- Homage to the Space: 1999 science fiction series.
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Features: Ask Brian Johnson

Brian's responses

The following answers were posted 4 February 2002. Your questions can be sent here. Please take advantage of this unique opportunity to communicate with Mr. Johnson!

When the show was first broadcast in 1975 - what kind of reaction was there within the film industry to your work. Was there a feeling that this was something new for TV, something groundbreaking?

With typical British stiff upper lip, the Critics panned it gently, but were very kind about the visual effects. There was much more interest shown in the U.S.A.

The Eagle has long been one of my favourite designs, mostly because of it's adaptability. How much input did you have on the interior designs, and what would you change if you could?

I had no input on the interiors. That was Keith Wilson. I would have changed just about everything! For a start it would have been more like a cockpit less like a ballroom. But Gerry Anderson had a big say in the Eagle interior.

What was the inspiration for the lab module. It seems to me that this is what all the basic modules should have looked like. It certainly seems more realistic for the docking sequences.

Well, of course, it was struggling with the basic module during shooting that developed the lab module! It's easy to be wise with hindsight!

What was the Meta probe (in the first episode of Space: 1999) going to use for a landing vehicle? Would they have just docked a couple of Eagles on the superstructure for the mission?

I had fiddled with a sort of miniature truncated Eagle - smaller and stockier that was kept in the Meta probe, a bit like those pre-war submarines that had a biplane folded up on the deck inside its watertight hangar.

Could you tell me in your view what episode of Space 1999 had the best and most expensive model effects shown.

The episode with the Eagle careening about the underground hangar. (The Year Two episode, "Space Warp.")

Also, why was Barry Morse not included in the second series?

You would probably have to ask Barry Morse. Frankly I thought he was given a crap role to play and he played it almost as if we were shooting his previous TV series, The Fugitive?

I'm a great lover of your Eagle spacecraft and currently thinking of buying a 23" long version myself, apparently it's extremely accurate in scale and detail. My question is, how were the rocket jets installed in the Eagle and how did they work? When it came in to land, they would seem to impressively trigger off automatically. Was it compressed air?

No, it was Freon gas in small cans which fitted inside the Eagle, operated by a solenoid valve triggered by an electrical pulse down the tungsten wires that the Eagle was suspended on. With DVD you can see those wires quite often!!! But then we shot to the resolution of UK TV 625 lines.

I bet you must still receive plenty of royalties from your models, particularly the Eagle which is still very popular to this day.

Regretfully, Gerry Anderson told me that there were no royalties available. They were owned by ITV [Lord Grade] but he got his share for years, so I have never received any monies for my Eagle design or any of the merchandising with which I had input. Except that briefly I was paid a small sum for the plastic kit version whose company went bust just as the royalties were due to be paid. That's life folks - but if anyone wants to send me a care check I will always be grateful!! No, seriously you win some, you lose some.

I share your disdain for the Space: 1999 series. The concept was ill-prepared, the stories were mediocre, and the casting was a mixed bag at best. I think the Andersons meant well, but they failed to prepare a solid show. They would have been better off convincing Sir Lew Grade to do U.F.O. Year Two instead.

Thanks, but then I would not have been involved!

Here's a couple of questions which I hope you'll answer:
The Moon model seemed to change between Year One and Year Two. Do you recall if you used a different model of the Moon throughout the series, or still images of the Moon between the two different seasons?

We used a variety of Moon images and you were right in that they changed between series.

Do you think Space: 1999 would ever have a chance of returning in this climate of sci-fi retreads/bringbacks (examples in the works: Time Tunnel, Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica, etc.) whether as a newly designed show or a continuation of the original? And, if so, would you want to participate?

I would love to advance Space: 1999 into a future millennium. I could do so much with Digital Imaging to enhance the Visual Effects. I would emphatically not continue the original. When we first started Space, I begged for the concept to be on an Asteroid, large, but not Moon sized and I wanted the Moon to be hit by a monster Asteroid that sprayed the Earth with debris and caused mayhem that way, rather than the stupid atomic trash explosion pushing the moon out of orbit. Why we couldn't stay within the bounds of reasonable science fact for our basic premise I do not know. But then, I was just the visual effects guy.

