Backstage at NC Comicon
Durham Convention Center, Nov 14-16, 2014
Copyright, Hangar 18 Props
(Note – this is a “slightly updated” repost of a story we first published in December 2014. We’re tossing it back out to support our friends at Hangar 18 and Camelot Productions as they prepare to host the 4th annual ALT*Con in Tallahassee FL; March 19-20)
While traveling around the South you meet some strange and wonderful people – or run across some wonderful events – out of pure serendipity. Sometimes you must actively seek those experiences to get the full and comprehensive picture of how those things actually come together.
So it was for us in November 2014, as we ventured to Durham NC to attend NC Comicon as guests of Hangar 18 Props and Camelot Productions; a pair of north Florida companies owned by a couple of old friends – Brian and Verity Coghill.
(like our other posts, you can click on any picture for higher resolution. Copyright PictureTheSouth unless otherwise noted)
First a bit of background…..
Brian has a broad and diverse history. When I first met him in 2002, he had worked in the IT world for several years. His ability to approach IT from the perspective of his education in physics made him an invaluable resource in my Information Security group. But he also had contacts in the entertainment world; and had worked in special effects, prop building, and as a weapons adviser dating back several years. He would often regale us with stories about his adventures in that world. This dude can even breathe fire! So it’s really no surprise that he enjoys working with his hands as much (or more) than working behind a keyboard.
I first met Verity the day before their wedding in December 2011. It was immediately obvious that she would be both inspiration and guiding light to focus Brian’s attention on what mattered most – pursuing their shared dreams.
Things started coming together for this band of wizards in early 2012. As the Coghills relate; they were organizing an “alternative” science fiction and fantasy fan conference in Tallahassee called “ALT*Con”. While enjoying a bit of well-earned down time, they were watching a “Doctor Who” marathon on BBC America – and were struck by the TARDIS…..What, you are not familiar with “Doctor Who”? It is only the longest running TV show in history; with its first broadcast in 1963! The premise of the story is the tale of a Time Lord known as “The Doctor”; from the planet Gallifrey. The Doctor travels through both space and time in a “TARDIS”; protecting various planets and species from assorted catastrophes – though he seems to hold a special fondness for earth and humanity. (TARDIS is an acronym for “Time and Relative Dimensions In Space” – a somewhat sentient spaceship AND time machine) The Doctor will periodically regenerate into a new personality; which has allowed the series to be continued over the years with new lead actors. With so much time spent on Earth, it becomes important for The Doctor to disguise his method of transportation. So the TARDIS appears to us as a blue “Police Call Box” (sort of like an old telephone booth; for emergency calls to the local constabulary) which were ubiquitous in Britain during the ’60s and ’70s. But it’s bigger on the inside! Rooms upon rooms as needed. (paraphrased from Wikipedia entry)
But back to the story – while watching the Doctor Who marathon and planning for ALT*Con, the Coghills looked at the 2005-era TARDIS on screen and thought – “That would look SO cool at ALT*Con. We should build one!” And so they did….
Now you must realize that the BBC holds a lot of cards close to their vest – and after 42 years of broadcasting this show, even THEY no longer have detailed records of of some of their creations. So there were no detailed plans available for some of the show props – including the various TARDIS models. So with nothing more than what they could decipher from TV broadcasts, set photographs and published fan observations, the Coghills set out to design and build their own TARDIS from scratch.
In a workshop on their Florida property; the Coghills worked out the dimensions, paint color and details of the first “ALT*Con TARDIS” entirely on their own – then actually built the beast for display using basic tools and materials. Needless to say, the event in April 2013 was a smash success! The original ALT*Con TARDIS was raffled off after the event to help cover expenses; with profits going to a local charity.
The success of Florida ALT*Con led to Hangar 18 being invited to display at many other fan conferences in the next three years. To accommodate the ever-increasing workload; they have brought on Trow Dixon as an assistant. Keeping it “in the family”, Casey and Nick Campbell (daughter and son-in-law) are also part of the ever growing team. At this point, they have several TARDIS’ in stock at any given time to support multiple venues.
While displaying at a venue in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2012, the Hangar 18 crew was approached by a representative of the BBC . At first they were afraid that they were going to be shut down for a copyright/trademark violation. Happily something else was afoot!. Both the Marketing and Legal departments of the BBC were so impressed with the accuracy of the TARDIS on display; Hangar 18 Props was instead presented with the opportunity to be a licensed representatives of the BBC in presenting Doctor Who props to the public! Since then, they have displayed at numerous venues with both the blessing and on behalf of the BBC.
