Star Fighter

Buck Rogers in the
25th Century

------------------------------
Visual Effects

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - Episodes VFX Description

These Visual Effects descriptions are compiled from memory by a member of the Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Model Shop. After over thirty years, there may be a few errors. This information is compiled by someone who was really there. Other members of the crew are invited to jog my memory or make corrections or additions. This is not a story summary, those are available elsewhere, these are of the making the Visual Effects.

Season One

Awakening Parts 1 & 2 (1.1 & 1.2))
Original Air Date: September 20, 1979

The first episode had a complex history. First intended as a multi-part TV movie, it was decided to release it as a theatrical movie. The movie wasn't successful, but was recut into the two hour first episode of a series.

The crew that would become the Hartland crew began work on Buck Rogers working in the Future General facilities in Marina del Ray, where the visual effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind were created. There were five main ship models and several set pieces started here along with photography, opticals, rotoscoping, and editing.

Models consisted of the Thunder Fighter (Star Fighter), Hatchet Fighter (also called Pirate Fighter and Draconian Fighter), two versions of the Shuttle (clean/new and dirty/old), Ardala's Launch, and the Draconia. There were about 13 main parts to the Draconia and everyone in the Model Shop worked on one or more parts. There were also two launch tunnels, Earth and Draconian, and later three larger set pieces to the Draconia. A landscape was added outside the tunnel at New Chicago and an Earth was created. Most of these models were begun before the move to Hartland.

One amusing or memorable and completely unimportant event occurred while at the Future General site. The Model Shop was in back at the end of a narrow driveway. A pipe had broken under the driveway and temporarily repaired. Before the concrete was set, a trash truck broke its axil in the hole and for most of the day, our cars were trapped in the parking lot. Somewhere along the way, Pete Gerard pressed a casting of the lower half of a hatchet fighter into the wet concrete. A later repair took off one of the wings of this concrete impression. I have no idea if the rest is still there.

About August 1978 everything was packed up and one morning we caravanned to our new home in North Hollywood.

At the time of its construction, the Draconia may have been the most expensive and sophisticated space ship model build for Visual Effects. Almost everyone in the crew had a turn at working on it. Two large, mostly wood, patterns were built of the top and bottom of the main fuselage. These were the stair-step pieces recognized by anyone who has seen the model. In addition to the wood, liberal amounts of Bondo-like materials, plastic, primer, and paint went into it. Large areas were covered with etched brass plates, etched with panel breakup lines. As the schedule got short and costs soared, these patterns were weighed in hopes that they could be used directly for the motion control model. Since it was solid wood and originally intended to be a pattern only, it was determined that it would be too heavy for the model mover. So we went forward with molding with RTV silicone rubber and a fiberglass jacket (or was it plaster?). An epoxy and glass casting was made of each half of the main fuselage. Two years later two additional castings were made of each half for the purpose of creating two copies for the Visual Effects Stage as part of Universal Studios Tour, so it's just as well that we made the molds. These two main castings were then covered with thousands of small bits of plastic. Strips, chips, rectangles, small parts from model kits, and all sorts of small shapes were glued to nearly every square inch of these large castings. The main fuselage measured about five feet by five feet by two feet with hundreds of these steps, so there was a lot of surface to cover. There were hundreds of cast minarets and onion domes in several designs and sizes covering the surface. Then we were told to install 400 fiber optic lights in the entire model. This was all the budget would allow. There were more than twice that many in each half and hundreds more in all the smaller parts, we estimated about 4,000 were actually installed - and the look was well worth the cheat. The two halves were united around a six-point armature and the seam covered with yet more small plastic parts. But before this uniting step, many of the smaller sub-assemblies were attached along with installed lighting, mechanics, and other.

There were about eleven sub-assemblies fabricated and construction followed the same general procedure. There were four wings. The upper wings were free-standing, attached to the main fuselage at the base and the 'flying bridge' at the top. The flying bridge joined the tops of the top wings and the 'Cobra Head' to the top of the fuselage and had two landing bays. The lower wings were connected to the fuselage at the tops and bottom and the back edge, producing not two free-standing wings like the top, but two large cavernous areas that required built-in lighting. The 'Cobra Head' was the command center for the ship. It extended forward from the top of the ship. Draconia had five engines, all lit with internal neon and miniature blue-screens so that an unusual effect could be optically added. One large central engine was part of the lower main fuselage, two small engines were part of the upper fuselage, and two separate engine assemblies were attached to the upper wings with connections to the fuselage. Each engine had a thin, highly detailed, grill over the blue screen material. This makes ten parts. To help Draconia enter a planet's atmosphere - such as when trying to conquer a planet - three anti-gravity disks were placed at the sides and front to form a triad. Two of these were self contained disks that could pivot to always point downward as Draconia banked while turning. The third anti-gravity disk was part of the 'fork, or the most forward part of the ship, ahead of the joint between the two halves of the fuselage. The fork also had a large landing bay. The forward tips of the area where all the wings met the fuselage also had small protruding appendages. Kenneth Larson made two pairs of these as they were fragile. There were assorted hatch covers for the six mounts, various extra parts, and a custom transport cart to support the model at the forward and aft ends. The model had a fiber optic driver, several pieces of custom neon, internal lights, and a cooling system including fans and external air hoses. It took over a year to build at an estimated cost of a quarter of a million dollars, and was worked on by perhaps two dozen people. Because it was finished so late in the production it didn't receive the air time it deserved and the unfinished model was taken from the model shop for a few days for test shots that could also be used as place-holders by the editors who didn't know what they were trying to splice in. The ship was painted a rust color with gold domes and lots of aging.

