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Thursday, 3 January, 2002, 16:20 GMT
Turning sci-fi into fact
Harry Lange - photo by David Fleming
Harry Lange has an exhibition at the Museum of Oxford
Harry Lange, a former Nasa illustrator, is the designer who helped Stanley Kubrick turn his fantasy of 2001 into reality. As the film is re-released, he recalls working on the timeless masterpiece.

I was virtually the first person, and the last person, to work on the project with Stanley Kubrick.

Lange's sketches - courtesy Museum of Oxford exhibition
Lange's designs had to be cleared by Nasa HQ
I got along with him very well. He was an absolute stickler for detail and a good taskmaster. That was fine with me, because I was new to filmmaking.

I met Stanley through Arthur C Clarke - a friend from my Nasa days - who told me he was collaborating with Kubrick on filming one of his stories.

Late that night, I got a phone call from Stanley, saying he'd like to meet me the next morning at his penthouse overlooking Central Park.

Click here to see more sketches

He looked at my artwork and said: "I can get better illustrators in New York for a dime a dozen - but they don't have your ability plus your scientific background. Would you be interested in designing the ships for this film?"

These had to be designed as if they could travel to the edge of the Solar System and beyond.

The final frontier

I'd seen real hardware at Cape Canaveral and in Nasa's research laboratories and hangers, so I knew what the equipment had to look like.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Star Wars (1977)
Moonraker (1979)
The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Superman II (1980)
The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
The Dark Crystal (1982)
Return of the Jedi (1983)
Monty Python's Meaning of Life (1983)
The surface of the Discovery model had to look as if it could withstand asteroid dust, and virtually every button on every console had to be depressible.

A piece of board with blue squares stuck on it may do for TV, but not when you want to do something on a Cinerama screen. It had to be absolutely perfect.

I kept that idea in my following films: Star Wars, Superman, James Bond. And it doesn't cost that much more to do something properly and accurately.

The future is now

At Nasa, I headed the future projects section. We illustrated the ideas of the German scientists [Werner von Braun's team], such as nuclear propulsion, space stations, space platforms.

Lange's sketches - courtesy Museum of Oxford exhibition
"I was paid 150 a week - better than at Nasa"
There were no hardware, no blueprints, just conversations to base our drawings on. These were used to get permission for study funds from Washington.

But because of the Vietnam War, the budget dropped out of the space programme. Some people had to leave. Contractors were cut down.

I didn't want to stick around until I was 65, so I quit. I'd been doing plenty of freelance work for publishers in the evenings anyway.

Behind the Iron Curtain

I'd gone to America in 1951, right after I graduated from art school in West Germany.

Lange's sketches - courtesy Museum of Oxford exhibition
"Stanley was an absolute stickler for detail"
But I had first lived in East Germany. As I refused to take part in rallies and wear the red flag on my lapel, I got into trouble with some people. Under cover of night, I crossed the border into the west.

I got a job in advertising in New York, but couldn't stand to draw shoes and washing powder all my life.

The Korean War came to my rescue. I was drafted - I was still a German - and I found myself in an American uniform.

Lange's sketches - courtesy Museum of Oxford exhibition
One-tenth of the 1,000 sketches are on show
They sent me to where my education could be most useful, to the Craig Air Force Base in Alabama, where I drew training diagrams for flying schools.

After three years, I asked for a discharge and went to work for the Army Ballistic Missile Agency's art department. Within a year or so, that agency became Nasa. I worked there for 10 years.

And the award goes to...

Now that it's 2001, everybody asks me how close the film came to reality.

Some of it is close, some it is not so close. But everything in that film is now being very seriously considered and worked on by Nasa, or their counterparts.

I was extremely fortunate in that 2001 was my first film - and to be nominated for an Oscar and a British academy award is not a bad start.

But if you don't take these chances, you end up a bureaucrat all your life.

Lange's sketches - courtesy Museum of Oxford exhibition
"I kept my drawings, although they belonged to MGM"

The finished product
"I was terribly impressed with the finished film"

Click here to return

Harry Lange
on meeting Stanley Kubrick
Harry Lange
on why Kubrick destroyed the 2001 props


Star quality
2001: A Space Odyssey is out of this world
See also:

01 Jan 01 | Entertainment
25 Jun 98 | Science/Nature
03 Jan 01 | Science/Nature
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