Outland: In Space No-one Can Hear You Punch The Clock

outland 3

Writer / director Peter Hyams’ Outland posits a hard science fiction environment of remote titanium ore mining outposts dotted throughout our solar system. In one such roughneck mining town, based on one of Jupiter’s moons, Io, new marshall William O’Neil (Sean Connery) uncovers an illegal supply of performance enhancing drugs distributed by the colony chief, Mark Sheppard (Peter Boyle). The drugs allow the miners to work beyond their limits, breaking mining records and securing bonuses. An unfortunate side effect of repeated use can be psychotic episodes and burnout – O’Neill’s tour of duty coincides with a spike in suspicious deaths. Unprepared to look the other way, he finds himself dangerously isolated, with hired killers due on the next shuttle to silence him. Only the cynical chief medic Doctor Lazarus (Frances Sternhagen) steps up to help…

The main thing that stands out about Outland and enhances the suspenseful High Noon in space story is the hellishly realised, grubby, grungy, industrial setting.; a superb combination of the work of production designer Philip Harrison, model makers Martin Bower and Bill Pearson, and costume designer John Mollo. Below are extracts from the films’ 1981 press release.

Io, Io, it’s off to work we go…


As conceived by Hyams, working with production designer Philip Harrison, the mining complex is a silver-grey city which rises from a sulphurous plain, consisting of seven modules, each with a separate function, including the refinery, a solar station from which power is generated, two greenhouses which produce not only vegetables for the community but also oxygen for the plants, the living quarters and the space shuttle landing pad.


Outland Screencap

The principal set – the workers’ quarters complex – is a massive structure. Layer upon layer of starkly functional metallic cubicles tower from floor to ceiling like so many cages. Row upon row of protective helmets and back packs are visible, suspended from enormous metal hangers. Dominating the scene is an awesome airlock door which protects workers from the hostile environment and through which they enter to the mine shaft.

Outland Screencap

“The mining colony is the location, not the subject,” asserts Hyams. “The film is about a man who has reached a point in his life where he draws the line, where he sees a wrong and feels a responsibility to stand up to it.”

Hyams describes that central character, portrayed by Sean Connery, as, “A stubborn man. A decent man. A man with a sense of strength as well as intelligence and vulnerability.”

Hyams, who views Connery as an extraordinary actor, says of his star, “His emotions seem so very close to the surface of the skin that when you see him on screen, you can truly sense what he’s feeling. Certainly an enormous asset for a film actor.”

As Federal District Marshal William T. O’Neil, head of security on Con-Am #27, Connery sees himself as a man on his own particular odyssey. Alone against the system.

He was drawn to the role, he says, because Hyams’ concept of the future was a dramatically taut story dealing with credible conflicts and problems, rather than merely a showcase for futuristic hardware.

Hyams perceives such a future frontier to be hard, gritty and so difficult, demanding and unpleasant that only the promise of quick big money can tempt workers to put up with the hellish conditions and dangers involved. Living space is at a costly premium in a mining colony like Con-Am #27. Economy dictates that workers be herded together in small functional units which have a sombre, claustrophobic, almost penitentiary-like atmosphere. The attempt at providing a recreational outlet with a leisure club is not enough to allay the building tensions, resentments and personal clashes that charge the atmosphere.

From a production viewpoint, the concept of the leisure club was a challenging one, and depends for its impact, not only on the design of the crowded room in which workers find whatever relaxation is available to them, but in the erotic entertainment provided by the dancers who interweave to electronic music in green laser beams of light. The threat of violence hangs in the air like the haze of smoke in the flourescent lights which shine up harshly from the tables and the bar. On Con-Am #27, the spectre of violent crime seems always imminent. When it erupts, prison cells await the offenders. These too are uniquely designed, with neither bars, nor steel doors. They are, rather, glass-fronted cubicles in which, with no artificial gravity provided, prisoners free float in space suits attached to oxygen pipes.

Sean Connery, James B. Sikking and Mark Boyle

The sense of totally believable reality with which Hyams invested both script and production inspired Academy-Award-winning costume designer John Mollo to create workmen’s space suits with what he calls a technological look quite different from the classical, heavy space suit designs.

But, of course, the ultimate reality is conveyed in the performance, and the company of actors Hyams has chosen reflect this brilliantly.

