Δύσκολα μπορεί κανείς να χωρέσει μέσα σε λίγες γραμμές ακόμη και μία επιγραμματική αναφορά σε όλα όσα ο μοναδικός Doug Drexler έχει κάνει για το Star Trek. Από την δουλειά του αυτή-καθαυτή στη σειρά, έως την καθοριστικού ρόλου συμβολή του στην επαναφορά του Trek στις οθόνες μετά την ακύρωση του Original Series το 1969, ο άνθρωπος αυτός τα έχει κάνει όλα. Χωρίς πολλά λόγια ακόμη, σας αφήνω να βουτήξετε στην ανάγνωση. Καλή απόλαυση!
photo: Massimo Massini
How did you get involved in Star Trek? How was it for you, getting from being a fan to actually work on Star Trek?
I was an original fan from 1966. In fact I watched the entire first season in Black and White. Science fiction was not popular then. It was kind of a small club. Being a dedicated fan for so many years, and then getting to work on Trek for decades was supernatural. I’m the luckiest kid ever.
You did so many things in Star Trek that it’s hard to even list them all. How did you initially move from makeup into the art department and what prompted you to do so?
I’m much too curious and excited about life to ever have one career. Too much going on to limit yourself. Being on the Enterprise-D sets day and night as a makeup guy gave me a chance to examine the design and workmanship. I was a sketcher and designer, and knew that I had to be a part of THAT art department. It was in my DNA. I was particularly blown away by the interfaces and graphics. They were so clever, so stylish, so authentic. I knew about Mike Okuda, and admired him immensely. He was a big part of what gave Trek its sense of reality. One day on Stage 10 (Planet Hell), I saw him at the craft service table getting a cup of coffee. I think I embarrassed him. I gushed my admiration.
You played a leading role in the campaign to save TOS from cancellation after its 2nd season and to bring it back to life after its third and final season. Can you tell us a little about this experience?
I had gotten a letter from Bjo Trimble, who worked for Roddenberry and Lincoln Enterprises. It was what instigated the famous letter writing campaign. I was horrified that the show might be cancelled. Didn’t we have enough westerns, and cop shows? Trek was singular. I started organizing kids to get writing letters. I was 13 I guess. I even ended up in several newspapers. I learned a lot from that. I learned that you could make an impact.
More than 45 years later, you’re in the front lines of yet another struggle, one for a fifth season of Enterprise on Netflix. What do you think are the possibilities of this goal to be realized?
I’ll be honest. If Paramount is going to invest in a new show, they will most likely want to do something all new. They already know approximately how an Enterprise TV revival will do. Odds are they will be prone to do something new, with unknown potential, that might go through the roof.
You designed the Enterprise NX-01 from scratch. What were the basic characteristics you wanted it to have? What prompted you later to also design a refit for the ship?
I wanted it to have a sense of evolution. To be able to see the “steps”, the gradual development toward TOS. Not having a secondary hull said it loud and clear. From the very beginning I had a refit in mind. While designing it I would stop and place a secondary hull, just to make sure it would balance. In my mind, plans for the refit were on the boards at starfleet even before the NX launched. I finished designs for the refit some years after Enterpise was cancelled. I had been editing the Ships of the Line Calendars for a decade, and thought an NX refit would be exciting. The prime timeline still growing in spite of being benched. Seemed kind of heroic. It made sense. A few years “out there” would show Starfleet which way to go. The design team knew they were better off planning a two stage development. Go out, get your butt kicked, learn, come back, refit to to better handle the mission profile. Besides, the Romulan War was on the horizon. It was a necessity.
You also designed the awesome, possible-future Enterprise NCC-1701-J. Would you tell us a little about how this design came to be and how you imagine this starship’s capabilities and life aboard?
I knew that it would need to be a quantum leap beyond, while still keeping the recognizable “Enterprise” design ethic. The way to do that is to give it characteristics that make people say, “... no way! Those pylons are too spindly! A ship 2 miles long!? That’s stupid!”. In fact, I had taken note of reactions to the Enterprise back in the 60s... same stuff... those spindly nacelle struts, and a length of a thousand feet struck grounded people back then as ridiculous fantasy. If you don’t surprise people, or make them dubious, you haven’t stretched enough. I mean, think about it, the U.S. Navy thought airplanes were ridiculous, even after Billy Mitchell sunk a battleship.
