Star Fighter

Visual Effects
Model Making
Behind the Scenes and the History of Universal Hartland

This... War of the Gods Ship
from this... 11260  Hartland Street
Kenneth A. Larson is proud to have been a Visual Effects Model Maker for Universal Hartland Visual Effects Facility, making stunning Visual Effects for numerous Motion Pictures, Television productions, and other projects during its short but little known existence from 1978 to 1981.

I'm not sure where all our fans were when we were struggling to keep our beloved Universal Hartland Visual Effects going, but there are many fans now. So I've attempted to write its history as my memory allows. Feel free to add or comment.

History of Hartland

We were always the underdog. In the eyes of Universal, we were a thorn (or in the words of Pete Gerard, "...in the eyes of Universal, we were either an irritating bunch of "know-it-alls" or an expensive "country club", depending on our achievements of the moment"). This made us both a family and a determined group of talented people. I have not since worked in such a close group. We worked hard, but we also had fun. At the time, we were one of the four larger visual effects facilities. Universal Hartland Visual Effects Facility was at the time, equal to ILM, Entertainment Effects Group, and Apogee, but we didn't have the publicity or support. Universal never knew what they threw away.

Hartland was born in the Future General facilities in Marina Del Rey. About August 1978, we packed up and moved to North Hollywood on Hartland Street, hence the very original name, Universal Hartland. At the time, we were working on the TV movie Buck Rogers in the 25th Century . At the same time that we moved into Hartland, the Battlestar Galactica crew also moved in from ILM. It was at this time, that part of ILM moved north to San Rafael and we got the rest. Only a few short weeks later, some of the Battlestar Galactica people left to form Apogee in the same facility that
Glenco Model Shop
The Glenco Model Shop. Left to right: Jerry Alen, Leoni Aruta, Phil Lantz, Sean Casey. The shaft of light between Phil and Sean shows how dusty model making is.

Hatchet Fighter in Concrete
Pete pressed an extra casting of the Hatchet Fighter into wet concrete from a recent plumbing repair.
ILM had occupied. It has often been said that Apogee made Battlestar Galactica. Apogee did not work on Battlestar Galactica. Apogee was formed by those talented ILM (then called MCA-57) people who started Battlestar Galactica and chose not to stay with ILM or with Battlestar Galactica once it moved to Hartland. MCA-57 made the first two episode and parts of the third and forth, but Apogee began after Battlestar Galactica moved to Hartland. As I never worked for ILM or Apogee, this is the end of my ILM and Apogee history.
Moving Day
Phil Lantz at right on moving day.
Moving Day
Sean Casey supervising the move of the Draconia pattern.
A few months after the move, the decision was made to make Buck as a feature. About this same time, Universal Hartland began Airport '79, the Concord which was our second feature. In the first half of 1979, Buck Rogers was released, Battlestar Galactica wrapped the first season, we finished Airport '79 and began Buck Rogers as a series. In late 1979, we began work on Galactica 1980 . In the spring of 1980, Galactica 1980 was canceled and Buck Rogers wrapped its first season. We were hoping that Galactica 1980 would carry us through the hiatus before Buck's second season but the cancellation disrupted our plans. Then the great actor strike of 1980 hit. We worked a skeleton crew part time through the strike working on Buck Roger's second season. In early 1981, Buck Rogers was canceled. Along the way, we worked on several smaller projects. Universal Hartland limped along a little longer, doing a few commercials, a simulation for the new Space Shuttle, and Buck Rogers models for Universal Studios Tour. The facility was rented out for a few years, but the original crew was usually not involved. The last time I worked at Universal Hartland was on a project for Disney about 1983. We rented the facility for about six months. The last time I saw any of the equipment was years later when I worked in the Universal Studios Prop Shop.

We produced Visual Effects for the features Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Airport '79 the Concord , and Cheech and Chong's Next Movie. We produced Visual Effects for one and a half seasons each of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Battlestar Galactica/Galactica 1980, several commercials, elements for many TV and feature projects, a few non-film projects, elements for a simulation for NASA's new space shuttle, others I've forgotten. Our small crew accomplished all this in less than three short years. I am very proud and happy to have been a part of the original Universal Hartland crew.

