back to article We talk to Moon designer about ULTIMATE sci-fi ship

Gavin Rothery was visual effects supervisor on the British sci-fi smash Moon, and has been a creative force on a welter of hit video games, and so has a lot to say on the subject of spacecraft design. So much, in fact, that I couldn’t bear to just cut a couple of quotes into my article on sci-fi spaceship design. So, here, in …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Dude! What about the Liberator from Blake's Seven?

    /Seriously/ :)

  2. stucs201

    Nice link to the Eagle

    Always did like that one.

  3. Geraint Jones

    May I suggest Gavin has a gander at some of the ships in Eve-Online - some of those are beautifully designed ships.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      ..and a few butt ugly ones.

      The Bestower was no beauty (functionally good though - good capacity and cheap. I used to buy them for just one trip then leave them for a future visit and buy a Punisher to get back 'home').

      The Augoror was pretty ugly as well - put me in mind of a steam engine. Not a bad work horse though if you wanted armour on the cheap.

      But my favourite overall was the Nighthawk. Not the most attractive of ships but great for missions. Tough as nails and not bad a punch once you'd got your skills up.

      1. Geraint Jones

        Yes, very true. there's a lot of nice work and a few clunkers in there too - and admittedly there's not a lot of "functional" design in there, it just looks nice really. The Tech 3 ships were fun to play with and could look awesome, and thinking about it, it becomes increasingly difficult to put my finger on a favourite...

        As an aside - I recently was lucky enough to win Chris Foss's "Hardware" (in a charity auction full of signed Eastenders/Holby City prizes, no less!) which is glorious to behold.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      What about...

      vessels in Elite?

    3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      I thought "homeworld" had the good ones, like P.E. Elson paintings finally animated. I may be wrong though, never played it.

  4. Alister

    Space 1999 Eagles

    Got to be my favourite, despite the lack of any obvious fuel storage, or the fact that there's two big engines mounted in the passageway to the cockpit section, so there'd be no room for anyone to walk through.

    They somehow just look right, would love to see a full size one.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      There was a variant...

      with additional boosters and fuel pods strapped to the backbone, IIRC. I loved the modular concept of the Eagle. One C&C module, one lifting body, several payload modules (general transport module, habitation & exploration pod, atomic waste carrier & winch module).

      The C&C module could act like a lifeboat and IIRC docked with a variety of compatible ship bodies that they came across. I think there was a ship called a Swift that they found once.

      1. Alister


        It's only just struck me, but in fact if you look at an Eagle and Thunderbird 2 sideways on, they have a lot in common, in shape, layout and use of different payload modules.

        Still think the Eagle looks more "real" though.

      2. MrT


        ... - Heavy-lift Boosters seen in the season 2 episode, "New Adam, New Eve"

        ... - Spine Boosters (shown with Lab Module) seen in season 2 episode "Metamorph"

        There's also the MkIV Hawk seen in season 1 episode "War Games" -

        And the Ultra manned probe seen in season 1 episode "Dragon's Domain" -

        Dinky Eagles: I had a green one with the regular module and blue one with atomic waste, both with red plastic rocket bells that kept falling off a lot. I think the green one is still in the attic somewhere, along with SPV (minus Captain Scarlet), Angel 1, Joe-90 car, a boxed NCC-1701 Enterprise with all the bits and boxed 007 Esprit (last one's a Corgi IIRC).

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Yes, TB2 and the Eagle do share a few design features. And there was the Lunar Module Carrier that launched and recovered the moon shuttles in UFO; very TB2.

      Space:1999 was just the best for tech. The integrated Com-Lock was the smart phone 35 years ahead of its time, with built-in Facetime/Skype, NFC coded door entry, computer access etc. The travel tube as well, brilliant. Pity the stories let the series down so often.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thunderbirds hover scooters - "no visual clues whatsoever to show how they worked"

    Well, except when you could see the occasional string....

    1. Stevie


      What "hover scooters?"

      Fireball XL5 featured the iconic Jetmobile, but I recall no "hover scooters" in Thunderbirds.


  6. Alfie

    Shame - not even a mention for Dark Star. If ever a space ship looked 'lived in' that was it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    B5 ships are among the best ever!

    Babylon5: The first TV series to use CGI for everything that was not a physical set with actors.

    It may have only been a few years before Voyager, but computers were improving at an incredibal rate and B5 was on a fraction of the budget.

    The Starfury was just so practical looking.

    The Vorlon organic living ships, plus the Shadow vesals designed to just look nasty.

    The earth destroyers though very much like the ship from Alians you saw a lot more of them in B5, and the spinning center sections for fake gravity.

    The WhiteStars and other Mimbari ships were all excelent, though the WhiteStars always made me think a plicked chicken for some reasn. The hugh crusers that looked like giant Angel Fish were something special.

    Also the idea behind the PPG (hand gun) was also excelent: fire a plasma bolt that can burn flesh but was very unlikely to puncture the hull. You don't want a lead slug thrower inside a space ship!

    1. Intractable Potsherd

      Don't forget ...

      ... the excellent sound effect for the PPGs powering up. Very gentle, but very menacing.

