the true history of the cylons

There are those who believe that the Cylons were created by man.

Some believe that they were created by a race of highly advanced lizards who used them as foot soldiers in the war to exterminate humanity.

Well, it’s time to bring the rampant speculation and flame-wars to an end. Today, on the 30th anniversary of Battlestar Galactica,  the true origins of everyone’s favorite red-eyed, robotic menace will finally be revealed…

You want to know where the Cylons came from? They were created by this guy:

No, this isn’t a spoiler pic of some evil robot scientist from the upcoming Caprica,  the person you see here is the real deal – the man who put ink to paper thirty years ago and fleshed out the look of Starbuck and Apollo’s chrome-plated foes.

Ladies, gentlemen and daggits, I give you Andrew Probert – father/creator of the Cylons.



I tracked down the famous designer/illustrator to see if I could cajole him into revealing the nuts and bolts (har har) of the Cylons’ conceptual history, a request he was only too happy to oblige (and it didn’t even take a Landram full of cubits).

Probert’s thirty-year career has been wide and varied, although his greatest claim to fame stems from serving as Senior Illustrator for Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Do you get goosebumps when you see the Enterprise-D or feel your pulse rush at the sight of the updated Romulan Warbird? Thank this guy.

But before giving Starlfeet a facelift was even a twinkle in Andrew’s eye, he was hard at work whipping the Cylons into shape.

Glen Larson had initially hired famed designer Ralph McQuarrie (hot off the heels of Star Wars’  success) to create a series of illustrations to help sell Galactica  to ABC. Once the show was picked up and pre-production began in earnest, Probert was brought in to pick up the ball and evolve the look of the soon-to-be-robots.

“My initial concepts emerged from Ralph McQuarrie’s Cylons and the design for the show’s ‘Imperious Leader’, with it’s step-down mouth area.” Probert explained.



“Glen Larson wanted the helmet to have a skull-like appearance (which is what I originally submitted) but in the end, the final modeling skewed more toward Darth Vader. Also, although it was eventually changed to chrome, my original colors were dark greens under a dark kind of bronze-copper metal.” 

“After the prototype helmet was started, I was asked to provide concepts for the entire suit. The one requirement was that it should have “high-waisted” proportions. Starting with the front, where I echoed the helmet’s ‘mouth-area’ horizontal slats, placed just under the chest (those ‘slats’, incidentally, were there originally to duplicate the Cylon Fighter cockpit windows, as a way of providing a subconscious visual unity).”




Since the original series didn’t have the luxury of anything-you-want CGI, the Centurion design needed to take into account that people would have to be placed inside.

“My first concern was getting the actors to see out of the helmets,” explained Probert. “Very small holes were eventually added to provide visibility for them. The remaining pieces were designed after researching historical suits of armor, observing how various elements were crafted to allow as much free movement as possible. Starting with that as a basis, there was a bit of experimentation and fitting of prototype pieces until everything worked.”



Many assume the Cylon Centurion was influenced by Roman Centurions, but Probert quickly dispelled this long-held belief. “I actually came up with the idea of modeling them after ancient Greek helmets, along with their top crest, playing on the idea that these “ancient astronauts” might have influenced our ancestors,” he revealed. “Strengthening that similarity, I also added a skirt and short-sword. Riding on that idea, I started sketching Galactica’s pilot helmets with an Egyptian theme which were subsequently designed by Joe Johnston.”


On the left, backpack details are worked out.  On the right, an alternate Centurion design, in keeping  with the “high waisted” look the producers wanted



Andrew was also able to finally settle a point of contention that has been argued since the show began – were the Centurions always supposed to be robots? ”

“Originally the Galactica  motion picture (for overseas distribution) was filmed with dialog explaining that the Cylons were creatures,” Probert confirmed. “They were blind and created helmet scanners to see. That explains the helmets. Then, since their suits could also allow them to survive in space, I provided a back-mounted support system. Also, after several viewings of Star Wars,  I didn’t want these bad guys dropping their weapons like the Stormtroopers did, so I included an arm-mounted weapon on their right wristband.  The giant hockey gloves that were added made those pretty useless and the Cylons ended up carrying (and dropping) guns after all.”


“The living Cylons were changed to robots for the TV series because of an hourly body-count limitation for prime-time television. There was, however, no limit to how many robots could be ‘killed’ per hour so they became robots and dialog was revised to explain it all.”

I asked Andrew how he might have designed the Cylons differently if not encumbered by the man-in-a-suit limitation. “I probably would have really gone after that skull-like appearance and proportions, assuming the (then) living creatures inside were some sort of alternately-evolved humanoid-types,” he said. “If they’d been robots from the beginning, I might have provided the lower portions with a mono wheel, allowing them to maneuver over any terrain, and their tops would have multiple appendages for a variety of evil grasping and/or shooting tasks.”

What might the Cylons have looked like if Probert had a crack at them today?  He sent me this never-before-seen sketch, explaining “nine years ago, someone asked me what I thought the ‘next generation’ of Cylons might look like.  This was my first response.”



Many thanks to Mr. Probert for taking time out to dig into his archives and share this rare glimpse into Cylon history. If you’d like to see more of his work and keep tabs on what he’s up to, visit his website: http://probertdesigns.com



———————– WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE? ———————–

Click HERE to read about the re-invention of the original Cylons for RAZOR

Quienes Mas Macho?  Stormtroopers or Cylons?  Find out HERE

Want to buy a Cylon costume?  Visit Kropserkel



23 Responses to “the true history of the cylons”

  1. 1 Fer
    September 17, 2008 at 6:45 am

    VERY cool! Thanks for sharing that, what a fantastic article.