In addition to this model of Draconia, four set pieces of Draconia were build in a large scale. These included a launch tunnel, a section (never pin-pointed) of the fuselage where the launch tunnels exited, another section of the fuselage with a minaret, and an interior of a landing bay from the Flying Bridge where pyrotechnics hampered Bucks escape at the exciting climax. A second launch tunnel and a bit of landscaping was built for New Chicago.

The Thunder Fighter (called 'Star Fighter' by the characters) was built in a similar way to the other space craft models. A mostly wood pattern was built of the fuselage, a RTV silicone mold with hard jacket was made from the pattern, and several castings were made. Some castings were made for tests and stand-ins and even for parts for other ships later. As I recall, two models were competed and a third begun. In addition to the main fuselage, there were two wing patterns, the two lower wings were symmetrical and so one pattern worked for both and the same for the two wings at the side. Years later, extra lower wings were used on the Eastern Alliance Destroyer for later episodes of Battlestar Galactica. The engines were cast in two parts from a high heat epoxy and contained a halogen lamp. Halogen bulbs, like many other materials we used, we new technology at the time. We mixed urethane foam in buckets, now you can buy it in aerosol-like cans at the hardware store for patching holes in your roof. Pete Gerard was a walking Rolodex of chemicals, adhesives, resins, and all sorts of cutting edge model making tools and materials. Pete used the lost-wax process to make small heat-resistant star-like diffusers for the ends of the engines which made a star-like light pattern on film. The fuselage included a detailed cockpit with LED instruments and a separate canopy was cast. The Thunder fighter actually had seven or eight mounts if I remember correctly. Top, bottom, sides, through both engines, angled off the front (which I don't think we used often because of the angle) and maybe a front (but I'm not sure where it would have been). Because the nacelles were at a tapering angle, to use the mounts through the engines, a dog-leg attachment had to be made to locate the mount at the actual center. There were also small LED running lights.

The Hatchet Fighter, AKA, Pirate Fighter, Draconian Fighter, Marauder, was of course, the bad guy ship. Two were begun, one finished. The model consisted of the fuselage, a single engine casting, and two nacelles with thin fins added. The fins were stamped in styrene, but required a bit of cleanup, as did all the castings for all the models. The windows were cut out of the castings and replaced with red acrylic - I guess Draconians always saw red. This model had a six-point mount. The nose could be removed exposing a mount, the engine detached reveling a mount and a second engine with a hold in the center for the mount was used when mounted this way. In a similar way, the nacelles could be removed and replaced with a nacelle with a hole for the mount. The cockpit was removable and replaced with a copy with a mount hole, and a belly hatch could be removed to allow mounting there.

In addition to numerous test castings, stand-ins, and castings used for later episodes of Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers, two hero castings were made of the Shuttle. A note, the Shuttle was reused so often because aside from it costing less for us to build models that reused parts, the Studio had built a full size shuttle (with one side unfinished) and wanted to reuse this prop, which saved more money than for us reuse a model. Kenneth Larson took one castings and completed it into the 'Clean'; Shuttle, the one buck is in before his accident. Mike Joyce completed the 'Dirty' Shuttle, the one Buck returns in 500 years later. Mike laboriously fitted microscope slides to the window frames for a real reflection of light on glass as the ship slowly tumbles through space. Ken made two detailed interiors. The armature had six mounts, nose, top, bottom, sides, and back. A separate third armature could replace the model on the model mover. This armature was only engines fitted with miniature jets for nitrogen. The model would be shot and then the move repeated with the nitrogen rig and the Optical Department would put it all together.

The fifth major space craft was one of the most beautiful ever on TV. Ardalla's Launch was built for a feminine, but ruthless, princess. This was actually two ships joined in the middle. The original ending called for Ardalla to escape from the Draconia just before its destruction. The launch was to be fired upon and destroyed, but the forward section would separate as a smaller ship and escape unnoticed so that Ardalla could return for the next episode. The two part armature would unscrew, a cowling jettisoned, and the forward section fly off to next week. Schedule and budget delayed this trick until later in the series by which time Ardalla's Launch had become the Vorvon Shuttle and Wilma used the separation to escape the Vorvon just before his section crashed into a star or something.

Several matte paintings were made of New Chicago and a planet Earth was painted. Models were shot on five stages, mattes and rotoscope were shot in a sixth area. Opticals were performed in-house along with some editing. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century had a limited and unsuccessful theatrical release and returned the following September as episode one of the series.

