FLIGHT OF FANTASY
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bryan Ebenhoch
From a career managing the Design & Development of exhibits for
Planet Hollywood's Memorabilia Collection based in Orlando, FL,
Bryan Ebenhoch's responsibilities include the evaluation of thousands of props, costumes and vehicles from various film and television productions from the massive inventory to determine their display possibilities and to make each project happen. Continued efforts assisting the Curator and working with studios to develop new projects for the various restaurants and the now upcoming Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas as well as his freelance consultation projects have kept his schedule occupied producing new concepts for theme designs.
His personal interests have always been the part of the memorabilia inventory that is dedicated to Science Fiction and Fantasy since the artists were responsible for creating such worlds from scratch and bringing something new to the eye that doesn't exist in the real world.
Having a personal interest in Blade Runner since 1981, Bryan has corresponded with numerous production members from the film during his past pursuit to produce a book dedicated to the artists behind Blade Runner and their personal experiences producing the look of the film. Such efforts include his personal inspection of the "hero" Spinner, acquisition of rare production material on the Spinner and collecting numerous items from the film.
This article is only a small sample of those efforts.
This is the full article sent to Profiles in History in Beverly Hills, CA to help with their authentication and provide history for the Spinner they will have on auction December 12, 2003.
Appreciation goes to all those kind enough to take the time to answer the questions and discussing their experiences on the film to make this article possible.
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Anatomy of the Blade Runner Spinner
As most fans know, the Blade Runner Spinner car was not the first flying car featured in a film. Some of the most famous cars were actual everyday vehicles converted for the ability to fly. Such examples include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the Delorean and Citroen taxi from the Back to the Future trilogy, the AMC Matador from The Man with the Golden Gun, and the Ford LTD and Mercedes from the Men in Black films. There are film cars that were completely designed as flying vehicles.the police car from Back to the Future 2, the vehicles from The Fifth Element and Judge Dredd.
Although a numerous amount of films have included flying vehicles, none compare to the revolutionary achievement in design and engineering as that of the Blade Runner Spinner.
The shape alone has been ahead of it's time even after 23 years since it's conception.
Most fans of the film are aware the final design is that of legendary designer Syd Mead, credited as Visual Futurist on the production.
Director Ridley Scott gathered a talented crew to bring the visions of Blade Runner to the screen. After a brief period of scouting for talent for Blade Runner in 1980, then titled Dangerous Days, Jim Burns was hired to produce concepts of the Spinner. It turns out these designs were not used, although they were a starting point to move on from.
Fans of Syd Mead's work may be aware of his radical designs from his career as a designer for major corporations and most notably from his works featured in the Sentinel book published in 1979. It was this book that Ridley Scott kept as a means of reference to a possible look of the future.
Ridley hired Mead to take a pen to the vehicle designs at first. Mead's continued talent produced the vehicles in futuristic settings based on his awareness of the film's dark and gritty environment. Mead was then asked to contribute his designs to the sets and props.
Over a period of 4 months Mead continued to produce concept after concept.
His first major project was the design of the Spinner. Mead's thoughts were to approach the design as an enclosed lift vehicle or VTOL, such as the Harrier jet. Mead's early designs were quite different than the final product - originally the vehicle had a full front end with oversize bumper. Such a design would complicate visibility, his later designs went more toward the direction of helicopter design with curved windshield and transparent floor panels. Front wheels were separated to provide an unobstructed view downward during lift-off and landing.
The vehicle design also included an on board HUD (heads-up display) unit, projected on the interior of the windshield by the installed dash detail panel between the instrument cluster and the windshield. The display was distortion corrected via computer. Another design was to produce holographic images on the center monitor from a projector module mounted between the seats. Twist-wrist steering was also designed to further jump the boundary of road vehicle to aircraft. Individual collective grips were designed at the lower left corners of the digital dash, a concept that actually was originally built into the vehicles.
Mead also included articulation into the design as a way of transforming the vehicle from ground use to flight. Such panels include characteristics of modern aircraft. The wing panels on the sides of the car incorporated edge and wing tip lights in the industry standard of illumination. Other panels included on the craft were at the roof and rear section. Three panels were designed to hinge back in synchronization to represent air intake functions.
The scissor door system included a voice recognition entry panel at the door within the porthole window. The exterior design originally had added laser cannons at the roof and driver's side, the latter mounted to a rack system enabling the weapon to ratchet up and down and pivot 360 degrees at each end of the track.
