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  1. Forum Sponsor Prop Store's Avatar
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    Mar 21, 2011, 5:09 AM - The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #1

    This is Part 1 of a 5 Part Series. Be sure to catch all 5 parts!

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    This is commercial towing vehicle Nostromo out of the Solomons, registration number 1-8-0-niner-2-4-6-0-niner.




    ALIEN began as a singular vision of screenwriter Dan O’Bannon.

    The inspiration, the legend goes, came to him during a bad case of food poisoning. During his gastronomic misery—something that now might now be attributable to the Chrohn’s disease from which he secretly suffered for decades—O’Bannon envisioned an alien creature bursting out from his tortured innards. From that moment forward, the creative spark haunted him like a lucid, waking dream.

    O’Bannon had to see it realized.

    But he didn’t want to tread the path that had been taken before. With the exception of Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, science fiction really hadn’t been given a dramatic treatment yet in film. Most of it was like STAR WARS which, while very successful, was the stuff of myth and fantasy to O’Bannon. Not reality.


    Instead, he wanted to create a very specific science fiction world. Something that felt lived in. Something inherently real. From the characters to the places they lived and worked to the language they used, O’Bannon saw a fully realized future world that was an extrapolation of our own present. One that drew upon the same apprehensions and issues with which he was faced. To make this happen, O’Bannon and producing partner Ron Schuset began assembling what O’Bannon called his “dream team” of designers and artists: Ron Cobb, Chris Foss, Moebius (Jean Giraud) and the now-legendary H.R. Giger.

    The dream team set out to breathe reality into O’Bannon’s science fiction world for their new boss, a popular British commercial director named Ridley Scott.

    One of the most important pieces of the ALIEN puzzle was the commercial towing vehicle Nostromo, registration number 1-8-0-niner-2-4-6-0-niner. Because, other than a short detour to the planet Acheron (re-dubbed LV-426 by the sequel’s director James Cameron), the whole of the action in ALIEN took place on that fated towing vessel.

    The Nostromo, Italian for “mate” or “boatswain,” derives its namesake from the titular anti-hero from Joseph Conrad’s 1904 novel of the same name, a source of great inspiration to O’Bannon. In fact, the fictional mining town where much of Conrad’s novel takes place lends its name to another famed space vessel in the ALIEN universe. That town’s name? Sulaco.

    The Nostromo spacecraft was conceived in the vivid minds of Ron Cobb and Chris Foss, both of them already famed conceptual artists when they began work on the film. Cobb came from an industrial background, referring to himself as a “frustrated engineer,” whereas Foss was more “Giger-esque” in his approach to design, dreaming up a spacecraft that felt more other-worldly, or even alien[FONT=Arial, sans-serif] in their aesthetic. The two sequestered themselves away for months to work on creating the Nostromo from scratch. Cobb was meant to tackle the interiors—seen as a much more engineering-like task—while Foss was intended to divine the ship’s exterior. However, the two found that their individual creative processes were not mating up. Cobb’s designs began with function and found their way to form whereas Foss’s approach was the opposite. That’s probably why, after months of work and dozens of conceptual sketches, it was Ron Cobb’s extremely engineer-like design that landed on the desk of visual effects supervisor Brian Johnson.

    The challenge now? Someone had to build it.

    Someones, that is. Brian Johnson assembled a talented design team composed of now-famous effects artists such as Nick Allder, Ron Hone, Simon Deering Jon Sorenson, Martin Bower and Martin Gant. Their work would be done at Bray Studios outside London. The Nostromo began life as a six-inch conceptual model built by Terry Reid. The team used this three-dimensional sample to develop the design with director Ridley Scott. “There’s nothing like handing a director a model for him to play with and twist around,” Johnson recalls. He also remembers making frequent trips from his visual effects headquarters at Bray to the director and production staff at Shepperton as the Nostromo slowly evolved.

