Battlestar Galactica: Designing Spaceships celebrates BSG’s design artists.
“There are those who believe that spaceships out there began here…” No, that’s not quite how the opening narration of the original Battlestar Galactica series went in 1978. But those who believe bringing credible and cool spacecraft to the screen takes a lot of human imagination, ingenuity, and TLC are right!
Hero Collector Books proves it with its newest volume, Battlestar Galactica: Designing Spaceships. The book is a deep, detailed look at how the spaceships of both the original BSG and its reimagined counterpart were brought to the TV screen. It showcases and celebrates the achievements of such artists, illustrators, and craftspeople as Ralph McQuarrie, Andrew Probert, Eric Chu, Ray Lai, Lee Stringer, Douglas MacLean, and Gary Hutzel, among many others.
Exactly as advertised, Battlestar Galactica: Designing Spaceships is a beautiful, 200-page tome, brimming with art that ranges from black-and-white floor plans to full-color paintings. It’s a hefty but not overly heavy book, which means fans will enjoy spending hours holding it and poring over its pages.
From concept paintings to complete CGI, Battlestar Galactica’s spaceships look beautiful
The visuals are the book’s main attraction. The section on the original series boasts a dozen concept and production paintings by Ralph McQuarrie, best known for his Star Wars art. McQuarrie’s work for the BSG universe is every bit as compelling as his paintings for the Galaxy Far, Far Away. It’s not hard to understand why his paintings helped sell the series.
Many concept sketches by McQuarrie also feature prominently. They give readers a sense of how the show’s spaceship designs progressed, especially how the Galactica itself was envisioned as a futuristic aircraft carrier. (Fans of creator Glen Larson’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century series will also enjoy seeing an early, color sketch of that show’s Thunderfighter as a candidate for the Colonial Viper.)
The bulk of the book covers the reimagined BSG, beginning with Eric Chu’s designs for the new Galactica in the 2003 Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, all the way through CGI models designed for the 2012 web series Blood & Chrome by a team headed by Doug Drexler (no stranger to Star Trek fans). Sketches, paintings, digital models and previsualizations, storyboards, set blueprints and photographs, and even art department plans for instrument panels all help readers immerse themselves in the world of BSG’s vessels.
I especially enjoyed seeing how Chu, seeking to satisfy both the Sci-Fi Channel’s insistence on “complete originality” and the existing BSG fan base’s desire for familiar designs, drew inspiration for his Galactica’s ribbed appearance from artistic vases by Italian designer Andrea Branzi. And seeing iteration after iteration of the Colonial Viper, hands-down one of the coolest ships in science fiction, was a treat. There’s also a fascinating tour by way of artist Ken Rabehl’s annotated concept drawings through Commander Adama’s quarters.
The book’s text, by Mark Wright, Ian Spelling, and Paul Ruditis, is filled with interesting facts about the challenges the designers on both BSG series faced and the ingenious solutions they devised. The design, construction, and use of the reimagined series’ Raptor transport and Blackbird stealth ship are particularly interesting case studies in how necessary compromises between artistic vision and practical reality can lead to strong results.
Wright, Spelling, and Ruditis also reveal some nuggets about versions of BSG that never were. The version Bryan Singer was developing in 2001 when 9/11 and its aftermath intervened, for instance, still ended up shaping the reimagined series’ aesthetic in some key ways.
While perusing the book, fans may sometimes be surprised to learn how the artistic and technological “magicians” behind the scenes pulled off their tricks. For example, I never noticed or suspected the Viper Mark VII in the reimagined series’ miniseries and first season existed only as a nose section in its full-size, physical form!
Creating a compelling vision of a spacefaring civilization to the screen once, to say nothing of more than once, is no mean feat. Battlestar Galactica: Designing Spaceships is a gorgeous tribute to talented people who’ve done it. It should make a welcome and often-consulted addition to any fan of science fiction film and television.