Bringing Mead's designs to reality were the next step. After final approval by Ridley, Art Director David Snyder gave the task of drafting construction plans to William Skinner, known for his work on such productions as Twelve Monkeys, K19: The Widow Maker, Star Trek: Nemesis and Dances with Wolves. Skinner produced about 12 pages of plans of the Spinner. After various revisions were made, copies of the drawings and Mead's concepts were given to the model shop and legendary customizer, Gene Winfield.
Heading up the model shop of Stetson Visual Services was Mark Stetson, now most notably known for his Academy Award winning achievement as Visual Effects Supervisor on Lord of the Rings. Stetson's task on the Spinner was to first produce a foamcore mock-up of the Spinner to figure out the basic interior space planning design in 3 dimensions. He built the foamcore model at about half-scale, ending up at 6 feet in length, a project done in his garage at home. Once he was satisfied with all the details, the model shop moved forward producing their miniature versions of the Spinners.
The task of building the Spinners full-size as well as the majority of the other custom vehicles was given to legendary Hot Rod customizer, Gene Winfield. Winfield is no stranger to futuristic vehicle production, such past work includes the construction of the flying police car from Back to the Future 2, numerous promotional vehicles for the AMT model car producer in the 60's as well as the bubble cars from the film, Sleeper.
Based on the drive train and floor pan of a Volkswagen, Gene started out making plans of the added custom tube steel inner frame and mechanical features. After making a basic frame, patterns were made to produce the shape of the car. Produced from particle board, acrylic spheres and foam, the patterns were finished with panel lines and all detail specified in the drawings prior to enamel paint and molding.
Once finished with the patterns, Gene commenced on producing fiberglass molds of the bolt-on body panel components. An oven was built to heat up the Plexiglas to stretch over a wood form to produce the canopy assembly. He produced components to build four cars from a large portion of entire vehicle budget of $600,000.
Four Spinner cars were built, one as the featured running vehicle labeled as car 44, used in the scene when Bryant and Gaff arrive to question Deckard, a back-up running vehicle, used only in the background within the traffic, labeled as car 54, possibly as a Hollywood in-joke as being hidden in the traffic with the question
Car 54 where are you?, and an all-aluminum frame car built specifically for flying sequences assisted by crane, also labeled as car 44.
The fourth car was a process car. Used as a standard in the industry, basically a car built for interior filming. This car did not have 44 or 54 number markings. Although it represented car 44, it was also used as the interior of Deckard's sedan. The prop was featured during Deckard's drive through the tunnel, in the scene where Deckard calls Pris at Sebastian's apartment and also used in the original theatrical edition when Deckard and Rachel escape the city. The process car was refitted with different seats and rear console components to represent the interior of Deckard's sedan.
Once the basic master patterns of the exterior components were produced, the task of preparing the decals was given to Production Illustrator Tom Southwell. Credited on such films as Star Trek: Nemesis, Short Circuit and Buckaroo Banzai: Adventures in the 8th Dimension, Southwell made paper tracings at Winfield's shop of the Spinner panels as a guide for the scale and position of the decal designs. Southwell produced camera-ready art at twice-size.
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The Main Car
The main car, car 44, was the first to be delivered on the set. After arrival, Tom Southwell applied graphics to the car. At first the car was labeled as car 41 until a decision was made that 44 was more of a visually pleasing look and the age and birthday of a member of the art department.
Further refinements in the graphics were to add an inlay of black outline for the police 995 decals. Southwell chose
995 to represent the
911 emergency service number in the future. The
Do Not Lean,
No Step and
Caution decals are a reference to actual commercial aircraft markings usually found on the wings. They were included as a guide in Mead's illustrations.
The black and yellow
S pattern decal that wrapped around the rear bumper was designed to relay
caution during movement of the bumper section. The decals were produced on 3M Scotchlite reflective vinyl with silk-screened graphics. The windshield and door window graphics were press-on lettering, and quite difficult to install due to the compound curved surface.
The three Spinner logo badges are another addition of detail as requested by Ridley Scott. Southwell produced architectural drawings of the emblem after his discussion with Ridley.
Ridley was a fan of the graphic fantasy magazine, Heavy Metal, and asked Southwell to give the Heavy Metal treatment to the design. Southwell took this his statement literally and actually designed the badge as a thick heavy piece of cast metal. Southwell's design included a continuous perimeter of spiral points representing a
Sculpted by Sean Casey in the model shop in clay and then cast in fiberglass and rubber, an overlay of reflecting metal foil was added to give the illusion of a chrome emblem not unlike the Detroit car emblems predominately used on the majority of cars.
The Spinner was originally delivered with the twist-wrist steering system designed by Mead. The feature incorporated a counter-twist system linked to a chain drive gear assembly. The driver would twist his wrists left or right 90 degrees to turn the wheels.
