Interviews with Brian Muir

In order to try and make this site as informative as possible, I've taken the opportunity of interviewing some of the original artisans, prop makers and technicians who worked on the original Trilogy in the 70's and 80's. Elsewhere you will see my interview with John Mollo, the Oscar-winning costumer Designer for Star Wars and Ghandi, but here are a couple of interviews with Brian Muir. Brian Muir was the artist who among other things sculpted the original Darth Vader back in 1976 from Ralph McQuarries concept art. In addition he worked on C-3PO with Liz Moore and the Stormtrooper Armour. Note that Brian unfortunately did not have any mementos from his work on ANH, so this is mainly text-only.


StarWarsHelmets.com Interview with

Brian Muir  - 22nd May 2005

In order to try and make this site as informative as possible, I've taken the opportunity of interviewing some of the original artisans, prop makers and technicians who worked on the original Trilogy in the 70's and 80's. Elsewhere you will see my interview with John Mollo, the Oscar-winning costumer Designer for Star Wars and Ghandi, but here is a new piece on Brian Muir, the artist who sculpted the original Darth Vader back in 1976. Note that Brian unfortunately did not have any mementos from his work on ANH, so this is mainly text-only.


Brian Muir worked for Elstree Studios Art Department back in the seventies having joined them as an apprentice. His involvement with the Star Wars project was mainly on the Darth Vader character, but also to a lesser extent on C-3PO, working under the overall guidance of the principal costume designer for the movie, John Mollo. Elstree's Art Department was also responsible for some of the props, vehicles and sets used, with work commencing I THINK in January 1976.

1) Brian sculpted the Darth Vader helmet and armor working to designs provided by John Mollo (we assume one of Ralph McQuarrie's illustrations). Brian specifically sculpted Vader from a single lined sketch of Vader's 3/4 angle, although we've not been able to trace the drawing. The photo below from one of John Mollo's art books shows something similar from Ralph McQuarrie, augmented by some additional highlights from Mollo (including an unused wing section). Thanks to John Mollo for these shots.

2)In order that the Vader helmet would fit the actor wearing it, they took a life cast off Dave Prowse and Brian sculpted the helmet and hard costume pieces around his physical dimensions (which BTW thanks to Hal9000 were; Height: 6'7", Weight: 273lbs, Chest: 50", Waist: 38", Hips: 45", Neck: 18.5", Biceps: 18")

3) Using Clay, Brian then sculpted around this "head cast" and produced the Darth Vader face we all know and love. He sculpted the dome as a separate piece and also the upper chest armour, leg shins etc.

4) Moulds were made of the clay face, dome and armour allowing the Fiberglass cast helmets to be produced. This work was completed by the Elstree Plasterer’s and Brian agreed with John Mollo's figures, believing they produced “two or three” finished helmets, adding “they  worked more on one helmet so it was really comfortable for Dave to wear” suggesting that the majority of filming was done with just a single helmet.

5) Though not deeply involved in the fiberglass work, he thought the moulds would have been made from a “type of silicone with a fiberglass case to keep it rigid”. The casts themselves were made of Fiberglass although interestingly he thought they would have used a Black gelcoat “which would have meant that they wouldn’t have had to paint the helmet but would have buffed it up instead”. This could possibly explain the unique finish of the ANH helmet dome since it may not have actually been painted.

6) He wasn’t aware of the 2-tone paint scheme (or rather the grey highlighting) – although this is not anything unusual given the stage in the design process he worked. Ed - it further suggests in my mind that the grey/black colour scheme only came about after the helmet was used on-set, in the same way as the TIE Helmets which left SDS black, yet were painted with the "Widows Tears" highlights on-screen.

7) The original clay sculpt was – wait for it – thrown in the bin, as per normal practice. He doesn’t know what happened to the moulds and assumed that Lucas took them back with him to the States.

8) Brian also worked on the C-3PO costume. The original sculpt was done by Liz Moore, again out of clay. Brian was required to take Liz’s initial sculpt and split it up into sections and then add the detailing. He added that there was a lot of “engineering” work required on it such that it could be worn as well as the additional detailing”. He said that some of this was done in association with another 3rd party company, possibly Norank.