    I had that Robotech poster over his left shoulder! Did he draw that poster, or is he a fan?

  2. 2 icesplice
    September 17, 2008 at 7:20 am

    I love Mr Probert’s work. ANd I have always loved the Cylons fro the original (and in my book, real!) Battlestar Galactica!
    This is a very nice article showing the evolution of the Cylon Centurion. How about artles on the Enterprise Refit, and the 1701D!
    Thank you Mr Probert!

  3. September 17, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Glad you got this stuff up… I got the chance to spend some time with Andrew back in July, and this is a guy who should be recognized for his iconic contributions to our sci-fi culture! What a great bunch of pictures. More, more!

  4. September 17, 2008 at 11:30 am

    Mojo- A very flattering and nicely presented article, thank you. Just a small side note: Glen Larson actually created them I just provided the design ;-]

    Another side note, yes, that is the original Robotech poster art which I painted.

  5. 5 peter noble
    September 17, 2008 at 3:04 pm


    Some of those illos I’ve never seen before.

    Well done and many thanks to Mr Probert for many iconic designs.

  6. 6 Boris
    September 17, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Great article. BTW, was there ever an original explanation for the moving red eye? Is it a single eye scanning back and forth?

  7. 7 tommyc
    September 17, 2008 at 11:38 pm

    Probert is the man, thanks for the great article. In addition to BSG and Next Gen, we of course can’t forget Airwolf.

  8. 8 Hardhat
    September 17, 2008 at 11:48 pm

    Great article, Mojo and many thanks to Mr P for providing the insight.

    I was wonder what Mr P thinks of the new-version Centurions?

    Great work by both of you & thx again!


  9. 9 traficjam
    September 18, 2008 at 3:42 am

    That’s damn cool.

  10. September 18, 2008 at 5:42 am

    I seem to recall reading an interview back in the 80s with Andrew Probert where he submitted the more skull-like Cylon helmet design to whom ever made the physical model and was a bit surprised when it came back with the more Vader-like look. The model maker’s response was that modelmakers were also designers. (Memories are fuzzy on this though, so take with grin of salt…)

  11. 11 Arcadian DS
    September 18, 2008 at 8:54 am

    I always wondered why Cylons were so fat.

    And the lightbulb headed Cylon leader gave me nightmares.

  12. 12 ThunderMonkey
    September 18, 2008 at 10:23 am

    I would have liked to have seen his comments about the new Cylons too.

    Otherwise, the article was a great read.

    I always had a suspicion about the human Egyptian-looking helmets when I watched the show as a kid.

  13. 13 peter noble
    September 18, 2008 at 10:34 am

    He designed the Street Hawk motorcycle too.

  14. 14 Paul
    September 18, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Great article. Could we see the Skull like Cyclon concept art?

  15. September 18, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    The illustration with the lizard head is priceless.

    Thank you both for sharing this!

  16. 16 Greg Bonkowski
    September 18, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    The suped-up “next generation” cylon would’ve been awesome. Just let’s see Starbuck go face to face with that…And the red-eye with the sound, scary!!

  17. September 19, 2008 at 6:04 am

    As a BSG fan, I loved reading this article on how the Cylon design came about. I would have loved to have heard his thoughts on the new series “toaster” designs but that’s OK. Thanks for the good work!

  18. September 19, 2008 at 7:20 am

    Wow, great nice outfit :)

  19. September 19, 2008 at 8:00 am

    It’s interesting that the producers were insistent on the “high waisted” look. That’s the one aspect of the original design I’m not so keen on, as I think it makes them look a bit ‘puffy’, as if they’re holding their stomachs in. Although, interestingly, the new Cylon design is very big up top, with a size-0 waistline as well. I don’t notice that so much, but I suppose it makes a difference when you know there’s an actor inside.

    Giving the Cylons swords was a great idea, though. The scene in the movie/pilot when the centurions behead/threaten to behead Batlar gave me nightmares as a kid. The idea of a robot that *could* shoot you dead, but instead chooses the slicing and dicing route is very menacing.

  20. September 19, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    That’s all well and good, but how does this fit in with the Cylon plan? And what is their frakking plan? I still can’t work it out.

  21. September 22, 2008 at 2:57 am

    I had the distinct honor and pleasure of working with Andy Probert directly on “Battlestar Galactica: The Second Coming” in 1999. That is the project he is referring to, and I have a few images he sent to me on my site for anyone who is interested in seeing them as well as the 3d cylons I created for Richard Hatch’s trailer which was instrumental in helping generate new interest in Battlestar Galactica several years prior to the new scifi series for which I also created the Celestra.


    My website has a lot of other links to the Battlestar projects, including the finished but unpublished Battlestar Galactica Technical Journal by Realm Press that was illustrated by myself (Galactica Bridge) and Mike McAdams (All the rest).


    Ken Thomson Jr.

  22. December 15, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    Great post! The Cylons were definitely some scary robots in their day.

    This reminds me of a conversation from this weekend … my friends and I were talking about what we thought were the creepiest and scariest of the robots from TV and movies. I actually put Maximilian from The Black Hole at the top of my list. It just oozed menace.

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September 2008

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