Analog control panels from sci-fi movies

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Oscillation Overthruster vs Flux Capacitor: Which is cooler?



Does the X-Wing’s terrain mapping screen really count as “analog”? It rather strikes me as extremely primitive digital.


Of all our control panel selections, Alien might have the most functional looking one. That’s because the production designer, Ron Cobb, constantly worked from the idea that everything should have a legitimate purpose.

So, what’s the purpose of the walls completely covered in blinking christmas lights in the computer room?

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computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
mit spitzensparken. Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in
das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.


And they’re flashing and they’re beeping… I can’t stand it anymore!


I find myself really bothered by the coffee cup in the Alien picture. It’s right in front of a bank of sliders and knobs. Looks way too easy to spill down into all the electronics, which I imagine in that context puts you in a bit more serious a problem than just “oh darn, I don’t know how I can afford a new laptop”. Always funny to see people in a life and death situation using less care than my dad insisted on for our Apple II. Woe to those that had a beverage anywhere on the same table.

But I did always love the computer graphics in Alien because it looks just like something from an Apple II.

Is it just me or is that page a jangled mess of fonts?


Amazing that most of the examples pictures are digital devices and displays.

The worst mistaken identity is the Back to Future…really? Just because it’s segmented LED displays…you call that Analog?

I guess that entire “Digital Watch” thing in the 70’s and 80’s where just Analog watches.


I don’t know what the treknobabble in-universe explanation is; but it compares pretty well with what real computer rooms actually look like(though, since the real ones aren’t on spacecraft, they usually have more chaotic cabling and open space, not everything neatly behind panels).

Networking gear has link and activity lights, computers have power indicators, status indicators(sometimes just a color changing LED, sometimes a little screen), except in the really cheap seats, every HDD caddy has one or more lights showing activity and status of the drive within, PSUs often have a status light, UPSes usually have a few; some gear even has a dedicated, high visibility, LED that can be turned on and off through the software interface, so that the poor guy with the screwdriver has some chance of finding the system that the team monitoring the system status says need maintenance. If the system you are logged into needs to be worked on, you can turn on the signal light so that the repair guy knows which of the 1000+ otherwise identical systems in the big row of racks you mean.

There’s actually something very soothing about a datacenter with the lights off. If you are modestly familiar with the equipment in there, you can ignore all the little textural details and just watch the lights on each of the dark rectangular racks, see which switches are busy now, which uplinks and building-building links are especially quiet or busy. See which servers are hammering their disks, sometimes what RAID level the array is. Check if any of the sparkling motes of color have changed from a normal to an alert status…

All that, plus the cool breeze and white noise make it a great escape if it’s been a day of user hell. Very tranquil, quiet, a place where all the stimuli actually mean something and have a logical spatial arrangement. Soothing.


Creative Computing did a bit about the landing sequence.

quite an interesting article about early use of DIGITAL computers in movie making.

Edit: Now I’m looking that entire issue and it’s pretty much a landmark issue for early computing and Movies.


Were I the relevant crew member, I’d be pissed about somebody getting coffee near the control panel again; but, in context, it’s arguably a very plausible prop placement: in Alien, the Nostromo isn’t some kind of cutting edge experimental ship, or a warship, or anything like that(where people would either be likely to be really careful, or bound by comparatively strict regulations, or both). It’s just a commercial ship, basically a long-haul truck outside a gravity well, with a crew that probably spends most of its time either doing whatever routine job required the operating company to go the the expense of hiring them, or waiting for something to happen.

It seems reasonable enough that an unglamorous commercial spacecraft would be moderately well hardened against accidents(the same way that control panels on industrial, warehouse, and similar equipment are usually reasonably rugged); and that a crew that would really have preferred to just sleep through the rest of the job and wake up back on earth for some R&R might not care a whole lot about what critics of their coffee habits have to say.


Thank you for finding that! I remembered reading that back in the day, but I would never have remembered where.

I’m glade you inspired me to search for that…

That magazine is amazing. Just quickly browsing through the articles and advertisements is wild.

1200 or so for a APPLE II…(3200 in todays dollars).

Games we all know as free ware on disk for 19 dollars…
Big name games from the ‘studio’ places like EPIX 40 dollars—mail order.

The whole thing plays fast and loose with “analog.”

It’s like how people call all hand-and-face clocks “analog,” even those that make discrete “clicky” movements.

Coffee isn’t too bad to clean from electronics - provided that there is no sugar! But as odds tend to be, if somebody dumps “coffee” into a panel it is probably 50% coffee and 50% milk/sugar mix. Also a nightmare to clean is cat pee…


I have always thought the interfaces in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey were pretty good. Of course it did not help that poor old HAL was given instructions by some idiot that conflicted with it’s basic programming. Sort of like pouring diesel into a car that normally uses gasoline and expecting it to function properly.


I spilled orange squash into my precious Diamondtron CRT and it went ‘fzzt’ and stopped working. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away so stuffed it in the back of a cupboard and forgot about it for, oh, say 5 years.

Cleaning the cupboard out whilst preparing for a move to new accommodation, I found it and decided to see if 5 years is long enough for the natural healing properties of air and decomposition to have fixed it.

I still use it to this day for quake and design work. :smile:


You could perhaps argue that the display is analog (if not the computer driving it), since it looks to be vector-based rather than raster.

Of course nothing else they mention is analog in any sense. They seem to think “analog” just means “primitive.” Oh, well, it’s still a pretty cool article.

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I had one of those watches but it didn’t make me any happier.

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Though I think the design of equipment like that might have been influenced by SF movies.