the nostromo

Hi all, and Happy New Year!!  It’s 2010 and all those shows and cartoons I watched as kid in the 60’s & later in the 80’s showed a future 2010, with flying cars, massive gloomy cities, there’s a place called Moon Base Alpha, a computer defense system called Cyberdyne has almost annihilated most of civilization, and expansive and elegant spacecraft go to Jupiter and beyond…if you think about it, “BladeRunner” is only 7 years from now!!!!  I guess a lot is going to happen before 2017, HAAAA!!!!

Even if these things didn’t happen for real, they do on the big screen.  The movies and sci fi of 2010 are birthed from the cyberworld in almost every element of traditional movie making:  models, creatures, sets, animals, environments and just about everything else is constructed in the computer.  But once not to long ago motion picture spacecraft were made by hand from wood, plastic,  glue, and bashed model kits!!!  Soon after their glory time of  being on stage under hot studio lights and being moved around on motion control rigs, their worn and beaten forms were disregarded as trash or stripped down to be something else.  The Nostromo from “Alien” was one of these fabulous models that spent the last decade or so deteriorating away to age and the elements.

Designed by Ron Cobb and built by an incredibly talented model crew in England, the Nostromo is one of the most iconic movie space craft to ever grace the silver screen. Fox had all the models and relics from Alien stored away, and somewhere in the 1980’s, bestowed the lot memorabilia to the world famous Bob Burns.  Truck load after truck load came to Bob’s house where he lovingly displayed as much of the movies treasures as he could. If you don’t know of Bob Burns he is one of the biggest sci fi collectors of all time.  He and his wife, Kathy, have turned their home into a museum, and there are toys and relics from so many incredible shows from the early days of cinema to some of today’s modern classics.  Anyway, the Nostromo is as big as a car, and Bob had nowhere to display, restore or house the beast, so the guys over at KNB took on the model to one day fix it up.  KNB is one of Hollywood’s busiest make up and creature shops, and the Nostrome never had a chance to see more than the storage unit due to their consistently overwhelming schedules!!

Fast track to sometime in 2009,  where the folks over at The Prop Shop of London were able to acquire the model and, looking at what was left of the Nostromo, they knew they had to call some of the best to try and restore the badly damaged model.  Monty Shook of Grant McCune Design was called, and TPHOL hired the crew on to do the repairs.  Below is the GMD and TPHOL links so you can see the early and first days of what the Nostromo was like and then watch the progression of how the ship slowly and meticulously has been restored.  Stay tuned for more updates as the model finishes it’s rebuild and gets displayed in it’s new resting place in the lobby of the Prop Store of London.






32 Responses to “the nostromo”

  1. 1 Si
    January 15, 2010 at 5:32 am

    Sweet! I always loved the Nostromo for it’s clunky realism. I always hoped that humanity would produce the sleek ships of Star Trek, but the realist in me knew that should we ever leave this particular solar system, the craft that would do so would probably resemble something more akin to this ship. The happiest of New Years to you and yours and also my thoughts and prayers are with you and your daughter. All the best, Si

  2. 2 Richard Knapp
    January 15, 2010 at 6:48 am

    Hi John:
    Happy New Year! Hope the New Year is treating you well. I know exactly what you mean – what happened to that jet pack I was supposed to use to fly to work? I loved Alien, one very creepy movie that really gave you the sense of what it would be like to be alone in deep space. The model work was fantastic and the landing and takeoff scenes incredible. Thanks for posting!

    All the bests,

  3. 3 JNG
    January 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

    I have invented a flying car, but it only flies down. So you have to drive it off of something tall in order to fly, and unless you have driven it off of something very tall indeed, the flight will be relatively short.

  4. 4 cp40guy
    January 15, 2010 at 9:31 am

    Great New Year update! It’s fantastic to see that folks have taken time to restore such a true classic! It reminds me a bit of the effort that went into recreating the Odyssey for 2010 as the original (and it’s plans) had been purposely destroyed. Another lost classic is the Valley Forge.

