In a meeting Ridley drew something on the back of an envelope or a piece of tax paper in a meeting. He said "Let's not do the spaceship that is the usual projectile, which is the nose with the engines. Let's look at this as a towing entity," and so this would be the Nostromo as a conventional looking spaceship towing a massive platform, very much like you see in the North Sea that would tap into the ground, suck out oil and out it onto ships.
|Modern photo of ship towing oil rig
Ridley Scott, Ron Cobb and Chris Foss had all created sketches of the ship. At the time Chris Foss would have been still deeply involved in his concept work with Dan O'Bannon practically looking over his should, and much of his concept work that he continued on with were produced in other films and other books.
But as Chris Foss understood, Ridley Scott was too involved in discovering all the laser technology that the Who were using since they were there filming which led to the lasers in the egg silo and all the smoke effects to really be that interested in the design of the Nostromo, but Brian Johnson would have said "Right, fuck that!" enraged by the situation and bodged something together from the bits and pieces of wrecked helicopter.
c) Brian takes action
It was Brian Johnson's job to assess these and decide on the size of the model needed for a particular shot.
In the end, he realised that no one had a clue about where the drawing should be going and so he grabbed some drawings and headed back to England to Bray studios.
However Ridley did have a word on the design of the Nostromo telling Brian that he wanted the front end of one drawing, the engines from another, the landing rig from a third and so on.
d) Beginning to build the Nostromo tug
Brian Johnson's modelshop crew at the beginning consisted of Ron Hone, Simon Deering and Bill Pearson doing the preparatory miniatures.
Brian said to Ridley "I want to build a small model. I'll bring the model to you and you can look at it. If you want to change things, we can sort it at that stage but I don't want to do it with an eighteen foot model. It would be too late to change."
Brian Ekes the carpenter took a look at the artwork being shown to him of the Nostromo and thought it was a load of old rubbish.
Ron Hone trained as a pattern maker got chunks of wood and starting hacking away and making all the engine cowlings and then Brian got chunks of plywood and started doing part of the actual body and so the whole thing was starting to come together.
Being the oldest, Ron found himself taking over and running the operation
e) Combination ship.
Because the final ship was a combination of pieces from so many drawings, the idea became that it was just so vast that different companies would have actually built different parts of it.
As far as Bill Pearson could see, none of the model makers were in love with the shape, because it didn't look like it had been designed.
They talked about it, and decided in the end that this was actually quite realistic.
This shop was after all something that would spend most of its life in space, built just for one function - to pull the refinery.
The makers would have no reason to make it pretty.
It was Bill Pearson who made created initial model of the Nostromo from balsa, so that they'd where they were going with the shape before Ron Hone reproduced it in jelutong and it would then be encrusted in wiggets. (See: Bill Pearson's 16 inch miniature Nostromo)
When it was ready, Brian brought it over to Ridley it to Ridley, Brian Johnson was crossing his fingers hoping that Ridley would like it. Ridley liked it but that didn't stop him from wanting to keep adding bits and pieces here and there.
With that Brian said "Okay lads, I'll sit down and build it full scale" and with that the models department built the large one , and then Ridley changed his mind again. So they had to chop bits off and add bits here. there and everywhere. But they got it done in the end with a million bits of plastic on the outside.
- Ron Cobb: The
design of the ship went through so many changes. Gordon could never
make up his mind as to which design he wanted. We did hundreds of
designs, Chris and I.
Finally out of desperation when I was the only person left in London,
they asked me to do yet another exterior design for the ship. I did one
and Ridley and Gordon wanted this and that changed a little bit. I kept
persisting on a certain design for the lander part of the ship you see
most of all. The other part of the ship is this vast platform which
seems to be pulling along behind the lander, like a big oil refinery or
something. (Fantastic Films, July 1979 p30) (NB. London probably should be replaced with LA)
- Chris Foss: So I'd produced design after design after design, and it got nearer production time, so I was hired and taken over to England to do some more designs. Finally what happened was that the bloke who had to make the [Nostromo] model completely lost his rag, scooped up a load of paper...they had a room full of smashed-up bits of helicopter and all-sorts, and he just bodged something together. So the actual spaceship in the film hadn't anything to do with all the days, weeks, months of work that we'd all done. It's as simple as that. (Source: www.denofgeek.com/)
- Ron Cobb: I did these drawing, then Brian Johnson came in and he was going to build a model. He made up their minds for them. He just took my drawings and went right out to Bray Studios and built it. (Fantastic Films, July 1979 p30)
- Brian Johnson: We had a whole series of people - Chris Foss, Ron Cobb, and Ridley Scott -created sketches of the ships. It was my job to assess these and decide on the size of the model needed for any particular shot. In the end no one could really make up their minds as to how the Nostromo should look. Ridley is the kind of person who likes to see something in three dimensions before he actually says yes. (Starlog/October 1979, p68)
- Ron Cobb: Finally, Brian Johnson the special effects supervisor under pressure to build the large Nostromo model, went into the deserted art department and, out of frustration, grabbed all the Chris Foss designs off the wall and took them to Bray studios. There he would choose the design himself in order to have enough time to build the damn thing. (source: www.denofgeek.com/)
- Ron Cobb: The crunch came, and Brian (Johnson) just came over from England, grabbed some drawings, and headed back. The final is pretty much patterned after two of my drawings, and the platform is a combination of Ridley's refinery towers some of my little modifications to make it more believable. (Book of Alien, by Scanlon & Gross)
- Starburst: Did you design the exterior of the ship as well?