This was a feature that Winfield warned to be troublesome to the production personnel.
During preparation the crew ended up with a twist of damage to the car instead. The steering was changed back to the traditional steering wheel the day before shooting, before it was delivered to the set.
A steering column was concealed within the center of the instrument cluster panel and linked by chain to the twist-wrist shafts. Small chrome chain-link steering wheels were added and intended to be removable for filming. Interior details of the 44 car were minimal. Only the basic needs were included, a representation of the dash, a center console with added toggle switches and a computer keyboard for looks.
A chain-link steering wheel can be seen on film during Bryant's exit from the vehicle. This vehicle had battery powered hydraulic doors, levers to open the doors were added to the front section of the console and sides of the car. This car did not have a center mounted monitor when filmed. Neon was added at the top rear of the windshield. The vinyl and fiberglass seats had headrests with stereo speaker grilles that could be adjusted to enclose around the head over the ears.
Another change to the car was the addition of lanterns to the wheel pod covers, obviously a request by Ridley to give more detail, but was an additional visibility obstruction when installed. These were equipped with GE flood lamps with a reflected beam under the fixed-position lid. The wheel pod edges of the three complete Spinners were equipped with custom formed neon behind white lenses. The wing panels also had neon illumination concealed within the edges.
The center spotlight was a strip of sixteen 12 volt bulbs behind a Plexiglas lens.
Other additions by the Art Department, besides the decals, were the police light bars on the top of the vehicle and at the driver side rack which replaced the originally planned laser cannons. The Art Department finished the car off with dirt and grime to represent the polluted environment of the city of 2019.
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The Back-up Car
The back-up car, car 54, was barely seen on film. It was used as another vehicle for the traffic scenes and in case the main car had any last minute mechanical problems during production. It was basically identical, but had it's own distinctive markings to tell the vehicle apart from looking at it from either side. The notable differences were the rocker panels and door window trim.
The rockers on the back-up car only had jack-mounting holes at the forward section, the main car had mounting holes at the front and rear of both rocker panels. The door window trim, where the side porthole windows meet the doors, on the back-up car had two simulated buttons included on the bottom of the square aluminum insert. The main car had them at the top - completely opposite.
The tires also differed on the vehicles, the back up car had narrow front tires, old stock B.F. Goodrich tires, the main car had wider front tires with more aggressive tread, branded with raised Remington Radial markings.
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The Aluminum Car
The aluminum car or
wire car was the first full-sized Spinner seen on screen. Built to simulate liftoff and landing, this vehicle was made from an all-aluminum tube frame with fiberglass articulated panels. The car featured fully-functioning wheel retraction and deployment assisted by a sophisticated battery powered hydraulic and a scissor-action closure system for the pod covers, and hydraulic rear axle suspension.
Further additions of hydraulics were used to assist the doors and rear articulating panels. Other details included the addition of internal plumbing for the simulation of turbine coolant at the rear undercarriage of the car. This was produced by installing co2 cylinders behind the seats and operated by a dash mounted switch. This was the only car that had a completely enclosed detailed undercarriage with light bars.
The car was suspended by crane with four cables attached directly to frame in the front and back. The front cables were mounted within the hinge area of the doors with a small cut-out made for clearance. The interior had detailing of neon that wrapped around the instrument cluster and top rear area of the windshield. The drive train was a small 2-horsepower gas engine mounted to the rear axle to assist in moving it around on set.
Despite having a lighter frame, the weight of the hydraulics and mechanical features made the car quite fragile and heavy - the car has a noticeably lower profile when the wheels were deployed on set. Tires were wide B. F. Goodrich radial TA's - the raised white letters were left facing outward. Front wheels were standard VW 4-bolt rims while the rear wheels were 5-bolt cast aluminum.
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The Process Car
The process car was not a complete vehicle - it did not have wheels, wheel pods, or rear bumper section. The car was basically just a cockpit with an interior that incorporated a collection of working linear readouts, switches and push-buttons and an overhead instrument panel on a pivoting arm. Custom neon was mounted around the dash instrument cluster, rear portion of the windshield and overhead instrument bracket.
Built on a tube steel frame with electronics housed in the rear, the canopy and A-pillars were removable to accommodate the cameras and used primarily for all interior shots of the Spinner and as the sedan.
The prop was filmed on the Entertainment Effects Group soundstage at Marina Del Rey for the flight to Police headquarters, the Tyrell building and to Leon's Apartment. Continuity errors can be noted that light beacons were mounted at the sides of the exterior only present on the Spinner miniature and not on the full-size running vehicles. The process car was also used to represent the interior of Deckard's sedan during the tunnel sequence and making the call to Sebastian's apartment..
