This is the fourth installment of a multipart interview with Richard Taylor, the lead designer at Robert Abel & Associates, who were the original special effects team hired to produce the designs of the miniatures and special effects for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Taylor: So everything about the Enterprise model was designed based on what I was storyboarding. Because I was supervising the storyboards. And Ed Verreaux, I don’t know if you know who he is? He’s incredible.
Gore: Yeah I know who he is.
Taylor: Yeah he did Contact, and… well the list could just go on and on…
Taylor: Yeah, he designed E.T.
So anyway, Ed is one of my dearest friends, and I hired him initially at Abel, and we surf and stuff. And he was my main storyboard artist. He storyboarded all the effects sequences. We ended up storyboarding the effects sequences at least three times as they kept changing the script. When you change major sequences in an effects film, that affects the budget, by changing the physical effects the number of shots, the function of the models, the effects animation… everything.
So each time they changed the script, we would have to re-board, re-budget, and re-design how certain scenes would be created.
By the way, to give Ed some major props, the Enterprise is one of the most difficult objects in the world to draw. So storyboarding it in scene after scene is crazy difficult especially drawing it at acute angles.
Gore: Oh I know. I’ve tried to draw it. (laughs)
Taylor: So there were a lot of designs I had to redo other than the Enterprise. There was the space office complex, the dry dock, the Vulcan shuttle, the Klingon ships. etc. The Klingon ships were one of the first things I had to tweak. I had to re-design the cladding patterns on the Klingons and the size and details of the bubble shaped con at the nose of the fuselage that fired their photon torpedoes. We redesigned their surface to make them have a design motif that made them look more bad ass and bird like.
So all that stuff was based on function, things that were going to happen in the storytelling.
One of the main features of the Enterprise is that the saucer is an entire spacecraft unto itself that could jettison from the rest of the ship. So one of the questions on your Fabrication Study 03 is what are the functions of some of the rectilinear hatches on the bottom of the saucer?
Taylor: In drawing number 08 the lower rectangle that you have circled there, that rectangular piece, that’s one of the four landing gear hatches.
Taylor: Those drop down to become landing footpads if the saucer had to land on the ground. The others, the larger ones are hatches. One of the main hatches was on the top of the saucer where the crew would rise up out of the saucer at the beginning of the whole V’ger walk sequence. You saw the scale reference contact sheet I sent you.
Gore: Yeah. I believe part of that was eventually done, in the theatrical release of the film, with a matte painting. And was re-done digitally for the Director’s Cut DVD.
Gore: I definitely know what you are referring to.
Taylor: Right. So a lot of those hatches where in place for storytelling purpose. Some hatches were removable so the model crew could access the electronics. Like the airlock hatches, those sorts of things, those basically were removable so they could get in to fix the electronics if we had a problem.
Gore: So was there anything designed to be inside of those openings? Or was it just cheated visually?
I know the airlock one was in order to match the live-action set for the cut scene of when Kirk and Spock are coming out of the airlock for their space suit walk.
Gore: But for instance, in that one labeled “A hatch” for example, was there any structure or was there anything but in there? Or was that left open so you could get access to the electronics if something went kablooey inside the model?
Taylor: Um, one or two of them had details built inside of them enough so you could see something in case there was an angular view. So you could see some detail in there. The others were not.
So to answer your question, there wasn’t a lot of detail in there, inside of those because you were never going to see in them as a part of any storyboarded shot.
The only place you were going to see it was in the original storyboarded sequence they all came up on the surface and did the walk from the Enterprise to the V’ger site. So they were going to come up to the surface after the hatch opened on an elevator and step out onto the surface of the V’ger surface surrounding the damaged Voyager Six spacecraft alter.
Taylor: So that was the only place that was storyboarded to do that.
Before (Doug) Trumbull took over the effects there was a major space-walk sequence featuring Spock and Kirk. I had come up with this idea that the interior of V’ger was made of “bits”. The bits were little spheres that could fly about, like bees; you have probably seen some pictures of them.
They were covered with digital designs made of reflective 3M material used on stop signs etc. You could hold one in your hand and it would glow from a light source reflected from the camera lens. This effect has been used in creating lights on models and other effects.
So the concept I had was that inside V’ger, nothing was solid. That if you saw an object or a shape, it could break into “bits” that would fly as a swarm and reform themselves into another shape some where else.
And so when the Enterprise was passing through V’ger, there were these metamorphic things happening all around it as V’ger was analyzing it.
The whole spacewalk was centered around Spock touching V’ger and mind melding with it. That’s what was originally written and planned to be in the movie. Then when Trumbull got involved, he come up with the idea of Spock putting on the rocket-pack and taking the high speed flight through the interior of V’ger.
Gore: So I think I have seen some behind-the-scenes shots there at Abel, with you and Gene and everybody talking and there was a table full of small little dimensional pentagon shapes, like oversize 20-sided die or something, maybe a dodecahedrons, that were about the size of… well just a little bit smaller than a tennis ball.
Where those like the swarm pieces that you were referring to that were going to be inside of V’ger?
