Monday 27 March 2017

Star Wars At 40 (pop-up 1) - Millennium Falcon

I have long been a fan of The Millennium Falcon (as I mentioned here) and even though I wrote a post about it before (in 2014, which you can read here), I decided I couldn’t let my on-going Star Wars At 40 celebration slip by without further mention of the ship that “made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs.”

Colin Cantwell (left) & George Lucas.  A Y-Wing model is on the bench
Colin Cantwell was one of the first designers George Lucas brought onto the project, starting a couple of weeks before Ralph McQuarrie.  Cantwell, who had worked with Stanley Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), was hired to create preliminary models of spaceships and vehicles - the Y-Wing, X-Wing, Luke’s landspeeder, the Death Star, the Jawas Sandcrawler as well as the Blockade Runner and what was then called ‘the pirate ship’.  At one of their meetings, Lucas - working on his usual yellow lined legal pad - made a series of sketches, the last of which is labelled ‘Pirate Ship’ though the image could also clearly be the ‘Rebel Blockade Runner’.
George Lucas' sketch
“Colin deserves a lot of credit for the initial vision of what ‘A New Hope’ looked like, in forms of its hardware,” said Joe Johnston, who came aboard the project later as effects illustrator and designer.

Both Ralph McQuarrie and Johnston worked on the ship - adding an engine cluster, the radar dish and a rounded cockpit - before the design was signed off and blueprints made, for both the set construction team at Elstree Studios in England and the modelmaking department at ILM, led by Grant McCune.

In late 1975, the Gerry Anderson TV show Space: 1999 appeared on British television, featuring a ship called The Eagle Transporter.  When Lucas, working in England at the time, saw it, he realised the pirate ship design looked very similar and, not wanting to appear to have lifted the idea from TV, immediately insisted the pirate ship should look very different.
left - the Eagle Transporter - right - Ralph McQuarrie's production painting featuring the original pirate ship
“They were all very upset that I changed the design because they had just finished building the other pirate starship,” Lucas says. “They had spent an enormous amount of money and time building that other ship, and I threw it out.  It’s one of those decisions that was very costly, but I felt that we really needed the individuality and personality of a better ship.”

Grant McCune was quoted as saying the model cost upwards of $25,000 because “it got billed for everything, it was seven feet long and had four hundred cycles of electronics going through it.”  Rather than scrap it altogether, it was redesigned into the Blockade Runner, with one of the key changes being the hammerhead-style cockpit.

Lucas sat down with Joe Johnston and John Dykstra at ILM to come up with new ideas for the pirate ship.  Their final decision was described by Grant McCune as “the round Porkburger” (a nickname that stuck in the modelshop for a while) and there is a popular urban myth that George Lucas himself came up with it, basing the design on his favourite lunch - as a half-eaten hamburger with an olive on a toothpick.  Johnston told Starlog magazine, “it was the quickest [design] we’ve ever done. The Falcon was designed in one day. We took some components from the blockade runner, like the cockpit, and stuck it on the side of a big dish with some mandibles out in front.”  There is a suggestion that since the full-size version had already started construction - with extremely tight costs - the new design apparently had to use the existing cockpit, another reason for the change to the Blockade Runner.
one of Joe Johnston's original drawings
“The flying hamburger was my favourite design,” Lucas says in The Making of Star Wars, by J.W. Rinzler.  “I wanted something really off the wall, since it was the key ship in the movie; I wanted something with a lot more personality. I thought of the design on the airplane, flying back from London: a hamburger. I didn’t want it to be a flying saucer, but I wanted to have something with a radial shape that would be completely different from anything else.”