Pete Gerard writes:
"I believe only ten of these patches were made. Peter A had one sewn onto a baseball cap, as did I for awhile. But hats get left around, so I pulled it off and archived it. "

A Great Place to Start

I began my Motion Picture career with Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, while it was still working in the Future General Facilities, about six weeks before the move to Hartland. Pat McClung, Will Guest, and Mike Carner got their first real break during the first few months after the move.

I had taken an Architectural model making class at Cal Poly, Pomona. The instructor knew some of the people at ILM and gave me four phone numbers. I called the four numbers and one of them connected me to Wayne Smith. I told him of a 12 inch by 18 inch theme park model I had built from my own design. I didn't know until some time later that Wayne was a theme park enthusiast and later worked for Universal Tours design. If for no other reason, Wayne interviewed me to see the model. Had I built a model of a circus, I might be working in a boring job in a city planning office today. Wayne took me to see Pete Gerard, the model shop chief. Pete said, "If he can do this with paper and balsa wood, imagine what he can do with real materials." I was hired a few days later and have been designing and building scenery ever since.

Pete taught me about materials, tools, technique, painting, and mold making. Sean Casey taught me more about mold making and castings. Marty, Angelo, and Walt taught me more about painting. Helping Mike Fink and Jerry Allen I learned about neon and blue screen. Richard Bennette taught me more about machining.

Hartland was a full service Visual Effects facility housed under one roof in a 30,000 square foot building. Optical was just down the hall, the machine shop was next door with the five stages just beyond. Editorial was to one side of optical and matte painting one the other side beyond the screening room. Once I got comfortable with the model shop, I started learning from the other departments. By the time Hartland closed, I had a good general understanding of the entire process of making Visual Effects.

Another way that I learned at Universal Hartland was the quick turn-around once we started working on television. I literally might finish a model Thursday a few hours before we would gather in the screening room to watch that week's episode of Buck Rogers. The painter would paint the model on Friday and I would help finish any striping and paneling and aging Friday after the painter was ready to hand it back. The stage crew would shoot a test shot on Friday before leaving and shot the moves over the weekend and Monday. Optical would comp it on Tuesday and we would see it on TV Thursday night just after finishing models for next week's episode. If I did something right, I would see it on TV within a few weeks. If I did something badly, I would see it on TV within a few weeks and have time to correct any subsequent repeats or before doing it again. This way, I quickly learned how to cut corners and save time, without cutting the visual quality of the end model. On a feature, if I make a mistake, I don't see it until a year or two later and have forgotten that I even built the model. On a fast paced series like Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, I saw the final result of my work while the experience of building it was still fresh in my mind.

The entire three years that I was at Hartland, I regretted that I had gotten into modern Visual Effects late, after Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It wasn't until recently that I looked back and realized, I was on the ground floor (or maybe just one stop up). Everything was hand made. The first model movers and camera movers were grip pipe and grip clamps. The computers were large hand made pieces of equipment and probably did less than a modern VCR. Since then, there have been advances in plastics and chemicals. I remember making mountains by mixing by hand, part A and part B of a urethane resin in a bucket and brushing it on foil within the 30 seconds it took before the resin foamed up. Now you can take a froth-pack and spray it on chicken wire to make mountains. A few years later, I worked on a project for Disney which used a motion control rig fifty feet by one hundred feet by about 20 feet high. This rig was far advanced from what we used only a couple of years earlier. In the years after we started Universal Hartland, a dozen small Visual Effects companies sprung up, each built on the technology of it's predecessors. Today, only a hand full survive. Digital is a great tool and someday, there may be no more physical models at all. Today, a well run Visual Effects company uses both modern and traditional techniques, depending upon which works best for each scene.