Would you ever consider opening a web site to share your works? (Assuming you have images you want to share.)

I never really thought anyone would be that interested.

Would you ever consider partnering with other sci-fi f/x greats, such as yourself, Marty Bowers, and others to write a book illustrating your past accomplishments, how you did them, how you might have done things differently, what you advise to f/x people, etc. al.?

Martin Bowers has already produced material that would lead you to believe he made the entire show. So in terms of a book on my visual effects contribution, what publisher would be interested in producing what would have to be an expensive production that would only sell a handful of copies? Plus, I absolutely have always looked forwards and never kept much memorabilia. In fact, I almost wipe out past projects to leave enough space in my few brain cells to cope with present and future projects.

Do you ever attend conventions in the U.K., U.S.A., and Canada to discuss your past, present and future work?

I attend most of those to which I am asked. No one has asked me from the States since just after Space: 1999 faded away. I would love to do a U.S.A. convention. (Contact if you would like to contact Mr. Johnson regarding this.)

There were numerous explosions in Space: 1999. How did you and your team prepare for them? What kind of explosives were used? Can you even talk about this or would it be an endorsement on how to do it at home? I'm not looking to replicate Eagle explosions. I'm just fascinated about the process. The explosions were always amazing to watch. Quite honestly they were the highpoints of the episodes at times!

Most explosions on U.K. TV shows in those days were made using proprietary devices from Brocks Fireworks or Bowie Films or Standard Fireworks [U.K. Companies]. We do not do as much in house mixing as happens in the States. The reason is - consistency - you know what the charge will do every time. When I was at I.L.M., I had to interview a number of explosives experts [ No1 Powder guys] to assist with our shooting Empire Strikes Back. One chap arrived minus his left hand, blown off mixing his own explosive. And shortly afterwards, another powder man arrived minus his right hand, lost in a similar way!!! Enough said!!!

Thank you very, very, very much for doing this Q&A on!! I can't believe I'm actually writing to the man who worked on special f/x from some of my favorite sci-fi productions!

May I ask a personal question? What was the most difficult problem you experienced as a special effect director on the Space: 1999 show?

The most difficult was the Hangar explosion sequence when so many Eagles got trashed. It was more like shooting a feature.

Were there a couple of times or more when your vision for effects shots did not match Freddie Freiberger's or Gerry Anderson's? Or did they trust your abilities without reservation?

I just did what was required in the script or as discussed with Charles Crichton (The Director of the series). I was trusted because they had never seen effects like the ones my talented team produced.

Also, can you discuss the planets seen in the series? Their designs were very unique and somewhat ugly at times. What was the methodology for designing them, such as they appeared in the show?

Planets were produced by projecting coloured slides onto a white sphere and slowly moving the images across the face of the sphere. I produced the images using coloured inks on 2-1/4 square glass slides. Some were fine some were disappointing when seen as a combined image but we never had time to do tests - everything was done first time - how I wish we could have done re-takes!!

Rumour has it that there was an Eagle reclaimation facility which would have appeared in Year Three of Space: 1999 if the series had continued. While you weren't contracted to construct this, had you heard any rumouring of designs which were planned?

I had already doodled the series 3 Eagles and unfortunately it never came to pass. We never had an Effects meeting about the 3rd Series. Freddy Freiberger and Abe Mandel saw to it that we took a wrong turn with series 2!!

And were you able to suggest designs which could have contributed to the Year One and Year Two episode scripts, such as the special Eagle in "The Metamorph"?

Yes, many including Hawks, etc.

Your special f/x directing was a highpoint of the show and I want to compliment you on your work. It was FAB.

Well, thank you! It was a labour of love.

Were there numerous f/x shots which hit the cutting room floor and never seen, or were f/x so expensive that there was no way Gerry, Freddie and Co. would have allowed unused footage?

