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The History of the Cylon Centurion Costume
Written by Marcel Damen   
Saturday, 05 September 2009

This article will attempt to reconstruct the history of the design of one of the most recognisable aliens and villains in TV history: Battlestar Galactica's Cylon Centurion. The history, based upon images from my private collection and talking to people who worked on it, begins with the initial sketches and paintings from Ralph McQuarrie. It continues on the work of Joe Johnston, Andrew Probert and Ralph Massey, and concludes with the making of the costume itself and the stunt men that wore the Cylon Centurion suits.

I'd like to start by especially thanking Andrew Probert for taking the time in his busy schedule to talk to me, filling in some important blanks, providing me with a bundle of new images, and clearing up some misunderstandings. Many of the pictures below come from his private collection.

It all begins with concept designer Ralph McQuarrie (who'd just finished working on the first Star Wars film, called A New Hope in 1977). At the time when Glen Larson still had to pitch Galactica: Saga of a Star World to the studios (before that it was also known as Star World, a name that quickly changed to avoid further lawsuits by George Lucas; though it was really based on an idea of Glen Larson from the sixties called Adam's Ark), Ralph McQuarrie was hired to illustrate this initial script with 24 paintings (see: Ralph McQuarrie Battlestar Galactica Paintings).

At that point it probably was already clear to Glen Larson that his initial idea of making the Cylons a reptilian race was unacceptable for the studios. The network simply didn't allow the killing of any form of "real" life on a family show. Therefore Glen Larson came up with a robotic race created by the reptilian Cylons long ago (as explained by Apollo to Boxey in the landram on the planet Carillon in Battlestar Galactica's pilot episode "Saga of a Star World"). Much later, after the Battlestar Galactica series was cancelled, these ideas were revived for the Battlestar Galactica telemovie "Ëxperiment in Terra". At the beginning of this movie the Cylon history is explained and illustrated (art by Jerry Gebr). Since, historywise, this art was made AFTER the series, I'll discuss this at the end of this article.

After or during this studio pitch Ralph McQuarrie also worked on the concept art of the series and the Cylon Centurion (see: Ralph McQuarrie Battlestar Galactica Concept Art). Since the Cylons were originally thought of as reptilian creatures, Ralph McQuarrie also looked at proposals for Cylons with a more reptilian look to it (especially since it was decided that the Cylons at least were build by a reptilian race). These images show some nice examples of what those reptilian Cylons looked like.

 

Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion

Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion

 

Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion

Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion

 

Also, costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac claims he looked at reptilian looking Cylons upon request by Glen Larson, though I personally believe that he was never involved in the entire creation of this costume. The sketch below does show a reptilian looking Cylon costume design by him, but it's dated "1979". At that time the Cylon Centurion had already been on screen for quite some time, and the ideas on reptilian looking Cylons were departed from long before that. When this was made at this stage of the creation process (if the date on it is wrong or added later), it doesn't fit either. NO other concept artist but Ralph McQuarrie was working on the movie at the time, nor was a final look of the Cylon Centurion head (which resembles the screen used version) determined yet.

I think that this is a more recently created "vintage" drawing by Jean-Pierre Dorleac that was dated back incorrectly (since his memory simply failed him on when all of this work was created!). I believe it was only made by him to prove he WAS involved early on in the design process and he eventually also created the screen used Cylon Centurion costume. I added this costume design here, if only to show how Jean-Pierre Dorleac might have looked at the reptilian looking Cylon if he ever was asked by Glen Larson to look at it and contemplated the thought.

 

Jean-Pierre Dorleac's costume design for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion

Jean-Pierre Dorleac's costume design for the reptilian looking Cylon Centurion [not vintage!]

 

As mentioned above, Ralph McQuarrie was hired to illustrate the initial script, which was used to pitch the project to the studios, with 24 paintings (see: Ralph McQuarrie Battlestar Galactica Paintings). One of those paintings was the one below, showing two Cylon Centurions and Baltar on board the Cylon Raider. It already shows a more robotic version of the Cylon.

