VFX: MARTIN BOWER
Martin Bower is a prolific model maker and designer and has worked on TV series such as Doctor Who, Space: 1999, The Tripods and the Tomorrow People. His film work includes Alien and Flash Gordon. From 1969 to the present day, he has so far produced over 1000 professional works. His work on Blake’s 7 included teleport bracelets, trooper’s blasters, Servalan’s ship and much more…
Visit Martin's site here:
This interview first appeared in Scorpio Attack Issue 1, 2005.
SA: What inspired you to get into special effects?
MB: I was greatly inspired by the first real space-age puppet programme SUPERCAR (made in 1959-60) & I still love watching it on DVD today. They hold up incredibly well.
SA: What was your first professional job?
MB: Making the signs for a "P.G.Tips" Chimps commercial! - (bet you didn't expect that!) If you're interested the second was Thames TV's production of "Frankenstein" in which I helped with Ian Holm's monster suit -and then I did "Space 1999".
SA: How did you get the job on Space: 1999?
MB: A friend of mine saw an article in a Sunday Newspaper that Gerry Anderson was planning to make a new series. I wrote to Gerry and included photographs of my work and he then passed me on to Brian Johnson at Bray Studios. Shortly after that I was sent a script for an episode called Alpha Child and it all went from there. I did a lot of work on that show and I loved every minute of it.
SA: How did you come to work on Blake’s 7?
MB: I was at Bray Studios working on "The Medusa Touch" when Ian Scoones turned up. He came to see if I'd be interested in detailing this large blank white model that had just come in from "Space Models" but had absolutely no detail on it.
This turned out to be the Liberator! Initially we both thought the green ball on the back was the front cockpit! He liked the work I did on detailing it and from there he went on to commission me to make the props & other models.
SA: What was your exact involvement with the Liberator model?
MB: I detailed the large model with hundreds of tiny panel lines, shading & fine detail. I then subsequently made two more Liberators 2/3rd of the size of the large model. This was mainly because the large model was SO heavy to "fly"!
SA: Was it a difficult prop to work with?
MB: Yes, because the pole hole (on which the model was supported) had been put in the wrong place so that whenever the model was viewed from the side it was always visible, covered in black velvet, cutting in front of the Liberators "engine" pods. It should have had mounting points at the back, front and most outside points. On "The Liberator" this would have been on the end of one of the three "engines". Pretty well all other model spaceships I've done have this facility. That way, depending on which pole mount you use the support pole never shows, no matter from what angle you view the model
SA: A lot of fantastic stock footage of Liberator was filmed but never used. Do you know why?
MB: Yes, because the BBC did not have a "model camera crew" They had this daft staff rota system which meant we got sent whichever camera crew were down to do the "SFX" for that week, taking no account of the special knowledge needed when lighting models. Every single time they filmed "The Liberator" the model was totally flooded with too much light so that all the detail I'd so carefully applied was invisible, just whited out, and the mounting pole showed up brown! On Space: 1999 we had used the same filming methods but we had experienced lighting camera men (Harry Oakes & Nick Alder) who knew how to expose for a (usually) white model against black space.
SA: Were you sad when the Liberator was destroyed at the end of the 3rd series?
MB: NO! but actually they did not need to blow it up! Again, in Space: 1999 we blew up ships nearly every week, but never ever destroyed any of the models. They would have got a much better shot if they had got us to make some shattered sections of the Liberator and then blown them up. The cut from the complete actual model to the exploding bits is not noticeable on film.
SA: Can you tell me how you came up with the teleport bracelet?
MB: I'm afraid I'm going to destroy some illusions here! Ian Scoones had designed this oblong bracelet which he asked me to quote to make, but basically it was just too expensive as it involved making intricate moulds. So, being very pressed for time, he asked me to come up with something. I rummaged around in my workshop and put together a "rough" bracelet from the bits I happened to have in stock, and sprayed it a colour I just had on the shelf "Roman Bronze" which I'd got in to do some ancient armour props for James Burke's (remember him?) "Connections" programme! I showed it to Ian and he loved it. I eventually ended up making 64 of the darned things! Such are "great" designs born......Out of necessity!
SA: How often did you have to replace them?
MB: I never actually replaced any, but I did get asked to make more & more batches of them. I also made 6 crushable bracelets that had interiors inside them for scenes where they get smashed or stamped on.
SA: Servalan’s ship in Series 4 was very impressive. Where did the idea come from?
MB: Where ALL my spaceships come from: my imagination! I just did some doodles until I got a shape I liked. I then Okayed it with Jim Francis who had, by then, taken over B7's SFX, and built it. It was the most expensive model built for Blake’s 7 up till that time! Sorry I can't give you some amazingly clever answer!
SA: Did you have any involvement with the Scorpio or Xenon Base models?
MB: No, a guy called Ron Thornton had come to see in my studios at Bracknell to get me to help him out with some models he said he was making for himself. Afterwards he took these to another BBC SFX man who, on the basis of seeing these models, got him to make the Scorpio and Xenon Base models. Apparently he was cheaper than me! Needless to say I was not best pleased. I did however still make the aluminium side arms.
SA: How did you feel Scorpio compared to Liberator?
MB: They're entirely different. Both are unique designs but I think Liberator is more distinctly different. Scorpio tends to look very much more like so many "kit-bashed" model spacecraft of the time.
SA: Did the limited budget on Blake’s 7 bother you?
MB: Yes, it bothered me when a Director would complain when a gun fell apart when it was dropped, or often thrown on the floor! The gun may only have had a budget of say £25, when it should really have cost £250 and been made of metal! It always seemed as though the directors and producers never seemed to realise that the budget we were working to was about a tenth of what any other programme had. I just don't know why this was.
SA: What are your memories of The Tripods?
MB: The sheer size of the bloody things! I made quite a few of them, the biggest one being six feet high and the head was five feet across. This was the one used for close up shots of the Tripods moving around. I used to get some funny reactions from tourists when I used to film it on location at Holme Bridge. The series wasn’t a happy experience though. The viewing figures were spectacularly bad and they only made two of the three books which was a shame really. The whole series was far too slow and only picked up towards the end when we saw the aliens in the city. A third series would have concentrated more on this but it was not meant to be. I did a lot of models for the series but there was very little money – yet again!
SA: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
MB: Yes, to get one of my (so far) 3 TV shows actually made. I don't know how many of your readers know of my "Starguard" TV series. A 15 min "pilot" was filmed in 1988-89, but despite even going to the States with it, no one would back it. There's an interesting anecdote attached to this. "Starguard" is about a team of people who use a machine called a "Trans-pod" to travel trough "worm holes" to distant galaxies. Inside the "Trans-pod" are all the machines they use for each mission. The power for the "wormholes" came from a giant crystal discovered beneath an ancient stone circle (Stonehenge?) The Crystal was called "Guardian" and from this power, once used by the ancient civilisations of Earth. It's rediscovery enabled its power to be harnessed and channelled to where the "Trans-pod was housed. As it was sent, a huge ring passed up and down over the "Trans-pod" to send it via the "wormhole" to a distant planet. 3 years after showing the format to US TV executives the film "STARGATE” came out. -I'm saying nothing!
Thank you Martin.