The shooting schedule at ILM meant McCune and his team didn’t have a lot of time to construct the new model, so Johnston had to work fast.  “I spent about a day doing a series of very rough sketches,” he wrote on his Facebook page, “that soon evolved toward a disk-shaped hull with a long horizontal slot-shaped engine at the back instead of the traditional round nacelles seen on almost every other ship.”  He showed Lucas his sketches and they “agreed on the general direction, with the offset cockpit and the raised ‘waistline’ hexagonal structures, opposing gun ports and asymmetric details like the radar dish. Because of the time crunch there weren’t a lot of drawings done after this point, as the construction needed to get under way [and] I worked with the model builders to monitor the design as the ship began to take shape.  Even though the ship is supposed to be a ‘spice freighter’ I didn’t want the shape to give any indication of its purpose. It’s a big hot rod pure and simple.”
George Lucas looks over the shell of the pirate ship with Bill Welch
from left - George Lucas, Bill Welch, Jamie Shourt

The key model of the Millennium Falcon was 5 feet long.  Lorne Peterson, in his book Sculpting A Galaxy, wrote that it was made of a “four-foot ‘clamshell’ with two shallow hemispheres of wood and steel covered by two clear acrylic domes.  Because the form was so heavy, lightening holes were cut into the inner structure to help shed weight.  “Although two people could move it,” he wrote, “four were needed to best avoid any disastrous - and costly - crashes.”

Almost all of the modelshop team worked on the Falcon at one point with Peterson himself taking care of the rear quarter, the semicircle that housed the Falcon’s engine banks.  “These were made of oxidised brass louvered screens,” he wrote.  “The back slot of the Falcon was capped with a piece of high-heat milk glass, which would diffuse the glow of the multiple six-inch bar halogens.  Some of the surface detailing was a bit of a cheat as well.  The Falcon’s skin was a greeblie-rich cluster of kitbashed detail.  We used model Ferrari and tank parts to fill in what we called the waistband - the sandwich filling between the top and bottom halves of the ship.”
from left - Steve Gawley, Lorne Peterson and Joe Johnston work on the underside of the Falcon
Paul Huston (left) and Dave Grell 'kit bashing' the Falcon.  Look at all those Tamiya boxes!
‘Greeblie’ was a term Lucas coined, a design aesthetic of fine detailing (in models, sets and props) that would make the object appear complex and visually interesting.  John Dykstra introduced a technique to ILM that he’d used before called kitbashing where pieces from dozens of different model kits were used, applying them as if they had a purpose, knowing they would be unrecognisable to most.

The Industrial Light & Magic building at the time was in Van Nuys, California and located close to a model-kit distributor.  The team bought lots of packs from them, filling the shelves of their model shop with kits made by Revell, Tamiya and Monogram.  “We had a relationship,” said modelmaker Steve Gawley, “where we bought ‘returns’ that maybe had a part missing - chances are we wouldn’t need that part anyway. We’d get tremendous discounts on that kind of thing.”

It was quickly discovered that the best kits to use were those of World War Two vehicles because they were less recognisable, unlike car parts which most people see every day.  The hull of the Falcon is detailed with pieces of Panther and Tiger tanks, Messerschmitt 109 fighters, the Krupp K5 rail cannon and many more.

powered by Cummins!
With the model completed, the Falcon was then ready for action.  Mounted on a blue pole, it was filmed on stage by the Dykstraflex motion-control system, where the camera moves around the model on rails to give the impression of on-screen movement.
Lifting the model ready for filming (from left) John Dykstra, Joe Johnston, Richard Edlund, uknown, Steve Gawley (back to camera)
Grant McCune adjusts the model as it's mounted ready for filming.  Richard Edlund (far left) programmes the Dykstraflex, Steve Gawley (centre) looks worried the model might fall off
Using the Dykstraflex system to shoot the Falcon against blue screen
A major hit, the model was revamped for The Empire Strikes Back (1980) since the 5-foot version didn’t allow for as much versatility whilst filming.  The new model was 32 inches long and became the ‘definitive’ version of the ship, used for Return Of The Jedi (1983) and the Special Edition re-issue of Star Wars (1997).
Mark Hamill takes a close look at the model

The Making of Star Wars: The Definitive Story Behind the Original Film, by J.W. Rinzler
Sculpting a Galaxy: Inside the "Star Wars" Model Shop, by Lorne Peterson
Joe Johnston Sketchbook on Facebook

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here

Monday 20 March 2017

The Little Gift, by Stephen Volk (book review with Q&A)

In a new edition of the occasional series, I want to tell you about a book that I've read and loved, which I think adds to the genre and that I think you'll enjoy if you're a fan.