Planet of the Slave Girls Parts 1 & 2 (1.3 & 1.4)
Original Air Date: September 27, 1979

We were wrapping up Airport '79 when we received the great news that Buck Rogers had been picked up as a series, and that we were already behind. We were given a number of illustrations of various ships and told, "Build these," which we did. We didn't have scripts yet, so we just built space craft and space stations and adapted them to the scripts as necessary.

David Jones smashed a Cobra kit into a jet fighter kit and Illianna Lowry was handed the Scorpion to detail. Originally named the 'Gnat,' Pete renamed it 'Anopheles' after the carrier of Malaria, the Anopheles Mosquito. The Scorpion Fighter played a prominent role in this episode and then returned many times in later episodes. The Planet Vistula was painted. David Stipes headed an in-camera comp of a matte painting of the upper part of a cave with the set built on a stage at Universal. Jena painted an architectural mate painting. And to keep it all in the family, we used stock footage of a Cylon base hangar door from an early episode of Battlestart Galactica. Then Ardala's Launch (as a shuttle) began a launch in a Draconia launch tunnel and completed its launch in a New Chicago launch tunnel. A photo assisted matte painting was made of a fleet of Scorpion fighters, the photos could be removed to show that some had launched. Then the Earth defenses launched from the Draconia - the 'Lot' editors never cared what the stock footage belonged to. When there weren't enough shots of the Scorpion fighters, the editors inserted Pirate Fighters to confuse the audience - who did write in to complain.

Vegas in Space (1.5)
Original Air Date: October 4, 1979

For this episode, we used one of the models we built at the beginning of the season, on spec. For Sinaloa, Vegas in Space, we used the city model that was waiting for us. The core was a two foot diameter fiberglass ball. Foam was added and a backing piece. A curious note, for this second episode, the Sinaloa landing bay had little photo cutouts of Ranger 3, a model also built on spec, that was not used in an action sequence until one of the last episodes. Later the Sinaloa model was revamped as a set piece for another ship and for season two, the Searcher.

Incidental shots of Thunder Fighters and Pirate Fighters.

The Plot to Kill a City, Part 1 (1.6)
Original Air Date: October 11, 1979

A simple matte painting of a city on another planet. Aldebaran.

Years earlier, David Jones started a model based on a full size one-man spacecraft build by Future General for the Show Scan project. He turned the unfinished model over to Vance Frederick who finished it into the green spacecraft, the Sled. The Sled made many reappearances in later episodes.

The sled was launched several times from launch tubes that looked Draconian, one time as if from the Police Station, a modified member from the Battlestar Galactica Rag Tag Fleet. I don't remember who made these enhancements.

The Plot to Kill a City, Part 2 (1.7)
Original Air Date: October 18, 1979

Reappearance of the Scorpion Fighter.

Matte painting of a power plant.

Return of the Fighting 69th (1.8)
Original Air Date: October 25, 1979

For this episode we made hundreds of asteroids. A large section of asteroid landscape was constructed with a base built by Vance out of blocks of acrylic. The large and small asteroids were made the same way, burned urethane foam. My lungs still burn from this process. Froth packs were not yet in use so we mixed A/B urethane foam in cardboard buckets and brushed the liquid foam over a wire and foil contour. The throwaway brushes were quickly dunked into acetone and reused a few times. Once we had a foam landscape, we used an acetylene torch to burn the foam. This was probably not OSHA standard. To control or slow the burning, we used an air nozzle the same way you blow out a candle, only bigger. Medium size asteroids were made this way, smaller asteroids were chunks of foam rather than wire and foil. I think there was some dry brush of paint applied.

Photographing the asteroid field was not an easy task. Each asteroid was hung on one thin thread with three below in a tripod position to keep them from spinning. At one point David Garber or Wayne Smith sent a test shot without the tripod wires, with hundreds of asteroids spinning wildly, over to the lot as a joke. The cameraman, I think it was Alex, was horrified that the lot thought this was a final shot. The smaller asteroids, the chunks of foam, we affixed to sheets of black velvet for the background. The motion control camera was programed to fly through the asteroid field.

The Raven was used for the first time as a freighter. This was one of the ships built on-spec when we first got the word to start the series. It was built from extra Draconia parts, the top wings and an engine. These were combined with new parts and painted gray. I think Richard Smiley built this one.

The Sled was used extensively in this episode as a bomber and as a prop. The actor held our actual visual effects model as the character used it to describe the mission.

The Scorpion Fighter was used as the bad guy ship - again.

At the end of the episode, Buck and Wilma escape through a launcher that I don't remember.

Unchained Woman (1.9)
Original Air Date: November 1, 1979

The Prisoner Transport Ship, Canarious (Canary Yellow) was another improved ship from the Galactica Rag Tag fleet. Pat might have built this, I don't remember.

A rust colored planet was made from an acrylic hemisphere 24 inched in diameter.