9) Brian also worked on The Phantom Menace filmed at Leavesdon Studios in the late nineties fabricating the large spacecraft leg (Amidala’s Naboo Cruiser?). He had bid to produce a number of vehicles/sets/props etc. but was only successful on the Ship leg.

I'm looking to hopefully meet up with Brian again as was clearly a major influence on probably THE most famous screen villain. Keep checking back!

As an interesting side issue, its recently emerged that one of the early Prototype Vader designs by Ralph McQuarrie was later used as the basis of the CZ-3 Jawa Sandcrawler Droid (also seen in Mos Eisley). As with the Vader, this was sculpted by Brian Muir and was created like the Death Star Droid to merely fulfil a background role in the movie.

Brian's response to this was "I sculpted Darth Vader, then CZ3 and finally the Death Star Droid. Both droids body parts were made up from C3P0 etc"

"An old guy called Arthur Healey came on the film for a couple of weeks and did a chest piece which I thought they had discarded but to me it looks as though it's the one used for CZ3. The droids heads were sculpted over the plaster cast of Anthony Daniel's head."

So although the CZ-3 drawing may have been an early design for the Darth Vader character, the sculpt made was not a Vader prototype (if that makes sense)

Below a  better shot of the CZ-3 Droid.

Looking at the chest section it could also be that this was also part of the original Vader concept. The rest of the costume looks very similar to C-3PO i.e. a collaboration between Liz Moore and Brian Muir.


A Conversation with Brian Muir
By SithLord (pseudonym), 2007

Darth Vader has endured as a villainous focal point for the Star Wars saga from its inception. Based on George Lucas' concept of the dark villain, artist and designer Ralph McQuarrie gave us our first glimpse of Darth Vader in what are now famous sketches and paintings. Those images made it possible for George Lucas to successfully promote his ideas to 20th Century Fox in 1975. Production and principal photography was to take place at Elstree Studios in England in 1976. Production designer John Barry and costume designer John Mollo were responsible for creating a suit for Darth Vader based on the McQuarrie concept that could be worn by actor David Prowse. However, the helmet and armor for Vader would require an experienced fabrication team including a sculptor who could successfully translate the two dimensional images of Vader into a three dimensional, physical reality. As there was only a single accredited sculptor in England at the time, that task fell quite by chance to a young sculptor by the name of Brian Muir. Brian Muir sculpted the helmet and armor for Darth Vader, giving life in three dimensions to the villain conceptualized by Ralph McQuarrie. Mr. Muir's portfolio spans over 38 years and includes such films as The Prince and the Pauper, The Martian Chronicles, Star Wars: A New Hope, Alien (working alongside H. R. Giger), Superman the Movie, the Indiana Jones trilogy, no less than eight James Bond films, Clash of the Titans (working with stop-motion animation giant Ray Harryhausen), Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Lost in Space, Alexander the Great, Cutthroat Island, both of the Laura Croft: Tomb Raider films, and the list goes on. I caught up with this pleasant and unassuming sculptor in his native England and found out more about his little known role in bringing Darth Vader to life.

When were you first approached to work on Star Wars and what were you working on at the time?

Actually I had a break from the film industry, I had been working on churches, houses of parliament, and I had work unveiled by the Queen, the Queen Mother, that sort of thing. I had a phone call out of the blue by the old chap that I had been trained under, and he said that there was a film called "Star Wars" at Elstree Film Studios, and asked if I was interested in starting on it. Liz Moore [the sculptress who created C-3PO] was already working on it, and I really fancied going back into the film industry. So I said yes, I would start, and I began work on the production in January of 1976.

You are known for sculpting the helmet and armor for Darth Vader; what was the process in bringing Darth Vader to life in three dimensions?

