Yellow Nostromo

a.) The rise and fall of the yellow Nostromo
For about three months the Nostromo had been painted yellow and green. 

Simon Deering remembered when one day that Brian Johnson was looking at the model of the space ship, then on the wall in the studio where the tattered old sketch by Ron Cobb that had been mostly ignored remained,  and then back at the model of the ship.

Suddenly sparking up, Brian said "Hey .. It should be yellow! Go get some paint!".

So they had to get a couple of crates of small touchup spraypaint cans of signal yellow from Halfords. 

Originally the yellow was most likely inspired by Chris Foss who had been involved in the pre-production for Alien and some of his well known paintings of spacecrafts featured paint schemes with bright yellows. 

They covered it in the yellow paint and some parts of it were painted in different shades of the same yellow. 

Finally the whole thing was matted down with Letraset 103 matte fixative.

Ron Cobb's first yellow Nostromo

b) The meaning of Yellow
For Jon Sorensen, the yellow represented the idea that the ship was a decommissioned military vessel that was now used for mining, however Simon Deering was barely able to remember the yellow paint job being used for perhaps more than a day because of the excessive amount of Afghani hashish that he had been smoking at the time and he thought of a yellow colour scheme being related more to the idea of a JCB.
final Nostromo sketch on yellow paper
by Ron Cobb

c) Brian Johnson's famous last word
Dennis Ayling filmed the shot of the space craft travelling towards the planet, with twin suns in the distance. 

Brian Johnson was sitting with his arms back in the rushes room at Bray Studios and straight up he said "I think we've cracked it lads", but they were his famous last words. 

He soon left the Alien project to work on the Star Wars sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and Ridley ordered the change of the Nostromo's colour from yellow to grey.

untitled painting by Chris Foss
used on the cover of  E.E. 'Doc' Smith's
novel "Planet of Treacher"

d) The change to grey
Martin Bower remembered orders from Shepperton to change the colour scheme to a dirty grey. 

They sprayed it with one sweep of normal primer grey and thought "that's no good", someone had some zinc plate primer, they did a test, it was darker and would polish up and look like metal. 

So Martin Bower went down to a shop in Maidenhead and buying a massive amount of zinc plate primer and the Nostromo became a dark grey, then it was polished, then shaded and they continued to work on it. 

When Ridley arrived, he liked the grey but not the numbers done in brilliant orange and so months of hard work of shooting the spaceship in flight had to be redone

Source Quotes
  1. Jon Sorenson: Yeah Ridley appeared. We'd finished all these models extensively, there were thirty three shots to achieve on the schedule and at that time Nostromo was, was a military yellow and everybody loved that looked. (Alien Makers I documentary by Dennis Lowe, 52:17
  2. Dennis Lowe: "Which version of the Nostromo do you like"

    Jon Sorenson: "Oh right, of all the versions of Nostromo that were actually produced, the, there was one done that was military yellow and green, and  everyone, everyone loved that one and that, that was my favourite and I remembered , the first sequence,  we had, er,  a shot which was done by Dennis Ayling, who photographed it, and the yellow Nostromo came in over head and the planet artwork was rotating underneath,  your planet artwork on the dome projection and then the twin suns came up and I remember Brian Johnson , and we were sitting in the rushes, the little Bray studio rushes, Brian was sitting you know with his arms back like this and he's straight up and he said "I think we've cracked it lads", famous last words, you know of course, Ridley changed everything, but everybody loved that model and the look of it, and the idea was to make everything look very dark for the film, everybody understood what he wanted, but I still think in some ways he made a mistake by not keeping that military, because it gave you a sense not that it was a military craft but, but maybe it had been decommissioned and used, and kind of you know, second hand or something, it was a second hand space ship, and er, it didn't go into fights anymore but it was used for that, mining and er, but anyway away it went with everything else as soon as Ridley arrived."  Alien Makers I documentary by Dennis Lowe, 57:08)
    shot from Nostromo Ayrling's test footage
    with twin suns

  3. Simon Deering: Jon, Dennis, whats all this about the yellow Nostromo being Military ? I always thought yellow was for industrial like jCB's ? (Alien, June 24, 2009)
  4. WmmvrrvrrmmAlso I keep thinking about how the Nostromo model when it went through it's yellow paint scheme reminds me of Chris Foss' paintings, he has been known to paint yellow spacecrafts. I wonder if the paint scheme was inspired by his work (Alien, June 21, 2009)

