Alien: The Narcissus and garage

 leading from


a) Earlier design for a shuttle
Another job was building the shuttle/lifeboat Narcissus. The Art Department at Shepperton had built a cardboard model from which the full-size set had been constructed. This had already been filmed so we had to match this exactly on the model, but only the front half of the full size one had been built. No one knew what the nose looked like. Ron Cobb had done a nice painting of it but it was of a rear view. Brian Eke started to build a wooden model which was subsequently made into fibre glass fibre by John Packenham, but Ridley did not like it.

b) Martin Bower sent over to see the Narcissus exterior set
Nick Alder sent Martin Bower over to Shepperton Studios, they had nearly finished with the shooting of the film and the Narcissus exterior set was hanging in the studio roof , and it looked as if it had been squashed in such a way that Ridley would shoot it directly from the back and it would look fine on screen despite being squashed to half the length. He was sent there to photograph it from every angle so that he could get all the detail the same and then went back to Bray to do a little sketch.

photo of Narcissus exterior set at Shepperton posted by Phil Rae
c) Developing the Narcissus exterior
What they also had to work with was the concept art by Ron Cobb which seemed to indicate that the front was exactly the same as the back but minus the engine pods. Martin Bower and Bill Pearson drew it up together but realised that using Ron Cobb's drawing, it looked frankly awful. Their compromise was to stretch the front and Bill also added dual lobes to draw some comparison to the Nostromo tug. Besides that, the Nostromo exterior set  although generally similar in appearance was different enough from Ron Cobb's original drawing so it didn't seem as if they had to be faithful to it

Martin showed his sketch to Ridley and told him " I sort of foresee something like that" and Ridley replied "yeah, do it"

A small steel box support frame welded together by effects technician Roger Nichols and Martin clad it with quarter inch perspex, which was about six thick millimetre perspex and created a diamond shaped ship

He had to make little sections that could be pulled out where the hold plug holds the jig to film the Narcissus on. He detailed the top section in plasticard panels, EMA tubing and carefully selected wiggets (which Bill refered to as Low Profile) using near enough parts from 37 different model kits

However outside of Martin Bower's own version of events, Bill Pearson remembered that Martin Bower covered the top part of the Narcissus with details and this style was copied by model maker Phil Rae for the underside.

But Phil Rae would remember that he did the whole of it with the exception of the top of the back end which he thought that perhaps Simon Deering did, to match the full size rear end the prop guys made

Model maker Philip D Rae constructing the stunted version of the shuttle 
specially for a head-on shot required of the live actors working inside. 
The stunted version affectionately called "Miss Piggy" by the crew was 
required because the slope of the shuttle design prevented them from 
getting the proper shot using one of the normal versions.   
(Starlog/ December 1980, p35)
d) Miss Piggy
But once Phil Rae had detailed the smaller 30 inch complete model, little did he realise that he would be asked to reproduce all the detail in bigger scale, working on a stunted version of the front of the shuttle that would come to be nicknamed by the crew as Miss Piggy incorporating two TV monitors for the shots where the actors appear inside but this was really just a slab sided perspex shell. A stunted version was required because the slope of the shuttle design was said to prevent them from getting the proper shot using one of the normal versions. 


Phil Rae: Finished model dirtied down with dry black powder paint applied
liberally then wiped off, highlighting all the detail. The docking clamp on the 
top was made by Martin and had two compressed air rams to raise the clamps 
on the sides. ( http://www.eagletransporter.com/)
e) Shuttle Clamp 
At the same time Martin made a clamp, which held the shuttle under Nostromo, to fit exactly over the top. This was made to function with miniature air rams operated by compressed air from an airbrush propellant can. These are made by a company called Kunke in Germany and have been used many times since. The four jet nozzles were made by John in fibreglass and then Roger plumbed in gas jets to make the model actually function, but, yet again, the shot where it did this is not in the final film.
 

The 2x2 foot shuttle in its launch bay with the protective shield retracted. 
(Starlog/ December 1980, p35)

f) Narcissus takes off
Ridley wanted this really clever idea where Ripley fires the jets to slow the ship down and then what's seen is the refinery going past the screen for the Narcissus' hurried escape. They had to build a vast under section of Nostromo in effect rather like an upside-down trench, for the shot were Ripley fires the retros on Narcissus and the refinery is seen, through the shuttle's window whizzing by outside.

This was also used for the scenes where Narcissus is seen leaving its sliding "garage". This was in effect another model in itself and was built on a seperate 8' x 4' sheet of blackboard.

The garage cover slid back to reveal Narcissus which was then lowered down and released.  Bill Pearson and Martin did all the detailing on this section; even the interior of the garage which exactly matched the back of the Narcissus, hatch and all. But again never once seen in the final film.

