War of the Gods Light Ship

Battlestar Galactica
Galactica 1980
Visual Effects

Flying Motorcycle

Battlestar Galactica - Galactica 1980 - Episodes VFX Description

These Visual Effects descriptions are compiled from memory by a member of the Battlestar Galactica and Galactica 1980 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.

Battlestar Galactica

Saga of a Star World;
Original Air Date: September 17, 1978.

Universal Hartland did not work on this episode. When we inherited the series, the pilot was complete. Since we would complete the series, we were given a screening at one of the Universal screening rooms. The day after the screening, we returned to work on Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica.

The Lost Planet of the Gods;
Part 1; Original Air Date: September 24, 1978.
Part 2; Original Air Date: October 1, 1978.

Universal Hartland did not build any models for this episode, but I have a vague memory of seeing the Cylon Outpost on stage. This may have been shot at Hartland.

The Lost Warrior;
Original Air Date: October 8, 1978.

Universal Hartland did not build any models for this episode. There may have been new sots of old models and/or opticals. This is the classic episode with Red Eye, a Cylon who thought he was a gun slinger.

The Long Patrol;
Original Air Date: October 15, 1978.

This episode featured two new models, both built before moving to Harland - sort of. The Model-T Viper disappeared during the move and had to be rebuilt from scratch at Hartland by the builder of the original, I think it was David Beasley. David Scott finished the Bootlegger Shuttle. Both models were filmed at Hartland. Additional Photography and Opticals were provided by Universal Hartland.

The Gun on Ice Planet Zero;
Part 1; Original Air Date: October 22, 1978.
Part 2; Original Air Date: October 29, 1978.

Universal Hartland did not build any models for this episode. The shots of the Gun were filmed at Universal Hartland. Additional Photography and Opticals were also created at Universal Hartland.

The Magnificent Warriors;
Original Air Date: November 12, 1978.

This was probably the first episode that the Universal Hartland Model Shop had a major involvement. The original Prison Ship was rebuilt into an Agro Ship by adding two domes farms and connecting structure. A landing bay was added to the front. Michael Carner built the structure and Kenneth Larson made two farm inserts. Additional Agro Ships were stock footage from the movie Silent Running. Several episodes later when we needed a Prison Ship, we rebuilt something else into a new Prison Ship.

The Young Lords;
Original Air Date: November 19, 1978.

In this episode, Starbuck's Viper is damaged in a fight with the Cylons. Pete Gerard made a new bottom casting and distressed it and filled it with small lights. On film, the lights looked like sparks emitted from damaged equipment.

The Living Legend;
Part 1; Original Air Date: November 26, 1978.
Part 2; Original Air Date: December 3, 1978.

The Universal Hartland Model Shop had an important, but small, job on this episode. It involved removing the 'Galactica' nameplate and replacing it with a matching 'Pegasus' namepllate. It was a tough, but someone had to do it. Since most of the shots of the Battlestar Galactica were long finished, the Pegasus nameplate wasn't removed. Universal Hartland provided photography and opticals. One note of interest, locations for the Cylon world of Gamoray were shot at Cal State Northridge, where 15 years later, model maker Kenneth Larson graduated with an Interior Design degree and soon after began his new career as Set Designer.

Fire in Space;
Original Air Date: December 17, 1978.

This episode involved a fire in the Galactica launch bay following the crash of a Cylon. Michael Carner and Kenneth Larson added enhancements to the model for these shots. Mike added holes in the hull and red lights for the fire effects, Ken added extra fine details.

War of the Gods;
Part 1; Original Air Date: January 14, 1979.
Part 2; Original Air Date: January 21, 1979.

Jerry Allen and Vance Frederick created most of the Light Ship. Jerry and Vance usually maintained the neon blue screen covers for model movers and in a very short time used every spare neon tube to fabricate this model and a set piece of neon for process shots. Kenneth Larson added bits and pieces of irregularly cut clear and defused plastic parts to the tubes.

The Man with Nine Lives;
Original Air Date: January 28, 1979.

Pat McClung transformed a non-discript ship from the Rag Tag Fleet into the Canarious.

Murder on the Rising Star;
Original Air Date: February 18, 1979.

Universal Hartland did primarily incidental shots and opticals.

Greetings from Earth (2 hour);
Original Air Date: February 25, 1979.

The Universal Hartland Model Shop did a lot on this episode. A foam casting was made of the Buck Rogers shuttle and Kenneth Larson reworked it into the 'Pumpkin Shuttle'; adding air scoops (why these were needed in space I don't know) and changing the wings and tail. My 30 year+ memories are fuzzy but I think Pat McClung started the Eastern Alliance Destroyer and Kenneth Larson added detail. There was brief talk of a spin-off series based on the Eastern Alliance thread which quickly faded, but before it faded, a larger Destroyer model was begun. Since the smaller destroyer included 3 F-15 fuselages, three castings were made of the F-15 we built for Airport '79 and assembled. The smaller model also used Thunderfighter lower wings from Buck Rogers, so larger copies of these were also built. Parts of these larger wings were later used to convert Ardalla's Launch into the Vorvon Shuttle for a later episode of Buck Rogers.

