OK, maybe in 10-15 years, if they actually did something like this, what would it look like?”

G-Force director Hoyt Yeatman, then visual effects supervisor, deserves credit also for the excellent miniature work on Mission To Mars, as do conceptual designers Syd Mead and Richard Mahon.

Ad – content continues below

The wonderful craft in Mission To Mars doesn’t seem to have made any impression with modellers, who are not that keen to relive a movie that is beautiful, but widely-thought (unfairly, in my opinion) to be a bit dull.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

38: Shuttle – ‘V‘ (1983)| RETURN TO INDEX

Rather like Space:1999’s Eagle Transporter (more on that later), this wonderful 1983 mini-series features a genus of craft that are clearly derived from one popular set of design rules. The common denominator is an elegant white sheen finish, generous allocation of window space (smoked, as with the Eagles, in order to avoid the expensive problem of showing the pilots inside during VFX shots), rounded edges and running-boards that can only have the most rudimentary effect as wings. The fighters are rather exciting, but it’s the wider-bodied transports that really display some art deco splendour.

The miniatures are reported to have been modelled by veteran VFX miniature wizard Greg Jein, whilst Chuck Davis’s original production sketches of the shuttle and derivated designs are available [PDF] at the site of ‘V’ creator Kenneth J. Johnson.

Ad – content continues below

EXCLUSIVE: Kenneth J. Johnson provided us with some background photos and info on the visitor shuttle fleet:

“Chuck Davis, production designer, crafted the ships over a weekend. The ships were segmented so we could piece them together into different vehicles. The smallest was the fighter and the longest (65 feet) was the tanker. Here are some photos… “

“…and the used car lot…”

Click here to read our full-length interview with Kenneth J. Johnson

The best example of a toy based on these designs is actually in the original mini-series itself, when the son of Mike Donovan is seen playing with a toy ‘visitor’ shuttle during the evil lizards’ deceptive charm offensive on Earth. Action figures were made for the show, and one set featured a Visitor fighter, but Kenneth Johnson’s series is, unfortunately, the very hardest to Google of any sci-fi franchise, and I’d welcome any additional information on toys or models from the show. Small Artworks have produced excellent replicas made (and improved) from moulds for the original series miniatures. A1/72 scale Visitors’ Transport was manufactured as a basic garage kit in the 1990s.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

Ad – content continues below

37: United Planets Cruiser C-57D – Forbidden Planet (1956) | RETURN TO INDEX

In the end it’s the hidden tricks that a cinematic saucer has up its sleeve that make the difference, and the C-57D has some doozies. In basic flight, it’s a pretty vanilla ‘saucer-ship’; some of the elegantly orchestrated shots of the ship approaching Altair admittedly prefigure the ‘cosmic ballet’ created by Kubrick and Trumbull for 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it’s only when the C-57D comes to land on Altair that our jaws truly begin to drop: a central column descends from the undercarriage whilst the ship hovers on a spectacular suspensor beam. Once the landing-column is down and the ship secure, two elegant walkways cut out of the ship towards the surface. A tremendous amount of thought and imagination has gone into these concepts, and the sequence still holds up today.

Three miniatures were made of the C-57D, at 22, 44 and 88 inches, the latter model weighing 300 pounds, and the entire budget for the three models a substantial (in 1955) $20,000. The original hero miniature was sold at auction by MGM in 1970, and was thereafter believed lost. However it turned up in auction again in recent years, which happy event revealed many details of the miniature’s construction. The model is made of wood, fibreglass and steel, with an landing column that extends out from the body of the ship on servo-mechanisms, along with the two exit ramps. The one part of the ship that had not survived the years was the Perspex top dome, which was recreated for auction from blueprints. The model sold for over $74,000 to an unnamed collector in late 2008.

In the extras on 2008’s special DVD release, John Landis said of the C-57D: “That flying saucer was the best spaceship, really, until 2001. It was an incredibly clear and crisp and sharp and indelible image.”

There’s a heavy-duty resin kit available from Skyhook, a nice C-57D diorama at Frontier Models, and Polar Lights also produced a fine model kit of the C-57D in 2001 (due for re-issue in August of 2009), of which there’s a really great build walkthrough here. In the CGI hobbyist world, there’s a nice effort over at 3dVia. You can even buy the blueprints for the ship.

Ad – content continues below

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

36. Romulan Warbird (Deridex class) – Star Trek: The Next Generation (US TV, 1987) | RETURN TO INDEX

TNG‘s Romulan nemesis is a formidable and very aggressive, Y-chromosome ship. You get the impression, in fact, of something very avian, with the huge and sharp head so far forward that it seems it can see through 360 degrees. The impression of a visored face at the helm conveys a sense of the Roman, errr, Romulan empire very well, and, well, you just feel plain dominated even looking at the damn thing. Andrew Probert designed the Deridex as a swansong for his TNG contributions, and it was built by Greg Jein. Memory Alpha has the interesting tale of how a kit-bash of the Deridex was sold back to the producers of Enterprisefor recreation in CGI as a Mazarite warship.

AMT do a seriously villainous Star Trek adversary set featuring the Warbird, the Ferengi Marauder and the Klingon Bird of Prey. Check out Starship Modellers for a nice build of the Deridex.

Info: Fictional Life | IMDB |

Click here for part 4 of the list…

Click here for a list of ALL the lists at Den Of Geek...