Friday, May 01, 2009

The Namos Chronicles (1981)

I was recently looking through some old editions of Starburst Magazine, an article that brought back a lot of memories of reading this magazine when I was younger was about a project called The Namos Chronicles.

This project wasn't a film or TV show, it was a Filmstrip, Alan Marques who created designs and miniatures described it as, a multi-media slide show which was a science fiction based retelling of the Christian parables. So basically the show was all shot as 35mm stills and designed to be projected with a synchronous audio track. The Namos Chronicles was produced by the Sound and Vision Unit of Scripture Union, under the guidance of producer Allan Lee. It relates several parables from the New Testament against the backdrop of interstellar war. The Namos Federation is locked in a violent and bloody struggle with it's arch enemies, the Kaprians. Within the Framework of the conflict several incidents parallel the stories told by Christ to illustrate the points of the Christian philosophy. The project was hatched by Allan Lee in an attempt to make religious instruction more palatable and more fun for the space minded schoolchildren of the late 70's early 80's.

As a teenager I wasn't really fussed about the subject matter of this film, but it did have spaceships in it, and I do remember sending off a stamped addressed envelope for the info pack that was available at the time. Anyway all these years later I looked back through the article and one Google search later for the guy who designed and built the spaceships has put me in touch with the man himself Alan Marques. Who didn't scream crazed internet stalker and call his solicitor, but has kindly supplied me with some info and pictures about this project. Alan was only 19 at the time when he made the miniatures, and he'd met the producer Allan Lee in hospital.

In Alan's own words:

It was during the summer of 1979, I was basically stuck in a hospital bed as I had just come out of two weeks in intensive care and a major operation. I had survived being run over by a car on a pedestrian crossing in Portsmouth where I was a student doing a foundation in Art & Design at Portsmouth College of Art. It took me a year to learn to walk again and at nineteen being stuck in a bed with your legs in traction, the then favoured technique, was no fun.
So my art and model making skills, all be it in their infancy, came to the fore and I found my self scratch building spaceships to pass the time and monotony. Allan Lee used to visit the wards as he is/was a Christian and was active with the church and he introduced himself to me. Please keep in mind my memories might be a bit hazy about some of this as I have little memory of the accident as I nearly died and the brain does this thing were it blanks out whole tracts of ones life when it receives extreme trauma. Anyhow he saw one of the models I was building and asked me if I would be interested in letting him use the one I had and possibly building more for a production in which he was involved.

The space ships were photographed on medium format 120mm stills in a black velvet studio set up. Some of the engine lights had to be double exposed in camera using black back lit masks and gels, the long white ship based on Zero-X (Thunderbirds) had three rocket nozzles from a Saturn V kit and therefore could not have practical lights. However the big lander actually had lit engines and although you can't see it in the photos also had Scotchlight windows. Sorry, from what I remember none of these ships had names and I can't remember if the production gave them names or not.

The construction techniques were basic, keep in mind I was nineteen when I built them and had no formal model making training. I therefore had to build them using generally available materials. The underlying construction of both ships was a 1 inch wooden dowel running through 1.5mm mounting board bulkheads. The ships hulls were all made with 1.5mm mounting board as well hence the somewhat blocky appearance. Once the main structure had been completed in card the entire surface was coated by gluing paper thin plasticard. After that is was a case of using 0.5mm, 1mm, and 1.5mm plasticard for the panelling along with what ever kit parts I had to hand within the budget I was allowed. Both ships were sprayed with either matte white car primer and matte grey car primer. Dirtying down was done with a DeVilbiss airbrush.
I kept in touch with Allan Lee in the early eighties while doing my Photo, Film & TV degree at the London College of Printing, but lost contact with him as I was only in my early twenties and a mixture of my not being very religious and having too big an ego for no good reason meant we drifted apart. He was a very nice guy though and into Sci-Fi of course.

Alan Marques

Alan has very kindly dug out these concept drawings that he did for the various ships, Alan says 'Please keep in mind how young I was when I made these they are very basic but I still use a very loose style to this day as I am usually interested in the core form and idea and only embellish later, also you will probably spot the odd very familiar vehicle amongst the images.'

Alan also mentions that the orange ship seen in the photo's are doctored versions of the Buck Rogers Marauder, and that Allan Lee needed some additional models for the story and since he was up to his neck with the two main ships and running behind on the schedule, so Allan Lee took it upon himself to kit bash a marauder together for the shoot.

The colour storyboards by Alan Marques above and below show the Baseship in its original intended use before Allan Lee saw it and asked to use it. The design was influenced by the Nostromo from Alien which had not too recently been released so was in his thoughts. Alan says he built the ship for a stop motion animated short which never went ahead after it was used in the The Namos Chronicles. Alan still has the miniature for the Baseship in long term storage, and said if he ever digs it out he'll send some new stills of what it looks like today.

Alan Marques has gone on to work on Hardware, Space Precinct, GoldenEye, The Wind in the Willows, been digital effects supervisor on The Borrowers, Hackers, Lost in Space and Vertical Limit amongst others and his website can be found HERE

Many others were involved in the production of The Namos Chronicles. The costumes were designed and made by Liz Balmforth, who at the time was a final year student at Croydon College of Art. The music was written and performed by Angela Reith and the cast was provided by the Riding Lights Theatre Company, based in York. The photography for the project was provided by Gordon Gray.

I'm hoping to get a few words from Angela Reith who provided the music soon, about her experiences making The Namos Chronicles, and hopefully a few words from it's director Allan Lee sometime in the future.


Moonwatcher said...

I really like the sound of this project, very neat spaceships.

unkleE said...

I remember the Namos Chronicles with affection. We were leading a small group of children at our then church, and we used Namos. We dressed up and had a lot of fun. Even though a series of still photos with audio sounds unattractive today, Namos was fairly cutting edge back then.

Thanks for sharing all that information.