I saw this concept as a multi-generational vessel, that had large parks, entertainment zones, and entire universities on board. The ship is so large that turbo lifts would be replaced with site-to-site transporters. I opted for spindly nacelle struts because I felt it suggested a technology beyond what we were familiar with. Matt Jefferies used this same gag on the original series ship with its impossibly thin engine supports. Its nacelles had a floaty appearance, defying the laws of physics. It was my opinion that the ever heavying up of engine struts over the years, took some of the magic out of the Enterprise.
How do you proceed on designing a starship in general? How long does it usually take for you to come up with and finish a design?
It takes as long as you’ve got. The J was designed in three days, because that’s what I had. The NX was designed over several months. Same deal there.
You start by getting a feel for the show in general. Its time frame, the mission profile, etc. Since you are designing to meet the eye of the producer and production designer, you show them as many ideas as you can, gleaning from their reactions what they want. It’s awesome when fans design starships, but they don’t know what it’s like to design for the producer, the production designer, yourself, and the studio. A whole other challenge that makes designing a ship on your own look like a birthday party.
What do you think is the most important part in the design of a Starship? Do you have a favorite Starship Class among all those presented in Star Trek?
I love the original Enterprise above and beyond any of the other restylings that followed. Don’t get me wrong. I love the Ships that followed in the prime timeline. They all kept that most important aesthetic: thoughtfulness. They followed Gene’s believably decree. At the time of the original, nothing like it had ever been seen before. The idea that it never landed was revolutionary. It was quite simply a mind-boggling feat of design. Nothing before or since has been so original. It still stands up to, and exceeds stuff being done today. Usually science fiction designs look pretty creaky after 15 years. The Enterprise still looks futuristic after 50.
How was the experience of re-building Original Series’ U.S.S. Enterprise sets for Relics, Trials and Tribble-ations, and In a Mirror, Darkly?
As you might imagine, those were high-watermarks for us. Between me, Mike, and Denise, those shows were all heart and soul. I mean, we had a fantastic art department. They were all stars. The three of us however, ate, slept, and drank it. Mike and I served as art directors on those shows, in respect to anything TOS. We’d been studying for this nearly 30 years.
At the time of DS9, it was still stone knives, and bear skins. We were using video tapes, and we had a big heavy machine that would spit out low quality frame grabs. The Internet was a glint. I had kept an archive of film clips, articles, and photos. That was our main source of reference. What a great time we had. It was uncanny. Today, there are a couple of TOS set replicas built by fans. Back then almost nothing, so it was extraordinary.
I remember that we had a terrible time trying to get a hold of the actual red screen that was used on the original show. We eventually did locate it, but not in time to use it on Tribble-ations. What we ended up using was by happy, ironic, and serendipitous accident. Mike and I were leaving the stage feeling defeated… the actual screen was nowhere to be found and time was running out. Just outside of the stage door, backlot was digging a trench to replace an underground pipeline. There, being used to cordon the excavation off was a flexible vinyl mesh. I grabbed Mike by the shoulders. Speechless, I pointed dumbly at the mesh. Within minutes, Mike and I had returned with a pair of industrial snippers, and snipped ourselves off an appropriate square of the material. It reminded me of that scene in the “Right Stuff”, where Gridley saws off a workman’s broom for Yeager to use as a door handle.
When we finished DS9’s “Trial and Tribble-ations”, we figured that was it. There is no chance that we will ever get to play in that universe again! Well, when you live in a sci-fi world like we do, you eventually know better! When Manny Coto and Mike Sussman got their hands on the NX wheel, Enterprise made an abrupt course change, and we returned home yet again.
Since this was the USS Defiant, and the footage we shot did not need to intercut with an original series episode as was the case with Tribble-ations, our beloved production designer Herman Zimmerman decided it would be fair to sleek the classic designs up a bit, as if Matt Jefferies had some money back in the day. Updated, but not likely to raise the ire of the most hardened purist. That was always our goal. You must go the extra mile for the hard core fans.
You did a cameo appearance in the Enterprise final episode. What were your feelings about the series being cancelled and what was the reason for its cancellation, to your knowledge?
It was premature, and more than a little politics. The show was getting 3 million viewers, which on a network that wasn’t coast to coast, that’s pretty good. We were getting 3 mil on Galactica, and that was a hit for SyFy. Hey... the only other Star Trek to be killed by politics was TOS.