The garage section slotted into the 40 foot long trench which was made from dozens of vac-formed panels stapled to a wooden framework representing the the underside of the vessel's "wing".

Each panel was eight foot by four foot sheet of polystyrene vacformed plastic with every wigget they had previously deemed worthless - from hundreds of 1/35 scale soldiers, aircraft wings and propellers to even the connecting sprues!  If one looked even closer, one would be able to see tiny little soldier figures stuck all over.

All Ridley was looking for was shapes to use as a background which would flash past quickly behind the craft.





Narcissus inside the dock (source:http://www.zen171398.zen.co.uk/)
A view of the shuttle dock. Each of the four engines are plugged in around the entry port in the 
centre that locks onto the shuttle hatch. (Starlog/ December 1980, p35)

Source Quotes
  1. Martin Bower: This is the sketch that l did of the Narcissus shuttle craft, the original back section here having been built as a set and having been done as a drawing by Ron Cobb, the conceptual artist. l then came up with this idea of what the nose would look like. And it was from this that the final model was constructed. And also just a very quick sketch showing the rear section. This was to enable me to work out the release clamp, which l also built, which drops the Narcissus down from the Nostromo and then releases. (Alien Quadrilogy documentary)
  2. Martin Bower: Another job was building the shuttle/lifeboat Narcissus. The Art Department at Shepperton had built a cardboard model from which the full-size set had been constructed. This had already been filmed so we had to match this exactly on the model, but only the front half of the full size one had been built. No one knew what the nose looked like. Ron Cobb had done a nice painting of it but it was of a rear view. Brian Eke started to build a wooden model which was subsequently made into fibre glass fibre by John Packenham, but Ridley did not like it. I got sent over to Shepperton with my camera and was told to photograph the full size set. I came back and working from these shots did some sketches, (my other bit of designing on the film), which Ridley subsequently approved. Effects technician Roger Nicholls then welded me up a steel box section and I built the Narcissus around this in perspex. It was then clad in plasticard, carefully selected kit parts and EMA piping. At the same time I made this clamp, which holds it under Nostromo, to fit exactly over the top. This was made to function with miniature air rams operated by compressed air from an airbrush propellant can. These are made by a company called Kunke in Germany and have been used many times since. The four jet nozzles were made by John in fibreglass and then Roger plumbed in gas jets to make the model actually function, but, yet again, the shot where it did this is not in the final film. (Scifi And fantasy models #11, p38)
  3. Martin Bower: Later on a squashed version of the nose of Narcissus (nicknamed "Miss Piggy"by the crew), was built incorporating TV monitors for the shots were the actors appear inside but this was just a slab sided perspex shell.  (Scifi And fantasy models # 11, p38) 
  4. Model maker Philip D Rae constructing the stunted version of the shuttle specially for a head-on shot required of the live actors working inside. The stunted version affectionately called "Miss Piggy" by the crew was required because the slope of the shuttle design prevented them from getting the proper shot using one of the normal versions.  
    (STARLOG/December 1980)
  5. Bill Pearson:The Narcissus escape unit first appeared in our workshop in the form of our workshop in the form of a card mockup of only the rear section which had been built full size for the final sequence. The only drawing seemed to indicate that the front mimicked exactly the shape of the rear but minus the engine pods. Martin and myself drew this up and it looked very squat and, we thought, "frankly awful". Our compromise was to stretch the front and I also added dual lobes to draw some comparison to the Nostromo tug. Martin then took over and built the whole shape up in 1/8 inch perspex over a small steel box section support frame. He detailed the top section in plasticard panels and low profile wiggets and this style was copied by model maker Phil Rae on the underside. The model was finished in white primer and only the front - ie: the bit that would stick out of the "garage" - was dirtied down. the rest being kept pristine. Graphic embellishment was added in the form of a painted bathing beauty wearing a space helmet applied just below the craft's s windscreen. This, we hoped, would evoke the feeling of US World War II fighter/ bomber graphics as well as summoning up our feelings about the look of the craft, to which we added the wording "Miss Piggy", due to its cute dumpy, snout-nosed appearance. (From Sketch to Screen, p96)