 

Ralph McQuarrie's painting for the Battlestar Galactica pilot script 'Saga of a Star World'

Ralph McQuarrie's painting for the Battlestar Galactica pilot script "Saga of a Star World"

 

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion concept design as used in the painting

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion concept design as used in the painting

 

After the pilot was greenlit by ABC, a whole team of new concept designers started working on creating concept art for it, next to Ralph McQuarrie. I should actually say movie and not pilot, since at this point Battlestar Galactica was still thought of as a series of two-hour movies made for television, rather than an actual TV series. Hence why the budget for Galactica: Saga of a Star World was much higher than on a normal pilot for a television series.

Ralph McQuarrie's design eventually evolved to the direction as shown below. It was even used in the Galactica: Saga of a Star World storyboard. Of this Ralph McQuarrie design, an actual helmet (which resembles the small sketch at the bottom right) was made.

 

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon sketches with the Cylon Centurion sketch (bottom right) as used in the storyboard and the actual helmet

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon sketches with the Cylon Centurion sketch (bottom right)
as used in the storyboard and the actual helmet

 

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design used in the 'Galactica: Saga of a Star World' storyboard (art probably by Martin A. Kline)

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design used in the "Galactica: Saga of a Star World" storyboard
(art probably by Martin A. Kline)

 

Helmet made from Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design

Helmet made from Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design

 

Helmet made from Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design

Helmet made from Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion design

 

Another concept artist hired to do concept art, after the project was greenlit by ABC, was Joe Johnston (also of Star Wars fame). He was also asked to look at the Cylon Centurion costume. Both Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston started looking at the Cylons by using knight's helmets (or knights in general) as a reference. I have no idea yet why Joe Johnston called it the NEW Cylon Centurion, but it could be due to the fact they were asked to look into different looking Cylons (since Ralph McQuarrie's design still looked too much like a Star Wars Storm Trooper).

 

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion head using a knight's helmet as a reference

Ralph McQuarrie's Cylon Centurion head using a knight's helmet as a reference

 

Joe Johnston's Cylon Centurion using knights and samurais as a reference

Joe Johnston's Cylon Centurion using knights and samurais as a reference

 

Yet another artist that got involved in making proposals for the Cylon Centurion costume was Andrew Probert (he mentioned it was shortly after Joe Johnston came on board). He followed a different approach, since the starting point for his Cylon Centurion design was the head of the Imperious Leader which was already made when Andrew Probert arrived on set. Interesting to note are the introduction of the mouth piece and the Mohawk in this early version. The horizontal slits of the mouth piece were, according to Andrew Probert, a direct reference to the horizontal slits as used in the Cylon Raider model, which were already build at the time (and he had seen).

 

Andrew Probert's Cylon using the Imperious Leader head (right) as a starting point

Andrew Probert's Cylon using the Imperious Leader head (right) as a starting point

 

Andrew Probert's Cylon using the Imperious Leader head (left) as a starting point

Andrew Probert's Cylon using the Imperious Leader head (left) as a starting point

 

Andrew Probert at ILM with the Imperious Leader head (left)

Andrew Probert at ILM with the Imperious Leader head (left)

 

Andrew Probert's sketches of the Cylon Centurion using the Imperious Leader as a starting point    Andrew Probert's sketches of the Cylon Centurion using the Imperious Leader as a starting point

Andrew Probert's sketches of the Cylon Centurion using the Imperious Leader as a starting point

Andrew Probert's sketches of the Cylon Centurion
using the Imperious Leader as a starting point

 

Both Andrew Probert and Joe Johnston continued working on the Cylon Centurion. Andrew Probert continued on his proposal using the Imperious Leader as a starting point, while Joe Johnston was developing a more samurai looking Cylon Centurion. At this point I have no other sketches of Joe Johnston other than the one shown above. The following images are just some of the designs that Andrew Probert made.

