Buck Rogers in the 25th Century - Visual Effects Model Maker - Draconia.

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Main Page.

The Draconia is probably one of the most expensive and complex models ever built, and was even more impressive when it was built in 1978 and 1979. Unfortunately, it never received the attention that it deserved. Over two dozen model makers, machinists, mold makers, and painters built it over the corse of almost a year. There were many times when a dozen model makers at one time were hard at work on the various parts. And parts there were. The Draconia model was assembled from approximately thirteen major parts, most of which were two part castings. Then there was the armature, electronics, fiber optics, and a half dozen pieces of neon tube.
This one hundred pound model measured approximately five feet long and five feet wide, and about three and a half feet high. It was made primarily of epoxy and fiberglass. Some parts and details were cast in urethane and the surface was covered with styrene pieces and kit parts. A six pointed star-shaped armature provided six mounting locations that were covered with a dozen hatch covers, half with a hole for the mount, half without.
The 4,000 fiber optics were powered by a custom made lamp holder that was housed within the model. Custom made lamp holders in the main body illuminated the underside of the wings. Halogen bulbs were a new technology then, as was many other materials we used. We custom made parts that are now off-the-shelf items. Three custom made neon tubes were installed in the engines to illuminate the miniature blue screens. Three more neon tubes in the two round disks and the "fork" represented the "anti-gravity" waves. To keep the model cool, compressed air was pumped into the model.

Pete Gerard, original Model Shop Supervisor, adds a few recollections...

The center-piece for the miniatures fleet for "Buck Rogers" was always going to be the Draconia, a spacecraft in the form of a flying city five miles wide. We began to put form to David Jones' elaborate design in a classic, almost retrograde manner, akin to the methods used by Detroit in modeling new automobile designs. Julius King was a sculptor we'd brought in, who had this sort of background, and he began to set up a big table, a "designer's bridge", and a warming box for the huge load of special oil-based Chavant clay he would need, to apply to his wooden substrate.

Almost from the outset, I was being asked for time-lines and regular reports as to when this giant model would be ready for camera. Many shots were planned to establish the giant ship, the home-base for Princess Ardala and Killer Kane's pirate fleet, whom Buck was to face in battle. Days turned into weeks....and weeks into months. Our shops in Marina del Rey, which we'd inherited from Future General, were packed up and moved into the old Newberry's warehouse in North Hollywood, never mind the fact the place was still getting its walls built and its power and phone lines put in! We hastily built ourselves workbenches, picked out new power tools, laid motion control tracks, brought in our machine shop, built a spray booth, stocked all the work areas with new material and model kits, all the while trying to get the models ready, and playing host to John Dykstra's skeleton Galactica crew.

