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© Colin Hay 1978

Gouache & Airbrush ink
285 x 460mm

by James Blish

Sphere Science Fiction 1978

by Stewart Cowley

Hamlyn 1979

Visit Colin Hay's website here

  I first came across this wonderful picture in Spacewreck in the late 70's, and still find it fascinating. Not only the mystery of the dead spacemen, but the nature of the small open craft in outer space – like a non-airtight midget submarine. The awkward angularity is also intriguing.
"The first sign of the tragedy... was a maintenance scooter with its grim passengers drifting away from the dead ship." SPACEWRECK


The Star Dwellers is the first ship to be built, and so is a testing ground for techniques and processes.

First task is transferring the 2D original illustration into flat plan drawings. Not so easy when you only have one single view of the subject.

I started by cutting the ship out of the background in Photoshop, and taking what measurements I could from that.

Some sketching was required to work out how angles work and pieces fit together. And some intelligent guesses as to what goes on in areas not shown on the original.

Eventually quick outline plans are drawn up in Illustrator, and printed on thin card so I can produce a basic mock-up of the overall shape.



Plans printed on thin card, cut and folded into shape.

It is hugely helpful to have a quick three dimensional model, and to be able to hold that at the angle in the original and fine tune shapes and sizes.

The rear section has some subtly complex angles that took several attempts to figure out.
Now to compare first card model to the original image - shown here with outlines drawn in Illustrator to overlay on top of the model photo. That tail section has proved far trickier than it first looks. The top appears parallel with the body, yet underside curves, and it's mindbending guessing at how the angles fit together.

Red outline overlays show the difference in the tail sections. From this I'm thinking the tail fins must actually taper in, as does the keel line at bottom of hull.

Also identifies a few items too large or small.

Next step is to remake a tail section trying the tapered and slightly elongated rear as indicated by the red lines.

Thinking the engineering of the craft is pretty simple and industrial. Inside the seat backs may be oxygen tanks and hydraulics to operate the engine.

Still thinking along the lines of midget submarines for the detail.

So I'll try a revised tail assembly, then move on to the full size version. Am working on 1/8th scale or thereabouts. Too large and it may look a bit toy-like; too small and it will lose detail and impact.

Another couple of stabs at the tail section, Revisions A and B, below.

I found that two different forms gave the same kind of look to the rear section.

This tail fin is parallel top to bottom, but the side curves in and tapers to the rear.

This configuration makes for a better top view where the sides curve inwards.


Build Soundtracks

When I used to to build models as a teenager I always worked best with loud music – late night transister radio and Sony walkman, (so that dates me!). Certain songs still take me back to certain builds.

I've started jotting down memorable tracks during this first project.

Star Dwellers Playlist

> Rock and Roll Ain't Noise Pollution - AC/DC
> Supernaut - Black Sabbath
> Radcliffe & Maconie on BBC Radio 6 Music
> Hush - Deep Purple, and Ian Gillan interview 6 Music
> Killing Joke's self-titled 2003 album
> Nine Inch Nails - The Downward Spiral


This version has a straight taper towards the rear, but bottom edge of tail fin is curved this time. Has similar effect to the other tail fin above.

I think this version makes a more interesting hull shape, with slight bulge in it. And the profile of the tail fin probably closer to the original.

Quick check with Colin, then I reckon it's time to crack on with the real build.

After a couple more views, I've also realised the top rear section sides need to be angled inwards.

A perfect example of the benefits of resting a project now and then. Sometimes you need to put a project to one side and let the subconscious work on it. You can get overly focused on some elements and miss the bigger picture.

This is one of the reasons I like to work on more than one ship at a time. Switching tasks and entire projects can help keep them fresh and highlight things you may have overlooked. It also means that while waiting 24 hours for paint or glue to dry you can be getting on with other work.


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