Matte painting of a landscape with several moons in the distance.

Matte painting of a town at ground level with a Sled photo cutout.

Planet of the Amazon Women (1.10)
Original Air Date: November 8, 1979

Space yacht Aurora was one of the ships built on spec at the beginning of the series. Construction was a little unusual. It was sculpted and molded but rather than cast in opaque epoxy, it was cast in translucent epoxy and filled with neon tubes. Various sections were allowed to glow.

The planet Ariela. I don't remember details.

A matte painting that looks familiar.

Another matte painting of a city behind a foreground.

A view screen showed the profile of a Ruathan diplomatic transport that looked like Ardala's Launch, then the ship was shown and it was a reconfigured ship from the Galactrica Rag Tag fleet.

Cosmic Whiz Kid (1.11)
Original Air Date: November 15, 1979

This episode included several matt painting. One matte painting added a building to the Los Angeles County Arboretum

A silly rotoscope of an energy field over some grass at the Arboretum and an energy dampening field to clear a path across the field.

Escape from Wedded Bliss (1.12)
Original Air Date: November 29, 1979

The main model for this episode was Annsiud (Ann's IUD - Anne was a producer on the show). Ansiud was an old mining probe that Ardala captured and reprogrammed to attack Earth. The model was a clear acrylic box. Attached to five sides were clear vacuformed pyramids and the sixth side was a truncated clear acrylic pyramid with a threaded mount. All this clear stuff was filled with multi-colored lights and jagged irregular bits of colored acrylic and diffusion material.

The Draconia made another appearance. After being destroyed in the first episode, evidently there was a second ship.

Cruise Ship to the Stars (1.13)
Original Air Date: December 27, 1979

The main model for this episode was the Lyran Queen, the cruise ship to the stars. Richard Bennett machined the aluminum armature and turned it over to Kenneth Larson. Ken divided the model into three parts and roughed out each section. I've may have this wrong, but I think Sean detailed on the front section and Vance detailed the back, or maybe the other way around. Ken detailed the center section. The forward section was made to match the large set piece model of Sinaloa from the episode Vegas in Space, the set piece was also modified to be the forward section of the ship. This forward section was made from 2 four inch diameter hemispheres. The equatorial flange was covered with plastic filler to achieve the tapered bulge. Much of the center was made of translucent acrylic to produce windows when masking tape was removed. Once the three sections were details, Ken reconnected them and the model was finished. There were numerous shots of these two models. Viewers might notice that the Lyran Queen was rebuilt into Searcher for Season 2. No one seems to know where this model ended up.

There was also a quick shot of Canarious entering in a landing bay.

Space Vampire (1.14)
Original Air Date: January 3, 1980

Ken Larson returned from vacation to find his parts pizza, a 70 mm film can about 9 inches in diameter was missing and all the model parts in a pile on his desk. Theta Station had been created by arranging five foam castings of Draconia Cobra Heads around the film can with a Draconian anti-gravity disk attached to each Cobra Head. Ken did make two contributions to Theta Station, aging and the break-away section where the six inch Gemini Freighter crashed into the station. Ken also made the small Gemini Freighter as a copy of the larger model from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag Fleet. The larger Gemini Freighter was also used.

The episode began and ended with the Vorvon Shuttle, a revamp of Ardalla's Launch. Besides the main model, several other models of mechanical parts were made for the separation sequence. Ardalla's Launch had originally been made to separate for the ending of the movie when Ardalla escapes the destruction of her ship by jettisonning the aft section to hide her escape, but this sequence was dropped and this separation capability not used. In this sequence, the cowling was blown, latches released, and the aft section dropped behind.

There were also some cheesy rotoscoping at the end.

Happy Birthday Buck (1.15)
Original Air Date: January 10, 1980

Two new models appear early in the episode. An 'Old Starfighter', a casting of a Thunder Fighter with extra bits of extra wings tacked on is being chased by Bigfoot.

Bigfoot was built by Kenneth Larson using parts of a ship hull, a Cobra helicopter cockpit, a spoiler from a race car, aircraft jet intakes, two scratch built four-panel wings, and bits of guns and other parts.

The freighter Raven makes another appearance.

Two matte paintings of New Detroit.

A Blast for Buck (1.16)
Original Air Date: January 17, 1980

In a cost saving move, this episode was about half flashbacks to earlier episodes, thus producing half an episode for half the cost, filling in the rest with old stuff. There were no new models orf model shots, just a few opticals adding old footage to view screens.

Ardala Returns (1.17)
Original Air Date: January 24, 1980

More shots of the Draconia and Hatchet Fighters.

The Time Capsule was created by Kenneth Larson by modifying another ship from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag Fleet. Solar panels, made from truck sides, were added along with a few other minor parts.

Buck flies to the Time Capsule in a shuttle, the Canarious again, made from a member of the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag fleet.

A matte painting of New Phoenix.

For the final dog fight, if you watch closely, for a front shot of Wilma's two-seater Thunder Fighter, the editors used a shot of the four-seater.

