Monday, April 14, 2014

Another problematic effect in the 1978 BSG series was the Battlestar Galactica itself. Designed by Ralph McQuarrie with assistance from then-illustrator and now director Joe Johnston to resemble an aircraft carrier, only a single model of the ship was built for Battlestar Galactica. This meant that explosions, damage, and the like could rarely be shown, because such effects would damage their only model!

Here, you can see the poor effects used in the show. This is from the episode "Fire in Space", in which Cylon raiders engage in kamikaze attacks. One hits the bridge, causing much damage and severely injuring Commander Adama. Another hits admiships, creating a huge fire which threatens to destroy the Galactica's power plant -- making the ship unuseable and killing Adama, who is in surgery.

A routine "beauty pass" of the Galatica model was shot, and an "explosion" matted on top of it. The explosion kicks out no debris, creates no light changes on the surface of the ship, and is so transparent (due to the limitations of blue-screen and matte technology at the time) as to be clearly fake. Indeed, video of the scene shows that while the Galactica keeps moving forward -- the explosion is stationary. Oops!

The ship model was built by effects supervisor John Dykstra's company, Apogee, Inc. It was 76 inches long, 31 inches wide, and 12 inches high. The basic model was a metal pipe frame, overlaid by a plywood frame. Acrylic sheets were glued to the frame to form the model's surface. Existing model kits of airplanes, aircraft, cars, and more were torn apart (a cost-cutting measure known as "kit-breaking"), and the pieces glued to the arcylic to created the detailed surface of the ship. The acrylic, except for the windows, was then painted matte grey.

Hundreds of fiber-optic leads were used to illuminate the interior. High-intensity quarter bulbs were installed in the engines to create the "glow" of the ship being under way. Two fans inside the engines kept the quartz bulbs in the rear from overheating. They didn't always work, however: The model caught fire once because of heat from this lights.

The model builders worked on the back of the ship first. They ran out of time, and rushed construction on the front of the Galactica. Thus, the front of the ship is less detailed, has fewer lights, and is generally of a sloppier quality than the back.

Five hidden holes were left in the model. This allowed a motion-control arm to be attached to the ship, so that different sides of the vessel could be filmed. The mounting points were in the front, back, top, bottom, and right landing bay.

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