Taylor: No. What you are seeing in those pictures is when we were reviewing all of the models that were underway at Magicam’s model shop. So those hexagonal pieces… those… (laughs a little bit)… those where part of the space office complex.
They were Plexiglass and I assume they were going to add more detail and greeble them up. They had nothing to do with V’ger.
Gore: Oh, ok. Gotcha.
Taylor: I can send you a picture that shows you a “bit” in someone’s hand.
Anyway. The point being that the hatches, or anything that animated or opened and moved on the Enterprise was based on story points. One of the difficult sequences, that you brought up earlier is where Kirk addresses the crew, and they all witness the V’ger attack on the space station. And for that, set the audience was supposed to be able to look out the large window and see the nacelles. Trying to build that set to match the model, there was a back-and-forth going on there between the art department and the model design group that was not resolved very well.
As you said, the set was twenty-four feet high or thereabouts and was built on one of the biggest stages at Paramount.
Anyway. We tried to match all this stuff up, so the engine room, and how that was positioned and the interior layout of the Enterprise was functionally design as the cut-away poster illustration by David Kimble shows. So we did put thought into figuring out where everything was and stuff and to make it an environment the crew lived in. Such as putting things into the model like an arboretum or botanical garden, where there were trees and organic life, that was all a part of the complete design we created.
Gore: Circling back to the nacelles again for a second. What you are referring to as the magnets, the magnetic portions of those things, where the slots that were cut into those on the one side that lit up, and the other side that didn’t light up that had the smaller slats on them, where those cut into the material?
Or where they radially applied pieces to a curved piece on the inside?
Like if you notice on, I believe it is page 06, you can kind of see where they are drawn there as perfectly horizontal planes, or where the slats, particularly on the non-lit side, where those strips of metal that were radially applied to the inside curve?
Taylor: I believe they were applied to the inside curve like they are in drawing D.
Isn’t that what you are suggesting there, on page 6, drawing D?
Gore: Well those are all different cross-sections looking at it, so I guess if you look at image 18, the color 3D illustration, on the non-purple side, where those just strips of metal that were applied to that inside curve, so they actually end up being a radial arrangement if you are looking at them end-wise, where they would be a radial pattern?
Taylor: Yes, it was a radial pattern. And it was milled out of metal. It was not individual strips that were put in there. It’s a milled piece.
Gore: Ok great.
Taylor: So it had the curvature like that, and they were not planes that stuck out in your 06 piece. They are exactly like you said. There in image 18, they have that curve shape and they are a single piece.
Gore: Gotcha. Now was that the same on the lit-side? And were those “light slots” cut into that material? Or where they formed/fabricated with that same radial slots in them? where they parallel to the horizontal plane?
Taylor: Ah… ask that one more time.
Gore: On the side that lit-up, where it had five slots that are openings for the actual purple/blue light to come through from the fluorescent light on the inside, was that cut into the material or was it formed into the material? And those slots, were they parallel with a horizontal plane ? Or were they radially cut into, or formed into the piece?
Taylor: Your’e going to have to ask Jim Dow that one.
Taylor: I can’t tell you for sure.
Because the idea of those things glowing and creating a warp-field image and so forth, kind of got nixed in production along the way. Either (Gene) Roddenberry, or somebody basically said “oh no, we don’t need to do that.” So all the pictures in the film, I mean I don’t know if the Director’s Cut if they really did anything, but in the initial film don’t really glow that much at all.
Gore: Oh, no. What I meant when I was referring to “glow” I was really just referring to the light that was coming through those slots as opposed to actually being a glow that extends out beyond the engine itself into the space between the nacelles. Which is what I believe you were referring to that was storyboarded. At least one of the storyboard or concept sketches of showing a cool interactive light shape that would be between the engines.
Taylor: Well the answer is… ah… you’re going to have to ask Jim Dow.
Gore: In other words, “I’m going to have to punt.”
Taylor: Yeah I’m going to have to punt that one.
You know I initially wanted the glow to be on both sides, on the outside and in the inside. But then it got reduced to just the inside. So there was going to be an effect between the nacelles. It was going to be an animated radiating effect.
Taylor: No, that would have been more of a electrical type of thing. No not anything where you saw electrical bolts or anything. It was going to be more like looking through heat. You know a heat distortion type thing with a bluish color to it.
Gore: So more like a ripple?
Taylor: Yeah. Like when you look at a mirage, but it would have had a coloration that would have pulsed through it. The effect would have been more like heat waves. So there would have been this optical distortion when you looked through it to any other part of the Enterprise.
Gore: Ah. That would have been interesting.
Taylor: It wasn’t going to be like any electrical energy bolts that we’ve seen in many movies. I think that would have been way too distracting. Again it was the concepts of the nacelles having anti-matter in them that created vortices or a wake in space. Whatever that means. So basically I needed it to be something that was more organic, and looked like a distortion rather than a electrical energy look.
Gore: A warping of space.
Taylor: Yes. That’s what was planned but it never happened as a part of the effects created by EEG.