 

Andrew Probert's design sketches for the Cylon Centurion costume evolution   Andrew Probert's design sketches for the Cylon Centurion costume evolution

Andrew Probert's design sketches for the Cylon Centurion costume evolution   Andrew Probert's design sketches for the Cylon Centurion costume evolution

Andrew Probert's design sketches for the Cylon Centurion costume evolution

 

At this point, several Cylon Centurion head models were made, based upon Andrew Probert's designs. The following images show some examples of those preliminary designs.

 

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

 

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

 

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head based on Andrew Probert's design

 

The model below shows another preliminary proposal of a Cylon Centurion head. Andrew Probert didn't approve this model, because it wasn't made according to his design. He felt the modeller had interpreted it too freely and intentionally added Darth Vader (Star Wars) type elements. It wasn't a direction Andrew wanted to go with his design, but the image is shown as just another proposal that was made.

 

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head (not made according Andrew Probert's design)

preliminary model of the Cylon Centurion head (not made according to Andrew Probert's design)

 

 

Andrew Probert continued on his more skull like looking Cylon Centurion head and created the two images below. They're almost at the point of the actual screen used version, though the mouth piece still looks different from the final version. Additionally, on the chest piece the horizontal slits are still missing, as is the energy belt around the waist. Another interesting detail is the addition of the double octagonal shape as a symbol in the top sketch. Andrew saw the use of it on the Cylon Raider model and decided to copy it to the costume as well.

 

Andrew Probert's design of the almost final, screen used Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's design of the almost final, screen used Cylon Centurion

 

Andrew Probert's design of the almost final, screen used Cylon Centurion head

Andrew Probert's design of the almost final, screen used Cylon Centurion head

 

At one point Andrew Probert looked at the gauntlet of the Cylon Centurion costume. Below two proposals are shown for both the left and right gauntlet. The idea was to add some sort of weapon in the right gauntlet. Note the double octagonal shape/symbol on the upper arm that was added as some sort of rank among the Cylon Centurions. The additions on the left gauntlet were made to make it look similar to the right gauntlet that had the weapon. These proposals were never used.

 

Andrew Probert's proposal for the right gauntlet (with weapon) of the Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's proposal for the right gauntlet (with weapon) of the Cylon Centurion

 

Andrew Probert's proposals for the left gauntlet of the Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's proposals for the left gauntlet of the Cylon Centurion

 

The images below show Andrew Probert's final, screen used design for the Cylon Centurion costume. These images, together with Joe Johnston's proposal, were presented to Glen Larson and his son. Andrew Probert's design was then picked by Glen Larson as the direction they wanted to go in, but still needed to be developed further into a full usuable costume.

 

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

 

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion at ILM

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion at ILM

 

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

 

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion head

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion head

 

Before the actual costume was made, artist Ralph Massey was asked to make a small maquette of it. Ralph Massey was originally just hired to make a model for an "insect creature" (probably the Ovion, but possibly it could just as well have been the reptillian looking Cylon), but turned out to make sculptures for the Cylon Centurion and the Daggit as well (see Ralph Massey Battlestar Galactica Concept Models for an overview of his work). The photos below show him working on the model for the Cylon Centurion costume.

 

Ralph Massey working on the Cylon Centurion clay model

Ralph Massey working on the Cylon Centurion clay model

 

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion

 

Ralph Massey working on the Cylon Centurion clay model

Ralph Massey working on the Cylon Centurion clay model

 

After the clay model was finished, the final helmet for the Cylon Centurion was made. Below are the images of that first head. The sweeping red eye movement was also added and tested at that point.

 

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion and the screen used head

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion and the screen used head

 

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion and the screen used head

Ralph Massey's clay model of the Cylon Centurion and the screen used head

 

The screen used Cylon Centurion head with the sweeping red eye movement

The screen used Cylon Centurion head with the sweeping red eye movement

 

 

At some point in time, costume designer Jean-Pierre Dorleac created this Cylon Centurion costume design below. The design looks almost exactly like Andrew Probert's drawing so the question is: "Who's copying who?"