Twiki is Missing (1.18)
Original Air Date: January 31, 1980

The episode begins with Wilma escorting a 10 million ton block of frozen oxygen to replenish Earth's depleted atmosphere. This burg was made from blocks of styrofoam coated with some type of smooth surface. I think Jerry Allen and Vance Frederick made this and Judy Allen painted it, but I could be wrong. Since this was a new model, it was required to film it on the motion-control stage.

By this time, Buck Rogers toys and action figures were available in stores and we bought several Twiki figures in two sizes for this episode. Twiki is kidnaped (or is it ambiquad-naped) by three women with glowing eyes - an optical effect. Buck goes to the rescue and Twiki ejects from the Star Fighter. The Twiki floating in space that was moving was Felix on wires, but the spinning Twiki was one of the Twiki action figures on a rod in a model mover.

The three women with the glowing eyes than kidnap Buck and depart Earth in the Sled from earlier episodes. Buck is taken to an asteroid model that I have only a vague memory of. I think Jerry and Vance also made this model.

Olympiad (1.19)
Original Air Date: February 7, 1980

Buck is a guest at the 2492 Olympiad.

A matte painting was created of the Olympic games center.

Buck landed in the landing bay from the Vegas in Space model.

Years earlier, David Jones had started a model, a copy of a full size small spacecraft built for Show Scan. Earlier in the season, Vance Frederick finished the model to be the Sled. For this episode, we rented the full size spacecraft from Future General. Kenneth Larson was assigned to build a new model to match the full size spacecraft. The Astrosled model was stretched along with the full size spacecraft to accommodate a passenger. The model was covered with a reflective Mylar film. Normally we avoided reflective surfaces because it reflected the blue screen and caused matte problems. It took extra efforts to photograph this model. In the screening room we watched a beautiful turning move with a glint dancing along the edge of the model, the editors chose to cut the shot just before the glint started. There were many shots of the Astrosled bouncing through the race course. The Astrosled model was about the same size as a Thunder Fighter model although the full size Astrosled was half the size of the full size Thunder Fighter. Toward the end of the episode, Buck used his Star Fighter to tracktor the Astrosled to safety. For this shot, a half size, bottom half only, model was made of the Astrosled with a model mover type mount attached to the top. The smaller model simply plugged into the Thunder Fighter's bottom mount.

Stock shot of Thunder Fighter launch from Launch tube from New Chicago.

Shot of Scorpion.

A Dream of Jennifer (1.20)
Original Air Date: February 14, 1980

A planet

A matte painting of City by the Sea (New New Orleans), I think by Jena Holman, but may have been Dan Curry.

The Raven returns as a freighter.

Canarious, a rework from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag fleet, returns.

Contratureen (antimatter) warhead, a bomb, that I think David Jones built.

Space Rockers (1.21)
Original Air Date: February 21, 1980

The episode begins with a slow track in on Music World, a seven-unit space complex, held together with brass tubes. Sean Casey, Kenneth Larson, and Vance Frederick each made two modules, I don't remember who made the seventh unit. The brass tubes were an assembly of telescoping tubes and covered with plastic bits. Jerry Allen and Vance somehow assembled all these spindly pieces in an all-nighter. The center unit had a mount and Ken made the two matching end units.

A set piece of a trash ejection hatch on the side of Music World. I'm not sure who built this. A toy action figure played the part of a dead body ejected from the shoot.

The Jammer Satellite was the Time Capsule from the episode Escape from Wedded Bliss. Schedules and budgets didn't allways alow for new models.
A planet that we've seen before.

Buck's Duel to the Death (1.22)
Original Air Date: March 20, 1980

Two matte paintings of a futuristic city by Jena or Dan.

Early in the episode, several scorpion fighters were in a dog fight with Ranger III. The Ranger was built by Ken Larson. It was one of the models built on spec when the season began but one of David Jones' favorite designs and he kept waiting for the right opportunity to use it. As this was the next to last episode, opportunities to use it were running out.

Thunder Fighter in an atmosphere, a more difficult matte than the usual space. Hartland was better than most at ships in atmosphere, thanks to our work on Airport '79.

Two matte paintings of a Tibet type city by Jena or Dan.

Rotoscope death rays from the bad guy's hands.

Shuttle from Battlestar Galactica. Battlestar Galactica had not been renewed for Season Two and we had started to use the Galactica Shuttle since "The Lot" had a ful size exterior side and interior. By now, we wher in production of Galactica 1980 and the Shuttle was being used for both shows.

Shots of Bigfoot so small it is almost a red blip.

The Flight of the War Witch Parts 1 & 2 (1.23 & 1.24)
Original Air Date: March 27, 1980

This was the final episode of Season One and we packed it with effects.