For the scenes representing the sedan, the seats were changed to an upholstered beige vinyl mounted within a different bulkhead and the overhead instrument panel was removed. The car was placed on a trailer for use during the filming of the happy ending, the last time it was seen on film.
The prop has never been confirmed destroyed and may remain in the hands of WB. Ridley was no longer involved during the production of the added happy ending and was not on hand to enforce destruction of the remaining vehicles.
What makes these cars different from
ordinary prop cars is the amount of detail in the design and realism - curved windshields, drip rails, upholstered seats, collapsible headrests, hydraulic scissor doors, adjustable mirrors, neon illumination.
These vehicles were just as impressive to see in person during their various promotional appearances.
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Beyond Blade Runner
After production was completed, under Ridley's request, the vehicles were to be destroyed. Vehicles were literally axed to pieces so there would be no use for them in any other production. It appears that 5 vehicles remained behind, 4 left in storage in the Burbank warehouse. The marketing department chose to save the vehicles for promotional purposes.
The back up car, car 54, was displayed unmarked, without 54 or 44, for the U.S. promotion at various conventions while the main car, car 44 was shipped to Germany as a part of the European promotion with VW as the main sponsor of the exhibit.
The main operational car, car 44, was shipped to Germany by the studio to promote the European release of the film and as a promotional tie in with Volkswagen's 1983 Polo campaign. The car was branded with VW emblems on the mirrors and firewall. Left over in Germany in the hands of VW, the Spinner was later repainted with trim added to the front windshield to conceal the stress cracks that formed during it's continued movement. The laser rack, door hydraulics and control levers were eventually removed.
The car was later purchased by Jay Ohrberg during his visit touring some of his own vehicles for his California Hollywood Star Cars business in Austria. Jay is also experienced in the Hollywood vehicle industry and has produced props such as the Batboat and Batmissile for Warner Bros. and now holds the license to produce the Back to the Future DeLorean time machine vehicles. Jay continued to tour the Spinner in 20 countries along with a white Blade Runner police sedan he later acquired from Bob Butts of Fantasy Cars.
The Spinner later returned to the US and remained in CA until being sold for $10,000 to Disney MGM Studios for display at the theme park in Orlando, FL. The vehicle was accompanied with an additional purchase of the white police sedan. There the Spinner sat outside to the elements alongside the police sedan for nearly 10 years until both cars were removed from the collection in January 1999 during clean up efforts at Disney's MGM Studios back lot vehicles exhibit.
It is now believed that WB
assumed they were replicas and ordered them destroyed, which was not the case, they were the real thing. The Spinner still had the original twist-wrist steering components within the dash, the VW engine in the rear, and the same tires as the day it left Gene's shop even after 17 years. All the distinctive markings were still in place even though it was repainted years before. The sad state of the car was being over come by rust and mold. The front suspension had collapsed and the paint continued to oxidize in the Florida sun.
The back-up Spinner was put in storage at the Burbank warehouse after it's US promotion along with the aluminum Spinner and two sedans. The vehicles were then purchased in 1983 by Gene Winfield. Gene later put the back-up Spinner and the police sedan on the auction block on September 25, 1983 at the George Barris Cars of the Stars Auction at the Sheraton in North Hollywood. The Spinner was repainted by George Barris due to the wear and tear of promotional exhibition, with new decals added, now with
44 marking the car, before being auctioned off and going to winner Bob Butts of Fantasy Cars for $2400.30 pairing it up with an additional purchase of the white police sedan for $4300.70. Gene kept the aluminum-framed Spinner and the Deckard sedan for a few more years, renting the Deckard sedan to the 1985 film, Trancers and to a 3M commercial before selling it to Fantasy Cars.
Fantasy Cars loaned the back-up 54 Spinner to Universal in 1988 for use as a background vehicle in Back to the Future 2. The Spinner was painted in black peel paint for the Hill Valley street set. It was then painted orange, black and blue, nick named the Spider car by the production crew, for the Hilldale neighborhood set. The rear side thrusters, mirrors and light bars were removed during the two appearances.
The back-up 54 Spinner (spider car) was returned to Fantasy Cars after filming of Back to the Future 2 where it sat on exhibition at the El Cajon facility that featured various movie cars, props and costumes until being loaned to Jay Ohrberg for the use in the film, Solar Crisis. It was featured in the same paint treatment with the Deckard sedan through arrangement by Winfield.