THE NOCTURNAL SCAMPERING invariably signals death. I try to shut it out. The cat might be chasing a scrap of paper or a ball of silver foil across the bare floorboards downstairs, say a discarded chocolate wrapper courtesy of my wife, who likes providing it with impromptu playthings. I tell myself it isn’t necessarily toying with something living, but my stomach tightens.

The Little Gift never does quite what you expect of it.  It opens with comfortable domestic life - a married couple hear the family cat bring a bird into the kitchen - that quietly sours, setting the scene for what comes later.  Superbly structured, it’s very difficult to discuss the plot without giving too much away and this is far too clever (and powerful) a story to do that.

Reflecting on his past, the narrator recalls an event that had the potential to change a lot of lives and then explores the way his decision - and those made by other people - ripple through time and his family.  Volk pulls off a very clever trick, where one of the key plot points doesn’t even happen to the narrator - he’s not there, he has nothing to do with it - but the devastating effects, which he can’t discuss with his wife or anyone else, are beautifully reflected in his thinking.  Carefully paced, with some wonderfully understated dialogue, there’s a kind of stark beauty to the writing that makes certain lines and phrases sing off the page.  Of the narrators new friend, Ghislaine, she is described with “parallel lines corrugated her forehead, which I found inexplicably sexy.  In contrast to her dingy tan, her hair was grubby blonde, in big strands she’d tuck behind her ears every few seconds, a side effect of shyness I’d come to learn.”  On surveying the carnage in the kitchen, “dark commas are strewn over every inch of the room” while a furtive affair is seen “in the vast, featureless but immaculately landscaped car park”.  And the promise of a new romance, the excitement of lust to come which still remains just out of your grasp is perfectly captured - “She kissed me, this time on the lips.  I was thrown when it lasted long, sweet seconds before we separated.”

The Little Gift is a dark novella, both in the way it describes a shared life beginning to unravel as well as the incident that happens “off-stage”, that never reads as less than realistic, but which also pushes at the limits of what the reader might expect, introducing doubt and tension into apparently throwaway sentences.  Filled with tension, love for the family and the promise of what might have been, as well as the cold tug of grief and shock, this is an excellent novella that I highly recommend.

At World Fantasy Brighton, November 2013 
(from left) - Charles Prepolec, Stephen Volk and me
I've known Stephen Volk for a few years now and like him a great deal - a fan of the horror genre, he's smart and witty and good company.  He's also a terrific writer, very supportive of the small press, who not only agreed to appear in my own anthology Anatomy Of Death (with The Arse-Licker), but also beat me to the BFS Best Novella Award in 2015 with Newspaper Heart (and if you have to lose, you might as well do so to Stephen Volk).

I thought it'd be fun to ask him some questions about the novella and here's what he had to say.

MW:  Where did The Little Gift come from?
SV:  It came simply from the image of the dead bird. Our cat often brings in dead birds and mice. It has the pure animal instinct to kill, and I wanted to riff off that into the wider idea of predators and, down the grey scale, the so-called normal relationships between men and women.

MW:  The novella seems to be a preferred length of yours, what do you like so much about it?
SV:  It didn’t start out as a novella, it grew from a short story into a longer one (same with many of my novellas, in fact). Generally, I just see how the story evolves, length-wise. Nobody is asking me to write these and nobody is giving me a deadline or word count. Yes, I could have written this as a 80,000 word novel but I don’t think I would have gained anything. Pitching and structuring a novel is entirely different, bulkier, more substantial in terms of the market and visibility, but in creative terms I like to think a good novella has everything a good novel has. Like it’s a novel shrunk down, condensed, but the intensity remains and nothing is wasted.  