I actually got a small sketch from John Mollo down in the wardrobe department and from that design, I sculpted Darth Vader in clay onto a plaster head of Dave Prowse. We had a certain amount of thickness we could use in clay, so that his appearance was as threatening as possible, while I still had to make sure that it would all fit afterwards. The mask was done separately, so the mask was then molded and cast. I then had a cast in plaster of the mask and on top of that I sculpted the helmet in clay. The helmet was then molded using the plaster head as a molding ground [base] knowing full well that it would then fit back onto the mask. Once the plasterers had molded the mask and helmet, they were actually cast out in fiberglass with color in the resin so they were black, then maybe they were painted as well.

How about the armor?

The shoulder armor and leg armor were actually sculpted on a plaster figure of Dave Prowse using sketches I had from John Mollo. Because whatever I sculpted in clay, the body becomes a molding ground so that the return of the clay when they mold it would always be cast out so that the armor would definitely fit back onto Dave Prowse perfectly. They would actually put foam into the back of the armor anyway.

How long did it take you to sculpt the Darth Vader helmet?

By helmet you mean mask and helmet? I think it was roughly from memory around about two weeks.

So it might have been one week on the mask and one week on the helmet?

No, it probably would have been a bit more on the mask, I was doing seven day weeks so it probably would have been about 9 days on the mask and probably about 4 on the helmet.

Were you rushed?

No, I wasn't terribly rushed. I know I wasn't long on it. I did the droid heads fairly quick, as they were about 3 or 4 days each. I spent quite a bit of time on stuff like cleaning up afterwards. The stormtroopers took quite a fair time, because they included legs, chest, back, arms, everything really so that was a fair bit of time, and then carving them in the plaster again. So it was all the processes at the time but the actual sculpting periods weren't that long. But I'm recognized in this country as being fairly quick anyway. We re-created two sets of the Planet of the Apes set, that originally took a year to produce in the USA, in about six days in polystyrene.

Was there anything apart from the John Mollo sketch that inspired you when you were sculpting the helmet of Darth Vader?

Really it was taking what I had there which wasn't much really and developing it, and in the developing of it into three dimensions, there were just things that happened, as strange as that may sound. From my past experience of sculpting on various things, form comes easily from my mind, as I see things very easily in three dimensions. So that using the basis which wasn't much really, just an outline drawing from John Mollo that wasn't very big, I took that and developed it into the form of Darth Vader.

Did you receive any feedback from George Lucas on your final design?

I can't remember getting any feedback from George Lucas, no. He must have been happy with it though because he did come up a couple of times, and seemed happy with what was going on. Whether he had a lot of other things to worry about, maybe Darth Vader wasn't at the top of his list at the time, but the [production] designer [John Barry] whose main responsibility was to get it looking right, was happy as well. It was him that suggested putting the tear ducts in [under Darth Vader's eyes] and one or two small alterations. I definitely remember John Barry suggesting that detail under the eyes in order to break up that area a little bit. I had very few changes to make on it, really. I seem to remember there was one or two little things said about the tusks, maybe I brought them out slightly further. What changes were made were made in the clay. Just slight things but nothing major. He was quite happy with the way the head went. On the suit of armor I think John Barry had more to say about that, whether a line needed moving over, or formed it slightly heavier. He seemed to have more involvement on the actual suit than the helmet. He seemed to be happy from the word go about how it was going. John Barry was the production designer and he had the overall say on everything design-wise, the sets, the suits, everything.

Did you see the finished Darth Vader suit or were you able to go on set?

I did go on set and see it but one moves onto the next project. After Darth Vader I did the droids so I was very involved up in the art department. You get there in the morning and you sculpt away and the day goes by and, really, you don't tend to go down on set to watch filming. And if you were seen on set watching the filming they wanted to know what you were doing down there, [laughs] and would say "why aren't you up in the art department doing what you are being paid to do?"

Were you pleased with how the costume designers completed the "look" of Darth Vader?

I was, yes. I think the cloak was a master-stroke, and I think the whole suit came together very well. I was pleased with the overall look of it.

I understand you did some work on the sculpture of C-3PO, can you tell us a little bit about your contribution to the look of C-3PO?