In addition to Connery’s commanding portrayal, Peter Boyle creates a powerful portrait of malevolence as the head of Con-Am #27. Frances Sternhagen, as the doctor, brings insight and great inner strength to her role as the one person in the mining operation with the courage and integrity to be supportive of Connery. James B. Sikking as the marshal’s aide, Kika Markham as his wife, and Clarke Peters as a deputy officer all bring a keen sense of presence and awareness to their roles with total commitment to the overview of reality which writer/director Hyams sought and, through both performance and production, achieved.



The following interview was given during filming at Pinewood Studios by Peter Hyams. At the time of the interview the young director, dressed in his usual casual working attire, had completed filming a complicated chase sequence with Connery. As lights were switched off on the set, a towering, complex construction of steel, Hyams discussed Outland.

Q: The action of Outland takes place at a mining colony called Con-Am #27 which is situated on Io. Can you tell something of how you derived your concept of such a setting?

PH: I envision it as similar to the Suez when the canal was built, or Alaska when the pipeline was laid. I thought of the Dodge Cities of the past and the oil rigs of the present. These are places which attract people with suspect pasts, who have little to lose and are out for as much gain as possible in the shortest amount of time. For that, they are willing to undergo a life of tremendous hardship, physically and mentally. Creature comforts barely exist on a place like Con-Am #27. Things don’t work particularly well. The heat is oppressive to the point of being unbearable. It’s filthy. It’s claustrophobic. And there are only three things to do: work as hard as you can, pass the time by sleeping, drinking or taking drugs, and sex. Liaisons there are probably as perfunctory as possible. I see it as a place of enormous boredom and physical danger. It’s mean. And it’s nasty.

Sean Connery and Mark Boyle

Q: What is your perception of the future?

PH: It’s not lucite domes where people glide back and forth wearing jump suits, and everybody is perma-pressed. A mining operation like Con-Am #27 represents a frontier, and frontiers strike me as sinister, dangerous places of enormous hardship.

Q: Does directing a big budget film affect your approach?

PH: Any movie I’ve made, I’ve tried to get everything I possibly could on the screen. If I get $100, I try to get $120 worth on film. There have certainly been some remarkable films about the future in the past five years. Those movies, not so coincidentally, were made by Alan Ladd Jr., and those who are now with the Ladd Company. I have an enormous heritage, and it’s a formidable task to try to live up to it.

Q: How do you describe your central character, Federal District Marshal William T. O’Neil, as played by Sean Connery?

PH: He’s a cop. After all, law and order will continue to pose problems on each new frontier as it always has in the past. O’Neil is a stubborn man. A decent man, with a not particularly distinguished career. I imagine hes been on the force about twenty years, is outspoken enough to have gotten into trouble about it. He’s a man who ultimately draws a line and says, “Something’s wrong, and I’m not going to go along with it. I’m going to try to stop it.” It precipitates trouble when a man does that.

Sean Connery and Peter Hyams

Connery and Hyams on set

Q: What’s it been like working with Sean Connery?

PH: Sean is an extraordinary actor, and he has that rare quality, his emotions seem very close to the surface of his skin. You have the impression, when you photograph him, that you can truly sense what he’s feeling. He has a very powerful image on screen, and he’s a tremendous craftsman.

Sean Connery and Mark Boyle

Q: What have you found most difficult about making this film?

PH: Not allowing myself to get distracted by the toys, so that the story gets lost in a welter of special effects. Outland deals with the problems of some very human beings, and those problems are more important than metal and plastic things which do what metal and plastic things have never done before.

Q: The sets for Outland are spectacular, particularly the workers’ quarters complex. Can you tell us something of the concepts behind them?

PH: Basically, I envisioned a place where function was the only requisite. The idea of a mining operation like Con-Am #27 would have to be to cram as many men and women workers into the smallest amount of space absolutely necessary. Give them air to breathe, food to eat, clothing to wear, and that’s about it. Take the shuttle, for instance. You design a big box, so you can put as much freight in it as possible, and then stick big, nasty engines on it so you can get it up and get it down. In other words, these places and quarters and vehicles are designed to do something and not to look good. As a result, you see the wheels, the gears, the pipes. Consider the Apollo capsule. If you’ve looked at the landing modules, you’ve seen the rivets and gauges. When I asked a man from NASA why they wrapped mylar around the bottom part of the module that landed on the Moon, he told me that since nobody was in the bottom part, it was cheaper to just wrap the mylar around that section with no particular shape since, after all, it was going to be left there. The only consideration was the performing of a task. And that’s true of all the designs for Outland. Function is the only criterion. The prime object is to protect workers from a hostile environment, while they perform their difficult and dangerous jobs. Outland deals with the future as a location, not a subject.


