Recently, I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with legendary visual effects artist Brian Johnson in London. I was honored to discuss his career and share the plans being developed for my new documentary, The Eagle Has Landed. The project is being produced with Emmy-winning production company Zero Point Zero and is targeted to begin production in June of 2023.
Spending time with Brian was like a dream come true. He’s an icon in the film industry. Early in his career, he provided miniatures and other key visual aspects for Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey—a film many, including myself, consider to be one of the greatest movies of all time. During his illustrious career, he’s won Academy Awards for Alien and The Empire Strikes Back, and received a nomination for Dragonslayer.
Yet, Brian is best known for serving as special effects director for the TV series Space: 1999. He’s also the designer of my all-time favorite sci-fi ship—the Eagle Transporter. It’s a design that has inspired the likes of George Lucas and many others in the creation of fictional spacecraft. Sitting atop virtually every list of sci-fi ships, the Eagle spawned decades of memorabilia and visual art.
I remember first seeing Brian’s name in the end credits of Space: 1999 when it debuted back in 1975. At the time, I was a wide-eyed eight-year-old who spent most of his life dreaming of the future. As a space aficionado obsessed with the Apollo Moon program, I constantly sought new space-related content. Space: 1999 fit the bill.
I freaked out when I saw the first promos—primarily because they featured the Eagle. It looked like a direct descendant of my favorite real spaceship: NASA’s Lunar Module. After I watched the pilot episode, the Eagle became my new obsession. Over the next few years, I would do anything to get my hands on them as toys and playsets. The Eagle epitomized the future I wanted to live in. I wanted to grow up to fly spaceships like the Eagle.
Eventually, I learned that the Eagle was designed and brought to life by Brian Johnson and his team of effects artists in England. For me, he became an immediate role model, on par with folks like Carl Sagan and Gene Roddenberry. He was a magician who was envisioning the world of tomorrow. It makes sense that he has such an enduring impact on me and so many other filmmakers, as the visual effects in Space: 1999 still hold up after nearly 50 years!
I’m excited to announce that Brian has agreed to be an integral part of The Eagle Has Landed. He will discuss the design’s impetus and show us how it, and many other effect shots, were filmed. Brian and I also plan on working with Steve Begg—another legendary visual effects artist—to create new sequences utilizing modern techniques that will include both miniatures and CGI.
It can be a tremendous opportunity to meet a lifelong personal hero. For me, connecting with Brian was no disappointment. I felt like I got to know him as an artist and a man with many ups and downs in a challenging industry. It’s even more amazing to get to work with him hand-in-hand. After seeing his name as a child in TV credits, it’s a huge thing for me to be able to know and work with him.