Monday, 21 June 2010
Top Five Craft - #2
Ooooo, these last two have been real difficult to sort out which comes where. Have ummed and ahhed and second place goes to this beauty - a classic, original ship, once seen never forgotten.
But the way it came into being was almost as unique...
In an unusual move, designer Roger Murray-Leach was given the assignment of coming up with both the Liberator's exterior and interior. This was flying right in the face of tradition and seems wasn't a popular move with the Special Effects department, who would normally be given the task of coming up with any spacecraft appearance.
Ian Scoones, who supervised all the effects for the first series and a lot of the SFX designs (DO hope the upcoming book gives itself over to a nice chunk for him) had already come up with his own Liberator, only to be told that Roger's version had already been approved.
As far as i know (again, hopefully the new book might shed light) no image of Ian's version exists but it seems it was far more functional than the final version, being remarkably similar to Series 4's Scorpio.
So, Ian had a design that wasn't his but he had to use. In a interview, Ian said that he felt the Liberator was "terribly Eastern, architecturally... you can tell a set designer has designed it rather than somebody into spaceships!" He made one small change though and that was to change the oval rear to a more practical sphere. He then passed the actual building of the ship over to Space Models (already well experienced in SF craft building, having built models for UFO and Space 1999).
Upon taking delivery of the completed ship, Ian then passed it on to Martin Bower, who set about detailing it as the surfaces were pretty bland, giving no sense of scale. Having only two days, Martin did a sterling job, putting the sort of incredibly fine detail onto the surfaces he would become quite rightly regarded for only a couple of years later on "Alien" and then "Outland".
He was also responsible for adding the four red oxide blocks around the nose area and the white stripes on the green sphere - i guess to stop folk thinking (as he and Ian did at first) that the ball was the actual cockpit and the ship was only meant to be about 10 feet long.
Shooting began and it soon became apparent that the model was far too heavy to be flown on wires. Ian again: "There are many ways of flying a model so you don't see the wires, and the Liberator was just a damn difficult thing to fly, whether it was on wires, poles or whatever else." So, Martin built a second smaller version, replicating all the lovely detail in the new scale. There was also a 20 inch version built for long shots using EMA tubing and Perspex.
Another, repetitive problem was the light source in the sphere being left on and melting the ball - needing complete replacement.
Most of series one's effects budget was spent on the first three episodes at Bray Studios (and boy does that show in the later episodes). Ian also filmed several "beauty shots" of the Liberator that were used as stock footage including the above of the ship very moodily lit flying past two planets and a sun.
Many more sequences were filmed at Bray but were never used. Some of the shows directors insisted on using footage they had shot themselves rather this library of existing, never before seen shots, so that "their" episodes were all filmed by them. This resulted in really rather poor scenes, made by BBC folk who had no idea how to light or photograph models properly. The also often made the mistake of using the smaller Liberators that just didn't have the detail of the 3 footer and couldn't bear up to close examination.
When not being used, the 3 footer could be taken apart and stored away. That proved to be time consuming to do and therefore was used less and less as the show progressed -again meaning lesser quality shots being obtained.
You'd think then that, as we went into multiple seasons, that the effects would suffer more and move further away from the excellent, distinctive sequences shot at Bray way back at the start.
Its comes as a suprise then that the definitive Liberator effects shot for me was in "Ultraworld" from Series 3.
They're using the 3 foot model, lit and shot properly, and in a model setting that both complements it and fits right in.
Oh, for the rest of the modelwork in the show to be like this.
And that for me is how i like to remember her - she sailed off into the galaxy, never flew through that glop, never corroded, never blew up and the 3 foot model still exists in pristine condition with fans able to marvel at the design and craftmanship of her at conventions. (typed along to Abba's "I Have A Dream")