Well this morning I had a very long and wonderful conversation/interview with Richard Taylor. He was very generous with his time (the interview ran nearly 2 hours) and this is the first installment of that conversation.
Richard Winn Taylor II (also sometimes credited as Richard F. Taylor) is a director, graphic artist, designer, and modeler who, as Effects Designer was the lead designer in the employ of Robert Abel & Associates (RA&A). They were the original special effects team hired to produce the designs of the miniatures and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (ST:TMP) after it was shifted from a planned sequel television series, Star Trek: Phase II, that was to anchor a new Paramount “Fourth Network”.
Mr. Taylor was the lead at RA&A and was point person for the overall design of the USS Enterprise filming miniature for the movie. He was in charge of, and oversaw the design of the majority of the miniatures and also designed the original effects sequences for the film before it was shifted to, and split between, Douglas Trumbull‘s Entertainment Effects Group (EEG) and John Dykstra‘s effects shop, Apogee, Inc.. In addition RA&A was involved with on-set practical effects, and other various aspects of the film production (more about that in the interview itself).
Taylor graduated from the University of Utah with a BFA in Painting and Drawing in 1967. Shortly thereafter, he co-founded Rainbow Jam, a multimedia light show and graphics company which has provided effects for concert performances by such bands as The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. He also began his career in film-making during this time, with one of his first films, Integrator, winning several film festival awards.
Taylor joined RA&A in 1973. During his tenure, he directed numerous television commercials and won four Clio Awards. He also created graphics and logos for for companies such as ABC Television, CBS Theatrical Films, and Columbia Pictures.
It was during this time when RA&A landed the job of designing the effects for the Star Trek film Paramount Pictures green-lighted, motivated in no small part to the unprecedented success of Star Wars in 1977.
Taylor’s formal involvement with the production (though he retained onscreen credit) ended after RA&A was pulled from the project on February 22, 1979. Though his actual involvement had started to wane earlier on, “At about the time Paul (Olsen) started working on the paint design is when my participation in the project began to wane as Trumbull took over the picture and I moved on from the Abel studio to work on a project with Terry Malick.”.
Taylor went on to became the creative director at the pioneer computer graphics imaging studio Information International Inc. (III), where he directed some of the first computer-generated TV commercials. He went on to design and direct the special effects for the 1981 Michael Crichton science fiction film Looker which starred Albert Finney, Susan Dey, James Coburn and Leigh Taylor-Young.
In 1981 Taylor worked as Co-Special Effects Director, Computer Effects Supervisor, Electronic Conceptual Designer, and Graphic Designer on Disney’s hit science fiction film TRON, starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, Cindy Morgan and David Warner.
His work on TRON earned Taylor a BAFTA Film Award nomination in the Best Special Visual Effects category. Following his work on TRON, Taylor founded the West Coast office of Magi Synthavision, one of the other computer animations studios that worked on TRON. One of the commercials Taylor directed at Magi, called “Worm War One,” won the first Clio Award for Best Computer Animation.
In 1985 Taylor began working for Lee Lacy & Associates, creating commercials for clients such as the Ford Motor Company, RCA and Duracel. Two years later Taylor moved to Apogee where he launched the 7 Up company’s world-renowned “Spot” campaign. These commercials introduced the popular “Spot” character which became 7 Up’s mascot. Taylor won a Clio Award as well as two 1989 International Monitor Awards for his work on these commercials. From 1988 through 1997 Taylor continued directing commercials, first for Image Point Productions and then for Dryer/Taylor Productions. From 1997 through 2000, he directed for Rhythm & Hues.
Between 1975 and 1991 Taylor has received a total of nine Clio Awards. His commercials also garnered him two Gold Hugos in 1990 and two Mobius Awards in 1992. More recently, Taylor’s work on the “Harvest” commercial for SAS (Statistical Analysis Systems Inc) placed second in the Special Effects category and won first place in the Animation category at the 2001 Telly Awards. His special effects work on the SAS commercial “Flood” also won first place.
In addition to operating his own company, Richard Taylor Design, Taylor concurrently worked with Beach House Films. He is also the Cinematic Director at the video game company Electronic Arts, where he worked on The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth and The Battle for Middle-earth II and several entries in the Command & Conquervideo game series. His work work on 2007’s Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars received a Visual Effects Society (VES) Award nomination for Outstanding Pre-Rendered Visuals in a Video Game.
More recently Richard Taylor worked on projects like Shrek Forever After (2010), and for companies like Turner Classic Movies, Disney and Ubisoft Games. Currently, Taylor is the director of XLNT FX, also serving as vice-chair of the Visual Effects Society.
In what started as an online question about the Enterprise model in a Star Trek Facebook group which Mr. Taylor had commented in (and after having recognized his name) he and I struck up a chat conversation that turned into a scheduled phone conversation which took place on March 26,2017.
It ran a little over 2 hours, and I will be posting a transcription of it here on this blog as go back over it. Here is the first installment that I have quickly transcribed.
