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Written By: Gary Willoughby
Edited By: Richard Gunn

This is the story of two spinner models many thousands of miles apart, and the photographs of those models recently found.

As many of you who read my past articles know I spend many hours trying to find props and related artifacts associated with Blade Runner. Many ideas just don’t pan out and many leads simple lead nowhere. But on some occasions the planets align, my karma is in the second house of Venus and everything seems to come together.

That is the case of the Paris Model Show photographs, and the photographs of the SFX show in Los Angeles. All the photographs concerned were thousands of miles apart all but forgotten for years only to surface with a bit of my nudging. I had done a lot of research into the “Hero” spinner model previously trying to locate it. I had laid out many photographs for an article, had written a bit but I had run into a brick wall, so as most do I set it aside and moved on to other projects but had not forgotten the “Hero” Spinner.

I email a close group of Blade Runner friends daily, I was talking to one such friend and we were wondering about the details of the bottom of the spinner and if the “Hero” spinner and the Anubis spinner model had the same bottom as the actual spinners built by Gene Winfield. The bottom details were hard to discern in the film. During this enlightened discussion my friend asked if I had taken any photographs of the “Alfa Romeo&# 148; spinner model I had recently gotten from ebay. I replied I hadn’t gotten around to taking any photos yet, and the discussion on spinner details continued.

Later that day my friend recalled us speaking of the “Alfa Romeo” spinner and remembered that he had in fact attended a “Special EFX Exhibit” at the Museum of Science and Industry in downtown Los Angeles many years previous in 1988. At that exhibit there was the real Alfa Romeo spinner prop and he had taken some photographs of it.

The undeveloped roll of film still lay at the bottom of a drawer, similar to the story of the Florida spinner photos in one of my other articles. He rushed the film to the local camera shop for developing and printing. To my surprise the next day I received via attachments the long lost Alfa Romeo spinner photos from several years before.

The "Special EFX" Exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry Los Angeles circa 1988
The Alien Queen meets her match
The Alien Queen meets her match in downtown LA.
The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner
The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner
The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner
The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner
Los Angeles 2019 matte painting
Blade Runner matte painting of LA in the year 2019.
The "Alfa Romeo" Spinner Model
Deckard and Gaff encounter the "Alfa Romeo" spinner on their way to the Tyrell Building.
"Alfa Romeo" in the Movie #1 "Alfa Romeo" in the Movie #2 "Alfa Romeo" in the Movie #3 "Alfa Romeo" in the Movie #4
The "Alfa Romeo" as it's about to over-take Gaff's spinner. Here it can be seen flying past Gaff's window. Gaff's view of the "Alfa" (left) as it speeds off into the distance. The "Alfa Romeo" swoops around this large structure and disappears from view.

This incident sparked the memory of my search for the “Hero” Spinner and the minimum groundwork I laid. The background for the “Hero” or most important spinner model is quite interesting. The spinner was designed by Syd Mead and built by Tom Phak and Bill George.

To quote Cinefantastique magazine, “Weighing sixty-five pounds and costing nearly $50,000, the so-called ‘Hero Spinner’ was sculpted by Tom Phak… in addition, two eighteen inch puppets representing Harrison Ford and Edward James Olmos were sculpted by Bill George. Bob Johnson was responsible for the Spinner’s mechanical effects. Although the &# 145;Hero Spinner’ was indeed impressive, Mark Stetson reflected the mood of many model makers, ‘we felt the model wasn’t properly never got it’s due in the final print. You just never saw enough of it really.”

The Development of the "Hero" Spinner
Syd Mead spinner sketch 1 Syd Mead spinner sketch 2 Syd with spinner
Syd Mead's original spinner concept sketches Syd with full-scale spinner
The Deckard character model Bill George with the Deckard model Bill George with the "Hero" spinner model The "Hero" spinner model Bill George with the "Hero" spinner model Bill George with the "Hero" spinner model
Bill George and the "Hero" spinner model in various stages of development
The "Hero" spinner in the movie The "Hero" spinner in the movie The "Hero" spinner in the movie The "Hero" spinner in the movie Deckard and Gaff in the real spinner
The "Hero" spinner as it appears in the movie The real Deckard and Gaff

With this as impetus I emailed a contact I had in Paris. Over the course of three or four hours emails shot back and forth across the world LA to Paris, Paris to LA, until I was in touch with a Frenchman that worked on the Hero Spinner after the 1997 “Paris Salon de la Marquette et du Mode’le Reduit&# 148; model exhibit.