    A JCB Wheeled Loading Shovel
    Jon SorensonAbsolutely correct! It was inspired by Chris Foss' designs. (Alien, June 24, 2009)
  5. Simon Deering: "The Nostromo was originally yellow, and the team filmed shots of the models for six weeks before Johnson left to work on The Empire Strikes Back. Scott then ordered it changed to gray" (quote from Wikipedia)  That's odd tho ..... I only remember the ship being yellow a few days .. Was it ever shot while yellow ? So tempting to make more comments , just deleted a few lines :p hehe ( September 24th, 2010)

    wmmvrrvrrmmI still I've got to write my blog entry about the creation of the Nostromo soon for my Alien blog. There are a couple of other blogs for Alien that are probably a lot more enjoyable, but maybe mine attempts be the most extreme in what it aims to do. have said good things about my blog a few months back so maybe I'm going in the right direction with it although my work has been exhausting because of my need to get things from every single recorded perspective . I'm sure  that I'll mention every person who can be remembered to have taken part in the creation of the Nostromo though.  I often wonder if the whole of the making of Alien has a magic spell over it that forces a number of people involved to have conflicting memories about what went on as if some events in the production took place in parallel universes.  ( September 24th, 2010)

    Nostromo being sprayed yellow Neil Swan (top right)
    Brian Johnson arm (far left), Martin Bower (bottom left)
    Photo by Dennis Lowe

  6. Simon Deering: Of course it Was ! All that Afghani hashish made sure of that .. oops .. :P .. or was that also just one afternoon... ? ( September 24th, 2010)
  7. Wmmvrrvrrmm: 
    Hmm, I reading an article by the one and only Martin Bower which he wrote for Scifi and Fantasy Models some years back where he mentions that Brian Johnson had filmed a considerable amount of footage of it in it's yellow state before he left.  And he mentions that footage had been filmed over "the past few months" before the colour change rendered it unusable

    I'm wondering who gave the orders to give it gigantic serial numbers on the side painted in brilliant orange when the orders came over to paint it grey. ( September 29th, 2010)

    Nostromo being sprayed yellow by Jon Sorenson (top),
    Neil Swan (far right) Martin Bower (bottom left)
    Brian Johnson (far right) Photo by Dennis Lowe
    Nostromo being sprayed yellow, Neil Swan (top left) Brian Johnson (bottom left)
    Martin Bower (bottom right) Photo by Dennis Lowe
    Dennis Lowe: We spent ages filming the Yellow Nostromo (approx. 3 months) as that was the colour that was specified, there are some of my shots here in the gallery that shows Brian, Martin Bower and others spraying the model yellow. ( September 29th, 2010)

    Nostromo being sprayed yellow, Neil Swan (centre)  Brian Johnson (bottom right)
    Photo by Dennis Lowe

    WmmvrrvrrmmOkay, thanks , then Simon must have been the one sitting comfortably in Hashish universe at the time. When I come to write my account, I'll have to add a note into it regarding Simon's perception about the time it was yellow for and give a possible explanation.  ( September 29, 2010)

    Simon Deering: Aah yeah .. The mists are clearing ... I was reaally busy on another plane obviously, anyway I bet Riddles could have just lit it with a grey light eh Den ? Another day I do remember was the one when Brian was looking at the ship, then the tattered old mostly ignored Cobb sketch on the wall, then back at the ship ... Then suddenly sparking up with "Hey .. It should be yellow! Go get some paint!" Was a couple of crates of those small yellow car touchup spraypaint cans. Marine blue might have been nice ... ? Or Sherwood green ? Spose it was my sense of humour that imagined Ridley coming in 10 minutes after the yellow dust settled and saying "Why is it yellow ?? Spray it grey again!!" It was never gray anyway I remember that  ( September 29, 2010)

    The yellow Nostromo
    Martin Bower spraying the Nostromo yellow
    Jon Sorenson: The Yellow NOSTROMO. Of course we shot on it for months. The first shot I saw in rushes/dailies was of that version sailing overhead as you see similarly in the footage Dennis salvaged for his film ALIEN MAKERS 2, shot in 1978 by Denys Ayling. The one I talked about so much in my short interview in ALIEN MAKERS 1. The shot was beautiful. Truly stunning. As was all the other of the 33 shots largely completed before Ridley Scott came over to Bray full-time. Brian Johnson was correct in taking that colour from the Ron Cobb drawings. He tried in vain to get more direction from Ridley but could'nt. Even sometimes not even speaking to Brian in the Shepperton canteen. I recall hearing about that. The reason became clear later, when Ridley Scott arrived with his famous hammer and all changed. The yellow version was the version. Hundreds of feet of fibre optic lighting was installed in her to provide lit windows. Lit up, she looked stunning and every inch fitted into the film. Below is a shot of Andrew Kelly, (son of Skeets Kelly, the reknowned aerial cameraman), fitting these fibre optics. This shot is in the gallery here, amongst the stills we donated to this Site, along with many others  of the yellow version. No hallucination, hashish or otherwise. When the NOSTROMO was quickly sprayed over grey, all that work was casually obliterated. 