The episode began with a sphere of spinning lights lands in a photo of Vasquez Rocks. It is replaced with a matte painting of a gold sphere, the Gold Orb. For live action shots a full size sphere was constructed. The script called for an arm to emerge from the smooth, seamless surface of the orb baring a smaller orb. It took a while to figure this one out until Kent Gebo suggested shooting it in reverse dropping into a pool of gold paint. To save money, extender was added to the paint to make it go further. Because of the extender, the effect didn't come out so well, so a cheesy rotoscope effect was added, which probably cost more than the extra paint would have. The arm was carved from a large block of clear acrylic and placed at the end of an aluminum rod. A large wooden box was built to hold the paint and it was all elevated to allow for the mechanism below. The action was, if I recall, to place the bottom end of the aluminum rod on a camera dolly (without camera) and quickly lower the dolly's camera mount.

Buck discovers the Gold Orb while flying something that looks like the Vorvon Shuttle destroyed a few episodes back.

The Gold Orb returns to Pendar through a series of rotoscope and matte effects.

The Zadd Battle Cruiser was based on a Canadian Olympics sports stadium in Montréal. Sean and Ken made a plaster spin of the domes and vacuform parts were made from these forms. The "cow head" was carved from wood, maybe by Ken, maybe not. This was molded and cast. A plastic plate and the cow head were attached to an aluminum armature. The plastic plate was then covered both sides with jagged pieces of colored clear plastic pieces and small lights. A cotton-like diffusion material was laid on top of the center and the upper and lower domes attached. The domes were sand blasted on the inside and jagged lines drawn on the outer surface. A number of fiber optics were installed in the cow head with the driver external. Somehow, during the paining process, the model fell to the floor cracking the upper dome. There wasn't time to replace it so the model was shot upside down and with the crack on the back.

Buck enters the Vorttex through another series of visual effects. Swirling rings, advancing lights.For one effect, the camera operators made a large number of passes through a field of lights on sticks. Pandar was surrounded by a sort of energy cloud that was a matte or rotoscope effect. Thisfield was filled with creatures that according to the story, were prisoners of war held insuspension. To make this effect, an animal rangler spent a day putting all sorts of reptiles and live and dead insects in front of the camera.

The Shark was one of the models built on spec when Season One began many months earlier. It began as a carved foam pattern of the hull and molded and cast, with details applied to the cast. At that time, when the Shark was almost finished, it disappeared. Pete suspected it was the temporary Model Maker who built it, but nothing was done except to cast a new body and make another copy. When it was decided to use the Shark on this episode, and episode requiring a large number of new shots, Sean Casey made a new mold of the completed model and finished a second copy. Everyone was a little concerned that something would go wrong with the molding process with the only model, so Sean played a little joke. We came in the next morning and instead of a perfect old Shark and new mold, Sean had placed a deformed lump of clay, painted a matching red color. Within a few days we had two fully camera ready Shark Fighters.

There were several old and maybe some new shots of Draconia. Photographing Draconia was so complex, we only shot it a few times after the movie, and this may have been one of those times. I don't recall Draconia or Ardalla returning for Season Two.

Buck flies to the Zadd Cruiser. This is different from the Zadd Battle Cruiser - the big orange one. The red Zadd Cruiser was another upgrade from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag fleet.

Ardala escapes the Zadd Battle Cruiser in what looks like the Vorvon Shuttle, a model created by altering the original Ardala's Launch.

Launching Shark Fighters. Many new shots of the two Shark models. There were so many shots required, including Thunder Fighters and Hatchet Fighters together, for background shots, we assembled several model kits, one advantage of a successful TV series.

Season One Wrap

All good things come to an end (and most bad things). Seasons One of Buck wrapped and we shifted to what was left of Galactica 1980, which was canceled a month or two later. Still in the model lock-up, and never used, was the Mantis, a green insect-like craft that was also built at the beginning of the season on spec.

Season Two

We began work on Season Two and then the Screen Actors Guild launched the largest strike that Hollywood had seen in a while. All production came to an abrupt halt. The Universal Hartland crew dropped into skeleton mode. Overtime ended and various members of the crew worked every other week, or one or two weeks a month. We had stories, but with no production, there was no urgency. There was time to experiment and develop new techniques. We slowly produced effects for a number of episodes by the time the strike ended and when it did, we were ready to resume full production.

There were two major changes for Season Two. New Chicago and the Draconia were out, and Searcher and the Hawk ship were in. Doctor Huer was left behind and several new characters were introduced. Twiki lost his voice (or should I say, Mal Blank's voice) and the robot Criton was introduced. Ken Larson had nothing to do with creating Criton, but by coincidence, about ten years later, Ken had a part in dismantling this prop and returning the parts to the bin for reuse.

Time of the Hawk parts 1 & 2 (21. & 2.2)
Original Air Date: January 15, 1981

Season Two began with a new character, Hawk, flying in a new model, the Hawk Fighter. Vance Frederick usually worked as the number two man in the Neon Department, but as Universal Hartland developed and the neon and blue screen equipment was complete, Vance was working more at maintaining this equipment. This allowed him time for other tasks and we allowed him in the Model Shop where he built several nice models, but the Hawk Fighter was probably his most impressive effort. Ken Larson help make a few parts, but Hawk was 95% Vance's work. Two sets of interchangeable wings were made to fit into the fuselage, one extended and one retracted. Also a set of stop-motion wings for retracting. The feet were articulated and David Stipes created a stop-motion animated sequence of the claws extending and flexing.