I was told that indeed the “Hero Spinner” is still in Paris at a Private Museum in storage. That the Deckard and Gaff figures were as far as he could tell made from papier mache. They were articulated so that they could make simple moves during the shots of the spinner. Both arms of the Gaff figure were articulated so that they seemed to move as the two controls of the spinner moved. On the back of the vehicle there are access panels to the electronics inside the model. The front parts of the spinner can be opened so one can see and have access to the front wheels. To have access to the figures the windshield must be removed with the Deckard figure removed access to more of the electronics that move the figures is possible.

The Paris Salon Show

The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner The "Hero" Spinner
The "Hero" Spinner Model

I emailed a list of questions to the museum fellow and below are my questions and his answers to my list of questions since it was not an exchange of questions and answers the questions might seem repetitious:

GW : When did the “private museum” acquire the ‘Hero Spinner’ was it after the Paris Salon Exhibit?

Answer: The model was donated to those people many years ago. The exact date is unknown.

GW: How was the Hero spinner model acquired? Is there an interesting story?

Answer: The model was and IS still in very bad conditions, as it was when donated, but I am not sure, because some details were misplaced. I don’t think the model makers or the producers (I am in a total supposition here) have put all the details of the donation in the wrong place. The model is on a MDF(plywood) plank, with only a metal tube to stand it!

GW: Was the model restored after the Paris Salon Show? I say that because the photographs I have seen of it at the exhibit it had many scratches and was dirty.

Answer: Yes, I restored the model after the exhibition. “Restored” is a heavy word for my modest intervention. The guys who were in charge of transporting the model did damage by gripping and carrying it by the back, so the hinges were twisted. The wheel light cap (the revolving part ) was lost too. So I repaired them with screws and made a new cap made with plastic card.

GW: How badly damaged was it?

Answer: As I said, the model is in very bad condition, and still is today, because those private peoples didn’t want me to restore it totally! They wanted the model AS THE FIRST DAY IT CAME IN THEIR HANDS! I was, and still am very disappointed and enraged because I love the Spinner and I wanted to restore it as it was for the movie. So I did minor work on it.

GW: Was the spinner model damaged mostly during the shooting of the film?

Answer: I don’t know.

GW: I was told some time ago that the back bumper is missing, but compared to my photos of the full sized spinner it doesn’t look missing. Was it replaced or did you scratch build another?

Answer: No, it seems the back bumper is still on the model. But I can’t be formal because when they said “ No, we don’t want restoration on it, only repair the damage did during the salon”, I put my documentation under my back and did what they say. I was so enraged you know, to look at the model at this time. I think what a beautiful model it would be if they agreed to let me restore it. I’ve never came back to see it&# 133;

GW: What were the details to the restoration, what was done to restore it? Was it necessary to rewire the spinner model?

Answer: The restoration was only to repair the round back with.. screws and do a new wheel cap. Some scraps of paint were disguised too with new paint… THAT IS ALL!!! All the systems, electric and smoke, are so damaged that they won’t function again. Some wires are cut and nearly all the gyro lights are missing. I wanted to see under the control panel, the one in front of the pilot, to see if the lights could shine. So I took a battery and the mini light bulb was still alive. But I can’t be so hopeful for the rest of the lamps.

GW: How long did it take to restore it?

Answer: Oh! Two or three days… but it was only my pleasure !!! The real work took only three hours!!! I returned to the model as often as possible to see it and learn the method the model makers used and took a lot of photographs!

GW: Did they have In-House people restore it?

Answer: No, as you may think. Only ‘garage’ people who are in charge of the wooden cases.

GW: Is it on display at the “Private Museum”?

Answer: I don’t think so. The model seems to be in a storage case.

GW: Will it be displayed again?

Answer: I hope!

GW: When?


GW: Are there photographs of the Hero spinner model AFTER the restoration?

Answer: No, the photos you have are the model during the salon.

GW: I noticed that the bronze side rack for the laser gun are on the passenger side and all the full sized spinners and models that I have seen the laser rack is on the drivers side, I wonder why that is?

Answer: I don’t know why. I only can say the rack is on the passenger side.

GW: Thank you very much for your time. And thank you for this opportunity to learn more about my favorite Model.

That was the end of the answers. This all happened in one day, things just fit together and clicked in my mind that the two of these stories would make a great article. So as to stave off a ton of email to me I do not know the museum name nor the name of the friend of my contact. That was the agreement we made that I would not go any further or the interview would not have taken place. I am glad however that the Hero Spinner model is still in one piece, even though in bad condition.

I would like to thank Casey Losey for the LA photographs of the “Alfa Romeo” spinner, and Pierre Pittiloni for the Paris Salon Show photographs and Cinefex Magazine for the photographs of the “hero” spinner under construction.

Gary Willoughby

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