WARNING: This update contains imagery which may not be safe for work. We've redacted any thumbnails to remove nudity but there will be text links to the original images.
Back in 2019, we published a Visual Guide to Pin-Ups in Wing Commander which remains, as you might imagine, a popular resource. Last weekend, we received a question from ParadiseRegaind about the two Strike Commander pin-ups: they looked to be photo-realistic... were they based on real pictures?
We agreed that at least the female pin-up seem to be a paintover... but of whom? Our collected knowledge of early 1990s cheesecake was extremely limited and so I put the call out on Twitter: did anyone know this woman? A user named TNEQL answered the call: it's Pamela Anderson! Ms. Anderson had been a Playboy model in the early 1990s who became a massive international star after leading Baywatch. TNEQL had found the exact photo in an August 1994 issue of Playboy Netherlands:
As you can see, the original pinup was a nude; the Strike Commander artist (possibly Paul Steed) added the bikini but didn't otherwise change Ms. Anderson much! But wait... 1994? That's the year after Strike Commander was published and likely two to three years after the paintover was done. What's happening here? The 1994 issue was likely a reprint of an earlier Playboy photo shoot... but it wasn't immediately apparent when or where it was from. This called for a little research!
The research through old issues of Playboy featuring Ms. Anderson prior to 1993 did lead to this great ad featuring a black Kilrathi...
... but it ultimately provided no answers: the photo did not appear in any of them. Luckily, a search of eBay actually got us closer: a trading card from 1996 featured a pair of photos that were clearly from the same shoot. The card's caption confirmed that it was from a June 1990 "newsstand special" photo shoot. A lucky reverse image search led us to all three photos, linked here without thumbnails because they contain full frontal nudity:
This is trading card #10 in the "Best of Pamela Anderson" series. What we still don't know is where the version of the photo used for Strike Commander was originally published. "Newsstand special" refers to Playboy publications beyond the main magazine, so it was likely some sort of special issue or calendar that the Strike Commander team happened to have at hand. Ms. Anderson was 24 when these photos were taken and her career exploded soon afterwards... it's a little hard to recognize her as the star we know today! But we'll keep searching for the source and update when it is found.
Oh, but what about the man! It's pretty obvious that the joke here is that a nerdy man's face has been pasted on top of a bodybuilder... but who is the man? We're pretty sure the answer is that it's Strike Commander designer Prem Krishnan who was the butt of good natured ribbings in several places in the game. Mr. Krisnhan is otherwise tuckerized as "Wipeout" or "Mr. Zap" in the game's materials because he famously deleted the entire project from the mainframe causing a minor crisis midway through development. Luckily, most of the work was recovered and the 'zap SC' story became an Origin legend.
Of even more interest to Wing Commander fans is another piece of information we learned during the research: the pin-ups seen in Secret Missions 2 are not paintovers. Veteran Wing Commander artist Denis Loubet was kind enough to explain that they are the work of Glen Johnson (also known for the original Wing Commander character and ship concepts).