Here is some bad news that I totally missed at the time: the great prop maker Bill Pearson passed away back in March. Here's a quick summary of material covering his work on Wing Commander by ways of a tribute. First of all, a lot of this history is possible because Mr. Pearson maintained a wonderful online archive of his work. You can find hundreds and hundreds of pictures plus a two hour lecture covering the entirety of his career at his website here.
The Spaceshipper: Model maker Bill Pearson: Alien, Moon, Space Precinct, Wing Commander, Flash Gordon, Outland, Red Dwarf...
Production Designer Peter Lamont hired Bill Pearson to develop model spacecraft and a number of hero props based on his team's concept art for Wing Commander in 1998. Bill did the work in his UK studio and shipped it over to Luxembourg for the shoot. Let's look at some items!
He built this magnificent (and enormous) physical model of Paladin's Diligent free trader ship. The models weren't to be used in the film but they really were good enough to be. Chris Roberts doesn't do things in half measures!
Here's the initial concept art of the Diligent that the model was developed from. After principal photography, the physical models were shipped to Austin for reference for the 3D artists creating the ships for the final film.
Here's the finished 3D model in the movie... it's extremely close to Mr. Pearson's study model!
Another reason for the models: squaring practical sets with the CG work, especially for comp shots like the pan into the Diligent's bridge or any of the flight operations on the Tiger Claw. Bonus: a different 3D Diligent done early on for the on-set displays.
And here's a little lore on the Diligent, courtesy of the Confederation Handbook! Note that it's an Errant-class merchantman and not actually the Diligent-class transport from Secret Missions that it's named after.
Five detailed ship models were constructed in all: the Diligent, Tiger Claw, Concordia, Snakeir and Sivar. The ConCom, Ralari and Fralthi were concepted later in CG. These ships, including Pearson's Diligent, are still on display at Cloud Imperium Games' LA office today!
Simpler foam models were constructed of the two hero fighter types, Rapier and Dralthi, which also needed to match physcal cockpit sets with to-be-constructed CG models. Here's Mr. Pearson's Dralthi model:
Here's the six-wing Dralthi concept art, loosely based on the original 'flying pancake' from Wing Commander I. Bill Pearson added an intentional nod to the Xenomorph from Alien to the design's nose with his model!
Here's the finished model which is actually quite a bit simpler, dropping several of the wings from the concept. All physical shots of the Dralthi cockpit were cut from the final movie so there was no need to match with the set.
Some lore on the movie Dralthi from Joan's:
Now let's look at some of his props! These are hero props which were specially built with the expectation that they might appear prominently on screen and/or be used by an actor. First of all, peep this cool medical kit. The tool on the left was a beard trimmer and the little pills in ths dispenser were breathmints. It's such a neat presentation...
... but where do you even see it? Angel hits her head during the pulsar jump and then Blair retrieves part of the kit to treat her wound. The workprint version makes it much more visible (blurry shots) but in the finished cut it's visible only momentarily from a distance!
This cool scanner prop is used by Angel as she performs maintenance on her fighter later in the film (when Blair goes to talk to her about Maniac). Some kind of neutron degausser?
And here's an easy one! The red Confederation pilot's helmet seen throughout the film, complete with electronic oculus that closes remotely.
Confederation pilot concept art that was the basis for the prop:
And here's the final appearance (nametags were added by the art department in Luxembourg). PLUS! A page of lore... C-512 Combat Helmet! Love this stuff.
Another one you surely know: the iconic helmet and backpack for the Confederation marines! These costumes were used all over the marketing, though a lot of footage of them in use was cut from the final film.
Concept art plus some stills from the boarding sequence:
And both the suit and the backpack each get a page of lore!
These costumes pop up again in 2004 in the Dolph Lundgren direct-to-video film Retrograde, too! It shot scenes in the same hangar in Luxembourg and apparently just took the abandoned marine armor suits.
Finally, a strange one! This concept art appeared in the movie's licensing book labeled as a Confederation pistol. But nothing like it seems to appear in the movie... though a completely different sidearm does show up (modeled here by Angel).
Then, these showed up in Bill Pearson's archive! He did indeed build a pair of working, rotary pistols for the movie but they don't appear anywhere in the finished film. Unexpected given a certain director's passion for gatling-style guns! It's not clear if these were intended for the marines or perhaps Pegasus security whose shots were cut... or if they just decided to go another way.
To close, here's a segment clipped from Mr. Pearson's two hour lecture that covers Wing Commander and some of these same props. Well worth the four minutes (and the full thing is worth watching, too!).