Mitch Gore: Well first of thank you for agreeing to this and sharing your time with me in what is the ultimate in “nerdom” of calls. I really appreciate your indulging me with this call and letting me pepper you with all these hyper-detailed questions.
Richard Taylor: It’s fine. I’ll do the best I can.
Gore: Ok, great. I think I have a pretty healthy understanding of some of the history on how you got involved with the project (ST:TMP) so I am hoping to skip some of that aspect of it, because as I said I think I have a pretty good handle on it. So I don’t know if you wanted me to just dive right with my first set of questions, or what works best for you?
Taylor: Well really whatever you want to do. I’ll leave it in your court so you hold the minutes so I’ll follow along.
Gore: Ok, great. My first question was what was the overall process of translating your design into fabrication?
Was there ever a master set of orthographic drawings that were then handed over to whoever was going to be doing the fabrication had to work from?
And were there individual dimensions worked out and listed in those drawings?
Or was it simply a matter of measuring the drawing and working out on a 1:1: scale on the model?
Taylor: Well, first of all the initial model that was being created by Matt Jeffries for what was going to be the television feature, in various books I have been interviewed about the evolution of all of this, there was some really interesting things he had done. That I thought were a great starting point as far as the design. As far as the actual construction of the model, the scale of it, the technology in it was not nearly what we needed.
But his initial approach to the design had some good things. He had elongated some of the design of the struts that carried the nacelles and were swept back. Have you ever seen a picture or drawing of his piece?
Gore: Yeah. The “Phase II” drawings?
Gore: Yes I have seen quite a few of those drawings and have seen some of the photographs of the fiberglass model that I believe Dan Loos was the one was doing that fabrication on. So I have seen those.
Taylor: Well, so when I started, I didn’t have any decent blueprint drawings from him. So I just started from scratch. I literally drew the orthographic views of the Enterprise. I didn’t do the bottom view I don’t think… I did the side-view… initially and I never inked that in. They were all done with mechanical drawing tools, you know the types of drawing tools. So I did a side-view, and I drew a top-view, and I did some separate drawings of the nacelles.
So those drawings were… the actual dimensions of the drawing was about three feet wide. Somewhere, buried in my archives somewhere, are the blueprint reproductions of those, if they haven’t bleached out.
Anyway, those initial drawings were what were delivered to Magicam.
And then we began there, and Jim had Mark Stetson and Chris Ross and both of them, and Chris Ross being a designer from… or a graduate from… ArtCenter… they started doing their own versions of them, to get into what they needed to.
So they interpreted those and I don’t ever remember any drawings that were full scale.
Although they may have done some in some way to you know, manufacture some of the parts, or to get those done. So they did do full scale drawings of some things. But there was never a full scale drawing at the size of the model was of the whole thing. They just did individual parts as they needed to do.
So does that answer your question?
Gore: Um, yeah… it does to some extent. I, like some other Trek-nerds, are coming at it from obviously the other side or direction. We (Trek fans/modelers) are trying to reverse engineer what we see on-screen or the various photographs of the filming model. Particularly those taken when it was up for sale at the Christie’s Auction House.
So that’s what kind of prompted me to reach out to you, and led to this entire conversation. Which is that we are trying to figure out the precise methodology of both the design and the translation of that design into fabrication. So that way we can work out precise measurements and shape and scale of individual components and everything else.
So it’s good to try and understand the process.
It definitely does address some of it. Obviously that wasn’t the answer I was hoping for, in that I was hoping for this Holy Grail of “oh yes, here’s the blueprint drawing with every minor sub-component all measured and marked up with it being this many inches tall, by this many inches wide, and this many inches deep.”
But that’s life.
Taylor: Yeah. No, there are the initial drawings I did that I just described and I haven’t really found those in a long time. I have so much stuff that’s in storage and stuff here and there. Someday they may be dug up.
But I did… again, the side-view, the top-view and the nacelles. Mainly to focus on the stylization I wanted the thing to have. Then it was a back-and-forth process between they… they being Magicam. Then I brought on Andy Probert on and he worked with me on on getting into to refine certain details. You know the ion engine, and certain things. The nacelles, I did all the work on those myself.
I had Andy as a backboard because he was a serious Trekkie and I was not. You know I had watched the television series and some of them were ones I had known and were cool, a lot of them I thought were just plain silly. So I was not a crazy Star Trek fan. So I kind of needed someone who knew the history of it. And Andy was a great sounding board for that. He brought a lot of that into the design and into the project.
Gore: Gotcha. Well just to reiterate, that’s one of the things we on this side of the screen have been focusing on. Trying to arrive at the accurate angles and dimensions of individual subcomponents. I have seen, what I believe was your side-view orthographic drawing that you did, in your interview with the Beyond the Marquee website…
Gore: …and they had a pretty large-scale, high-resoluton scan of that. And Like I said it is beautiful to look at. But unfortunately that is kind of what is driving what’s behind my questions. How accurate was that drawing vs. what actually ended up being fabricated an ended up on screen?