My effects were unbelievably cheap! No, nothing hit the cutting room floor because we shot what was required and no more. Using multi-exposure passes we only shot what was required plus a safety which was the same shot, so nothing got wasted.

I'm a fan from Down Under. I recently saw the pictures at and was amazed. I saw that you were, too. If Space: 1999 (or "Space: 2199") ever happened, it would be phenomenal to see you directing that CGI model in action. In fact, if Carlton ever dared to reignite the series, would you be interested in doing your job again as special effect director? I can't see anyone paying to re-do the special effects in the original show for new DVDs and videotapes, but I could see a new show at some point with all of the Hollywood remakes and retreads hitting the small screen. Space: 1999 had some original ideas with weak science and mediocre scripts at times, but it is a black sheep classic in the sci-fi genre. I would like to see it return.

G'day, Blue! Howzit hangin'? I would like to see it return, too! As you say, not in its original form, please God. (Sorry to those who find no fault in the original, but can do so much better now - providing we have decent scripts that tell real stories with believable science as a background.)

Also, apart from your few comments on, what do you like or dislike about the Eagle model there?

I love the depth of field as much as anything and I love the detailing and the fact that my signature is buried in part of the Eagle. Same as my initials are on the Empire Strikes Back Millennium Falcon!

I was always fascinated by the way the planets were shown. Were they paintings? Some, like the chlorine planet showed motion -- how was this done? And with the atmospheric haze beyond? Or Terra Nova, which was behind the Gerry Anderson title in the 1st series opening credits?

The close up planets were either projected images onto a smooth plaster arc, the haze being airbrushed onto black velvet behind. Terra Nova was done the same way.

It is an honor and a privilege to speak with you. I have enjoyed viewing your work in Space: 1999, as well as other science fiction classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and The Empire Strikes Back, among others.

Why, thank you so much, Sir/Ma'm/Milord/Ms/Missus. [Sender didn't identify themself.]

I have a couple of questions regarding your work in Gerry Anderson's special, The Day After Tomorrow: Into Infinity. The space warp and doppleganger effects that were used in the special were quite spectacular. How were these effects created? Were the effects shots as complex as those used in the slit-scan sequence in 2001?

The effects were really simple, using a sheet of Lexan rear projection screen, small bright halogen light sources and some kitchen foil wrapped around a rotating pole, with filters moved across the light source. And I was never paid a penny.

Also, if The Day After Tomorrow had been sold as a series, do you think that it would have been a successful series?

No! Where would the stories have gone? Once again Gerry would never spend money on the most important part - the script!!

Again, it is an honor speaking to you. Thank you for your attention and keep up the remarkable, if not excellent work in SFX. They keep getting better and better, if not more spectacular with today's technology


I strongly believe that the awesome work which went into developing and bringing to life Space: 1999 should continue to this day. What I mean is that it should be made a series or even a movie. Now I know that with most revivals of old series,the original cast must usually come into focus or else it would appear odd. What I am suggesting, is that as what was done with the (Star Trek) series, where it branched out into many other series with a whole new crew, the creators of Space 1999 should make a new series with a new cast, same names, concepts, vessels and same problem... How to get back to Earth.

Tempus Fugit. There are many concepts to consider, so long as the scripts are well crafted and have weight. I would be more than happy to contribute to a new show.

Only in a year 2000 version. The fans would agree with me on this and not only that, but it would in my opinion, Honor & Immortalize the original cast and their adventures, both for those living and deceased.

Steady on there! We are heading down the fanatic, not the fan route!! Forget the original cast. They are history. Look forwards to new fields of imagination and endeavour.

The possibilities would be endless. I strongly believe it would be a smash hit and the profits would be huge through the memorabilia, model kits, toys, action figures and all other Space: 1999 paraphinelia.I know it might sound crazy to you but I had seen this in my dreams for quite some time now, and many of my fellow fans who are as devoted to the show and its legacy agree that it would really "Lift Off".

