Back in 1976, Nick Pemberton, a successful scenic artist and puppeteer lived just a few buildings apart from Andrew Ainsworth in London. Nick was approached by the Star Wars 'buyer' to make helmets and ancillary items on ANH.
On January 6 1976, Nick met with George Lucas to discuss the Stormtrooper helmet and other characters. John Mollo (ANH Costume Designer came on board - his sketchbook notes his intial discussions with Nick about designing the Stormtrooper helmet, gun and holster, Jawa and Tuscan Raider.
Nick met again with Lucas on January 20 to show him his red clay mock-up of a Stormtrooper head and ideas for the belt and holster. At the meeting, Nick had a tour of the Art Department and met John Barry (Production Designer) who was struggling with the armour - Nick recommended Andrew as being able to help.
Lucas chose Nick's red clay effort over the studio's Liz Moore's grey model and gave Nick the go ahead to start work on the Stormtrooper helmet.
Nick asked Andrew to help and so Andrew's task was to take Nick's clay model and Ralph McQuarrie's concept drawings, and sculpt the moulds which would form the iconic white plastic helmets worn by the Stormtroopers in ANH. Andrew recalls "The concept drawings from Ralph McQuarrie suggested that the Stormtrooper was a futuristic evolved through continuous genetic modification, able to operate in adverse climates. The helmet would therefore be able to filter noxious gases and the armour so flexible that it could have actually grown on the character that way…"
Andrew sculpted the initial mould in two pieces that almost fit together and then used vacuum formed material to join them and create a seamless helmet. Through much experimentation, Andrew managed to create a smooth finish and incorporated facial details onto the helmet.
For the eyes, Andrew originally opted for 'blister' eyes made of a cast acrylic sheet that looked mencasing but limited the actors' vision. As modifications were made, the acrylic was replaced with a plain sheet of green acetate used in the final helmets.
The helmet was almost complete but looked unbalanced with an ugly join at the side. Andrew decided to make an ear moulding that suggested a radio-type communication and also covered the joing. The helmet was now complete and fit the threatening, military position as depicted in the concept drawings.
As Andrew reflects "There are many stages and processes along the way to make a movie ... the only thing that matters is the visual impact of the final piece and its 'fitness for purpose'." Andrew achieved this by a 'trial and error' method of sculpting and manufacturing, which was ultimately successful in creating a helmet that Lucas preferred over any other.
Andrew Ainsworth had made the mould for the original Stormtrooper helmet and his prototype had been approved; the challenge was now to take the prototype into production.
Rebel and Imperial brief
"After I made the initial Stormtrooper prototype I was introduced to John Mollo, Costumer Designer for the film. John was an excellent communicator. We had empathy - an understanding of what was required and John used every character I gave him." Andrew Ainsworth remembers his first Star Wars meeting, 23 January 1976.
On January 23 1976, Nick introduced John Mollo to Andrew and showed him the prototype. Mollo then asked Andrew to make five new helmets. At their next meeting, Andrew showed Mollo the prototypes of Reel Troops, Pilots and Imperial Troops - nicknamed Cheese Grater and Jawbone.
February 19, Mollo ordered fifty Stormtroopers and forty Rebel Pilot (X-wing) helmets from Nick. Nick asked Andrew to make them and as Andrew had now been introduced to Mollo - they agreed that from now on Andrew would deal directly with the studios.
Twenty seven of the helmets were made in high-density polyethylene (HDPE) and were shot blasted and sprayed to make them white. The helmets were delivered to the Studios and Andrew invoiced Nick for the work as he had no contract with the studios.
The HDPE material was difficult to moult and resulted in distortion and shrinkage - many of the first batch used in Tunisia were all different shapes and sizes. The better quality Stunt helmets were made with the white ABS plastic that conformed to the mould shape accurately. The helmets we make today are used from the ABS plastic and in addition have an acrylic high gloss surface that protects the ABS from UV degradation.
On February 25, Mollo called a meeting with Andrew to discuss the Stormtrooper armour. John Barry asked Andrew if he could make a batch for the first shoot in Tunisia, Andrew said he could so the Art Deparment abandoned the Stormtrooper armour and moved onto Darth Vader.
The studio gave Andrew plaster casts for reference but they couldn't be used to make moulds or form a complete set of armour. Andrew sculpted the moulds, cutting and adjuting them until the parts fit cohesively. Lucase vetted the latest developments and fifty more sets were made that were used over and over again, for not only ANH but also the sequels.
After finishing with the film business, Andrew decided in the early eighties to have a clear out. Out went the Stormtrooper armour moulds but he kept the protective skins for reference. Whilst at Shepperton Studios, Andrew meticulously kept all moulds on racks with protective skins moulded and left on them.
Andrew explains "We used to sell the same props, or derivatives of, several times over, as new production companies came and went. This was standard practice at all studios. The word `prop` means property. The items we retained from film productions were our property and it was our business to reinvent them or sell them again for the production of lesser movies or maybe ads."
Andrew kept the original helmet moulds as they were still in good condition and thirty year later, they are still in the same great condition. Some minor renovation on the moulds has been carried out to ensure the helmets made today are as close to the originals as possible.
Lucasfilm has attempted to discredit Andrew Ainsworth as the original creator of the Stormtrooper helmet moulds used to create the helmets for ANH. Thirty two years on, the source of the initial clay helmet mock-ups was a key piece of evidence in the Court of Appeal, London when Lucasfilm brought (and lost) a case of copyright infringement against Andrew.
On January 20 1976, Nick Pemberton went to the Studios and presented Lucas with a red clay helmet mock-up. The film studio's Liz Moore produced one made in grey clay. While Lucas was considering the red and the grey clay mock-ups, Nick was taken on a guided tour of the Studios' Art Department. Nick observed some further grey clay sculpting being done on the armour. After considering the clay sculptures, Lucas chose red - the direction of Nick's efforts and the Studios' effort was abandoned.
Skip forward thirty two years to Lucasfilm claiming in court that the red helmet was made at the Studios by Liz Moore and hence all copyright belonged to Lucas. In court, in a short dramatic statement by Liz Moore's boyfriend (John Richardson) established that Liz Moore only ever used grey clay. Lucas' claim was totally dismissed.
In 2004 at Shepperton Design Studio, Andrew began producing and selling replica ANH Stormtrooper helmets. Each helmet was handmade by Andrew, using the original moulds kept in his prop store since they were first used to make the on-screen helmets used in the 1976 Star Wars film. Andrew recalls "The movie memorabilia market had really grown in popularity by then and there was a great deal of interest in my authentic replicas. I started to make the helmets and sold around nineteen of them to Star Wars fans in the US."
Lucasfilm sued Andrew in the United States and a California court awarded $20 million in damages against him. Andrew did not have the means to defend the case, recalling that "taking on Lucas on his home patch is not a good idea". The upshot was that Andrew stopped selling his Stormtrooper helmets in the US.
Lucasfilm then looked to enforce the American copyright ruling in the UK and brought the case to the High Court in London. After an appeal in The Times Andrew received offers from leading barristers to represent him in the case.
To cut to the chase, the case went to appeal where Lucasfilm failed to enforce its US copyright in Britain and Lucasfilm's appeal was dismissed in December 2009. Andrew won each of the copyright claims made against him, leaving him free to continue producing and selling his authentic replica helmets and armour in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world excluding USA.