  6. Martin Bower : I was sent over, by Nick Alder, to Pinewood Studios, they'd virtually finished shooting and the Nos... the Nos... the Narcissus was hanging in the studio roof and it was like as if the set had been squashed, so that Ridley could shoot it directly from the back and it would look fine on screen but it was actually squashed probably in half, and I photographed it extensively from every angle so i could get all the detail the same, and then I went back to Bray and I did a little sketch, this little sort of doodle which I've still got and showed it to Ridley Scott because he was now at Bray, and I said erm, "I sort of foresee something like that", well Ron Cobb's done a drawing of it but he couldn't see it and it was completely different to what they made, it still had four engines, essentially it was roughly the same shape, it was much more rounded, and i said, "well, I've come up with this which I could do in plastic and obviously cover it in little bits and pieces", and he just said "yeah, do it" just like that, you know, and I clad... clad that with quarter inch perspex, what's that, about four or five mill perspex, erm,, and just made this diamond shaped ship and had to make little sections that could be pulled out where the hold plug holds the erm jig to film the Narcissus on but Ridley wanted this really clever idea where and that was as she fired the jets to slow her down, you'd see the refinery going like this past you, and that was great, and that looked really good, and for that, we had to build about, I think it was about forty foot long, we remember it was a blooming great thing, we had these eight by four sheets of poly- polystyrene, erm, vac formed covered them all in plastic kit bits and we stapled over, i remember this staple gun, stapling them onto the framework. (Alien Makers documentary) 
  7. Bill Pearson: For the final escape sequence Martin built the garage to slide back on cables according to FX supervisor Nick Alder's instructions. He also incorporated small air rams to "drop" the craft. In fact, when the clamps were released, the model was simply lowered on a rod coming out of the top which was not seen due to a carefully positioned camera angle. (From Sketch to Screen, p97)  
  8. Martin Bower: We had to build a vast under section of Nostromo in effect rather like an upside-down trench, for the shot were Ripley fires the retros on Narcissus and the refinery is seen, through the shuttle's window whizzing by outside. This was also used for the scenes where Narcissus is seen leaving its sliding "garage". This was in effect another model in itself and was built on a seperate 8' x 4' sheet of blackboard. The garage cover slid back to reveal Narcissus which was then lowered down and released.  Bill and I did all the detailing on this section; even the interior of the garage which exactly matched the back of the Narcissus, hatch and all. But again never once seen in the final film. The garage section slotted into the trench which was 40 feet long and made from dozens of vac-formed panels stapled to a wooden frame.  (Scifi And fantasy models #11, p38)
  9. Bill Pearson: For the detailing surrounding the Narcissus' hurried escape we clad eight foot by four foot vacformed plastic panels with every wigget we had previously deemed worthless - from hundreds of 1/35 scale soldiers, aircraft wings and propellers to even the connecting sprues! All Ridley was looking for was shapes to use as a background which would flash past quickly behind the craft. I suppose we created sixty feet of this! I suppose we created about sixty feet of this! (From Sketch to Screen, p97)  
  10. Bill Pearson: Footage featuring a side view of the Narcissus miniature was shot against bluescreen. (From Sketch to Screen, p97)
  11. Phil Rae: Martin Bower did NOT detail the 30 in Narcissus....(despite his claims on his website)....I did....with the exception of the top of the back end, which someone else did...Simon Dearing did that I THINK...to match the full size rear end the props guys made.
    I e-mailed Martin and asked him to correct this and give me credit, but he ignored me.
    He also claims copyright on many of the photos of his Alien section, which I shot...he ignored my request to change that too. It pisses me off but life's too short to worry about such things.
    For the record, I also built and detailed the big forced perspective version...only the front end was done
    .( Old 02-08-2008, 12:27 PM http://www.eagletransporter.com/)
  12. Phil Rae: Here's some more of the big forced perspective narcissus i built. Little did i realise when I was asked to detail the smaller(30in) complete model, I'd be asked to reproduce all the detail in bigger scale! the photo of me with the drill is me making holes for the corners of the 2 TV monitors used inside to get them into the right position for filming....see outtake frame of final set up.
  13. Bill Pearson: Narcissus in the movie, escape unit, she's ah, she's about eighteen inches from wing tip to wing tip, so you can imagine the amount of stuff that's around there. That was boxes and boxes of plastic kits, all the bits that we didn't use. If you actually went closeup on some of it, you'd see tiny little figures, soldiers stuck all over. We just vacformed eight by four sheets in styrene and then chloroformed everything on. I don't know what adhesives you use yourselves, but er, if we're using perspex, styrene, ABS, it's chloroform, we don't go with "tensoles", nothing like that.  Er, chloroform if you use it, I'm sure you know, you do not get a residue. You can use the capillary action technique, that you put the two bits together and you run the chloroform along it and it sucks in and you get a clean join, you don't have all the gunk that you have to wait 'til it dries and sand off later
    Person in audience: We tend to use Dichloromethane, the students can fall asleep without the chloroform
    Bill Pearson: Dichlorine, we we do, ah, but Chloroform is a lot more fun at parties. You can see there's even more of that, but, er that was supposed to be on the underside of the Nostromo, one of the wing sections that held the engines up (Bill Pearson's June 2013 Two Hour Lecture At 'The City Of Glasgow College' DVD)

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