    Once they had Ridley’s blessing (no easy feat, if you ask them), the bevy of designers at Bray began building the eleven by seven foot model, ironically called a “miniature.”

    The Nostromo started as no more than a steel frame that was constructed to provide skeletal support to the massive (estimated at 500 pounds or more) final build. Chunks of solid wood were shaped and mounted on the steel to serve as the vessel’s “musculature.” Once the Nostromo had a sound understructure, Brian Johnson’s team went to work applying the “skin” to the Nostromo’s industrial surface. This group of artisans called themselves “The Widgeteers,” a dedicated team of detail-oriented engineers, applying hundreds of little plastic widgets in a tedious labor of madness and passion.

    The Nostromo’s outer surface was brought to life via a method known as “kit-bashing” where the modellers would raid hobby shops for off-the-shelf model kits and then use the parts from those models to create the very functional-looking outer surface of the miniature. In the case of the Nostromo, certain model kits were “bashed” again and again to give the Nostromo life. Parts that were required in high multiples were sometimes obtained in batches from the models’ manufacturers. The most popular models farmed for their parts? A British Matilda tank from World War II, NASA’s space shuttle, and Darth Vader’s TIE-Fighter. The effects team then used chloroform to literally melt the plastic parts so that they could be shaped to the curving surface of the miniature. Once they were shaped, the chloroform would eat away at the thin styrene model parts, thus bonding them to the wooden understructure. With that much surface area and that many parts, one sincerely hopes that the modelers employed OSHA-approved ventilation during the build.

    The build process would not be a streamlined one. Ridley Scott, like any mad genius (see Messers: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Cameron), was not a director to remain “hands off” during pre-production. He was constantly tinkering with not just the Nostromo, but all aspects of the film’s design. As tends to be the case in filmmaking, this didn’t sit well with his artisans. In recalling their work at Bray in 1978, they remember the frustration of having to change the physical model so many times even after it had been assembled and painted. In fact, the Nostromo was intended to be yellow to make it truly appear like an industrial space tugboat. This plan lived long enough that production photos exist of a very real and very yellow Nostromo. But, as the reader might agree, the look of this proved odd, somehow minimizing its imposing presence and muting the enormous amount of detail on the ship’s surface. At Ridley’s direction, the Nostromo was repainted a weathered gray, complete with all the grime and dirt that would be collected over decades of space travel.



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    Check out our next installment of this 5 part series!

    NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN: Part 2
    Last edited by Prop Store; Mar 22, 2011 at 10:30 PM.
  2. Boomer is offline Boomer
    Mar 21, 2011, 6:07 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #2

    Just wow.
  3. gizmo's Avatar
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    Mar 21, 2011, 8:04 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #3

    Awe we have to wait another week for more.


    Awsome read. Thanks for sharing!!!
  4. SciFiMuseum's Avatar
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    Mar 21, 2011, 6:58 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #4

    You should check out the Nostromo restoration videos Prop Store put up a while back. Great stuff.
  5. Member Since
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    Mar 22, 2011, 1:39 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #5

    Thank you for sharing this. The photos are absolutely breathtaking.
  6. stromo's Avatar
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    Mar 22, 2011, 4:31 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #6

    Fantastic. Thank you.
  7. Gatekeeper's Avatar
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    Mar 22, 2011, 9:19 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #7

    Brilliant! Awaiting part 2 eagerly...
  8. TARS RPF Premium Member Mike J.'s Avatar
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    Mar 22, 2011, 8:04 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #8

    Fun read! Thank you, Prop Store.


    -MJ
  9. Member Since
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    Mar 22, 2011, 9:03 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #9

    Amazing read, thank you!
    Photos of the original fullsize yellow Nostromo are available via quick google search, too.
  10. RPF Premium Member gianphilo's Avatar
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    Mar 24, 2011, 8:25 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #10

    amazin photo !!!
  11. PHArchivist's Avatar
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    Mar 24, 2011, 8:53 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #11

    Odd bit of loosely related trivia: I recently read that the Moray eel has a toothed and extendable inner set of jaws - the only animal on our planet known to have such an anatomical feature.