Outland Screencap

John Mollo, costume designer, had his work cut out for him, so to speak.

Writer/director Peter Hyams sought a harsh look in keeping with the difficult and dangerous work taking place on Con-Am #27. He was not looking for space-age designer clothes. Mollos task was to design for the ordinary man of the future.

An acknowledged expert on military costumes, who has six books on the subject to his credit, Mollos career in films began as a technical adviser on The Charge Of The Light Brigade. But there can be no greater testimony to his talent as a designer for the screen than the fact that his very first effort brought him an Academy Award and the kind of recognition designers dream about but seldom achieve. The name of that first film was Star Wars, and his subsequent efforts have been no less distinguished, encompassing The Empire Strikes Back and Alien in addition to Outland.

He finds the challenge of his current assignment particularly fascinating. Basically, these are work outfits that have been issued to the workers by Con-Am. We decided to aim for a more technological look rather than go for the classical heavy space suits with which audiences have become familiar. At Con-Am #27, the workers wear overalls in primary colors which denote their particular jobs. And they put on helmets and backpacks when they go out into the hostile environment.

Prior to his foray into the world of designing for films, Mollo was best known for his book Military Fashion, covering the history of European and American uniforms from 1640 to 1914. It is a comprehensive view of the subject and made its author a recognised authority on uniforms. In line with this, he is particulary proud of the workers’ helmets he designed for Outland. Considering them to be unique.

“The helmet is made of white plastic and vacuum formed which means that the plastic is drawn down over a mold in a vacuum, like making a box of chocolates, and the result is very lightweight.”

Two lights are affixed to the outside of the helmet on either side of the head with small lights around the inside of the perspex visor. Fans have been put in the back for the convenience of those wearing the helmets.

Says Mollo, “Without ventilation, you often find the actors are flaking away.”

Outland space suit

One of the original suits used in the film (more images here)

The society on Con-Am #27 is androgynous. Men and women dress alike. The leisure clothes are not too dissimilar from those worn by off-duty oil rig workers. “Or,” Mollo adds slyly, “a film crew on location after work.”

In his office at Pinewood Studios in England, Mollo sat amidst countless pairs of laceless boots in various stages of being dyed. On the walls were a variety of multi-coloured patches, each neatly labelled to symbolise the different functions of various workers. Some are obvious, such as the classic snake design indicating medical staff and crossed spanners for maintenance.

Why does Mollo prefer designing uniforms to general fashion? “Because,” he replies, “every uniform has a job that goes with it. That defines it and gives it a function. I suppose I really like it because it’s practical.”


Coffee dregs splattered against an already grimy locker door. Hyams, on set, grinned with satisfaction as he watched the liquid drip down unevenly, staining the surface even more.

Outland, is a suspense-filled drama set on Con-Am #27. Living space is at a premium dictating that workers be herded together in small, functional units which have a sombre, claustrophobic, almost penitentiary-like atmosphere.

Explains the writer/director, “The mining colony is a location, not a subject. A frontier is a hard, gritty, unpleasant place to be, and the people building it are always looking over their shoulders rather than ahead. Trying to stay alive and putting up with Hell while making some quick big money is the kind of commerical venture Con-Am #27 is involved in.”

Working closely with Hyams, production designer Philip Harrison created a very realistic milieu. The workers’ quarters, dominated by the bunk area, tower from floor to ceiling. The layer upon layer of metallic, horizontal cubicles resemble an endless succession of rabbit hutches.

The cubicles represent a masterpiece of minimal design. Over each bed are two television screens: one for data on the mining community, the other for entertainment.

Says producer Richard A. Roth, “You can imagine that the kind of entertainment programmed to the workers is not for children.”

Points out Harrison, “The beds themselves are made of thermal foam so they can be hosed down.”

