The Original Cylon and The Original Droid


"Torso in Metal from'The Rock Drill'". 1913-14.
© The estate of Sir Jacob Epstein

I recently visited the Tate Modern museum while in London and wandered deep into the Futurism exhibit. I strongly recommend you check it out, especially if you are a fan of Battlestar Galactica or Star Wars. There’s a wild and ominous sculpture from 1913-4 created by Sir Jacob Epstein using a rock drill. It was meant to invoke a robust, sentient “man-robot” from the future — and certainly it could be interpreted as a premonition of how our obsession with and reliance on technology could strip us of our souls — but following the carnage he saw from World War I, the artist later cut the figure down from full-length to bust size, neutering its potential power.

I wonder if new BSG/Cylon designer Eric Chu saw this, or if the producers and designers of the original series ever found inspiration in it? Imagine Sir Jacob’s piece with a shorter neck, then compare it with the image of the BSG baddie below. The first thing I thought when I gazed upon this work was, “Cylon!” But then other people alerted me to the fact that this sculpture also mirrors and predates certain Star Wars battle droids, and then I thought, “General Grievous!” Seems like George Lucas and his people may also been impressed by this piece of art. (See the bottom photo, then compare to an image of the original, full body sculpture found here.)

Title - Battlestar Galactica

A sinister Cylon from
the new "Battlestar Galactica".
© Zoic Studios

Of his sculpture, entitled Torso in Metal from ‘The Rock Drill’, Sir Jacob once wrote: “It was in the experimental pre-war days of 1913 that I was fired to do the rock-drill, and my ardour for machinery (short-lived) expended itself upon the purchase of an actual drill…and upon this I made and mounted a machine-like robot, visored, menaning, and carrying within itself its progeny, protectively ensconsed. Here is the armed, sinister figure of today and tomorrow. No humanity, only the terrible Frankenstein’s monster we have made ourselves into…Later I lost my interest in machinery and discarded the drill. I cast in metal only the upper part of the figure.”

Let’s hope that when we get to the point of contemplating the designs for our own Cylons or battle droids that we take Sir Jacob’s regression one step further and destroy the mold altogether. If there’s anything sci-fi fans should have learned by now, it’s that certain machines are untrustworthy and even dangerous to our humanity, no matter how sleek or cool they look.


That badass battle droid General Grievous
from "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith".
© Lucasfilm Ltd. & (TM)

7 Responses

  1. Maria Reesman

    Awesome visuals! It’s nice to visit the past to
    realize that nothing is created in a vacuum!

  2. Charles

    You obviously have no idea what Futurism was about. It wasn’t about the future. It was a movement from around 1910 about the “ultra-modern” technology available at the time like automobiles, trains, and in this case, pneumatic drills. The word “Robot” wouldn’t even be coined until ~1920. I assure you that Epstein was not thinking of this sculpture as a Robot, 7 years before the word even existed.

    • bryanreesman

      Having seen the exhibit I received some good insight into what Futurism was about. And yes, the word “robot” first emerged when Czech playwright Karel Capek wrote R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) in 1920 (although it was first publicly performed in Prague in 1921). But just because the word robot did not exist when Epstein created his sculpture does not mean that he might not have been pondering the concept. I’m not sure when Epstein’s quote (used in my entry) first emerged, but he uses the term “machine-like robot” in reference to his famous piece. We can also look back to the novel The Huge Hunter or, The Steam Man of the Prairies, in which author Edward S. Ellis envisioned a mechanical man powered by steam in 1865.

  3. iesvs

    It has a definite Fifth Element look to it. You see the Mondochiwan head, and the torso design even resembles the style of the statue in the movie. Hmmm…

  4. Stephen


    I didn’t feel the author’s intent with the post was to say anything definitive about Futurism nor to put himself forward as an expert in any way; he was offering his opinion regarding some observations of similarities.

    In fact, the word Futurism appears once in his post, and that is as the title of the Tate Gallery exhibit.

    Perhaps your comments about the appropriate use of the term should be directed toward the curators there, who, I’m sure, don’t have any idea what they’re talking about…


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