To remind you of the timeline, we inherited Battlestar Galactica about midway through the feature of Buck Rogers, started Airport '79 a few months later, finished Buck Rogers feature shortly after that. Then we finished Battlestar Galactica just before finishing Airport '79 but started the series of Buck Rogers season one just before finishing Airport '79. Midway through Buck's first season we began Galactica 1980, did Cheech and Chongs Next Movie and wrapped Buck's first season just before Galactica 1980 got cut short. Then the Actors strike of 1980 hit and we were mostly down for a while, doing only a few effects for Buck's second season to keep the doors open. Along the way there were a few smaller projects such as parts of Cosmos. Once Buck's second season wrapped, there was a Laker Airline commercial and a few minor projects then we closed. The facility was used by a new crew for The Thing and later some of the original crew came back for sequences for Walt Disney World's EPCOT Horizon Pavilion. The last time I stood inside my former home away from home, it was a scene dock, storing sets from various Universal shows.

Baltar's Escape;
Original Air Date: March 11, 1979

Having previously rebuilt the prison ship into the Agro Ship, when we needed a prison barge, we converted another no-name ship from the Rag Tag Fleet into the Prison Barge. I don't remember who did the transformation, but it may have been Pat. Incidental shots of the Eastern Alliance Destroyer including landing in the Galactica landing bay model that was built before the show moved to Hartland.

Experiment in Terra;
Original Air Date: March 18, 1979

The War of the Gods Light Ship returns.

Take the Celestra;
Original Air Date: April 1, 1979

Take the Celestra, Please!

The was another enhancement to a ship from the Rat Tag Fleet. Again I think it was Pat McClung. There were several shots on this new model including tight on the landing bay.

The Hand of God;
Original Air Date: April 29, 1979

The final episode of Battlestar Galactica (not to be confused with the later spin-off Galactica 1980) included a number of visual effects. The motion control Visual Effects model of the Cylon Base Star was taken to the lot where it was used as a prop - a model of a Cylon Bast Star for a planning meeting. (Read what Pete Gerade remembers of this incident) The mission was to destroy a Cylon Base Start which gave the model shop one last opportunity to build some detailed set pieces of the Base Star. A landing bay door was reworked from an earlier episode and a landing bay interior was modeled for process shots. Apollo and Starbuck disable the Base Star's sensors and escape in a Cylon Fighter. To signal to the Galactica that it is them, they "waggle their wings" requiring a special shot, a break from all the stock footage. The final sequence was of an old celestial navigation dome, a matt shot with a cut-out for a live action clip of Apollo and Starbuck.

End of series.

Battlestar Galactica was not renewed for a second season, but ...

Galactica 1980

About late 1979, in the middle of doing the Visual Effects for season one of Buck Rogers, we were suddenly informed that we had about three weeks to build three flying motorcycles and other props for a new spin-off series, Galactica 1980.

Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 1

There was a heavy use of stock footage of Galactica, Vipers, and Cylon Fighters. We shot very little new footage of these old models.

For a Doctor Z projection of what would happen if the Cylons reached Earth, liberal use was made of stock footage of the destruction of Los Angeles from the movie Earthquake.

Dan or Jena made a matte paintings of a hole in the Cinerama Dome and other buildings after a Cylons blast.

Vipers in atmosphere. After shooting Airport '79, we got better at mattes with a light background.

The flying motorcycles were the Model Shop's biggest projects for the series. We had two or three weeks to design and build three of these motorcycles.

Richard Bennett bought two Yamaha MX175 and he and his crew, Ed Schlegelmilch an maybe George Polkinghorn, began modifications. They developed a system of tension rods to move the handlebars a few inches forward without changing the pivot. This allowed the rider to almost lay down on the cowling for better aerodynamics. The Machine Shop built the wing movement mechanisms and added the necessary tabs and brackets for attaching the fiberglass parts. Then the Model Shop hired a few extra people and began carving foam for the cowling, turboengines, wings, wheel covers, and other parts. The parts were molded and fiberglass parts cast. If memory serves, the molds were sent to the Lot because where we usually laid up fiberglass by hand, they had a chopper that could do it much quicker, however our way was cleaner for miniature work. The parts where chopped and cut and fitted to the metal framework. The seats were sent to the Upholstery Shop at the Lot for upholstering. All of this was happening at the same time with someone adding wires and lights to a piece as someone else was masking the same part to paint. We built two complete motorcycles and were almost finished with a half bike when the schedule changed and one of the complete bikes was cut in half for a helicopter shot. So we had one complete bike and two half bikes for helicopter shots. We had to build another bike. The Special Effects Shop at the studio also made some bikes but the stunt drivers said they didn't handle well, these bikes did not have the same handlebar tension rod pivot extension, but rather an extension bar that caused the whole bar assembly to move back and forth rather than turn.

