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Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper Mock-Up
Written by Marcel Damen   
Monday, 27 September 2010

For years these Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper mock-up photos could be found on Phil Broad's (Cloudster) website. They recorded his studio visits and a unique piece of TV history now lost (both the Colonial Viper mock-up as well as the Cloudster website are now gone). By putting them back up here fans can now continue to enjoy them.

Advanced marketing for the original Battlestar Galactica series included model kits of the primary spacecraft which were released many months ahead of the actual TV premiere date. Designed by Joe Johnston and Ralph McQuarrie, these ships had the same mechanical "feel" as those used in Star Wars yet were completely new designs. One of the design criteria for the Viper would be a "compact" configuration, easy to produce as a full-scale set piece, yet projecting a feeling of power. This was achieved with admirable results, at a diminutive length of 27 feet the Vipers huge intakes and exhaust nozzles left no doubt that this was a high-powered combat vehicle. Sporting stub wings reminiscent of the X-15 or F-104 Starfighter and a long rakish nose, this design also featured simple to build shapes that helped keep construction budgets down.

Built as miniatures first, they also presented certain challenges to the studio construction department. Namely, how to reproduce those shapes that were applied to the models in the form parts borrowed from commercial model kits? In the end this was accomplished by making those parts as full scale vacuum formed plastic panels. For current model builders this posses an interesting question; is the Battlestar Galactica studio mock-up the "actual" Viper or are the Battlestar Galactica hero models the "actual" Vipers? Since each are different in detail owing to different construction techniques, which should one follow when building a model?

The answer is "both and neither". Since these are both examples of "studio" construction, neither exhibits the detail that would be found on the "actual" craft. Rather, they are only representational of the "real" fighters. This leaves model builders with comfortable "wiggle room" to embellish the designs with details that might be found on real spacecraft but deemed too unimportant to include on a studio mock-up or too small to be seen on a model. The commercial model kits proved to be excellent replicas of the original miniatures, an outstanding product for fans of the Battlestar Galactica show and sold for very reasonable prices.

Where is it now? For many years the Battlestar Galactica full scale Viper mock-up languished in semi-outdoor storage behind one of the false front buildings on Universals Studios "New York" street back lot. Then came a fire that burned down that portion of the back lot and it is presumed that the Viper went with it. It is also possible that it was scrapped even before the fire, like so many of the other studio "spaceships".

Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper Mock Up

Battlestar Galactica Colonial Viper Mock Up

The full scale studio mock-up was built largely of plywood with some metal detail components. Inside the shell were hoses to direct steam to various points as well as hydraulic lines to operate the rather heavy metal canopy. No cockpit details were fitted beyond the seat for the actor to sit in, the actual cockpit being a separate set. The landing gear units were fabricated from metal stock and featured wheels taken from camera dollies. A second "forced perspective" set was built of the Viper which included the intakes, canopy and nose section. This was built on a rocking table and was used to film the scenes where the camera was looking back over the nose towards the pilot. The third "Viper" was a roughly full-scale painted flat that could be positioned behind the actual 3D mock-up to give the impression of another ship. This was usually used in the landing bay set with an actor positioned behind it, appearing to be seated in the cockpit. In one episode all three set pieces were featured in the same shot. It was a scene where three Battlestar Galactica pilots had landed on a planet to investigate the crash of another Battlestar. Filmed outdoors in a field, the scene was shot over the forced perspective nose section in the foreground with the full mock-up in the mid area and the flat piece in the background. It was a cheap but effective way of filling out the full-scale fighter force. NOTE: The "photographers scales" seen in many of these photos are marked in inches.

Regrettably the Colonial Viper Controls are very poor images. No flash was available at the time these were taken and the sound stage was very dark so they are blurry on top of being grainy. They were taken with a "half frame" camera using ASA 400 film. A half frame camera is designed to create an image one half the size of a normal 35 mm negative and when combined with grainy high speed film, the result is extremely grainy photos. The advantage of such a camera is its compact size and the fact that a 36 exposure roll equals 72 half frame shots. The "psychedelic" swirls seen in most of these shots are defects in the negs caused by poor drying after processing. If you look closely in many of these photos you will see a "photographers scale" which is marked in inches. These inferior images are presented here in the belief that "something" is better than "nothing". 

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