Speculative Identities
Speculative Identities

Speculative Identities
Research

Exploring the Frontiers of Visual Identity Design as Envisioned by Science Fiction

Original Entry 01.19.2018

US Tricentennial

Category

Commemorative, Event

Scenario Date

YEAR 2076

The United States Tricentennial was a series of celebrations and observances to pay tribute to historical events leading up to the creation of the United States of America as an independent republic three centuries prior, in the year 1776. The American Tricentennial symbol commemorates the anniversary event.

Identity Designed by

Ron Cobb

Source

  • Alien (1979 film)

Overview: The US Tricentennial Symbol


Analysis: Design and Inspiration

The United States Tricentennial symbol is one of two commemorative symbols designed by Ron Cobb for the 1979 film Alien, both of which were worn as patches by the crew of the USCSS Nostromo, and applied as decals to crew equipment.

Like the UK-7 symbol, the US Tricentennial symbol is triangular in shape, and commemorates a founding event of historical significance. In this instance, the three red and white striped arms represent the three centuries of American Independence being celebrated. In Cobb’s original drawing (Figure 1.1), shared in the Authorized Portfolio of Crew Insignias, the symbol was oriented point down, with the blue five-pointed American star at its center pointed up. But in the film, we see that the entire mark was turned 180 degrees. This put the star at its center in a position where it was pointed down, which ties in with the flag Cobb designed for the United Americas (established in the year 2104). In that symbol, the star oriented point-down represents North America, while a star point-up represents South America, with both combining to form a ten-pointed star.

For the overall design, Cobb evolved his fictional symbol from the real US Bicentennial mark (Figure 1.2), that was used to commemorate 200 years of independence in 1976, just a few years before Alien was filmed. That official mark was designed by Bruce Blackburn (previously responsible for the NASA ‘worm’ logo) at the firm Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, in 1974.

The description of the Bicentennial symbol, from the book Manuals 1: Design and Identity Guidelines, is as follows:

“The iconic ‘fat star’ symbol, as Blackburn referred to it, is composed as a five-pointed American star, ‘one of the very few visual elements we could pull out of revolutionary times that held up as a contemporary form.’ The white star is wrapped in bunting (a term traditionally used for festive and patriotic decorations), with thick rounded corners of stripes forming a second ‘double’ star, said to be ‘symbolic of the two centuries which have passed since the American Revolution.’ The red, white and blue striped colors are borrowed from the American flag. ‘It was one of my beliefs when I was working on the project that whatever was done should not be a hard-edged, aggressive, militaristic symbol. We had, as a country, come through that kind of period, and it was my belief that we ought to be looking towards a more peaceful future.’”

But with all that in mind, the future of Alien probably isn’t as peaceful as Blackburn would have hoped. In Cobb’s design, there is a move back towards something more hard-edged and angular, with a military look and feel to it. And as the Company Memo from the Official Portfolio states in its usage guidelines, the Tricentennial patch was standard issue for “all active members of the U.S. Space Fleet, Military and Commercial, to commemorate the 300th anniversary of United States Independence.” So it is a military-issue mark, in application.

An interesting connection: the US Bicentennial mark was displayed by the present day “Space Fleet” we know as NASA (Figure 1.3), and lived on the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center until 1998. So it doesn't seem terribly out of line to see the Tricentennial mark's presence aboard the Nostromo in 2122, years after the commemorative event.

In the film, we see the patch displayed on the buttocks of space suits worn by Dallas and Lambert (Figures 2.1 and 2.2), in the same place Kane displays his UK-7 patch. In addition to this, photos of the original props show a small Tricentennial decal on the upper end of portable life support units, that are worn with the space suits (Figure 2.3). And in its most visible placement in the film, we see it worn by Brett on his jacket, above the winged Engineer badge (Figure 2.4).

<p><strong>Figure 1.1</strong> Ron Cobb’s original drawing for the US Tricentennial symbol (left), and the flag of the United Americas (right). Source: <em>The Authorized Portfolio of Crew Insignias from The UNITED STATES COMMERCIAL SPACESHIP NOSTROMO Designs and Realizations</em></p>

Figure 1.1 Ron Cobb’s original drawing for the US Tricentennial symbol (left), and the flag of the United Americas (right). Source: The Authorized Portfolio of Crew Insignias from The UNITED STATES COMMERCIAL SPACESHIP NOSTROMO Designs and Realizations

<p><strong>Figure 1.2</strong> The US Bicentennial logo from 1976, that inspired Cobb’s Tricentennial design. Source: <em>Manuals 1: Design and Identity Guidelines</em></p>

Figure 1.2 The US Bicentennial logo from 1976, that inspired Cobb’s Tricentennial design. Source: Manuals 1: Design and Identity Guidelines

<p><strong>Figure 1.3</strong> The American Bicentennial logo as it appeared on Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in 1976 (removed in 1998). Source: <em>NASA</em></p>

Figure 1.3 The American Bicentennial logo as it appeared on Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center in 1976 (removed in 1998). Source: NASA


Usage in the Film

<p><strong>Figure 2.1</strong> It can be tough to see, but the Tricentennial patch (highlighted) is visible in the scene where Dallas, Lambert, and Kane use the ship’s elevator to descend to the surface of LV-426.</p>

Figure 2.1 It can be tough to see, but the Tricentennial patch (highlighted) is visible in the scene where Dallas, Lambert, and Kane use the ship’s elevator to descend to the surface of LV-426.

<p><strong>Figure 2.2</strong> This production photo provides a clearer view of the patch as it was worn on the crew's space suits. Source: Production Image Gallery, <em>The Alien Anthology</em></p>

Figure 2.2 This production photo provides a clearer view of the patch as it was worn on the crew's space suits. Source: Production Image Gallery, The Alien Anthology

<p><strong>Figure 2.3</strong> A decal of the Tricentennial symbol can be seen on the back of portable life support units (top-center) worn with crew space suits. Source: <em>Prop Store Blog</em></p>

Figure 2.3 A decal of the Tricentennial symbol can be seen on the back of portable life support units (top-center) worn with crew space suits. Source: Prop Store Blog

<p><strong>Figure 2.4</strong> The US Tricentennial patch worn by Brett, on his Nostromo jacket, just above the winged Engineer badge.</p>

Figure 2.4 The US Tricentennial patch worn by Brett, on his Nostromo jacket, just above the winged Engineer badge.