C-3PO was as you well know sculpted by Liz Moore. Liz left the picture probably about four weeks after I started. What I did in plaster I carved the whole of the suit up to sharpen it up so all of the edges were clean. I made some alterations around the back of the front mask where the joint line is. I sculpted the hands on Tony Daniels. And that's about it, really. It was probably only a week's work, with just slight alterations. The main contribution was really sharpening it up so that it was absolutely pristine. The slight alterations didn't really come to that much, but they were done and I did them and as I say the only new contribution were the hands. It was very strange because normally they would mold Tony Daniel's hands and give me a cast of his hands, and I would sculpt it on them. But because it was a last minute thing, Tony actually came up to the workshop and I actually sculpted them on his hands. Whether he would remember that or not I don't know, but it happened. It's not something that happens every day to you is it, that someone sculpts something on your hands.

I remember you mentioning that the sharpening that you did was to make C-3PO's look more like metal?

Yes, to make it more like metal whereby actually all the corners were absolutely sharper. You can carve plaster with wood carving chisels and that is what I actually did. Wood carving chisels are extremely sharp and you can create very sharp edges with them by cutting it extremely cleanly.

Did you sculpt any other Star Wars characters? If so can you tell us a little bit about them?

Well, when I started off on the picture, the first thing I did was sculpted the body armor for all of the stormtroopers. That was everything on the stormtroopers apart from the helmet, really. It was the same process with that, but we didn't actually do it on an actor. We got an average-sized person and molded that and I sculpted everything on a figure. That was then molded and cast in plaster and carved up to be sharp. After sculpting Darth Vader I went on to do the two droid's heads based on sketches by John Mollo. [note: Protocol droid RA-7 seen in the sandcrawler and Death Star, and secretary droid CZ-1 seen in the sand crawler and at Mos Eisley when Luke sells his landspeeder]. I was told at the time they were just for the [trash] compactor.

How long did you work on the Star Wars production?

It worked out to be about 5 months in the end, 20 weeks. But I worked at one point 76 days without a day off. So I was putting in a lot of hours within that 5 months and that's probably why I turned so much work out in that period.

What was your impression of the production when you were working, and were you told very much about the plot of the film?

I personally was told nothing about the plot whatsoever, really, other than the very basics, that it was based on a fairy tale, on King Arthur. Really not too much at all; we were kept in the dark to a point.

Did you get a chance to meet Ralph McQuarrie, the conceptual artist that defined the original look of Darth Vader?

I can't remember meeting him to be honest with you. He might have come in because he did the conceptual work on it but I can't remember meeting him.

Did you get to keep anything from the Star Wars production?

No not a single thing. The only thing I did get is the folio given to crew members autographed with thanks from George Lucas and Gary Kurtz.

When did you see the finished version of Star Wars in theaters?

I actually went to the crew showing which is normally about a week before the premiere showing of Star Wars, they call it a preview over here.

And what was your impression?

I thought it was fantastic. It was before its time, really. We had never seen anything, I mean CGI or computer work, like that before. Immediately when the large spaceship came over everyone just started clapping. This is the crew that worked on it, and we all thought it was going to be a load of nonsense, but then immediately we thought it was a fantastic film. At the end of the film itself it got a standing ovation which is unheard of in crew showings really because to a point you take it all for granted.

What was your reaction when you first saw Darth Vader appear on the screen?

My reaction was seeing my creation come to life on the screen. It was fantastic to see it.

When Darth Vader first uttered his words to Princess Leia, what did you think of the voice behind the mask you created? Was it the kind of voice you expected to hear?

Well to be quite honest with you I was expecting to hear Dave Prowse' voice. When I didn't, to be honest, I thought the voice [of James Earl Jones] was very good. I was expecting to hear Dave Prowse because we all knew that he was in the suit, but it obviously wasn't his voice from the get go. But it worked quite well.

What did you think of Darth Vader re-appearing in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi?

Seeing the character again in the films, I thought it was fine. It was something that I had created, and the more he was in the films, the better it was. It was seeing your creation carry on.

Did you contribute any work to any of the Star Wars prequel movies?

Just on the first one [The Phantom Menace], I did the landing gear for Queen Amidala's ship.

