Interviews: Mark Bradley

If you asked anyone familiar with Battlestar Galactica‘s fandom who Mark Bradley was, you would either get a look of utter confusion or a quaint smile. Those who smile would recognize him for his efforts to salvage the original Battlestar Galactica model in 1991. Mark gained the job of restoring the studio model of the Galactica when he was working for Universal Studios Florida Planning and Development as their in-house model builder.

When Mark first encountered the studio model of the Galactica, it was sitting inside a crate, hidden away, like the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The Galactica model was forgotten. Most of the Universal employees didn’t even know it was there.  Universal Studios Florida had paid a mere $1000 for a bulk lot of the Glen Larson models that were then shoved unceremoniously on the warehouse shelves.

Mark was both thrilled and concerned. The model had taken a lot of damage since the close of filming of the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica series. Its top needed major reworking and there were a number of loose pieces laying about the crate. Other miniatures in the warehouse showed similar damage but the Galactica was by far in the worse shape. 

Near the Galactica was the model of the mothership, Draconia, from Glen Larson’s Buck Rogers television series. It also needed a lot of repair. A smaller version of the Draconia (3-feet wide) was in good shape and remarkably didn’t have any visible damage. Other models, like the sled from Buck Rogers: “Return of the Fighting 69th” and the Theta Space Station from the Buck Rogers: “Space Vampire” were also in good shape. To Mark’s astonishment, the Gemini freighter from Battlestar Galactica was laying in pieces, shoved in the crate with the Draconia mothership. Whoever packed away the Draconia thought the freighter pieces belong to the same model.

Mark convinced his employers to let him repair the Galactica models so they could be displayed in the Universal Studios Orlando theme park.  He was given permission to refurbish the Galactica, the Cylon BaseStar, and the Gemini Freighter. Universal agreed to finance the repairs.  They gave Mark one month to complete the task. Since this was, in effect, an additional duty, he actually only had two weeks to make the repairs on all three models.

The Basestar was the easiest model to repair. The Galactica was the hardest. It had significant structural damage. The Plexiglas core of the landing bays was shattered and was only connected to the main hull by the middle pipe and the electrical cables that powered the lights. Mark also realized that he wasn’t the first to attempt some repairs, although the previous attempt was rather crude. Entire sections of the engine area and some smaller parts had been sloppily re-attached with globs of hot glue. The model had also been hung by a steel cable for a previous display and some of those cables were still attached. Mark spent two of his precious days disassembling and cleaning the Galactica model and sorting through and cataloging over a hundred loose parts.

Marks’ second challenge came when he tried to restore the lighting system.  Originally, the engine lights were powered by four halogen units, all of which needed replacing. Since the model was no longer going to be used for filming, Mark replaced these with only two units to help combat heat buildup that might further damage the model since the lights would be running for several hours a day rather than the short time needed for filming. This turned out to be an acceptable change.

As originally built, the interior of the landing bay was only about four inches deep, terminating in a small painting of the rest of the landing bay.  The painting was only in the portside landing bay, with nothing on the starboard side. For the sake of continuity, Mark removed and duplicated the painting so it would appear in both bays. The landing bay’s rows of small incandescent lights had melted the floors of both landing bays, the apparent damage caused from when the model had been on display at Universal Hollywood, when the lights were left running for hours a day. Mark totally rebuilt the interior of both landing bays.

The model’s nameplate was severely warped and badly cracked. Mark examined it and determined that it wasn’t the original name plate and was probably a replacement that had originally been added when the model was first displayed at Universal Hollywood. Since he knew that the original was simply a rectangle of styrene with press-type lettering “GALACTICA” and pencil-drawn panel lines, he opted to replicate a new nameplate part and replace the damaged one. When he removed the damaged plate, there was another one underneath bearing the name PEGASUS.

Mark finished the repairs within his limited time and returned the models to the Universal Studios. Universal opted to display the Galactica and the Gemini Freighter in a display window in the Universal Studios Store at the theme park’s entrance. They packed the Basestar back into a crate and returned it to the shelves inside the warehouse. For a year, the Galactica, Gemini Freighter, and two mannequins with Galactica uniforms greeting newcomers to the park. After that, they were removed and replaced with a large display of merchandise available at the gift shop. Universal decided not to resurrect the display at another location and returned the models to the warehouse.

Perhaps it was for the best. During their year of returned fame, the hot Florida sun and constant use of the interior lights had taken its toll on the Galactica model. Prior to its departure, the heat from the lights had caused new warping on the port side landing bay and a few kit parts had fallen off of the model in a couple of places. Sadly, rather than moving to a proper display in a museum, the Galactica was taken back to its warehouse tomb.

Battlestar Galactica fan and CGI artist Russell Sanders met Mark Bradley in late 2003 while he was displaying several quality models in Orlando, Florida. He found Mark to be friendly and very personable.  More importantly, he was tolerant.  Mark kindly agreed to the following interview:

Mark Bradley: As a hobby, as long as I can remember. I remember having just about all the old Star Trek kits in the 70s, so going back to when I would have been about 6. I started doing scratch-building when I was about 12- mostly doing model railroad buildings and related things. My first paid “professional” model building job was in 1989 for Universal Studios Florida.
I was in charge of altering/updating their models of the park that was being built at the time.

Mark Bradley: For myself, not that many any more. I’m lucky if I can complete one good one per year- maybe two.

Professionally it changes from year to year. It depends on what projects I get offered. I do graphic design, prop and costume fabrication as well as models, so it depends on what comes along. This year I have done a couple of models for Universal Studios and I am about to start on another one.