MW:  Do you partition your working day, to differentiate between screenwriting, novellas and short stories?
SV:  No. I have a “To Do” list in order of priorities which I revise every month. I get on with the thing that’s due (or overdue!) or, if nothing is urgent, the thing that most takes my fancy. I don’t work on two things in the same day. I’d rather do a week or couple of weeks on one thing, like a script, get to the end, then a few days on something else, like a short story, before getting back into my revisions, afresh. I try never to leave something when I’m stuck, though. Salman Rushdie advised to always finish the day with a sentence you want to come back to, because if you down tools on a problem it’s horrible, you don’t want to face it and the whole prospect becomes negative.

MW:  Any thoughts on the third in your “film” series, following on from the wonderful Whitstable and  Leystonstone ?
SV:  Yes. Thank you...

But no, I’m not going to tell you who the subject is!

I’ve been thinking about it and planning it ever since Leytonstone was published. The structure is worked out, I’ve done the research and I’m tremendously excited about it. I just have to write it - and put the dread feeling that it has to be “as good as” to one side. I feel the three novellas will definitely make a thematic whole, which I’m calling “The Dark Masters Trilogy”. I’ve talked to a publisher about bringing out all three together in one volume, which will be very exciting. Touch wood.

MW:  What’s next for Stephen Volk?
SV:  Well, film news always hovers, ungraspable as a phantom. I’m working on one with our mutual good friend Tim Lebbon. I’ve just finished a stage play, I’m writing a new screenplay, and I have several TV projects in various stages of development. But if nothing kick-starts in the near future I’ll be concentrating on that third novella. I definitely need to get it out of my system and it’s just coming to the boil, creatively. And you have to listen to your juices.

The Little Gift is available from PS Publishing for £12.00 (in hardback)

Monday 13 March 2017

Trashy & Obscure: The Beach Girls (1982)

I discovered a channel called Talking Pictures (343 on Sky, 81 on FreeView) when I found they were showing Terminus (1961), the John Schlesinger documentary about Waterloo Station that I’ve wanted to see for ages but had never come across before (and it was as wonderful as I'd hoped).

Flicking through their listings, I found loads of great little shorts (public information films, documentary pieces and other oddments) as well as wide array of films, from the 30s up to the 80s - serious stuff, weird stuff, comedy, drama, horror and thrillers plus a good helping of sleaze.  I taped Alfred Hitchcock’s Murder! (1930), The Beast Must Die! (1974), The Demon (1981), The Shillingbury Blowers (1980) as well as some other titles that weren’t, how shall I put it, as good as I’d expected them to be (such as Can You Keep It Up For A Week? (1975), featuring a pre-Bond, pre-Boba Fett Jeremy Bulloch).

A couple of weeks back, they showed a film called The Beach Girls (1982), which the write-up called a ‘coming of age’ story.  As I love coming-of-age stories, I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did.

Nick & me, 1980
I have known my best friend Nick (who I wrote about here) for forty years this year and it’s fair to say we’ve been through a lot together, weathering some storms and having a real laugh too.  We’re quite different people but sync together very well and although our sense of humour is often poles apart, we agree on enough to become annoying to those around us at times.  He lives in Bristol now and we don’t see anywhere near enough of each other but he was up staying at ours and we’d been chatting and neither of us wanted to end the evening, so I suggested we watch a film.  He asked what I had, I told him about The Beach Girls and we both agreed it might be fun (he & I came of age in the 80s, as video recorders made inroads into people’s homes and video shops sprang up all over the country, letting us see those films - Porky’s, Lemon Popsicle and the like - that we’d heard about but never had a chance to see).

So that’s how Nick & I, at close to midnight one evening, came to watch The Beach Girls.