    Thanks again for all this great stuff!


  5. 5 evil_genius_180
    January 15, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Oh man, I know someone on a 3D forum who was building this ship in 3D a couple years ago. I bet he’d have loved to have that image, since images of the model are few and far between and most are blurry. Even so, he did a really nice job on the 3D model.

    Thanks for posting this. I didn’t know much of what happened to the model after the movie. What happened to it for 30 years certainly didn’t do the model or its designer and modelers justice, it deserves to be displayed somewhere where it can be seen by all. I absolutely love it, and I love that picture because I can sit here and just stare at details that I never knew were there. (and believe me, I will :D) I’m looking forward to more of this great ship in the future. 😀

  6. 6 the bluesman
    January 15, 2010 at 10:02 am


    More cargo/towing ships…right on!

    Bob Burns is a hoot. I met him a couple times at Wonderfest. He usually brings some pretty cool stuff too.

  7. January 15, 2010 at 10:41 am

    Great to hear about the Nostromo!

    I watched a great documentary about making the Nostromo, called “Alien Makers”. The doc’s filmmakers interview surviving model-makers about working on the film. You can find it here:
    There’s three documentaries now; scroll about half-way down for the first one.

    “Blade Runner” takes place November 2019 btw. 😉

  8. 8 deg
    January 15, 2010 at 11:12 am

    Friggin’ awesome two videos GMD has up on YouTube! Thanks for the heads-up on that, bro!

    Hey gang, what John forgot to mention, being the humble guy he is, is that he was one of the artists hired on to help restore our dear Nostromo. Bravo, John! Wish I could have made it out there as well.

    peace | deg

  9. January 15, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Those were sweet! For a one-time fx modeler (and gigantic practical model fan) like me, this was like deep-fried crack dipped in chocolate sauce. Thanks for the link!

    BTW, what was your role in the restoration?

  10. 10 DeanneM
    January 15, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    I finally get to post! I got hung up on trying to get the colors and links to work (not to mention getting lost in the Prop Store site…what a place!). 🙂

    I couldn’t believe the shape this model was in, but considering it’s lengthy stay outdoors, it’s amazing it’s still in one piece!! I found this page after John mentioned the restoration to me last July, but it doesn’t seem as though any new info has been added since then…


  11. 11 Barrie Suddery
    January 16, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Happy New Year John and everyone else!

    I have to admit I’m not a big fan of horror or sci-fi/horror movies. Having said that, I nearly soiled myself when I first saw Alien and must say I’m disappointed at the way the sequels turned out.

    Nice to see model making’s still going strong in the CGI era, and I still maintain that there’s still a use for models in movies and TV shoots today, if the budget and time is there.

  12. January 16, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Love that ship. Love it!

    I also miss the days of models very much. I remember when it took guts, guile and ingenuity to make broken airplace kits and plastic tubing look like a spaceship from a distant star. Now, to make a spaceship press enter. To make a planet press enter. To make it go boom press enter. It just doesn’t amaze me any more. I used to go, “How did they do that?” Now I know and its almost all done the same way.

    • January 18, 2010 at 4:49 pm

      That’s rather insulting, Barking Alien. It’s not QUITE as simple as “pressing Enter”. In fact, making a convincing-looking CGI model is just as hard as takes just as much talent as building a physical model. It’s just a different set of skills, that’s all.

      So your sense of wonder is gone after having seen fifteen years (give or take) of convincing visual effects? Well, maybe that’s OK. Maybe now you can sit back and just accept what you see on the screen as “real” and let yourself be immersed in the story without saying “Gee whiz! How’d they do THAT?!” And honestly, that’s kind of the whole point.