 

Cylon Centurion costume design made by Jean-Pierre Dorleac

Cylon Centurion costume design made by Jean-Pierre Dorleac

 

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

Andrew Probert's final, screen used design of the Cylon Centurion

 

After carefully studying both drawings, I noticed that both are nearly identical (though Jean-Pierre Dorleac's figure is somewhat slimmer and his stick with the half moon on top is longer) except for one important detail, the boot. Andrew Probert has a normal looking boot while Jean-Pierre Dorleac's is a two-part, more rectangular boot. In fact the boot is identical to the one on Ralph Massey's model.

 

Cylon Centurion costume design boot comparison

Cylon Centurion costume design boot comparison

 

Costume illustrator Haleen Holt, who I interviewed (Haleen Holt GALACTICA.TV interview), told me what happened. She actually made the Cylon Centurion costume drawing above. Haleen Holt told me Jean-Pierre Dorleac came up to her with Andrew Probert's concept drawing, asked her to copy it and make some minor changes so it could be presented to the director/producer for approval as the final costume design for the Cylon Centurion costume. So the Cylon Centurion costume was designed at ILM as a collaborative effort started by Ralph McQuarrie, followed by Joe Johnston and Andrew Probert. At some point Jean-Pierre Dorleac caught wind of a non-costumer's guild member designing a costume and copied it with minor changes to turn it into his design. Haleen told me back then the costume designer always has a prerogative to make changes to any of the costume concepts.

Andrew Probert never met Jean-Pierre Dorleac on set, nor did he know his concept drawings were copied by Jean-Pierre Dorleac. He only saw this copy of his Cylon image years later. The following (vintage) photo of the sculpture's foot plate with Ralph Massey's handwriting (he has a very distinctive "R" which can be seen in his signature) shows EXACTLY who's design that the model was based on. My guess is that Ralph Massey never met Jean-Pierre Dorleac either.

 

Ralph Massey's Cylon Centurion sculpture footplate

Ralph Massey's Cylon Centurion sculpture footplate

 

After Ralph Massey finished his sculpture, he and Andrew Probert continued working on the different pieces of the costume. The photos below show Andrew Probert sketching at ILM (note the small Ralph Massey sculpture of the Cylon Centurion head) and Ralph Massey putting the pieces together.

 

Andrew Probert sketching at ILM

Andrew Probert sketching at ILM

 

Ralph Massey putting the pieces of the Cylon Centurion costume together

Ralph Massey putting the pieces of the Cylon Centurion costume together

 

Pieces of the Cylon Centurion costume (note the shoe piece on the right)

Pieces of the Cylon Centurion costume (note the shoe piece on the right)

 

The Cylon Centurion costume pieces on a mannequin

The Cylon Centurion costume pieces on a mannequin

 

The Cylon Centurion costume pieces on a mannequin

The Cylon Centurion costume pieces on a mannequin

 

To get their distinctive color, the Cylon Centurion costume had to be chromed. The second image showing the overview of the helmets on the shelve is interesting in several ways. For one, the walls are decorated with a large amount of concept art by Joe Johnston (of which only a few have turned up and are shown in Joe Johnston Battlestar Galactica Concept Art). Next to that the image also shows a photo of Darth Vader (Star Wars) on the wall which was, according to Andrew Probert, hung up by the person who also proposed the Darth Vader style Cylon Centurion helmet (see story and image earlier in this article). Of course half the people making models and concept art for Battlestar Galactica had worked on Star Wars, so it's not strange for them to use their own old material as a reference to create something new. Seen in the light of the lawsuit that George Lucas filed against Glen Larson for copyright infringement, I thought this image probably might have been looked at very differently back in 1978.