    I wonder if Giger knew this...
  12. BGHUNTER is offline BGHUNTER
    Mar 25, 2011, 7:48 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #12

    Really interesting
    Thanx for sharing ,
  13. RPF Premium Member Scott Graham's Avatar
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    Mar 25, 2011, 7:53 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #13

    Thanks! Great story.
  14. Darth Brass's Avatar
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    Mar 26, 2011, 2:19 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #14

    Amazing!
  15. Member Since
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    Mar 27, 2011, 9:31 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #15

    this is the coolest thing ive seen
  16. Member Since
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    Mar 27, 2011, 9:50 PM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #16

    great story. Keep it coming!
  17. Colin Droidmilk's Avatar
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    Apr 8, 2011, 3:10 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #17

    Great stuff, thanks. However, the human host gestation and chestburst idea was apparently Ronald Shusset's not O'Bannon's. O'Bannon was stuck for an interesting way to get the alien onto the ship and Shusset came up with the impregnation thing, according to a recent in-depth documentary.
  18. Colin Droidmilk's Avatar
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    Apr 8, 2011, 3:47 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #18

    And again, I have to take issue with the impression given here that Foss had no gigantic, seminal influence on the Nostromo, and that the final design delivered to Johnson was 100% Cobb/ Scott and 0% Foss. I'd put Foss's input at at least 50% minimum and credit him with the general concept. There is compelling visual evidence that Cobb and Scott 'cobb'led the Nostromo together from very early Foss concepts.

    The final design derives MASSIVELY from two very early sketches by Foss, one of which already features the ENTIRE DORSAL MODULE with its 2 giant intakes that sits on the top of the ship. The final design lifts this module - about 25 % of the ship - practically VERBATIM. The second drawing features a ship from which the final design has clearly taken the WHOLE CENTRAL HULL CORE, and general CONFIGURATION.

    Unfortunately I don't have the two drawings to hand, but they can be found in 'The Book of Alien'. Both sketches are described as being among Foss's 'first designs' for the film. The first shows a space train with the final design dorsal module mounted on its top; the second shows a craft with 'Fountain Line' marked on its flank.

    To counter the idea, given here and in other articles I've seen on the subject, that Foss produced only outlandish 'giger-esque' 'alien' ships for the film, I'd also point out that he produced a great many very functional boxy workaday designs based on marine cargo vessels etc. I'd add that giant rectangular box-like intakes and engines had been present in Foss's work for years, while they're not much in evidence in Cobb's work. The giant boxes with the rounded edges that flank the Nostromo appear to be derived anyway from one of Foss's designs for the alien temple, which features very similar giant boxes with a very similar rounded edging. If you take the 'fountain line' ship, replace its flanking forms with the alien temple boxes, then stick the 'space train' module on the top, you've pretty much got 75% of the final design right there. This seems to me to be what Cobb and Scott did, whether consciously or unconsciously. Plus, every early Cobb design I've seen features streamlined, flattened, rounded, slab forms - the 'Snark' etc. But the final Nostromo is all lumpen boxes of the type Foss was drawing from the beginning - hell, since from before the film was even conceived.
    Last edited by Colin Droidmilk; Apr 8, 2011 at 6:21 AM.
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    Apr 14, 2011, 10:33 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #19

    That is just awesome.
    Been a fan of the saga since I was 11 and seeing and reading the chronicles of how the Nostromo was made is epic. Makes me wanna see how they made the Alien suit while suspending the character actor using scaffolds.
  20. Member Since
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    Apr 25, 2011, 6:42 AM - re: The Prop Store First Look NOSTROMO: A LEGEND BORN AND BORN AGAIN PART 1 #20

    Science fiction owes a hell of a lot to Dan O'Bannon, nice article, great read

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