      • 14 Matt Boardman
        January 18, 2010 at 6:40 pm

        I’ll have to second Scott’s comments here. Different skill set, no less difficult than before. And, I might add, there is still as much creativity that has to go into it. The fact that you don’t notice the CG means that the artist did their job really well. Bet there are many a scene where there was CG in the set and you didn’t even know it.

        Those of us who are CG artists love and appreciate the days of physical models. They did amazing things that others then took and turned those principles into the ability to do things digitally.

    • January 19, 2010 at 11:02 am

      Barking Alien says: Now, to make a spaceship press enter.

      Wow, who knew eh? I must be doing something wrong if it’s all that simple, eh.

      Or, being a practical model builder/painter and now a digital model builder/painter, methinks ye be barking up the wrong tree, Barking Alien, along with all the other lay-peeps that (understandably) appear to have a very limited conception of just what goes into creating digital models, and/or computer graphics for modern VFX.

      In my experience, coming from both the prac and now the digital realm of constructing and painting models, there is no lack of guts, guile and ingenuity in the digital realm. Less toxic fumes and glued-together fingertips (that need to be cut apart with an X-acto blade), sure, but no less brain-power, sweat and effort as a whole.

      But that’s just me, eh.

      peace | deg

      • January 19, 2010 at 12:17 pm

        While Barking Alien’s comments are wrong-headed to say the least (and outright insulting, to say the most), there’s kernel of truth in them. I think part of the problems in confronting the digital vs practical argument is that while nearly every kid can relate to the idea of building a model, it’s not nearly as common for kids to have a firm understanding of the techniques involved in creating them digitally.

        Having worked briefly as a miniature set builder, I have huge respect and admiration for the folks who did/do that for a living. I have never seen more ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness than I have in those artists. And as someone who has built many a digital model (for games), I can say that while there is a fair amount of homogeneity to how things get made, they are no less difficult, and in some cases even more expensive than practical models/sets.

        It’s nice to see projects like the recent movie “Moon”, where practical miniatures were heavily augmented with digital effects of things that are very difficult to pull off practically (like properly weighted moon dust, dramatic lens flares, etc). I was around ILM at the time of the prequels, and story quality aside, they made brilliant use of practical models that were, again, digitally composited and enhanced. I hope we continue to see much more of this in the future.

      • January 19, 2010 at 5:46 pm

        MOON rocked. 🙂

        peace | deg

      • 18 Kevin Martin
        January 19, 2010 at 6:47 pm

        Gamman’s early TOS stuff, the ship flybys, were just phenomenal; I remember talking them up on trekbbs and elsewhere, saying ‘why can’t the pros do it like this?’ By and large, I’m not altogether impressed with most spaceship CG in features, outside of SOLARIS and a few cuts in FC. It just seems like the dynamic range stuff keeps the windows looking like white avery labels, which kills it for me, plus the blacks are kinda squishy.

        Compare that with the best of the miniature-driven shows like EVENT HORIZON and SPACE COWBOYS (talking about the model shoots, not the films themselves or the CG embellishing the model stuff), and it is apples and oranges — vfx for spaceships probably topped out in 1997 or so for me.

        I qualify a lot of originated-as-CGI work as standing for computer-graphic-illustration as opposed to computer-generated-imagery, because it looks like animatics/concept art.

        Side note: saw a show the other night that Zoic did a CG bullettrain for. You’d’ve thought this was something out of seaQuest, it really looked bad, nowhere near as convincing as their TRAIN JOB stuff that was the better part of a decade ago. More and more, the developments on CG seem to be pushing it to doing more shots faster rather than at a higher quality level. Course that could be said for VFX in general, as I think the overreliance on vfx shots is part of what is hurting storytelling these days.

      • 19 Barrie Suddery
        January 20, 2010 at 3:27 am

        I agree deg, Moon is an awesome movie!

        And I’ll bet it’ll be totally ignored come the award ceremonys because it’s a sci-fi movie.