Ron Cobb: Well. it's a conglomerate of many of my drawings, synthesised in a way I had no control of or put together by Brian Johnson, with a fair amount of input by the director, Ridley Scott. it's not that clear cut (Starburst #16)
- Ridley Scott: I drew that on the back of an envelope or a piece of tax paper in a meeting. I said " Let's not do the spaceship that is the usual projectile, which is the nose with the engines [at the back]. Let's look at this as a towing entity,' as being towed by the Nostromo which is the more conventional looking spaceship, but is actually towing a massive platform, very much like you see in the North Sea. It would tap into the ground, suck out oil and put it onto ships. (Alien The Archive, p78)
- Brian Johnson: But he did like it... I knew, though, that somewhere along the line he'd want to modify it. He modifies everything as he goes along. We changed the colour about four or five times, it gradually got spikier, but the basic shape was always fairly similar. The rear end was altered slightly, and it had lots of various probes and other things added to it. (Starlog/October 1979, p68)
- Den of Geek:So the Nostromo's kind of 'M'-shape was just taken from an aircraft part...?
Chris Foss:That's it. Because I've worked on so many other films where the shots are so important and so on, but on this particular one...
Ridley Scott noticed that the Who were down there making a film, and he was fascinated by all the bits and pieces that were going on with that. The Who, of course, had discovered lasers, and that's why you've got all these smoke-effects and swirl-effects, and [Scott] just couldn't be arsed about the spaceship and all that crap. So the poor sod who had to build it said 'Right, fuck that', got himself a whole load of paper, and bodged something together from the bits and pieces of a wrecked helicopter.
Den of Geek: Did you do any further elaboration on the design after they showed you this 'M'-shaped construction that they cobbled together?
Chris Foss: No, I was happily beavering away on my designs, and Dan, of course, was practically standing over me - he's probably talked about it!...urging this that and the other, and it all came to nought. [laughs] Many of the designs that I did were actually produced in other films and in other books. So the cover of 21st Century Foss started as a spaceship on Dune, and then ended up as a putative Nostromo design at Dan's behest. They decided they didn't want it. Then, in the end, I used it in another book and it made the cover of 21st-century Foss. (Source: www.denofgeek.com/)
- Ron Hone: It's a job to think that far back, but there used to be Brian and Nicky and er and they said they got this film coming up and all of a sudden I found myself on it. There was a workshop and there I was, several other people appeared, and er, there was no drawings as such, you'd think we sat there looking at each other and all of a sudden a sketch appeared, and er, we started hacking away at all this wood. Er, the carpenter there, a chump called Brian Ekes, and er, and he took one look at this and thought it was a load of old rubbish, and of course, me being a pattern maker, or had been trained as a pattern maker, I got great chunks of wood and started hacking about and making all the engine cowlings and things and then Brian was sort of getting chunks of plywood and formers and doing the actual part of the body, so the whole thing was coming together and then we had another bunch who appeared. Bill Pearson and Martin Bower, and they were the dreaded wriggeters and they seemed to have great bucket fulls of broken up plastic kits which they seemed to dip into glue and spread about all over the place and eventually built up this wonderful great big pyramid of bits and pieces and er, it was like throwing oil and water together and then it all came up to the surface, people found their own sort of niches and that was the way it was , you know, we got started, I suppose I was one of the oldest ones there so I was automatically sort of took over really and run it. (Alien Makers 1 documentary)
- Bill Pearson: Brian would tell us that the director Ridley Scott wanted the front end of one drawing, the engines from another, the landing rig from a third and so on. (SFX#6, p35)
- Brian Johnson: Ridley couldn't make up his mind what he wanted. When we got to the Nostromo, he kept changing things. I said "I want to build a small model. I'll bring the model to you and you can look at it. If you want to change things, we can sort it at that stage but I don't want to do it with an eighteen foot model. It would be too late to change." So I brought this thing over, and he kept adding bits and pieces here and there, but basically he liked it. So I said "Okay lads, I'll sit down and build it full scale" and then Ridley changed his mind again. So we actually had to chop bits off and add bits here. there and everywhere. But we got it done in the end with a million bits of plastic on the outside. ( Pinewood: The Story of an Iconic Studio Hardcover – 8 Dec 2016by
- Bill Pearson: Because the final ship was a combination of pieces from so many drawings, the idea became that it was just so vast that different companies would have actually built different parts of it. None of the model makers were in love with the shape, because it didn't look like it'd been designed. We talked about this, and in the end decided that this as actually quite realistic. It was after all something that would spend most of its life in space, built just for one function - to pull the refinery. The makers would have no reason to make it pretty. (SFX#6, p35)