Obviously there were some intentional changes made, like the bridge superstructure was modified and the lower sensor array on the primary saucer was modified and added onto and stuff.
Taylor: Yeah. That was added on by Trumbull when he took over the show. So… “that” being the addition on the bottom side of the saucer. Those rectilinear pieces that were added to the scanner piece.
Taylor: But to answer your question, yes it is very close to that drawing. That drawing and the orthographic drawings you have seen that were all inked beautifully, were all inked under my supervision by… oh, I’m trying to remember his name… I can’t remember his name right now. He did the cut-away of the Enterprise. He was a renowned draftsman that…
Gore: Oh you’re talking about David Kimble. Is that who you are referring to?
Gore: Yeah he did the “official blueprint” set that were sold by Pocket Books, and he did the large cut-away poster as well.
Taylor: That’s right. So those orthographic official drawings were done by David and he was on the show and those were done before everything were sent off to be shot after Trumbull took over. So to answer your question, those are pretty accurate.
Gore: Ok great. Again, this is going to be descending even further into the weeds and stuff, and maybe this is a question that Jim Dow or the people that were doing the fabrication over at Magicam might have better recollection of, but do we have.. I read, I believe it was an interview with Jim Dow somewhere, that the fabrication of the main saucer was a turned form. Almost like a turned shape or form, and I was wondering if the plastic skin of the model itself was then vacuformed over it?
Or was it a “cast mold” that plastic or resin was poured into?
In other words, was it a two-part mold?
Or was it a form that was then built up with 1/8th inch plastic it was formed onto?
It was turned on a big lathe as a big form sculpt. And then… it was not a vacuform. It was basically… the problem with vacuform was of course you just don’t get the type edges and you get “rounding” as a result of the thickness of the plastic and you can’t do that.
It was not a vacuum formed.
Gore: Ok, yeah gotcha. Because it’s kind of soft around the edges, like blister packs.
Taylor: What’s that?
Gore: I get what you are saying. Because vacuforming would soften all the angles, and seem-lines and everything. Kind of like blister packaging that you see in the store. I get what you said.
Taylor: Well the molding processes that they worked up for the show, they were breaking some new ground all along during the making of that model. And I would be happy to put you in touch with Jim Dow to really drill down into all that side of it. Because that was their bailiwick and I was there almost daily to just answer questions and if something wasn’t working, we would come up with a solution.
We worked back and forth really well.
So to get the real “real” specifics of basically every material and so forth it would be great if you would talk to him. And I know he would do it if I said “sure, talk to this guy.”
First of all, I want to ask you one question. Are you building a physical model? Or are you making a CG model… what are you doing?
Gore: Actually I am kind of doing one, in order to do the other. (chuckles)
Taylor: I see.
Gore: I started out, or rather into, my mania quite a few years ago. I bought the 1:350 scale Polar Lights model of the Refit-Enterprise and I was going to be building that when I realized that were some minor inaccuracies in the molding of that model.
So then I started to work on getting hyper-accurate illustrations in order to fabricate my own replacement pieces for the model. To make it more accurate to what was on screen. And a little over a year ago that started me down the rabbit-hole of trying to reconcile all the various fan-created blueprints, with the “official” blueprints, and what was actually seen on screen and everything.
So that’s kind of where I am coming from. It was to make the most accurate model possible for myself, and to share that work product with other Star Trek fans and modelers down-the-road.
Taylor: What was the scale of that model?
Gore: Well the Polar Lights model kit is a 1:350 scale kit and it is commercially available.
Taylor: Oh yes. Ok.
Gore: But since I started doing this… I am a graphic designer by vocation, I work at Xerox as a Senior Designer… so I work in Photoshop and Illustrator daily. So then I started a 1:100 scale set of drawings and then have been porting the shapes over into 3D modeling software. Where I am working out exact, precise dimensions. Down to the millimeter at full 1:1 scale if the ship was actually built.
So literally I could get down to the scale of a rivet…
Gore: …on the “actual” ship. That’s one of the reasons why I am getting into some of these down-in-the-weeds questions. Because… well for instance:
If the turned mold for the saucer had plastic sheathing to make the model skin itself, if it was 1/8th inch thick plastic that was used on the outside of the form, that adds (at a 1:1 scale of a full-size Enterprise) over a foot, almost 15 inches thick to the top and bottom of the saucer.
So trying to reconcile that with Andy Probert’s concept sketches for the placement of the Rec. Room , which has led to huge fandom controversy over that fact that it was intended to have a 20 foot high ceiling inside of the outer rim of the saucer, and it wouldn’t necessarily fit. Particularly given that the on-set dimensions of the actual live-action piece, where the extras were filmed, had 24 foot high-ceilings… and that kind of stuff.
It’s trying to reconcile all the various iterations to make it all fit.
And that one of the things on a personal level, I really appreciated about not only your work, but Andy Probert’s work, and all the people that worked underneath you. Is that you tried to make it all “legitimate” and all work within a single design rationale.
That’s something I greatly appreciate and has been sorely lacking in most science-fiction films.