    The grey version I always felt was even then a tired cliche and not nearly as classy as the yellow and green one we had. Ridley was entitled to flex his directorial prerogatives. We liked him and the film. We would have climbed any obstacle for him and did. But the felling of the yellow NOSTROMO deprived you of not only something you had'nt seen in a movie up to that time, but the best work that wonderful crew could, and did, do.( September 29, 2010)

    Andrew Kelly fitting the fibre optics

    Simon Deering:  Yeah youve cleared more mists Jon :) Praps there was some trauma there, losing all those airbrushed, plasticard - masked shades of yellow grey panelling on top of the real relief card panels.... deary me .. I am absolutely going to sneak in lots of "tribute" detail on the O'Neill colony ship :).. there will be yellow bits.. there will certainly be a weylan yutani logo ..  The one thing I learned from Martin I have already added.. running a piece of perspex through the circular saw with the blade just above the bed to make a few channels ..  From Bill I learned to listen to a 'creative' client and say "I knooow" .. and then carry on with whatever I was doing regardless..
    cheers m' dears  *reaches for the Laphroaig, You are a fisherman as well I suspect Jon .. ?  :P x ( September 29, 2010)

    Martin Bower standing by the yellow Nostromo
  8. Martin Bower: Just before Brian (Johnson) left, we had to change the colour of the Nostromo tug. Up till this time, it has been bright yellow with heavy weathering, and considerable footage had already been shot by Brian with it this colour. However we had orders from Shepperton to change it to a dirty grey and to give it serial numbers on the side. When Ridley arrived, he liked the grey but he did not like the numbers; done in brilliant orange! So off they came for a start. This colour change of course rendered everything Brian had shot over the past dew months unusable . (Scifi and fantasy models, Alien The Models, The Definitive Inside Story: Part One, p30) 
  9. Martin Bower: Essentially he shot the whole thing again because he came to Nostromo and then we started spraying it and one sweep of the normal primer grey, we thought "that's no good" , and I remember going down to a shop in Maidenhead and buying a massive amount of zinc plate primer, we first of all did a test, somebody, I don't know who it was, got, had some zinc plate primer, what it was, you could spray it on, I don't know if you remember, it was darker and it would polish up and look like metal, really look like metal, so Nostromo wasn't grey primer as so many people today are, you know, people are all asking me questions about that, what colour it was, it was actually this dark grey colour, polished up and then obviously we shaded it and worked on it, so its kind of all in model working in Alien, it just, evolution, it was like an evolution, you know, of different ideas, which ended up as some very incredible effects. (Alien Makers I documentary)
  10. Bill Pearson: Brian said "right., paint it" And it seemed to be according to one of the Ron Cobbs drawings had gone down well, it was going to be yellow. So, it was a can of something like signal yellow from Halfords then sprayed it up then picked some bits out in some slightly different shades of that yellow and matted the whole thing down with Letraset 103 matte fixative and that was it, that did the rounds then, that was the discussion model, And it changed, I'm even now not sure, i think it went to white, then grey then, then an off white, and each time it changed colour, it was a case of starting back and shooting from day one again, so for the film, it's the longest I've ever been on a movie. I was one of the first on and I was one of the last off and I was there for an entirety of about one year and two days. At the end , I was asked to stay on. Peter Beale who was the head of Fox in Europe who I had met a few times on the production asked me if I would remain at Bray at the end and refurbish the models, because they were all going over to ah, a screening in the States and the wanted the... the... the Nostromo refinery, the ah... the ah... the Narcissus, and I think it was, yuh and the large Nostromo. They all had to be refurbished to go. So I'd... I had a couple of weeks, the refinery was in a hell of a state and I never really liked a lot of the dressing on it, mostly my own, erm,  my own biggest critic, so when i got the opportunity to redress and money at that point was no object, I just bought loads in and put all this sort of dressing in that I wanted in the first place, when we had like three and six pence to do everything.  So it, the, the model refinery that went over to the states was not accurate to the one in the movie whatsoever. It was a lot better looking I thought. It was a learning curve for me and at the end, going to the crew's screening in Leicester Square, I was very disappointed, but the reason for that disappointment was I didn't know how film really worked. Erm, I expected every detail that I put into the movie to be up there on screen and that's where the disappointment sprung from. I loved the rest of the film, but I was disappointed by my input on the screen. As the years have passed, I have learned that I was damned lucky that you know, so much of my work did make it up there, erm, but I've always been very proud of my involvement in the film, but I think the film was a success, not  so much of my involvement, may.. maybe in spite of, but at the end , I believed I did as good a job as I could the time.
  11. Bill Pearson: It was originally a sort of dirty yellow not unlike a JCB. That looked quite interesting, but then it went to a very dark grey, a dirty white and finally, mid-grey primer, the same colour as the refinery which fitted in with the nautical, hard-working look. After painting, we dirtied it down with black poster paint, then rubbed it off with a cloth, leaving it settled in the nooks and crannies (SFX#6, p36)
  12. Ron Cobb: Ridley thought [yellow] was too odd, so they changed it to grey. (Alien The Archive, p35)

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