One of the most identifiable yet little discussed aspects aboard the Battlestar Galactica is the signs and icons used throughout the ship. The following article will help point you in the right direction to understanding the unique retro-modern look of the show’s signs and iconography.
In early 2003 a sign fabricator and graphic designer by the name of Peter Hickey was hired by Richard Hudolin and Doug McLean as Sign Writer/Fabricator for the Miniseries. The Sign Writer is the person in charge of writing and making signs seen in a TV show or movie. The Sign Writer works as part of the Paint Department team and in close conjunction with the Art Department and Property Departments.
Peter had previously worked with Richard and Doug on Stargate SG-1 as Sign Painter, so they knew Peter’s skills and design sense were a good fit for this new project. A short while after being hired, Graphic Designer Ray Lai suddenly left to work on another show and Peter fell into the role of Graphic Designer assisting the Art Department. This doubling in duties was not uncommon for a show on a tight budget as Peter explains…
This was a way Richard and Doug could bring a graphics guy into the Art Department without affecting the budget and running into union issues. If I had been hired and called the Graphic Designer then that would create some issues with IATSE 89, the local union. By calling me the “Sign Fabricator” I was able to work in the Art Department, staying in touch with Richard, Doug and Margot and not stepping on any Union/Art Department toes. †
Richard and Doug gave Peter free reign over the graphics with the guideline that he should not make the graphics “too spacy” instead keep the look and feel connected with “present day.” Richard and Doug’s exact words to Peter were “We’ll tell you when you’re wrong.” With this prerogative in place Peter set about the task of finalizing some of the concepts started by Ray Lai and creating new designs highly recognizable and iconic to the new Battlestar Galactica. One of the concepts finished by Peter is the markings used on the Viper Mark II as seen below. These vinyl decals were sold at auction in 2009.
As the person in charge of sign fabrication Peter utilized a vinyl sign cutting program called Signlab made by CADlink from the UK. Signlab is an industry standard in vinyl cutting software but is not well known outside of the vinyl graphics industry. Signlab utilizes a proprietary file format for their fonts and graphics which make them hard to use outside of the program without great hassle.
These clipart and fonts played a big part in helping Peter design everything from bulkhead signage, uniform badges, playing cards, “cubits” , exterior and interior Viper graphics, Raptor graphics, command and control signage, ready boards (as seen below in the screen cap from the Miniseries), and squadron logos within the tight timeline and budget of the pre-production schedule.
General information signs offer recognizable visual guidance and instruction to crew and visitors, warning them about any general matter that might be of interest, concern, assistance or support. These signs from the Hangar Deck “Tool Room” provide helpful information to crew members, although not all crew members obey the “no-smoking” sign.
Many of the General Information signs seen were made of a lightweight rigid board of moderately expanded closed-cell PVC material called Sintra® made by Alcan Composites USA Inc. in Benton, Kentucky. Sintra is widely used by the Property Department and Paint Departments and is the industry’s leading PVC board for screen-printing, signage, exhibits, and displays.
Sintra can be shaped much like wood. Pieces up to 3mm thick can be cut with a sharp shop knife and thicker sheets can be scored with a knife then snapped on the score line. Sintra® can be smoothly cut with a circular saw, table saw, band saw, or router with ease. Because Sintra is a thermoplastic, it will begin to soften at about 150° F. This means that it can be easily heated and molded into unique shapes as needed.
Choice of vinyl material and colors was pretty straight forward as Peter explains.
The vinyls used would have been Avery as 3M at the time had a very limited colour palette and were very expensive, The colour used on the Viper Mk II and VII is actually Silver Metallic, not grey as some would have you think. The Raptor colour was a Bronze Metallic, this was because I wanted the graphics to be tone on tone, very similar to present day combat aircraft markings. †
The Avery metallic Vinyl colors used are: Silver UC900-801-M (A5701-M) and Bronze UC900-930-M (A3730-M).
The dark weathering seen on many of the vinyl graphics was accomplished by dabbing Minwax® Paste Finishing Wax with a terry cloth rag over the surface of the vinyl as seen in the following photo. A light dry brushing of silver paint was also used to weather the vinyl lettering on other applications as well.
Up until now no one outside of the Battlestar Galactica Production Office has known the identity of the font seen in the screen capture from Season 1 Episode 2 “Water.” It has been widely believed by many fans (including myself) that the typeface (font) used on the bulkhead doors, call signs, and markings seen on the Galactica, Vipers, and Raptors was custom made by one of the graphic designers from the Art Department.
The typeface is actually an off-the-shelf font available as part of the Signlab program made by CADlink. The typeface is named… wait for it… “Spaceage,” yes you read that right!
BSG sign writer Peter Hickey modified the typeface and tweaked characters depending on application. Only the uppercase letters were used for the signs and markings created for the series. Interestingly the very next typeface after Spaceage on the font folio shown below is “Stop”, which was the typeface used on the original 1978 Battlestar Galactica TV series.
It has been determined, after directly speaking with employees from CADlink, that the Spaceage font was custom made by a part-time graphic artist working for them in the mid 1990’s — they did not have any more info about the designer. Typeface designer and font expert Ray Larabie confirmed that the Spaceage font was derived from elements of the Bitstream typeface “Handel Gothic Regular.”
Good news for die-hard BSG fans. I am making available for private use the font used on the show. In keeping with the BSG theme, only the uppercase characters will be available. The font is available for download on the Galactiguise Facebook page. Click on the like button to receive a link to download the font.
† Peter Hickey. “Spaceage font article.” Personal email string. May 19, 2012