Other than catching up with our old friends, our participation with Hangar 18 at NC Comicon was primarily related to documenting the experience. As badly as we wanted to help with the setup and breakdown of the set; we knew that our “assistance” would most likely be more of a hindrance. These guys have this down to a science! They can assemble or disassemble this 600 pound box (with over 300 parts) in 45 minutes or less. Amazing!
As the process continues, you can see some of the detailed work that has gone into constructing this amazing prop; including lighted panels and a period realistic police call phone.
When you have multiple “TARDIS’s” at your disposal, it becomes very important to make sure you bring the correct set of assembly hardware with you!
Once things are setup and the doors open for the waiting fans – there is an immediate line for folks clamoring to have their picture made with the TARDIS! I paced off the line across the conference floor and around the hall a few times – at one point, it was almost 300 yards long!
You may have noticed by now that Brian is a “large dude” – but his intelligence, experience and empathy to fan crowds make him a very valuable “teddy bear”. Combined with Verity’s skills, it’s no surprise that they are often called upon to provide security and crowd-management to events like this. Here you can find both taking a break from their TARDIS display to help manage the line of folk waiting for autographs and pictures with John Barrowman – the “guest of honor” at NC Comicon 2014.
Of course, when you are as skilled and valuable as the Coghills; there are often some “perks” involved in the grueling work that goes on behind the scenes of a fan conference. Meeting some very interesting people is high on the list – as displayed in this shot with John Barrowman.
Upcoming Hangar 18 Projects
If you have read along this far, it’s probably safe to assume you are somewhat familiar with another little sci-fi project called “Star Wars”. Another project in the works for Hangar 18 is a full-scale replica of the Millennium Falcon cockpit. The plan is that this prop will accommodate a “pilot and co-pilot” to sit inside, fiddle with the dials, and get their picture taken while attempting the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs (and no; we won’t go into the discussion that a “parsec” is actually a measure of distance and not speed…) Courtesy of Hangar 18 and Camelot Productions, here are some shots of this work in progress.
Another “there are no plans or blueprints, so we’ll figure it out and build it on our own” project for Hangar 18 is a working prop from Stargate. Well, “working” from the extent of movement – even the “Wizards of the Stuff” at Hangar 18 haven’t managed to open a transport wormhole. Yet…
And then there is an upcoming Star Trek project which can’t yet be mentioned in detail – but Brian and Verity here shared a shot of their USS Enterprise “Transporter Room” designed and built by Hangar 18 Props. Here you can see it on a sound-stage for filming….. Stay tuned!
And it case you haven’t kept track of time, there is also a “Ghostbusters” anniversary coming up soon… Can you picture “Ecto-1A” from Ghostbusters II? We have reason to believe there will be another impressive Hangar 18 display for fan conferences in the next few months.
But NC Comicon was a bit more than just Hangar 18 and the TARDIS -and we also managed to enjoy a little more of the scene beyond the display floor. Of course the “Guest of Honor” was John Barrrowman – star of stage and screen (Doctor Who, Torchwood, Arrow, and many other works).
One side trip we managed to catch was John Barrowman’s “keynote presentation”. He was running late due to flight delays, and came direct from the airport to the stage – and even brought his luggage along and dropped it onstage!
We’ve also got a pretty cool video clip of Barrowman discussing (and acting out) a couple of hilarious scenes from filming on the Doctor Who set; while playing Captain Jack Hartness alongside David Tennant’s “Doctor”. Once we sufficiently pound on our WordPress host to allow upload of this video; we’ll update the post. In the interim; you can see the raw, unedited version on YouTube .
Of course, in any event like this – Cosplay is on full display!
There were also plenty of opportunities to purchase artwork, comic books and collectibles…
One of most popular static displays was courtesy of the North Carolina Lego’s User Group – with some absolutely amazing setups for viewing and fan interaction.
Overall, it was a truly a great weekend! We got to catch up with old friends who are are making thousands of people happy in the conference scene, see a show, immerse ourselves in the environment, and take part in some of the “back-stage” activity… But mostly it was a chance to enjoy a couple of days appreciating the joy that comes with finding the strange, unusual and wonderful experience of living and traveling through the South.
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