      • January 22, 2010 at 8:55 am

        Indeed, Barry. And for those that missed it at the show, see it on DVD or Blu-ray. Great film. Intelligent science-fiction film are too far-and-between. And hey, this on has pracs in it to boot. Really really nice ones to boot x2. 🙂

        peace | deg

      • January 22, 2010 at 8:56 am

        Ps. Great soundtrack and movie-poster as well. 😀

  13. 22 Graham J Langridge
    January 17, 2010 at 1:08 pm

    I continue to just be really impressed with the work these guys are doing on the Nostromo, terrific work! Would love to hear what work has taken place on it since July last year, if anything.
    Nice blueprints in the background, by the way! 😉

  14. 23 Freak
    January 18, 2010 at 5:25 am

    Happy New Year, John.

    This is a great ship, good to hear it been restored.
    I read that the set from Aliens where still up and pritty much the same condtion in the power station used for film, in Earling. They where used again when Tim Burton reused the old power station for Batman. It would be intresting to see if they are still up now and what condtion they are in.

  15. January 18, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    I came across one of the videos about two weeks ago detailing the restoration process of that ship. VERY fascinating!

  16. January 18, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    I just can’t believe they left an important film artifact out in the friggin’ rain for THIRTY YEARS. I was still in HIGH SCHOOL thirty years ago. How could they treat a historical artifact like that–an artifact from a movie that changed the way that horror and science fiction films are made and viewed?

    This isn’t a case of “well, we didn’t know back in 1979 that Alien was going to be seen someday as a classic sci-fi/horror classic.” They DID know. Alien was a (pardon the intentional pun) monster hit, and everyone at the time knew it. I was a 15 year old kid and I knew it, you knew it, critics knew it, and 20th Century Fox certainly knew it.

    Oh well… at least the Nostromo is in good hands now.

    • January 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm

      Ha, here’s more pain for ya, Scott; the 2001: a space odyssey space station was left in a field (even though Kubrick had ordered that all models and props, and sets be destroyed as he didn’t want them showing up later in other B-production), and was later found by a kid who went home to get a cart to haul it home, but upon returning to the site found it had been smash to a million pieces by hooligan-youths.

      Oh the pain…

      peace | deg

  17. January 18, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    I’m surprised they didn’t call Martin Bower and Bill Peterson to restore the model. They made it originally!


  18. 30 Matt Boardman
    January 18, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Wow! I mean, I know that in Hollywood things always move very fast and it’s on to the next just as soon as you’re done with the present, but gee, something this iconic deserved a better fate than to sit out in the rain. Still, wouldn’t that have made an interesting story for an Alien movie? The Nostromo crashes on a jungle planet where our extra special Aliens have made a colony…::shudders:: man those things give me the willies!!

    Can’t wait to see more of it as the restoration progresses! 😀

  19. 31 Mirren Audax
    January 21, 2010 at 2:05 pm

    I remember reading about the miniature work on ‘Alien’ in good old Starlog magazine back in the Twentieth Century, as well as Brian Johnson’s career with the indomitable Gerry Anderson – both of your articles brought it all back, and it’s great to see that with all the emphasis on CGI miniature effects still have a great place in modern movie making and they still have great fans!

  20. 32 Karl
    January 25, 2010 at 2:08 pm

    Aliens #1 has been a long time favorite of mine since I first saw it when it came out in theaters, but it has remained for me the tip of the ice berg so to speak
    as the rest of the story has never been told, and that is the Space Jockey, the Nostromo doesn’t even the Space Jockey an awesome find in itself. but I’d like to some kind of maybe a future Alien movie that includes these Space Jockey beings which would tie in
    the reason of why was the Alien eggs in the Space Jockey’s ship at all ? a kind of prequel to the first Alien film if you will. just my 2 cents but all aside the work that was done to restore the Nostromo by these dedicated fans is beyond words … only to say thank you, thank you all because with you this masterpeice would have been lost forever. Karl

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January 2010

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