Via a scan on Combom’s blog, here’s Mat Irvine talking about special effects in the early 80’s:
“It’s a very creative field. We build from anything – anything and everything! Though, these days, plastic does dominate. When I first started, although plastic kits were about, you found that inevitably the main construction would be wood. It’s only in the late seventies that we started using plastic in a very big way – taking large sheets of plastic and building them up into shape. Or we could use fibreglass – it’s the strongest and easiest way. You make an original cast to start with and then you can turn out as many fibreglass shapes as you need.
“Once we’ve got the basic shape, then we can start using plastic kits as ‘dressing’ – using components from various kits to add detail. We might use bits of Eagles or bits of Hawks, or Shuttles. Nowadays, of course, we can get Vipers or Cylon raiders or Star Wars kits – they’ve all been used. The ironic thing is that all these were based on effects models to start with! We’re getting a constant recycling – for example, the original Eagles were built out of metal and plastic for the screen. But later on, when the toy kit was made, I believe some of the toys were used in filming, as background craft.
“K9 is ten-channel remote control. He moves with servo-motors and electro-mechanical systems. We’ve just reached the stage with radio gear where it’s so reliable and so cheap that we’re now using it where, six months ago, we wouldn’t have done. It used to be a bit of a novelty – you’d only use it if there was no other way out. These days, we’ll use radio geat to save running a lead. You might trip over a lead – but you can’t trip over radio waves! Also, it gives us tremendous freedom of space – we can operate a model from the other side of the studio if we need to.
“On a recent ‘Doctor Who’, K9’s drive belt snapped and we’d run out of spare drive belts, so it was a case of back to first principles. The radio control was still working, so he could wag his tail and swivel his head, but he just couldn’t move. We left his motor running to get an authentic noise and pulled him on a piece of nylon thread. In fact, this is a trouble we get over and over again – the more sophisticated you get, the greater the likelihood of something going wrong. The best way is the simplest – if it’s simpler to pull it with a piece of nylon, then you pull it with a piece of nylon.”