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Iain M Banks in Excession

    "[ each Affronter ship] looked vaguely as if it had been modelled by taking a free-fall aerial bomb from one age and welding on to it a profusion broad swords, scimitars and daggers from an even earlier time and then magnifying the result until each was a couple of of kilometres in length"

    Though I like the 'Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints' General Offensive Unit (Abominator-class) in 'Surface Detail - though it itself brags about being more of a fleet than an individual ship.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Actually, that was always crap. Any decently designed hull for a station that size will laugh at a silly little lead bullet. What you do want a low penetration round for is so you don't punch through 30 internal partition walls and kill someone random a dozen or so rooms away, since except for internal bulkheads, those ARE likely to be really flimsy, there's no ground for bullets to embed themselves in before the travel too far.

  10. strangefish

    Nell is gorgeous

    clearly based on a naked lady and a rather well endowed one at that

  11. Nigel 11

    Size isn't everything

    In "Accelerando" Charlie Stross makes out a good case that if we ever build a starship in a c-limited universe, it'll probably be the size of a coke tin.

    The ship from the Transcend in Vinge's "A fire upon the deep", which was causing the locals to be fretful and slightly fearful, was five feet long. Relay was destroyed a few weeks later, along with the Old One (a remarkable twelve years old) and his ship, by something much smaller, nastier, and older by billions of years.

    (The sequel has just been published).

  12. jason 7

    With regards to Nell.....

    ...a design I liked too by the way.

    He does know that the designer of that ship was one James Cameron?


    "SADORRR??!! Sador of the Malmori??????"

  13. BozNZ

    UFO 2013

    Bring it on

  14. Graham Marsden

    Erm, what?

    "Star Trek: Voyager took ships into CG and they tended to take on a certain sleeker look over this period such as Babylon 5"

    B5 predated Voyager and was using CGI ships with the rendering being done on Amigas!

  15. SgRock
    Thumb Down

    Moon Problems

    Dear Regies:

    --I enjoyed the movie somewhat, but it did have problems. Number one was gravity. Now I know 1/6 G is rather hard to film. But, can you think of anything more likely to show the absence of 1/6 G than using a jump rope. Secondly the ballistic trajectory from the far side, was not quite right, somehow. Thirdly the "Evil Corporation" motif showed a lack of imagination and a socialist bent. They did save a lot of money on actors, though.

    Best Regards

    Clear Ether

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      This man agrees.

      Also, the low gravity seemed to magically stop once the doors to the station were passed.

      This is a classic mistake though. I remember Roy Schneier in 2010 weighting the guillotine to HAL's power supply in his hand in an environment that's obviously at weightless.

  16. SgRock

    Moon Problems

    Dear Regies:

    --I enjoyed the movie some what, but it did have problems. Number one was gravity. Now I know 1/6 G is rather hard to film. But, can you think of anything more likely to show the absence of 1/6 G than using a jump rope. Secondly the ballistic trajectory from the far side, was not quite right, somehow. Thirdly the "Evil Corporation" motif showed a lack of imagination and a socialist bent.

    Best Regards

    Clear Ether

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      What kind of weirdo downvotes this post?

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Had a 3ft Eagle

    When I was a kid I had a plastic 3ft Eagle toy. I wish I knew what happened to it, it was fairly sturdy. The cabin and the rear engine would come off and fit together. Anon, of course!

  18. Wombling_Free

    DSV1 (or was it 2?) Liberator FTW.

    The Liberator is a classic, and should be on this list.

    The Discovery (and pretty much every other spacecraft in 2001) is only realistic when considered with Stanely Kubrick's ego. They are most certainly NOT at all realistic! See my other comments about this! The 'Leonov' depicted in 2010 is more realistic than the 'Discovery'.

    I thoroughly enjoyed 'Moon' especially the big tip'o'the'hat to Silent Running's drones! The designs were pretty good, and we could suspend our belief about the gravity thing for the sake of a good plot. Sam Rockwell was superb in a very challenging role.

    For totally 'out there' ship designs I don't think anyone has come up with ships as delightful as Iain M Banks 'Culture' series, from the names to the eccentric Minds that run them. Charles Stross' "starwisp" solar-sail & coke can also strikes me as quite realistic, and Stephen Baxter's squid-ships are a bit creepy but also I think more likely than monkeys-in-a-spam-can.

    Here's a thought about the squid-ships - can you survive higher acceleration if you are in a neutral-bouyancy tank? Force from acceleration just becomes pressure... yes/no?

    1. Chris007

      @DSV1 (or was it 2?) Liberator FTW

      They were sister ships and identical (otherwise the story of Orac's prediction would never have worked out )

      Remembering that fact makes me ask 'where is the "Anorak" icon' :)

    2. Graham Marsden


      The Liberator was the DSV 2 built by "The System"

      (Yes, that's my anorak!)

  19. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Sulaco is where Nostromo does to land in Conrad's novel.

    "I have to have my model of the Sulaco next to my monitor. I find it so inspirational. It just looks like a weapon. Beautiful on-screen."

    IIRC, it was made from a pulse rifle prop that was lying around...

    How about the ships in "Legends Of Galactic Heroes", then? They are of the same class.

    Personal preference is Captain Harlock's Arcadia. Who wouldn't want to captain an immense spacegoing WWII dreadnought with the stern sculpted as if came from an 18th century man-of-war? Manned by a dedicated crew of society's rejects surviving on sake and rice. And you get to fly a pirate flag. And you get to piss on venal politicians from on high!

    In this new home you can slowly sip expensive wine liberated from space freighters while you admire the Milky Way through panorama viewbays and reflect on your permanent fight for the right to lead a life of Libertarian Freedom.

This topic is closed for new posts.