Were you pleased to see Darth Vader appear once again recently on the big screen in Revenge of the Sith?

Again, it's a character that's become so popular over the years. It gives you a thrill to know that you've actually created something that's become such a big thing throughout the world. A sculptor is someone who creates, so you like to know that people have appreciated the work you've done.

The Darth Vader helmet for Revenge of the Sith was modified a bit from your original sculpture. What did you think of the new look of the Darth Vader helmet?

I thought it was pretty good actually, not that I've studied it too much. They've cleaned it up slightly from the original. It looked fine.

My four year old niece knew about Darth Vader before she even saw Star Wars, what do you think about the longevity of the appeal of Darth Vader to fans of all ages?

I think it will stand in time for many years to come. We are 30 years on now, so I could see it going on and on. With the way it's going with the internet, conventions, the fan base just seems to be growing and growing. I do see it as an ongoing thing. Who can put how many years on something like that, but it is a growing trend and let's hope it carries on. Having done thousands of bits of work of varying degrees from trees and rocks to architectural work to creatures like the space jockey [Alien 1979] and big figures, really it was just another job. But with the fact that it will be remembered, I am quite proud having done it.

More Vader Details from Brian Muir

- April 2008

Brian entered the "Forum Scene" in April 2008 and was kind to answer a number of questions from fans. The following are highlights from these dialogues on the Prop Den.

I was the only sculptor at Elstree once Liz Moore had left - we worked together for 4 weeks. She had sculpted several prototypes for C3P0 heads before I started on the film. I sculpted Darth Vader (helmet and armour), Stormtrooper armour, 2 droids heads (CZ and RA-7) and changes on C3P0. The plaster casts all had to be sharpened up.

I was only on the film for four and a half months so there was no time to do prototypes of each helmet. Or maybe they were just happy with my work The make-up dept were responsible for producing the strange characters in the Cantina - Stuart Freeborn being head of dept.

The original Vader mask was sculpted with a front and back on a lifecast of Dave Prowse. The complete mask was moulded and cast in plaster and I then sculpted the helmet over it. The front and back was sculpted as one but the two halves were only created by the moulding and casting process. ....it was very claustrophobic and hot and was discarded.

In order to sculpt the Darth Vader character, I was given one sketch from John Mollo which was a 3/4 view, no shading just a line drawing. I don't know what happened to the drawing but it hasn't appeared in any of the Star Wars books I've seen. The character evolved in the sculpting - I wasn't given any guidance as far as emotions etc.

The three clips on top of the mask were for connecting the back and front together and velcro to be used for the neck area. I had no input with the connecting mechanism - I'm not sure but I think it was Special Effects who were responsible for it. The plaster cast was taken from the mould that was produced from the clay mask. I then sharpened the features on the plaster head with wood carving chisels. It was then moulded and cast in fibreglass to create the final piece.

The plaster cast of Dave Prowse with clay still attached to back of head after moulding has taken place - showing that a back was sculpted. There was only one plaster cast. When I'd sharpened it up and it was remoulded and cast in fibreglass I then used the same plaster cast to sculpt the clay helmet on. As the clay sculpt took shape, changes were made in the clay under the instructions of the Production Designer, John Barry.

Later Brian comments and confirms that as previously thought, there were no "Prototype" Vader helmets "no concept heads were sculpted at Elstree, just the one screen helmet design"

As far as "How Many Vader helmets were made", we're still not sure. Brian adds..I saw raw castings and finished helmets but I can't say I saw all three in both stages. The helmets would all differ as no casting would be exactly the same due to the fact that the rubber has to be placed back into the case and it will never sit into the case exactly the same each time. Also in the laying up of the gel coat you can have air bubbles appear in different areas which are filled and rubbed down. These are extremely subtle differences but nevertheless are there.

I sculpted the mask in the sculpting shop I had in the Art Dept and then I went into the Plaster shop to sculpt the armour afterwards. Yes, I did sculpt the shin guards. They were cast in fibreglass along with the armour.



Click Here for the John Mollo Interview