 

The Cylon Centurion costume chroming

The Cylon Centurion costume chroming

 

Overview of Cylon Centurion helmets (and Joe Johnston art)

Overview of Cylon Centurion helmets (and Joe Johnston art)

 

There's only a few people of which I'm certain of to have worn Cylon Centurion costumes. I do know all of them were worn by (tall, 6'5" or 6'6" to look menacing and larger than life) stunt people, if only because they were being shot or blown up all the time, but also because they were tripping over their own feet falling flat on their face (since it was decided that Cylons are robots and they fall over straight rather than curled up like a human), bumping into each other, and even falling down stairs. Besides that, the costume itself wasn't completely safe either. During those falls the costume would often break up into quite dangerous hard plastic shards that would penetrate the arms, legs and other body parts of the stuntmen that wore the suits.

When I talked to Dick Durock about his role of Imperious Leader (he was the person in the costume) back in 2005, he also told me he wore the Cylon Centurion costume at times. This intrigued me, since I'd never thought about who were in the suits before that point, and it triggered me to try to figure out who else were in the Cylon Centurion suit. This wasn't easy since I quickly found out that only one guy was ever credited on screen as being in the suit, namely Rex Cutter. He was credited as Red Eye in "The Lost Warrior" (and also as Cy in Galactica 1980's episode "The Return of Starbuck").

 

Dick Durock in Cylon Centurion costume

Dick Durock in Cylon Centurion costume

 

An unkonwn stuntman, being dressed up as a Cylon Centurion

Unknown stuntman in Cylon Centurion costume

 

Mike Egnor later contacted Mark Malis, who was in charge of casting at the time, to ask if he knew who any of the other people were that wore the Cylon Centurion costume. Mark said that because of the height requirements, they would occasionally recruit local basketball and football players.

Another stunt guy I know that was in the Cylon Centurion costume was stuntman Jack Gill. I spoke to Jack Gill several years ago and he told me some cool Cylon anecdotes. Jack Gill also stunt doubled for Dirk Benedict (Starbuck) on Battlestar Galactica and Barry van Dyke (Dillon) on Galactica 1980. I sadly don't have any images from him in the actual Cylon Centurion suit. There was also a rumor that actor Dennis Haysbert (better known as President David Palmer in 24 and Jonas Blane in The Unit) once started out as a Cylon Centurion. When I recently talked to Jack Gill again, he confirmed this is indeed true (for more information check out the Jack Gill GALACTICA.TV interview).

What remains are the unknown stuntmen I'd love to identify and credit (please contact us if you can) for playing one of the most significant and memorable villains of all time; the Cylon Centurion.

 

Unknown stuntman in Cylon Centurion costume

Unknown stuntman in Cylon Centurion costume

 

Unknown stuntman in Cylon Centurion costume

Unknown stuntman in Cylon Centurion costume

 

After the series was cancelled several telemovies were made to capatalize on the Battlestar Galactica series. "Experiment in Terra", one of these telemovies, explained the history of the Cylons through several illustrations made by Jerry Gebr. Recently Jerry Gebr gave some new information on the paintings he made for Battlestar Galactica. Though the painting were used in the telemovie that was brought out long after the series was cancelled the art was actually made in late 1977. The art was in fact created to pitch the show to ABC when it was going to be a series of movies of the week. He based all the artwork on Glen Larson's descriptions. He was also given Ralph McQuarrie's and Andrew Probert's art for reference.

 

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the reptilian looking Cylon

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the reptilian looking Cylon

 

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the reptilian looking Cylon

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the reptilian looking Cylon

 

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the Cylon War

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the Cylon War

 

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the Cylon War

Jerry Gebr Battlestar Galactica art of the Cylon War

 

 

You can view the video by clicking on the "PLAY" button below to start.


 

Battlestar Galactica "Experiment in Terra" Telemovie intro with Jerry Gebr art

 

Please note that this article will be edited and upgraded when more and new information is at hand!

 
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