Protoype to Production
We produced the originals for the first Star Wars ANH film back in 1976 and are still producing fantastic products more than 30 years later. Read our story below!
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. Along the way other characters would also come into being. Read on...
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 an 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.
After a couple of long days working on the prototype, Andrew showed Nick the results and on the morning of 23 Jan 1976 John Mollo visited Nick to view the result. Nick then introduced Andrew to Mollo, who was obviously impressed with the work as he asked Andrew if he could also make 5 new helmets based upon the Navy helmet and helicopter pilot helmet which he had brought with him.
Nick's diaryThe 1976 ANH Prop Diaries
It so happened that Nick Pemberton employed a secretary who meticulously recorded every day’s operations in a diary. While re-visiting the ANH prop making history, we found the 1976 diary in a wheelbarrow, along with all his other diaries, in the back of Nick's workshop. This formed a significant disclosure in the court case that Andrew Ainsworth fought with Lucas to assert Andrew's involvement as the original prop maker. records that on 29 Jan 1976 - less than a week later - Mollo was back again to check over the work so far. At this meeting Andrew showed Mollo prototypes of Rebel Troops, Rebel Pilots and Imperial Troops, naming them Cheese Grater and Jawbone, as they had no identification at that point.
February 1976 - a key month
Nick Pemberton's diaries record how critical a month February 1976 was for the development of the Star Wars props:
- 9 Feb 1976: Mollo and Nick have a meeting to discuss money. Nick conveys to Andrew the potential quantities that could be required.
- 17 Feb 1976: Nick visits Elstree to show Lucas the final prototype Stormtrooper helmet made by Andrew. Nick's diary also records 'Budgeting with Andrew in the afternoon' and so the presentation must have been successful. Nick also records seeing some grey clay armour being sculpted, he was told that the studios were having problems with it - Nick recommended Andrew to solve the problem.
- 19 Feb 1976: Mollo had a 9.30 am meeting at Nick's and ordered 50 Stormtroopers and 40 Rebel Pilot (X wing) helmets. Nick's diary entry for that day records "Mollo here 9.30am – ordered helmets and invoiced them." Invoicing straightaway was a standard tactic for Nick. Being an experienced operator in the film business, he knew the routine and foresaw the potential pitfalls of getting paid. Andrew, on the other hand, was new at the game and willing to carry the can, trusting that Nick was a man of his word. There was no official order or order number and Andrew had already created the prototype on a speculative basis so if it all went 'pear-shaped' Andrew would not have a leg to stand on.
- 25 Feb 1976: Nick's diary records one word against Star Wars: "PANIC". At a meeting at Nick's with Andrew, Mollo asks Andrew to visit Elstree the next day to discuss the production of the armour.
Stormtrooper helmet production
"The material was difficult to mould so the first batch of Stormtrooper helmets that went to Tunisia for the desert scenes were all shapes and sizes. Andrew made 50 Stunt helmets and every one would have been slightly different"
The original HDPE helmets on the pavement at Shepperton Design Studios
Nick asked Andrew to produce 50 Stormtrooper helmets and 40 X wing Pilot Helmets to be invoiced to him. As Andrew had now been introduced to Mollo, it was agreed that if there was any future work, Andrew would deal directly with the Studios and maybe just give Nick 'a drink' for the contact. This Andrew did and they remain good friends to this day.
A week passed and Andrew beavered away using the khaki HDPE material to make the first Stormtrooper helmets as the Studios were in a hurry to get anything and were quite happy to get helmets that were just the same as the prototype. Andrew made about 27 of the helmets in HDPE (21. Picture insert), but had to shot blast and spray them to get them white. Mollo agreed on white as no silver plastic was available at that time. Andrew's plan was to make them in a better quality white ABS plastic at a later stage.
The helmet production progressed, athough several modifications were made. Finally 50 helmets were delivered to the Studios along with 40 X wing helmets and Andrew invoiced Nick for the work, still without any form of order or contract.
Section through the helmet showing the large undercuts in the design
The HDPE material was difficult to mould and, although it would form large undercuts okay, the shrinkage and distortion when releasing from the mould was terrible. This meant that many of the first batch that went to Tunisia for the desert scenes were all shapes and sizes. In the end, Andrew made 50 of the Stunt helmets and every one would have been slightly different, so it's only helmets made from the original moulds that will conform to the original screen-used helmets.
The better quality Stunt helmets came on stream later when the white ABS used for the armour came in. While these did not suffer from shrinkage and conformed to the mould shape accurately, the ABS was more fragile so most of these did not survive. The helmets we make today are from an ABS material that accurately conforms to the original moulds and in addition has an Acrylic high gloss surface that protects the ABS from UV degradation.