Hartland Credits

Features:

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Airport '79, the Concord
Cheach and Chong's Next Movie
Get Smart, the Movie
line 125 Television:

Battlestar Galactica
Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
Galactica 1980
Sheriff Lobo
Cosmos
forgot name of UFO thing
Other projects:

comemrcials (Laker Air)
Space Shuttle simulation for NASA
ABC Motion Pictures
Buck Rogers models for Studio Tour
After the original crew left:

The Thing
Horizon Pavilion (Disney EPCOT)
Click here for images from other Universal Hartland credits.

Behind the Scenes

Model Shop
My desk.
Model Shop
Model shop.
David Garber's Office
David Garber's office. One Friday evening, some of the PAs got board so they applied dots to everything in the office. Weeks later, they switched everything in David's and Wayne's office, including the dots.

Pete Gerard, first Model Shop supervisor, had a way of eye-balling something one minute and then using a caliper to measure something to 1/1000 inch. Pete writes, "Remember David Erland, Jon's son? He drew a caricature of me once, as Han Solo, called it "Reckless Precision", waving a Vernier caliper instead of a blaster. Reckless Precision


Frequently Asked Questions

I often receive e-mails from fans asking questions. Rather than answer each individually, I will attempt, in the coming months, to answer the common questions in an article that will expand from time to time.

Note: Kenneth A. Larson is in no known way related to Producer Glen A. Larson. Ken Larson is a self made model maker (you can make anything with Bondo).

The feature Buck Rogers had a short run in theaters then became the first episode of the series.

The Cylon and Viper molds were getting old and the casting foam was hard on them. I don't recall that Hartland made any more castings, maybe parts for hybrid models. We used the models that ILM made and enhanced them as needed. We mostly rebuilt models from the Rag Tag fleet, adding detail, but did build some models from scratch.

Hartland had its own Art Department - we had little communication with the lot. Many of the designs were by David M. Jones, Illustrator.

Buck's shuttle was carved from wood as were the Pirate Fighter (Marauder), Thunder Fighter (Star Fighter), Ardala's Launch, etc. The only kit parts were the small detail pieces.

For Buck, we began the series making lots of models to have them ready and then plugged them is as needed. We also built from scratch when nothing was ready in advance. We also rebuilt earlier models such as Ardalla's Launch to became the Vorvon shuttle and the Lerian Queen became the Searcher. Some models or parts of models were used for other Universal shows.

I am often asked for parts or drawings. If I ever had anything besides the slides included here, I can't remember. So please, don't beg because I can't provide.

Epilog

We were a family. We worked hard. We worked long hours. We fought the odds against us to produce enough Visual Effects to fill a feature every week, an hour for Buck and an hour for Galactica. We got together on the weekends and evenings. Since Hartland closed, I have worked on many other crews, but never as close a group as with Universal Hartland. I met more people who I still keep in touch with at Hartland than any other job in the following 22 years.
Reunion # 1
In about 1999, A collector gathered many from the original crew for a reunion. Left to right: Pat McClung, Bud Elam, Dianna Gold, Janet Kuzman, Kent Gebo, David Stipes, Dan Curry, Kenneth Larson, Sean Casey, Vance Frederick, David M. Jones. Photo by Jon Billings.
Reunion # 2
Four of the Hartland Model Makers got together for a reunion on June 21, 2003. From left to Right: Pat McClung, S. Kent (Kento) Gebo, Kenneth Larson, Vance Frederick. Behind are original models and reproductions belonging to the collector who hosted the reunion.

On occasion, we have come together to answer questions at Galactica Conventions. On October 26, 2003, Richard Bennett, Ken Larson, Pat McClung, and Vance Frederick participated in a panel discussion for the 25th Anniversary Galacticon.
25th Anniversary GalactiCon
Vance Frederick (VFX Model Maker), Pat McClung (VFX Model Maker), Kenneth Larson ( VFX Model Maker), Richard Bennett (Camera operator and machinist), Peter Berkos (Sound Engineer), Lee Stringer (CGI from new Galactica).
25th Anniversary GalactiCon
Lee Stringer, Pat McClung, Kenneth Larson, Vance Frederick, Richard Bennett.
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