Mark Bradley: For years I was interested mostly in models of buildings. I can’t even count haw many houses and other buildings I did in various scales.

I liked to do houses from movies and TV. I have built several Psycho houses in different scales, the town square from Back to the Future, the Munster’s house just to name a few. This is where I honed my scratch-building skills.

I have only recently gotten back in to space-ships. The shuttle is probably the most involved from-the-ground-up spacecraft I have done. I next most involved was the Buck Rogers Ranger 3 shuttle. It was a casting from the original model, but it was VERY rough. Although all the detail was there, there was some bad warping. The entire bottom had to be rebuilt and the scribing and panel lines redone.

I have started on a Gemini Freighter from BSG, but I’ve stalled on that project for now. I have gotten most of the studio-scale garage kits out there and built those. Next on my list is an X-wing if I can find a kit.

I have also built an original design just for fun. Its a 5-foot long, generic spaceship that looks like some sort of tanker. It was great to do a kit-bashed project that didn’t involve matching kit parts from an existing model.

Mark Bradley: Not very long it I had the free time to do it all in one shot.
I’d say a day or two depending on how much assembly is required. Usually these kind of kits require very little of that compared to a plastic kit.

Mark Bradley: A lot of the same rules for plastic kits apply here. Generally you have to sand off seam lines, wash the parts, dry fit parts, do sub-assemblies. At this point you have to decide which parts are easier to paint unassembled.

The paint job is really the most important part of these kits. If they are cast from studio models, there are likely a lot of flaws that really cant’ be fixed (crooked lines, etc.). The final weathering is what will make it all come together and hide those flaws. I generally paint the model as if it were fresh off the assembly line and do the weathering on top of that. A few burn marks with darker colors are always appropriate, but most of my weathering is done with lighter versions of the base colors. It really gives it that “aged” look.

Mark Bradley: As mentioned above, I was doing architectural models for Universal Studios Florida. They had a bunch of items that had just come in to be used as displays or decorations. The Galactica and the other models were the only things that needed repair. Naturally since I was the only in-house model builder, they asked me. It also didn’t hurt that I showed an interest when the models came in.

Mark Bradley: Well it’s really not a controversy to anyone except the current owner of the model. For some reason, he blames me for parts that were missing when he received the model. I guess since it is known that I was the one who restored it, he sees me as the guilty party- even though many years had passed between when I had it and when he got it from the studio. I suppose I can’t blame him for being disappointed that certain things were missing.

However, the way he went about hounding me to “give up” what I had was just wrong. Even if I did have what he was looking for, I would not be inclined to help him out after because of his “approach”.

Believe me, I am happy that this and the other models are in the hands of a private collector. The studio just didn’t care about them enough to keep them in good condition or even keep them at all. If he didn’t have the Galactica now, it would probably not exist at all.

Mark Bradley: Hmmm… Anything would be fun as long as I had enough time to get it right- that almost never happens.

Mark Bradley: Anyone who researches and builds a replica like that spends A LOT of time and
money- more than most reasonable people would! Not only do you end up being a lot of kits to get just one or two parts, you also buy a lot of kits that you think ‘might’ have the right parts only to find out you’re wrong. Not to mention all the hours spent staring at the available reference photos trying to identify parts as well as the shapes of the mode. In my case, I had to build the shuttle three times to get the overall shape as close as I did.

When you are finished , there is a natural tendency to feel like you shouldn’t just ‘give away’ all you’ve invested. It becomes very personal.  If it were up to me, I might share the info on a website or something.  However, I had others help me research this particular model and they have requested that I not share all the data. The info is as much theirs as it is mine and I have to respect their wishes.

Mark Bradley: My all-time favorite is the Colonial Viper. I just can’t get enough of that one. That arrangement of shapes is still very dynamic even with the new changes. I even liked the Trendmasters toy that came out a few years ago.

Still, nothing tops the original!

My other passion though seems to be with the uglier utilitarian-like the BSG Shuttle. Really all the BSG main ships are very impressive, even more so than some of the ships from Star Wars. The Galactica herself is as classic to me as is the TOS Enterprise. I have yet to see anything to top them since.

Mark Bradley: I got really lucky with that one.  For some reason I really like this one as a kid watching Buck. I used to try to draw blueprints of it on graph paper from watching the episodes- and this was before VCRs!

In 1995, I got it as part of a trade package for some SeaQuest costume pieces (I worked on that show in 1994-95). It was very rough and probably not worth much to him, but I was thrilled to get a casting of the very model I had obsessed over years ago. It was fun to get it and see those parts of the ship I had never been able to see on screen. I didn’t actually get around to rehabing it until a couple of years ago. I hope to mold it so I can build the other Buck and Galactica versions.

RS: What are your other hobbies?

Mark Bradley: Same as my work: costume and prop building and graphic design. I used to be into model railroading, but I haven’t had time for that in several years.

Mark Bradley: I have just built a new office at our house, converting 1/3 of a 3-car garage. I have a shelf where my studio-scale models are now, and I will be putting up more to display other smaller models.

Mark Bradley: I don’t know yet! As far as I know there are no problems with the materials breaking down over time.

Mark Bradley: The only maintenance comes when the models get transported to shows, etc.  Usually there is something that gets broken or scratched. To transport them, I have to build a custom box or crate for each model. Models with lots of surface detail like the shuttle have to be ‘mounted’ within the crate so that nothing is touching the surface. Other smoother models can be packed with bubble wrap in a container.

Mark Bradley: Not really—only for professional clients such as the theme parks or movie/TV productions.

– Galactica restoration article written by Russell Sanders and based on information from