The Catacombs Catacombs Credits Guide
Brian Johnson

Comments from talks at RAF Cosford on 24 and 25th November 2012

Space 1999 was a very specific thing; most of it was done on the Moon. We had to do about 6 shots a day. And to do that quickly, we couldn't keep building moon sets. What I did there, I enhanced the technique we developed on 2001, and I used lots of plaster for the moonscape. By then we had a lot of satellite pictures so we knew there were lots of craters. I made these sets which were about 3 and a half, 4 feet across. I poured the plaster out in a section, I'd get a 6 inch paint brush with water in a bucket, and I'd flick the paint brush on top of the plaster while it was still wet. And that made thousands of little craters, all different scales. It looked so realistic I couldn't believe it. We then re-photographed it, using a still camera with high resolution Polaroid stock, and we then enlarged those to 10, 12, 15 feet across, and used them as cut-outs in the background, with just the three dimensional bit of Moonbase Alpha or the launch pad in the foreground, and then a tiny bit of dust in the foreground. That was it, we got the scale, and we did it very quickly, we could build a set sometimes in 15 minutes.

(of 2001's influence on Space 1999)
It was a homage, wasn't it? The Moonbase was a definite "we can do this on a TV series, and not spend very much money, Stanley." job. And he was very complimentary. We were on Empire Strikes Back and he was shooting The Shining. I had this hydraulic self-controlled lift that could go up 2 stories or 3 stories. I was aware that Mr Kubrick had come out of the stage next door, looking at me at the top of this thing trundling it around remotely. He came across and I lowered it down. He said "Where did you get that from, Brian?" I said, well, it's a local company, Stanley. He said, "What are you using it for?" I said, "We're using it on the Star Wars stage." He went away. He came back, he said, "I know you took some stuff from 2001 and used it in Space 1999. I just bought 3 of those for The Shining." The maze on the set was almost impossible to get into, so they had these little hydraulic self-motivated platforms going in the stage, getting inside the maze. So he borrowed something from me, and I borrowed something from him.

I had a tiny crew; we had a studio at Bray because they couldn't afford to have a stage at Pinewood because it was too expensive. But I liked that because we were away from the Pinewood and Gerry Anderson and other people poking their noses in all the time, that's not a good thing. If you show a director how you've done the shot before he's sees the shot on the screen, you'll always meet some form of opposition, with a lot of directors anyway. We had a board held over the front of the camera, and then when the camera was running at speed we took the board off the camera and there was the shot. There was nobody standing in the background or fiddling with the model, giving the perspective and everything else away. I felt that was very important, because you've got to fool the directors.

Star Trek had good scripts and good stories, and we didn't, so we had to make up for it. (Laughter) Well, it's true. If you go and see a film, the film might be awful, but the effects are good, that's one thing. Or you see a film that's got a really good story, and the effects are not great, you still think it's a great film.

20th Century Fox were looking to make a science fiction movie, and they couldn't make it in the states totally because it would be too expensive. Alan Ladd Jnr, who was the head of 20th Century Fox, didn't want to spend the money because he had a couple of California boys who made a movie, and they'd spent a million dollars and it grossed 75 million. Alan Ladd had agreed if they made a lot of money on the first movie, he would allow them to make this science fiction movie. So they came over to England. It was cheaper to work in England. And the head of 20th century fox over here, Peter Beale, asked me could they come over to see what we were doing. So these people came down, they looked at the stuff, I explained why didn't use motion control, because it takes too long. In those days one motion control shot may take about 3 weeks to put together. We had to have 6 shots a day in the can for 55-60 shots in every episode. So we did it multiple exposing; it took a bit of time, but it was quicker than motion control. These two guys came in, looked around, and asked really good questions. I gave them what I thought were justifiable answers as to why we weren't using motion control, even though we were fiddling with it on the side.

One came back and said, we'd like you to get involved with this picture. And we're going to make 9 of them. And I said yesterday I signed with Gerry Anderson to do the second series of Space 1999, so I can't do it. They said, right, you can do the second one. I thought no more about it, and a year or so later this picture called Star Wars came out, And those two people were George Lucas and Gary Kurtz.

(of Eagle window POV shots)
That was done as what is called an optical burn in. The shot is made, then a matte is made for that area, and a reverse matte, and the two are put together. I think Ray Caple did most of our optical stuff, the lasers and things like that.