The plot, such as it is, is very straightforward.  Shy and virginal Sarah (the exceptionally pretty Debra Blee) has been invited to stay at her Uncle Carl’s (Adam Roarke) beach house for the summer.  When she’s joined by her more worldly-wise friends Ginger (Val Kline) and Ducky (Jeana Tomasina), they convince her to throw a big party, ordering items (like beer and pizza) to get attractive delivery drivers to turn up.  Very soon, the neighbours are complaining, Uncle Carl turns up to see what's going on (and ends up getting seduced) and a smuggler, trying to bring in some marijuana, gets raided by the campest coast guard you've ever seen in your life.  The girls find the smugglers dumped cargo, invite everyone to another party and that's it, as Sarah comes out of her shell (“She’ll untie her hair and shake it out,” I said to Nick and he nodded in agreement, saying “And then she’ll get together with him”) and falls for hitchhiker Scott (James Daughton).
from left - Ginger (Val Kline), Sarah (Debra Blee) and Ducky (Jeana Tomasina)
I wouldn’t want to give the impression that The Beach Girls is a good film but it is good fun (and, in its own way, quite sweet).  The direction is perfunctory at best, though it looks beautiful with the hazy Californian sunshine, the music is cheesy and repetitive (“is that the same song as the opening credits?”) and I can only assume the boom operator was the directors son, since the microphone spends a lot of time dropping into the shot.  Maybe my perception was clouded watching it with Nick and we both experienced a nostalgic blast back to the 80s (I could almost hear that toploader VHS whirring away) but I enjoyed it - yes it was groan-worthy in places, yes we talked at the characters, yes we each correctly guessed what would happen next at certain times, but we did laugh.  A lot.

In a nice turn-up, this is a sex comedy told from the female point-of-view (even if it's clearly made by a bunch of blokes) and although there are quite a lot of bare boobs, there’s a parity with the bare bums on display.  Running along with the main plot, there are lots of weird little visual gags that shouldn't work but are often so stupid and out of place that they do - a dog steals girls bikini tops (which I’m sure I remember from another film), a man treasure-hunting with a metal detector injures passersby and a random bloke pops up and shouts “Food fight!” as the camera pans over to people fighting, whilst dressed as food.  Uncle Carl’s gardener (Bert Rosario), who never seems to leave the beach house, suffers various (almost silent-movie-esque) pitfalls that see him increasingly injured before he somehow gets caught up in a fight with a chauffeur (George Cheung).  One of my favourite jokes was right near the beginning - the first person called to the house is a pizza boy and Ducky hugs him, then says, “Is that a salami in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?”  “Oh,” says the dopey delivery driver as he reaches between them, “it’s a salami” and he pulls it out to make his point.

The director, Bud Townsend (credited as Pat here) only made nine films in a fifteen-year career but the writer, Patrick Sheane Duncan, went on to better things including Courage Under Fire (1996), while Phil Grove, credited with additional material (probably all the jokes on the beach), only wrote one produced screenplay, for Cavegirl (1985).

Some of the cast were recognisable and, according to the imdb, most of them popped up in various TV shows during the 70s and 80s.  Adam Roarke was a counter-culture actor, perhaps best known for Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) Bert Rosario was a TV regular and George Cheung, who was Rambo’s nemesis in Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), has worked consistently since (his imdb profile is a huge list).  James Daughton, who was Hitchhiker Scott, appeared in Animal House (1978), one of the neighbours was Mary Jo Catlett, who was Pearl on Diff’rent Strokes and Champagne Girl (it’ll make sense if you watch the trailer) was Corinne Bohrer who’s been in loads of stuff, though I recognised her from the Police Academy 4.
Ginger orders the pizza (James Daughton is on the far left)
Our three leads didn't fare so well.  Debra Blee only made five more films (all sounding like enjoyable trash) and hasn’t been seen on-screen since 1987, while Jeana Tomasina (or Jeane Keough), a Playboy Playmate from 1980, was in four ZZ-Top videos (Sharp Dressed Man, Legs, Gimme All Your Lovin and Sleeping Bag) and last seen in a reality TV show.  The Beach Girls is Val Kline’s only credit.

