Aliens: M41A Pulse Rifle (Brown Bess or Olive Green) perhaps not Brown Bess after all? (light tests and prop pictures and recent Savage video)

Sahare Studios

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This has been discussed to death for decades (I know). I also know that the general consensus is that they were Brown Bess.

The reason often remarked being that: "the blue lighting made the Brown Bess look Olive Drab"

I'm not claiming to be an expert, there are for sure heaps of people who know more about this than me.

I'd always gone along with the Brown Bess explanation, but had never ran tests until today. Now admittedly these pictures below are not scientific tests by any means. They're just a couple of photographs taken while changing ambient lighting conditions.

In any case I'm actually of the opinion they were olive green now for the following reason.

Below is the Snow Wolf M41-A Pulse Rifle (Airsoft AEG, 900rpm, Olive Drab color). Helmet in the background is for reference. Pictures taken using iPhone 15 Pro Max.

6000k (White light)

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3200k (Warm white light)

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Pink/Purple light (to get Olive drab to look Brown Bess)

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What I am getting at is this. In the last image the entire light source needs to change to change the color. My hand in the same picture would have looked purple. Everything has a purple shade.


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In these stills the predominant light falling on the shot is tungsten white light with a tiny bit of cyan. It's very dimly lit, which will darken the green. Notice the skin tones are not dramatically shifted. The entire scene would have had to have been blue light, with blue skin, to change the color from Brown Bess to what we see here.
Admittedly it's the latest rerelease which has been color graded so that may influence the color, but I don't believe dramatically.

This is a recreation of mine of the lighting of the screen used set (Ripley and Hicks). The olive drab matches very well to what is seen on screen.

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Interestingly, recently Adam Savage had the Prop Store on his channel, reviewing a screen used Aliens welder. Both Adam and Brandon Alinger noted that Adam's Brown Bess Pulse Rifle replica did not match the green of the screen used welder prop. They did not show a clear shot of both colors side by side.

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So then I found pictures of screen used Pulse Rifles. All seem to indicate that they are the same color as the welder from Adam's recent video:
The bottom of the magazine of one seems to indicate (or looks kind of like) it was sprayed brown bess and then sprayed olive drab during production.

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Now again, I am far from being an expert on this. I think the majority of people here know more about this stuff than I do, so I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all. Apologies if that's how it comes across. I just decided to do some research and came across results that goes against the common belief about these props that I can't explain, and wanted to share.

I believe that Simon Atherton (the armorer on Aliens) left Bapty & Co and works (worked?) at Zorg Ltd. I have reached out to them in the hope that I may be able to get a response and perhaps an explanation.

PS: Perhaps some were brown bess and some olive drab?
 
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Brown Bess I reckon is the poster child for "Screen Accurate" VS "Prop Accurate". It's a hill many will die on im sure. I always assumed that there was verified evidence that Brown Bess was the prop colour even though a lot of the prop photos look Olive Drab and a lot look Brown Bess. Short of going to James Cameron's office and looking at the hero in sunlight, the next best thing is probably the other screen used props. The original motion tracker that was on display looked BB. The welder looks OD. *shrugs I'd be amazed if there was any budging in old timers attitudes at this point since there are probably some definitive examples that proved BB, but... speaking as someone with a cabinet full of OD Aliens props, I'm all for it! :)
 
Yeah it’s odd. I keep finding these very old websites with screen used pulse rifle pictures and for 99% they all look OD. Apart from 1 or 2 pictures taken under yellow light.


Most importantly, the pulse rifles repurposed for Alien 3 (the ones painted black). I.e. Pulse Rifle props; Delta, Gamma, Epsilon and Eta.
ALL show Olive drab paint underneath in parts where the black has started to crack.

I really don’t understand, isn’t that definitive proof they were OD? The Aliens pulse rifles were repainted black for A3. Every (single) one of them shows Olive Drab green under the cracks of the black.

In addition to that, the screen used ones that are not black are OD.

I’m now struggling to understand where the Brown Bess idea came from?


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Even the Zeta Pulse rifle, (ACMTM) one which has the original Mo Gomm aluminium shrouds (but a non screen used grip) is Olive Drab.

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Aliens props can be hard to nail down, as a lot of the period production photography has a tint to it:

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Here's a recent photo of the surviving Sentry Gun battery taken outside:

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I think one of the reasons the exact color is so hard to pin down is the lack of decent references on Aliens props photographed in optimal conditions. While these pics are just quick phone snaps of the battery, they give you a bit more of an idea of the true color along with the black “wash” that was applied - all this contributed to giving the finish of the props more depth and an extra dimension:

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For more info: The Aliens Legacy • View topic - Color discussion

Same prop, vastly different color temperatures:

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Same paint application (with black overwash)

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While assisting on a licensed project we did a color survey of some of the surviving Dropship parts:

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Hope this helps.

Further color discussion can be found:




 
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This is my screen-used hero, recently re-painted and paint-matched to other known and untouched screen-used hardware from the film. The final color is within degrees of the welder. This used to have a counter window, which was a replica made during a previous restoration about 30 years ago and was not accurate, so we removed it.
 