Grant McCune's team earlier had taken five or six weeks to build their Battlestar Galactica model, which was about the same overall size as the Draconia was to be. But the administration of our show was aghast that we couldn't get the Draconia even close to finished in the same time frame. It was probably because our approaches were so different, the designs were different, and the two model crews worked from different levels of experience, but it wasn't easy to convince the Black Tower that we were up against such handicaps as these. The design of Draconia was, for some reason never made clear to me, based on absolute left/right symmetry, down to a few thousandths of an inch, and this also held things back. Eventually the master was done, a frightfully large silicone glove-mold was poured, epoxy shells quickly laid up, and a mass of fiber optics hastily installed within. More delays in the paint scheme ensued, the stage crews were running out of story boards to shoot, and our poor beauty queen finally emerged for her debut. She was heavier, more elaborate, and fussier than anything we'd ever built or heard of, in terms of a miniature for a TV show, yet we modelmakers emerged victorious, if not actually heroic.
On Stage
On stage.
The patterns were made mostly of wood with some acrylic parts. They began with a large plywood base topped with many progressively smaller layers. Every vertical surface was not vertical but was angled at about 15 degrees. Most of the forward-back horizontal planes were also at about a 15 degree angle. There were few right angles. As the construction and design progressed, additional blocks at similar angles were added. Many cans of Bondo were used to fill in and adjust.
Top Pattern
Top pattern. Mostly wood and bondo with some plastic.
Bottom Pattern
Bottom pattern.
Rubber and fiberglass molds were made of all the parts. One or two epoxy and fiberglass castings were made of each part. The smaller parts were two piece castings permanently bonded into one piece. The fiber optics were installed in the smaller parts before the two sides of the casting were closed. The larger main body parts were never permanently attached and so received the fiber optics once the open castings were completed.
Casting of Top
Epoxy and glass casting of top.
Casting of Bottom
Epoxy and glass casting of bottom.
Cobra Head
Finishing the half built "Cobra Head" was the first project that I worked on for the Draconia.
Cobra Head
Cobra Head mold.
Detailing took many months. Unlike some other models of the time, kit parts were used sparingly and with purpose. Onion domes were made in several sizes and shapes and then cast in large numbers. Styrene strips were new then and we used many packages of these white strips of styrene. The Draconia space craft was like a space-going city miles long and hundreds of years old, so the details were small and layered. Scribe lines were added in several ways. Pete experimented with acid etched brass panels to speed the process of scribing, but in the end, we scribed directly into the fiberglass gel-cote and made pre-scribed styrene sheets that could be glued to the surface. Various model makers would work on detailing the various small parts and a team worked together on the main body. The model makers would work around the model and switch areas to keep consistency. As we saw what each other was doing, we would imitate or try to outdo each other and this resulted in many different styles, distributed consistently.
Detailing the Top
Detailing the top.
Detailing the Bottom
Detailing the bottom.
Fiber Optics
Officially, we installed 400 fiber optices in this model. In reality, there were closer to 4000.
Fiber Optics
A crew worked around the clock for two weeks to install the fiber optics.
Upper Wings
Upper wings.
Kenneth Larson spent several weeks making the Draconia engine. He started with a block of Gelutong, an exotic soft "hard wood" with a fine consistent grain. Ken applied styrene sheets, carved out recessed areas, scribed lines into the surface, and applied styrene strips, pipes, and small kit parts. Sean Casey made a mold and Ken cast two hollow copies in epoxy and glass cloth. Inside were installed neon tubes. Ken then built three irregular frames, backed with blue screen and diffusion. The third was for the main engine which was part of the main body. Other parts of the Draconia model were made by other model makers in a similar procedure.
Engine Pattern
Engine pattern. I started with a block of wood.
Engine Pattern
Engine pattern.
Disk just before molding.
Fork being modled.
With so many systems within the Draconia model, just closing it up and detailing the seam took days. The fiber optics and internal lighting systems with self contained within the model. Only electric power cables and compressed air for cooling were the umbilical. The disks could be turned so that they always pointed toward down relative to the story, and these were controlled by internal stepper motors.
Closing it up.
Closing it up.
Detailing the Seam
Detailing the seam.
Detailing the Seam
Detailing the seam.
Detailing the Seam
Detailing the seam.
Ready for Paint
Ready for paint.
Finally the Draconia was ready to be painted and even this took a while. Some of the parts were painted off the model and then the painters tied in the color after they were installed. Panels, as outlined by the scribe lines, were painted varying hues. Aging took several people over a week. The Draconia was to be several hundred years old (I'll bet Ardala's daddy was sore when she let Buck blow it up), so there were many layers of aging applied. The onion domes were "gold leafed" using German metal which looks more like gold on film. Every last detail was attended to. After a year of work, we felt that a mini-wrap party was in order, but the moment the Draconia model was finished, we rolled it out to stage and began shooting.
Fiber Optics
Fiber Optices.
Looking up at the bow.
Looking up at the front.
The rear.
about line 232
Cobra Head
The "Cobra Head" was what we called the bridge or command center.
Ken Larson made two sets of these fragile parts.

Three set pieces were built for areas of the Draconia that needed to be seen in closeup. I helped detail these.
Set Peice
One of several set pieces made for close-up shots.
Upper Launch Bay
Upper launch bay
Lower Launch Bay
Lower launch bay.

Larger images have been added.
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