Another new model was Searcher, a rebuild of Lerian Queen from Season One. The scale of the model was changed by repainting the window panels with larger windows, thus making the ship look smaller. The landing bays stayed the same size, so I guess with the new smaller scale, Buck just had to land more carefully. For closeups, the set piece from Vegas in Space, which had also been used as the front of Lerian Queen, was again repainted to be the forward section of Searcher.

Hawk had attacked a ship which Buck discovers as a Derelict, a rebuild from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag fleet.

Buck flies in the Galactica Shuttle to a planet. Since Universal had a full size section of this ship, it was used often.

Wilma and the Profession Goodfellow wandered through a cave set. Kenneth Larson built a miniature of Spot's Cave by foaming and carving the inside of a large box. Someone in the stage crew, I think Frank James the Gaffer, brought in his pet tarantula. The camera rolled as the spider crawled all over the cave model. There was a thread that according to the story released a net. The crew rolled film until finally, one of Spot's legs got close enough to the thread that someone off-camera pulled the thread as if released by Spot. This was Ken's first use of a cobweb spinner.

We had aerial stock footage of the Teton Mountains. Ken Larson built a matching miniature mountain range. The mountains were made by cutting foam-core profiles, covering them with shaped chicken wire and then foil. Ken then pored A/B foam over the foil and carved it. Ken used some plaster to fill in and smooth the texture, then left for vacation. In his absence, the trees were planted. The trees were round toothpicks covered with ground foam model landscape foliage. Jerry Allen remarked that everywhere they wanted to plant a tree in the soft foam, they encountered hard plaster. The mountain range was shot and blended with the stock footage.

I don't remember how the Thunder Fighter and Hawk models were shot in tandem after Hawk's ship grabbed the Thunder Fighter.

The editors stuck in a shot of Wilma leaving Searcher, but used a shot from Vegas in Space showing all the wrong background which was not only background structure in front of the ship, but also much more bright and colorful.

Journey to Oasis, Parts 1 & 2 (2.3 & 2.4)
Original Air Date: January 22, 1981

Zicarian Ambassador Ship, red model, revamped from the Battlestar Galactica Rag-Tag Fleet.

The ambassador was a "dual symbioses being," the head and body were two separate entities and the head could be removed. Our new producer, John Mantley, played the part of the ambassador for our head removal tests. He wore a green hood and his head was optically removed.

The characters flew to Oasis in the Battlestar Galactica Shuttle. The Shuttle encountered a magnetic storm and crashed. This was a major project for us. There were three main parts to this sequence. The shuttle bounced over the mesa, crashed into the loose material, and the Shuttle sinking.

We built a large tabletop with sides and filled it with landscaping. The table top was covered with vermiculite and fullers earth, a fine powder. Since the model was to be seen from only a few fixed camera positions, the mesas were simple constructions and modeled from only one side. A piece of foamcore was placed on top of an apple box (a common piece of grip equipment, a wooden box 8x12x18 inches). This was draped with foil and A/B foam poured over. The foam was carved and painted. Several of these mesas were made and a photo-cutout of Vasquez Rocks placed in the distance. Two holes were drilled the length of the shuttle for guide wires that were stretched tightly over the table. I seem to remember some type of motor or electric drill pulling the shuttle at high speed across the table and bouncing over the mesa. The Shuttle was suppose to bounce twice, but the first bounce always gave the Shuttle enough elevation to miss the second mesa. Ken Larson remembers being privileged to catch the shuttle after it bounced through all this dust. He went home a little bit dirty that night. For the second part, the Shuttle was pulled into the soft pile of vermiculite and fullers earth. For the sinking, a large waterproof box was built below an opening in the table. We planned to float ground cork on water and pull the Shuttle model down into the box. We spent days and destroyed several blenders grinding the cork.. Vermiculite was set above the cork. It didn't all go as planned, the cork didn't hold up the vermiculite which became saturated with water and sank. These sequences took many takes and several days, with frequent redressing of the set including miniature shrubbery.

Zicarian Battle Cruiser, a redress of the Battlestar Galactica Agroship which was itself a redress of the original Battlestart Galactica Prison Ship. The farms and domes of the Agroship were removed and tapering structures placed on top.

The Guardians (2.5)
Origianl Air Date: January 29, 1981

Shots of Searcher.

Buck is entrusted to deliver a "symbol," a green box, to its new guardian. The Green Box was one of the few full size props that Universal Hartland built for Buck Rogers. The box was made of heavy clear acrylic. Jerry bought a collection of candy molds and the like of figures and zodiac shapes and other symbols and we made numerous castings in clear casting resin. These were arranged around the box. The exterior of the box was painted in various shades of clear green dyes in a jade pattern. It all had to be transparent because the interior was filled with florescent lights, batteries and remote control dimmers to make the box glow and pulsate. We made two or three boxes and the first one was finished just in time and delivered with the dye still a little wet. We cautioned the shooting crew to be careful since it was still wet, but of course the first scene shot was of the characters fighting over the box. It was returned to Hartland to be stripped and repainted because of all the fingerprints and impressions of costume fabrics.