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Very informative. It's interesting how 95% of the pulse rifle pictures on this thread are tonally Olive Drab and not like the Humbrol 0170 Matt Brown Bess as has been claimed so often.

Analogue (amateur) photography has historically had a tendency to mute and warm colors as Ghostryder's Colonial Marine armor illustrates a few postrs above. The authentic colors are more blue/green and less red/yellow than what the picture shows.

Interestingly in my 2nd post all the Alien3 Pulse Rifles (Delta, Gamma, Epsilon and Eta) appear to be photographed using studio artificial natural lighting and they all show the same identical Olive Drab underneath the Alien 3 black paint.

Riskbreaker: Fascinating and so awesome! You appear to be in possession of the Pulse Rifle designated as "alpha" going by the wear pattern on the stock and grip here:


The shrouds appear to have been repainted 3 times and in some pictures the shrouds show different indentations indicating that it may have had more than 1 set of shrouds. It's fascinating. So very cool to have!

Of particular interest is the period when your pulse rifle (alpha) was used in Alien 3.

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It shows, again the same Olive Drab (the color you have on it now) underneath the black paint. The image above appears an "old" analogue taken with incandescant light at a low kelvin, making the entire image appear yellow (like in Ghostryder's example). This is evident from the sling. The original screen used 8-weave seatbelt sling was olive drab as well.

Screen used sling:

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In addition to all that my limited knowledge of paints (especially 1980's paints) are that they had a tendency to darken with age, which complicates the whole situation even more.
 
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Delta, Gamma, Epsilon and Eta passed through several hands over the years, and were all taken apart multiple times and repainted more than once - usually in an attempt (incorrectly) match their appearance in Aliens. Luckily the surviving stunts all have the same "Brown Bess"-esque color.

Tangentially:


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Delta, Gamma, Epsilon and Eta passed through several hands over the years, and were all taken apart multiple times and repainted more than once - usually in an attempt (incorrectly) match their appearance in Aliens. Luckily the surviving stunts all have the same "Brown Bess"-esque color.
Right, that explains a lot.

I'd love to see these Brown Bess stunt Pulse rifles, do you have a link?

All the images I've found so far show them the same color as the welder (i.e. Olive Drab?)

ghostryder: Hah, nice analogy! I remember that dress. But for me it never made sense. The moment I looked at it I couldn't understand how it could be interpreted as white? I just saw it as blue. Although I run my own commercial advertising photography studio so I have experience in creating and evaluating photographs.

I have a feeling the actual color was probably something in between BB and OD. The welder is close but would have darkened with time. I believe the closest original color may be what's on Riskbreakers current "Alpha" Pulse Rifle shrouds. But that's just my own opinion.
 
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Very cool pictures, thanks for uploading them!

I think it may be a semantics thing. I would call most of those variations of olive drab darkened with age. Picture 5 (the tan looking one) I'd leave out as it appears to be shot with an overexposed flash. This one is interesting, this looks even greener than OD? It looks to be taken by a window, in natural light.

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Seeing as the original color (unaged) doesn't exist anymore, I suppose scientifically the best we can do is use pictures where there is something next to the rifle that still exists. I believe that would be the sling, as these were mass produced seatbelts. By that thinking one of the closest matching pictures would be (which also appears to be shot with controlled artificial light):

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The only question then remains if the slightly visible OD (ish) color visible here and there underneath the Alien 3 black plaint, is authentic to Aliens. Personally I have no information that after Aliens (1986) they were repainted a shade of green prior to being painted black for A3.
 
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Of course. When you realize all those stunts are the same color (painted at the same time in the same prop shed) it helps demonstrate how lighting conditions can show such variations (i.e. pic 5 is the same color as the final pic, even though they don't look like it).

(I don't know if I'd use that auction catalog pic to try and determine anything as it's a vacuform Alien 3 shroud created for that film, and went from black, to olive (because one owner *thought* it should look like), then back to black again.)
 
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I recommend any students of the Pulse Rifle give this a listen: The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of: The M41-A Pulse Rifle on Apple Podcasts

It's probably the most exhaustive dissection of the subject in one location, and it's hard to find more knowlegeable experts than Harry Harris and Willie Goldman. IIRC, the conclusion drawn on the paint is that it is NOT Brown Bess. Knock yourselves out!
 
Lol, thanks so much for the discussion and the invaluable information. I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into when I bought that Snow Wolf Pulse Rifle and fired up the Aliens bluray.

and mad respect to Riskbreaker who actually owns one of the real ones!
 
Lol, thanks so much for the discussion and the invaluable information. I had NO IDEA what I was getting myself into when I bought that Snow Wolf Pulse Rifle and fired up the Aliens bluray.

and mad respect to Riskbreaker who actually owns one of the real ones!
Of course. When you realize all those stunts are the same color (painted at the same time in the same prop shed) it helps demonstrate how lighting conditions can show such variations (i.e. pic 5 is the same color as the final pic, even though they don't look like it).

(I don't know if I'd use that auction catalog pic to try and determine anything as it's a vacuform Alien 3 shroud created for that film, and went from black, to olive (because one owner *thought* it should look like), then back to black again.)
You are right. It appears the shrouds were recreated! A fascinating read:

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