I know a lot of people liked the original concept, but I have to tell you that amongst the crew there was a majority who did their professional job, but wanted more out of the scripts and frankly the Production. We could never work out were the money went because neither Keith Wilson nor I had any budget to play with. The monsters [2nd series mainly] were conjured out of nothing and looked like it. I had little or no money for models or anything else. I think the price per episode was astronomic for its time, but we struggled all the time with minimal help from the front office. I tried to see Gerry once for an important script reason that was costing the main unit and f/x unit time and money and had to wait three hours in his office while he phoned around getting oil for his domestic heating!!! That was the level we were dealing with.

Have you had the opportunity to view any of the reworked Space: 1999 episodes which some Canadian fans pulled together? They were shown at Main Mission:2000 in New York during September 1-3, 2000. The edits, plus some modifications to the special effects (which tweak what you did) look remarkable. And the episodes are much more watchable and enjoyable!

No, but let me know where to find them as I would be interested in seeing the results.

In New Zealand we were about 2-3 years behind everyone else, and did not see the final episodes of the 2nd series until early 1979. What was the reason for the series demise exactly?

Rubbish concept and poor scripts, plus I had no money for the Maya Transition - not one cent/penny.

Now, looking through the eyes of a 'thirty something', I think that the effects have 'by and large' held up pretty well (I have the DVD sets), how do you think the series has stood the test of time?

I shudder at some of the shots but I did when we shot them, but we had to do 5-6 shots completed every day. However they do with one or two notable exceptions look reasonable. The DVD resolution does reveal wires that were not visible on 625 PAL TV!!

What chance of a Space: 1999 'revival'?

I would if someone wants to work with me raising the money. Money and I are not good bedfellows, I am monetarily dyslexic when it comes to deals, that is why I have never Produced, only Directed.

I am working on a large diorama model of the Clavius moon base I was interested in anything you can tell me about that model as seen from the surface Not the underground trench shot but the shot with the silver space suited figures that watch the decent of the Aries 1-b while they do some work on the rim of the crater. (Like the Robert McCall painting ) I read your description of the construction of the Space: 1999 lunar landscape model using the 7 foot by 8 foot base and spreading wet plaster and flicking the water ect could you please elaborate did you use wire mesh first how deep was the plaster? Was the technque used on the 2001 moon base similar? Did you mix several small batches and work on a small area at a time

Yes, Liz Moore, Joy Seddon and few others poured single buckets of fast casting plaster over a hessian/dulap? do you call it? set and then using 6 inch wallpaper brushes thrashed the wet plaster with random droplets of clear water causing myriad craters. Wire brushes were then used once the plaster had dried overnight to indent areas with tiny spike marks.

Was there ever any blueprints or diagrams of the 2001 moon base city how large was the model? I intend to use figures in several sizes (for the men) to create a forced perspective using larger figures closer to the camera and smaller ones a little further away. How deep in inches would you say the depth of the crater was that the detailed city was constructed on was from the lunar surface? How far across was the floor of the crater? Was there internal lighting on the Lunar City base?

The 2001 Art Dept. made many drawings and if MGM saved them (I doubt it) because Stanley kept everything at Elstree in a Storage Company's yard and when MGM stopped paying rent everything was trashed!!!! What a mistake that was!!

All those moonbase shots were from Polaroid still negatives blown up to larger than life-size and retouched and re-photographed. I used the same technique on Space: 1999 as I was the person who dressed the models and helped Stanley shoot the stills! Just us two on a black velvet stage for days at a time. He was a fascinating man and had a fantastic sense of humour.

Any word on a book which is supposed to feature you? When will it be available? Thanks.

I have a few problems with my Agent and unless I change (which may happen soon!!) I cannot say - I was working with someone but it would have involved me in a huge effort for no reward and I simply cannot do that anymore. Someone has to make me an offer!

(Answers to your questions for Mr. Johnson will continue to be posted. You can submit them here.)

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