Outland Screencap

The lack of privacy, Roth likens to life aboard an aircraft carrier. The locker room is on the ground floor, with its long row of shower heads backing onto a row of grimy basins. Flat flourescent light emanates from ceiling and floors.

Says Harrison, “We used perforated sheet metal because you can light through it. Also, it has an interesting texture and looks industrial.”

The airlock door is superbly engineered. Protecting the workers from the hostile environment outside, it offers entrance to the mine shaft elevator. Harrison is particularly proud of its design. The door is the machine itself rather than having hidden works, and a complex mass of machinery and mechanics it is.

A corridor leads to the airlock door with ugly pipes jutting out at waist level, where the men can fill up their oxygen tanks. Adjacent to this, row upon row of helmets and bulky backpacks are in evidence, suspended from giant metal hangers like disembodied tin soldiers.

“They give a sinister look to the place,” observes Hyams. “You imagine they could come to life.”

Hyams and Harrison feel that when technology is advanced enough, in the near future, for this kind of commercial community to exist, many of the designs for the film will in fact be accurate.

Says Harrison, “To design something functionally means to design it logically.”


Outland concept painting

Concept painting that the model builders used to guide them

The silver-grey city on stilts, rising from a sulphurous plain, is an awe-inspiring sight. It is a superbly intricate model of a mining complex on Io, built on a scale of 1 to 200.

Explains Hyams, who conceived it with production designer Philip Harrison, “We decided the place would look like an oil rig, extraordinarily functional with the machinery very much in evidence.”

The model was built by Martin Bower and Bill Pearson of Bowerhouse Model Associates, and special effects supervisor John Stears.

Outland Shuttle Model

Martin Bower and the reconstructed shuttle model

Says Stears, “Io is unable to escape the magnetic forces of Jupiter and gets pulled in all directions, like a lump of dough. As a result it generates a lot of heat and is much hotter than the other moons orbiting Jupiter. Besides which, it is volcanic. Because of this, we conceived the complex as being built on stilts. Each stilt is on a ball bearing which moves in response to signals from lasers. Therefore, if the surface moves, the stilts will realign themselves and the actual structures will always stay perpendicular.”

Outland Screencap

The length of the model is approximately 18 feet, which represents two miles.

“It is made,” Stears explains, “of many different types of plastic and metal. Because we used extremely thin injection moulding, we had to have a tool especially made for us that was sufficiently fine to make all the geodetic structures. These all come from one small piece of injection moulding about 5″ x 4″. And they all have to be cut up and joined together.”

The mining complex consists of seven separate modules, each with a specific function. There is the mine; the refinery – nicknamed the Pompidou Centre after Frances’ controversial modern museum; a solar station from which power is generated; two greenhouses which produce not only vegetables for the community but also oxygen for the plants; the living quarters and the space shuttle landing pad. Most of them are mechanised and include radar scanners, elevators, deflector shields and gantries.

Outland Screencap

Hyams envisioned the space shuttle as looking something like the Statten Island Ferry. “The object of the shuttle is to take as much freight as possible, so it seemed expedient to just take a big box and stick huge engines on it, so you can get it up and down.”

In further describing the model, Stears says, “We used more than four miles of fibre optics to light it, and had to test 20 or 30 different types before finding one that would transmit the right resolution of light. Normal fibre optics are directional, so you can only see the light being passed through it if you look straight at the fibre. If you look at it from a slightly oblique angle, it normally diminishes rapidly. What we are using, however, is a particular type of plastic optic which dispenses the light and gives us an angle of light of about 45 degrees with little or no fall off. We are able to photograph at f22 which is the equivalent of a 250w halogen bulb.”

“The idea behind the design,” says Hyams, “is that the people who built the mining complex weren’t concerned about how it looked but about how it functioned in protecting people from a hostile environment.”



A group of miners, wearing gear necessary to protect them from the hostile environment of Io, walks from the mine across a bridge and waits for an elevator bringing down the next shift of workers, which will then take them to their living quarters on the mining complex known as Con-Am #27.

Certainly there is no reason to suspect from the foregoing description of the scene that it represents a total technical departure in filmmaking.