There were a few stories to relate. When we were about half finished building the first two bikes, a large stake bed truck arrived with orders to pick up 20 bikes. I said we had better get busy. It turned out the truck was suppose to pick up the bikes from a vehicle rental. Once finished, the bikes were stored at Hartland as we made adjustments and repairs. A truck and trailer showed up, we loaded the bikes and tied them off, and David Jones jumped on the back of the trailer to test the hitch. The trailer had not been properly hitched and the front of the trailer rose high into the sky. Had the truck left this way, the trailer would have come unhitched and the bikes ruined.

Mike Joyce started a miniature of the flying motorcycles, but I dont think it was ever finished. Ken Larson carved a very simple silhouette of a rear view from a block of wood with two lights. This simple model was used extensively.

Ken Larson made two or three wrist communicators with a real LCD digital display that didn't work too well, so the display was added optically. Bud Elam and crew did the electronics for these as they did with most of the computers that ran the motion control cameras and model movers.
Little Derringer laser pistols were new props. Ken Larson made one from acrylic and it was molded. The barrels were individually carved from a block of acrylic and a turned end. These were sand blasted. Later, additional copies were made by the Special Effects Department on the lot using a cast resin barrel.

Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 2

Stock shots, no new models. A time travel sequence was made by shooting multiple passes of a Viper, offsetting slightly each times and adding rotoscope and light effects. Lots of stock footage of German military, V1 and V2.

Galactica Discovers Earth, Part 3

Mostly stock shots and more of the time travel effects.

Eventually the Special Effects Department on the lot built additional flying motorcycles that the stunt drivers found more difficult to ride, but until then members of the Hartland Model shop accompanied our cycles to the lot or locations. At the time, the 210 Freeway was finished from I-5 to about two miles east of the 118, and then the next four miles were under construction. This left a section about two miles of finished freeway that was not yet open and this is where we shot all the freeway scenes. Several times we took the bikes to the stage for process shots.

The Super Scouts, Part 1

Ken Larson made about two dozen child size wrist communicators like the ones in the first episode. These were about 3/4 the size of the adult size. Where the adult version used two expandable metal watch bands, the child version used an elastic band.

Gemini Freighter was used as the School ship when the Cylons attacked. This involved some new and stock shots.

One of the small guns was used again and the wrist communicators.

Lots of stock shots.

The Super Scouts, Part 2

The Doctor Z Ship was made from an acrylic dome for the top and a vacuform bottom made from a plaster spin that Sean and Ken made. The bottom was filled with fiberoptic and the model also included neon. There was a whole model and a bottom only section on a long tube for directed light. The first shot of the Doctor Z Ship in the assembly hangar was actually a matte painting.


Visual Effects were limited to rotoscope laser blasts and one shot of a Viper dead in space. To accomplish this Viper effect, a singe frame of a Viper was used in a freeze frame and to make it less obvious, the frame was rotated a few degrees over about two seconds. It didn't look good, so the effect was repeated several times during the episode.

The Night the Cylons Landed, Part 1

The new Cylon Fighter was made by attaching vacuform wings to a standard Cylon body. Clear red resin was cast into the edges of the wings with neon inside. No one can remember who built it.

The Night the Cylons Landed, Part 2

A few rotoscope raygun and lightning effects. No new models.

Space Croppers

The episode begins with lots of stock footage of Cylons attacking Galactica and stock footage from the feature Silent Running of the Agroship. We were mostly working on Buck Rogers Season One, so we survived having so little to do on Galactica 1980.

Stock shots of the Doctor Z Ship. No new models. The closing shot was the same stock shot of the motorcycles flying away. It's not surprising that the show was canceled and we had just one more episode to produce.

The Return of Starbuck

Doctor Z is describing a dream of the past where Starbuck is engaged in a dogfight with Cylons. This was all stock images, including the sparking underside of a Viper that Pete Gerard had made a year earlier. Startbuck crashes on the same planet as the Cylon ship he had blasted earlier. Starbuck and the cockpit eject and the rest of the Viper is destroyed. He finds the crashed Cylon ship and adds the Cylon engin to the Viper cockpit to escape - only he stays behind. Ken Larson took foam castings of a Viper and a Cylon as the base to build this model, the last model that Ken or anyone built for Galactica.

Some shots adding multiple moons to shots of Red Rock Canyon. Rotoscoped laser blasts.

The End

The show was canceled. Some of the models were used for later episodes of Buck Rogers. Many years later a new Battlestar Galactica series ran for several seasons using CGI instead of miniatures. As far as I know, noone from the original was involved with the remake.

Studio Tours

For a few years, Universal Studio Tours included a Galactica stop. The tram drove through a Cylon ship (which looked nothing like the ones in the television show) and there was a battle between Cylon and Colonial stunt men. The attraction was still under construction and Universal wanted to promote it, so Jena Holman made a matte painting of the exterior and if memory serves, it was comped with a tram entering it. The attraction stood a for a few years after the show was canceled but like almost everything on the tour, it grew old and was replaced.

Reviews for Buck Rogers.

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