The back-up Spinner was then sold to George Barris in 1989. The prop was repainted a second time to resemble it's appearance once again as seen in Blade Runner and Winfield modified the suspension and lightened the car under direction of the studio before sending it to Yokohhama, Japan as a promotion for the 1993 Japanese (1992 U. S.) re-release of the film.
The car had new graphics applied, including the number 44 in yellow. The port window Plexiglas was blacked out. The seats were upholstered with added red and blue inserts.
New exterior rubber trim and pin striping was added. The wheel pod covers were modified.
Barris applied lettering promoting his business to the sides of the car. Blade Runner title graphics were applied to the rear hull along with Harrison Ford lettering. The car was auctioned off and is now held under private ownership in Japan and removed from public display.
The aluminum-framed Spinner was eventually sold by Winfield after spending years in secluded storage to Bob Butts of Fantasy Cars for $7500 in 1990. The Spinner was repainted in metallic blue with painted
Police markings. An overlay of new Plexiglas was mounted over the forward section of the windshield due to stress cracks. The vehicle was sold to the Miami Police museum along with the orange sedan in the early 90's. The Spinner was to be suspended from the ceiling for the indoor showroom exhibit.
The vehicle was prepped for delivery, the wheel pod covers were placed within the interior and it was loaded onto a car carrier. During transit, the Spinner was unloaded from the air-ride truck and loaded onto a different car carrier in Florida where the chain came loose and fell of the back of the carrier on to the road. The car had extensive damage and would have been considered a total loss. The vehicle was sent to a Miami body shop and disassembled for repairs. The front and rear Fiberglas panels were repaired and primered. Hubcaps for the front wheels were pulled from molds of the sedan hubcaps.
The Spinner was then purchased from the Miami Police Museum by Jay Ohrberg in pieces in 1992 for $5000. The car was acquired directly from the body shop and was reassembled once it was delivered to Ohrberg's California shop. A new mold to form a replacement windshield was made and farmed out to an aircraft company specializing in canopy fabrication.
The Plexiglas was formed in one piece and then cut to accommodate the door pieces.
Alternate upholstery for the seats and similar decals were also made.
The front suspension was modified and rebuilt. A complete axle was positioned with added welded tube steel to build the firewall-to-wheel supports. The center of the axle was then cut out once the framing was finished. The remaining hydraulic components were removed and discarded to save weight for shipping overseas.
Jay shipped the car unpainted and without windshield to Barcelona, Spain.
The car was then painted and assembled with windshield and decals in a Barcelona body shop prior to display. Jay toured the car in Europe for four years until offering it to Planet Hollywood in 1997. It was finally sold in 1999 to a private collector in California, (name withheld) for $15,000 - it's been held in storage away from the public until now.
To this day there has been no report of any full-size replicas being in existence.
The fan appreciation has settled for the various miniature models that have surfaced instead - not the same effect - if you ever had the opportunity to see the Spinner in person.
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- No license plates were placed on the Spinners.
- Adjustable pivot mirrors included acrylic mirror inserts.
- Side thruster detail was individual sheet metal inserts bent at 90 degrees and riveted.
- Rear thrusters were individual fiberglass inserts.
- Top roof panel was notched on driver's side to provide clearance of gun when opened during intake state.
- Windshield mounted with countersunk screws along top and sides only.
- No turn signals or brake lamps.
- Search light designed to pivot up and down.
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Appreciation goes to all those talented individuals for contributing information and personal time to make this extensive research article possible:
- Jay Ohrberg, Jay Ohrberg Hollywood Star Cars
- Bob Butts, Fantasy Cars
- Gene Winfield, Winfield Rod & Custom, Blade Runner vehicle fabricator
- Syd Mead, Blade Runner Visual Futurist
- Mark Stetson, Blade Runner Chief Model Maker
- Tom Southwell, Blade Runner Production Illustrator
- Bill George, Blade Runner Model Maker (Spinner models)
- Tom Pahk, Blade Runner Model Maker (Spinner models)
- Virgil Mirano, Blade Runner Still Lab (Visual effects facility behind the scenes photography)
- William Skinner, Blade Runner Set Designer (Spinner blueprint draftsman)
- Disney MGM Studios
Research and compilation of this article:
- Bryan Ebenhoch, Planet Hollywood Memorabilia
- Personal inspection and documentation of the original main 44 Spinner.
- Video exhibition reference.
- Extensive photo library of the Spinner cars.
- Production blueprints.
- Kronolog Syd Mead Production sketches and concept paintings.
- Personal correspondence and review of material from those listed above.
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Images of Bryan
|Bryan with Spinner
||Bryan with Spinner
at "Profiles in History" Auction
|In the Office