Some flashback shots of Buck's Shuttle from 500 years ago. I don't remember if any new shots were made, but the 'Dirty Shuttle' stock shots were used of what should have been the 'Clean Shuttle.'

Shots of a new spacecraft. This was another shuttle made by taking the original Buck's Shuttle mold and making a foam casting. The tail was cut off and the scar patched and fins added to the wingtips. As memory serves, the armature was simple, just a mount secured into the foam casing.

Shot ejecting the box from Searcher.

Mark of the Saurian (2.6)
Original Air Date: February 5, 1981

Theta Station returns as a defense post.

The Saurians used a wrist device to appear human. This device was made by Ken Larson for Galactica 1980. Later in the episode, one of the Saurians also held a small ray gun, also made by Ken Larson for Galactica 1980.

Saurian Shuttle, a small model, a rebuild from the Galactica Rag-Tag Fleet, optically docks with Searcher. I don't remember this one.

The Golden Man (2.7)
Original Air Date: February 19, 1981

A Life Pod that I think was built by David Jones, but I could be wrong.

Asteroid field from Season One, Return of the Fighting 69th

Searcher Crashes into an asteroid. The Searcher forward set piece was covered with foil and A/B foam poured against it and the foam carved. A smaller asteroid was carved to accept the smaller model.

Launch from a launch tube that was supposed to be Searcher but was from New Chicago stock footage.

Rotoscope on tracktor beams and green glow around Searcher.

The Crystals (2.8)
Original Air Date: March 5, 1981

Opening shot is of the Searcher forward set piece and the launch of the shuttle described a few episodes back. Universal built most of a full size shuttle exterior and cockpit and Hartland had a mold of the miniature, so the producers had the full size set reworked and we built another miniature as a cost saving measure.

Various views of Searcher at odd angles as if "dead in space". Rotoscoped thruster blasts from Searcher.

Although having nothing to do with Universal Hartland, this is the episode where Twiki gets his voice back. The fans complained about the new one.

The Satyr (2.9)
Original Air Date: March 12, 1981

Stock shot of the Shuttle launching from Searcher. Several shots of the Shuttle in atmosphere, we got better at ships in atmosphere without matte lines.

Rotoscope electrical whips.

Shgoratchx (2.10)
Original Air Date: March 19, 1981

The episode opens with the Gnome Mobile. Ken Larson created the Gnome Mobile from the Bootlegger Shuttle from Battlestar Galactica. Ken added gun turrets and, because the ship was ill maintained, patches at odd angles. It was a low cost modification.

The Searcher takes the Gnome Mobile into tow, a rotoscope effect, and then makes waving motions and other unusual maneuvers that needed to be shot specifically for this episode.

Searcher travels through an asteroid field, we had lots of left over asteroids from Season One.

Funny rotoscope star.

The Hand of the Goral (2.11)
Original Air Date: March 26, 1981

Mostly stock shots of existing models. A full size crashed spacecraft looked like the sled that we bought or rented from Future General.

The end was near and budgets tight. No new models were built.

Testimony of a Traitor (2.12)
Original Air Date: April 9, 1981

Stock shots of Search and shuttles. Stock shots of Hawk grabbing a Thunder Fighter.

No new models were built for this episode.

The Dorian Secret (2.13)
Original Air Date: April 16, 1981
Final episode.

Theta Station model returns an un-named space terminal. The new Shuttle launches. Stock shots of Searcher.

Dorian ship, a modification of Battlestar Galactica Cylon Tanker by adding two outriggers, probably by David Jones.

There wasn't much to do for the last few episodes, Ken Larson had left before the end.

The End -Epilog

Shortly before the series was canceled, we were beginning to explore what would happen to the Search model if it was submerged in water. An unproduced episode would have involved Searcher entering an ocean. The show was canceled. Eventually Universal disposed of the models, in some cases, giving them to people not involved with their creation. Some models, and a lot of copies, are in the hands of collectors.

Studio Tours

A few months after the last episode was shot, Universal Tours decided to do a Special Effects Stage attraction. David Jones supervised and Ken Larson was the only original model maker to help make two Draconias and four Hatchet (Draconia or Pirate) Fighters for the two stages. One Draconia and two fighters were used on each stage. Dayton Osman was the other model maker to work on the project. Since we added much of the details to the original Draconia after it was molded, these two Tours Draconias were sent to another (less costly non-union) company for detailing. The detailing was not as elaborate, but the audience didn't get as close to these models as the originals. I have heard that these tour Draconias are circulating among collectors as the original. Eventually these two Special Effects Stages were converted to other tour uses.

Reviews for Battlestar Galactica.

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