Like I said, I don’t want to give the impression that this is art because it isn’t - I might have spent longer researching and writing this blog-post than the writers did on the script - but that is almost part of its charm.  As Nick & I chuckled over it, I said to him on more than one occasion, "somebody got paid to write this" and he pointed out people got paid to work on it too.  A fun watch (helped, I'm convinced, by our shared memories of watching those VHS tapes back in the day), why not find a mate with a similar sense of humour, record this and enjoy 90 minutes of dopey, early-80s silliness.

Now I need to figure out what to record for when Nick comes up next time!

The definitiely-not-safe-for-work (you've been warned) trailer...

thanks to imdb

Monday 6 March 2017

Star Wars At 40 (part 3) - Stormtroopers!

There are a lot of things I love about Star Wars - as you might have already guessed - but one thing in particular is the iconic Stormtrooper.  It’s a love clearly shared - there’s a lot of Trooper merchandise available (and I own quite a lot of it, including an army of almost 90 vintage 3.75" Palitoy figures) - though I can't put my finger on exactly why, except I think they look very cool.

For this month's Star Wars At 40 entry, I thought I'd take a look at them...
Perhaps the most iconic shot of a Stormtrooper from Star Wars, this is actually Harrison Ford in the sequence where Han and Chewie storm the control room on the Death Star.  The ejected 'blank' cartridge can be seen below the muzzle flash.
Stormtroopers are elite shock troops fanatically loyal to the Empire and impossible to sway from the Imperial cause. They wear imposing white armor, which offers a wide range of survival equipment and temperature controls to allow the soldiers to survive in almost any environment. Stormtroopers wield blaster rifles and pistols with great skill, and attack in hordes to overwhelm their enemies.
Ralph McQuarrie's original concept drawing of a Stormtrooper (note his lightsaber) 
still from the film, the hero helmet is on the left , the other two are the stunt versions
The Stormtrooper design was based on an original concept painting by Ralph McQuarrie, with Liz Moore and Nick Pemberton sculpting designs for the helmet.  The body armour was sculpted by Brian Muir and initially cast in plaster, before being produced in vacuum formed ABS plastic by Andrew Ainsworth.  Fifty stunt helmets were produced for the film (in white-painted HDPE, a type of polyethylene plastic), along with six ‘hero’ helmets (in white ABS).  The designs are slightly different in the eye and mouth area and the 'hero' helmet has more of a frown.
Mark Hamill in the Death Star control room with his blaster
The Stormtroopers gun (known as an Imperial BlasTech E-11) was created by Bapty & Co, an armorer who created most of the weapons for Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back and was built around a standard Sterling sub-machine gun, along with some custom dressing.  Six grips were added to the barrel (the same material used as grips on Luke's lightsaber), a 1942 M38 Azimouth scope (from a tank), a Hengstler Corporation counter box on the side and two small cylinders on top of the magazine well (which had been cut down significantly).  Although most of the guns were props, firing versions were also used and are identifiable by the smoke they emit when shot.

“And these blast points, to accurate for Sandpeople.  Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise”
 - Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
Sandtroopers at Docking Bay 94, doing their best to contradict Ben Kenobi
The Stormtroopers were played by stuntmen and extras, who all had difficulties with the costume - the helmets were difficult to see out of and the shoes (which, according to costume designer John Mollo, were Chelsea boots sprayed white) slipped on the shiny Death Star floors.  Mark Hamill confirmed on his Twitter feed in May 2016 that Luke’s line “I can’t see a thing in this helmet” wasn’t scripted, he thought the cameras had stopped rolling when he said it to Harrison Ford.  “My memory,” he wrote, “is it was an ad-lib I did that George liked and kept in. Those helmets were very restricting of one's vision.”