Yet, such is the case for Outland. The mine in the scene is an image projected onto a huge screen, and there is no elevator to take the workers up and down. The whole illusion has been created by a revolutionary process invented by John Eppolito, and financed and developed by Tom Naud and his partner Peck Prior. On the part of all three gentlemen, there is a reluctance to discuss the mechanics of the illusion, just as a magician does not disclose how he does his tricks. The particular wonder of it is the total realism with which visual effects are created through a revolutionary use of perspective and illusion.

“The greatest compliment Introvision receives is that no one detects where it was used,” says Eppolito.

“Introvision has a lot to do with magic,” says Tom Naud. “A trickle of hypnotism, too, of a certain sort. After all, it’s your mind that puts three dimensions into a picture.”

Outland Screencap

After seven-and-a-half years of hard work to bring their system to perfection, at a cost of more than $1.5 million, Eppolito, Naud and Prior feel that Introvision is making the most auspicious possible debut because director Hyams has made such imaginatively creative use of the full range of its possibilities.

“How did it start?” reflects Eppolito. “Well, I suppose I’ve been working on it all my life because I’ve always been fascinated by illusion and perspective. In a sense, this system was born of sheer necessity because the making of motion pictures has become so costly. And it’s not necessary to build giant sets when you use Introvision. You can suggest them and they look real. At any rate, I was working on a television show which I wanted to sell, and when I discovered how expensive the special effects were going to be, I said to myself, ‘There’s got to be a better way. I’m going to find out how to do those things on my own.’ So, for two years, I came home from my job at ABC and worked in my garage at night. Mind you, if I hadn’t had the kind of help Tom and Peck gave me, I would have lost everything.”

Recollects Naud, “John Eppolito had been experimenting about four years when a friend told us that he had accomplished something incredible, and persuaded us to see for ourselves. What we saw was so astounding, I decided then and there to give up my work as a producer and writer in films and concentrate on helping Eppolito seeing his work to completion.”

There is a picture which Eppolito treasures because it represents the beginning of it all for him.

“At about midnight one night on a deserted sound stage,” he recalls, “I was fooling around with an idea I had, a way to put a real live person into a still picture. I had projected a frame from The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland standing on the yellow brick road with her back to the camera, her little dog, Toto, beside her. Then I put myself above her on the road, facing her and pointing my finger at her.”

Eppolito still has, and treasures, the Polaroid picture of himself directing the young Judy Garland. “It was a great moment for me,” he says. “Probably the way Edison felt when he first discovered motion pictures.”


Outland Screencap

In a smoke-clouded laser beam of light, two blackened bodies sway erotically to electronic music. The girl’s blonde mane breaks cleanly through the conical beam, sparkling with atoms of light. On the other side of an oblong bar, a beam encircles three bodies, arms and legs intertwined.

“I suppose you might say my assignment was to choreograph sex,” says choreographer Anthony Van Laast of his work for Outland.

The leisure club on Con-Am #27 represents one of the few opportunities for relaxation to the hard-working miners who have to exist under dangerous, difficult and demanding conditions.

A dark, crowded room, with flourescent lights shining harshly from tables and the bar, the club is a pick-up joint, filled with workers and hookers, intent on the serious business of drinking and negotiating liaisons.

The challenge to Van Laast was to choreograph his dancers within the confines of a 3’11″ diameter laser beam spotlight. It represented a bizarre contrast to his last assignment which was staging medieval costume balls for John Boorman’s sword-and-sorcery production, Excalibur.

In a sense, Outland provided an even greater challenge. Firstly, dancers had to be chosen with the right hair and bodies to fit the beams.

Says Van Laast, “The most exciting thing is when their hair breaks through the light. We had to find dancers who had the strength to do this kind of dancing, and people who are compatible. Being erotic for hours on end is easier if you like each other.”

There were five dancers in all. Two males, one fair and one dark, and three girls, two blondes and one brunette, who worked together, in constantly-changing combinations.

Continues Van Laast, “We rehearsed for five days to build up the strength in the boys’ thighs so they wouldn’t get cramps, and to break down the inhibitions of the dancers. We also spent a lot of time working out what positions we could use, within the limitations of space. We ended up with a variety of eight different positions and then worked out a series of movements based on them. The effect we achieved is pretty sensational.”

Van Laast pauses for a moment and smiles with a twinkle in his eye. “Is it possible to describe something as more erotic than sex?”


Originally posted 2013-11-04 12:36:26. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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