(Thud) Ouch!
One of the most famous troopers is the one who bumps his head on the Death Star doorway.  Played by Laurie Goode (who also portrayed an X-Wing pilot in the briefing sequence as well as a cantina patron), he apparently wasn’t feeling too well on the day and since no-one called “cut” he assumed he was out of shot.  Rather than correct the mistake, George Lucas drew attention to it in later re-releases, adding a sound effect and line of dialogue (“see to him”).  In the prequel Attack Of The Clones (2002), Jango Fett - from whom the original troopers were cloned - bashes his head on Slave-One.  On the DVD commentary, Lucas says, “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if that’s a trait that Jango has?’ When he puts his helmet on he can’t really see that well, so he’s constantly bumping his head – and that trait gets cloned into all the Stormtroopers.”
One of my favourite of the original Topps UK run from 1977- scan of my card
Elizabeth “Liz” Moore  was born in 1944 and began studying at Kingston Art School in London in 1961.  Moving on to a 3 years National Diploma of Design course, she chose Fine Art as her specialist subject and her work was chosen for the National Diploma Show at the Royal Academy of Art in 1965.

Aside from some of her painting featuring as props in The World Of Suzie Wong (1960), her first film work was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), for which she created the Star Child model and also assisted Stuart Freeborn in the creation of the ape-men masks.  She was never officially credited for the film but Kubrick requested she work on building props for his next film, A Clockwork Orange (1971), for which she sculpted the nude female milk dispensers and tables at the Korova Milk Bar.  She and Kubrick also worked together on his next film Barry Lyndon (1975).

John Barry, who had been Production Designer for A Clockwork Orange, drafted Liz in to work on his next project, "a space opera to be called Star Wars".  She only worked on the film for a few months, but sculpted several concepts as well as the final approved suit for C3PO.  She left the production in late January 1976 to join her boyfriend in Holland but Barry contacted her again, as the schedule called for Stormtroopers to be on location in Tunisia in March 1976 and the design wasn’t finalised.  Working from a temporary workshop her boyfriend set up, she sculpted the helmet and returned to Elstree Studios where, after a few minor changes, George Lucas okayed the final design.

Liz Moore was tragically killed in a car accident on 13th August 1976 while working on Richard Attenborough’s A Bridge Too Far (1977).  She was only 32 and never got to see her iconic Star Wars designs on screen.

Brian Muir  was born on 15th April 1952 and began a four-year apprenticeship in woodwork and sculpture design at the Associated British Production Corporation at Elstree Studios in 1968.  After completing his apprenticeship, he went to work for Bradfords of London where he designed a Coat of Arms for the Crown Court and a Plaque for the New London Stock Exchange, which was unveiled by the Queen of England.

In 1976 he was asked to go back to Elstree Studios and said, in interview, “Although I had a secure job and was told that it may only be six weeks work on Star Wars, I felt it was worth the risk as I would be back doing the work I loved. As it turned out I was on the production for five months and the gamble certainly paid off!”  He sculpted the original Darth Vader mask, working from designs by Ralph McQuarrie, Norman Reynolds and John Mollo, as well as the Stormtrooper armour, the droid CZ3 and helped on the C3PO costume.

He has been much-in-demand in the film industry since, working with Lucasfilm again on Raiders Of The Lost Ark (1981) (co-creating The Ark Of The Covenant) and Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (1984),  he co-created the Space Jockey in Alien (1979) and worked on the Bond series from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) up to Skyfall (2012).  He also worked on the latest Star Wars film Rogue One (2016).
Another of my favourite images, this Sandtrooper on a Dewback features in the photo-section of Alan Dean Fosters novelisation - I waited for it to appear in the film but it's only seen very briefly from a distance.
"These aren't the droids you're looking for..."
"Dammit, I bet those were the bloody droids we were looking for..."
On the Death Star

Propmasters - Liz Moore Sculptor
2001Italia - Tribute to Liz Moore
Brian Muir
Laurie Goode (

2017 marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars, which was released in the US on 25th May though it didn't hit the UK until 29th January 1978 (following a 27th December release in London).  I was lucky enough to see it in early 1978 and it remains my favourite film to this day.

To mark the anniversary, I'll be running a year-long blog thread about the film with new entries posted on the first Monday of each month.

May The Force Be With You!

Find all the entries in the thread here