Naturally we were all VERY sad. VERY sad. We had been together for nearly two decades, and that is a family. That production was about as tight as it gets. We knew it wasn’t just about us, however. We knew there was a possibility that if Trek came back it might be unrecognizable. I think that was our biggest fear. We were that dedicated to Roddenberry’s brainchild, and still are. It’s in our DNA. It was never a job.
Apart from cameos in official Star Trek productions, you also played a Holodeck character in Star Trek Continues. What do you think of this series and of fan productions in general?
I’m one of the fathers of the Star Trek fan film phenomenon. I was part of Star Trek New Voyages. There wasn’t even a Youtube yet.
For the most part I don’t watch any of them. I’m much too opinionated, and I feel proprietary. It would be like watching someone else taking Dorothy on a date. Star Trek Continues is different. It is so on the nose it’s uncanny, AND it ain’t about space wars, and visual effects. I do all of their Enterprise VFX shots. I’m all about recreating the original. I don’t want to fix it, or prove how much smarter I am than they were 50 years ago. I just want to be true. I treat it as if I was called in to do season 4. I know what Bob Justman would have said to me, “...the new shots must cut in with the old, because I’m not throwing away my stock!”. STC is a museum quality recreation. Inside and outside the ship. That’s hard to resist.
Of all the things you have done in Star Trek, what was the most challenging and what did you enjoy the most? Is there some contribution you made you consider your favorite?
Well... of course, the NX. But there are SO many things I’m thrilled about.
During all those years of working on Star Trek, is there something you wish you had done differently?
As an artist, you always think you might have done it better, or differently. It’s part of the process.
Drex Files was a fantastic blog that provided us with the rare opportunity to see all these awesome designs in detail. What was the reason it came off-line?
There were some VFX artists whose work appeared on the blog who felt I was taking credit for their work. I could never! Honestly, I don’t really need to steal credit for some CG model! I have plenty of gold to show! I hope that they manage to be happier people. All in all, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I discontinued the Drex Files after that.
As a fan, do you have any favorite episodes or characters from the Star Trek Universe?
Egad! There are just too many things that come to mind. It’s really hard to have favorites.
Philosophy, humanism, stories, characters, actors, starships, technology... Which aspect of Star Trek do you think most appeals to the fans?
Certainly all of those things appeal in varying degrees to different people. They are the main ingredients of authentic Star Trek.
Many of us feel that J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek deviates from the basic Trek principles and its true spirit. Would you like to comment on that?
I think a lot of people know that I am not a fan of JJ’s Star Trek. I fully recognize that they are dandy action flicks, and I know that they serve as a “gateway drug” to the older stuff for many people. To me it feels like Star Trek with a personality transplant. That “soul” it had is not there. Even at the previous shows’ worst, they all still had that spark of intelligence and wonder abut them. Many times I watched the TV episodes and felt proud of some of the social and human statements they made. I read an interview with JJ where he states that he hated it when Trek got all philosophical and stuff. That was like an arrow in my heart.
What do you think could, or should be, the future of Star Trek?
For one thing, Star Trek wants to be a lot of stories, week after week. Science Fiction is for exploration, and oblique thought. Television is where that is happening these days. Movies are generally dumb, and about big fat explosions, people jumping off buildings, and catching bullets. Television has become the younger smarter brother. Another important thing is who you hire to be a showrunner. It wants to be someone who respects the tapestry that Trek has woven over 50 years. In my opinion it’s just egotistical to have thrown all of that away! JJ, I say no! Star Trek should be constantly asking questions, and asking questions that sometimes make people uncomfortable.
You have also worked, among various other productions, on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica and it’s subsequent prequels. Would you tell us a little about your involvement in those productions?
Once upon a time, back in the days when metal was made of wood, visual effects were created using miniatures. I consider myself lucky to have gotten started in the business when miniatures were still being used exclusively. VFX supervisors, like the amazing Gary Hutzel, have a distinct advantage over those who have only worked in the digital world. Gary knows how things work in real life. He knows how light really behaves. Speaking of Gary Hutzel, we met on TNG when I was a makeup artist. The first time I met him, I knew I liked him. Aside from being talented, he was funny, and there is nothing better than funny. When I jumped to the art department at the start of DS9, I got to know Gary a whole lot better. The Star Trek Art Department in those days worked hand in glove with VFX. We made it our business to be a resource for them. Gary knew that if his budget didn’t cover a model of Starfleet Command in San Francisco, we would make one for him out of bird feeders and CD racks.
So I got to know Gary very well. One day he came into the art department, and saw me fiddling with Lightwave. I saw the lightbulb go off over his head. After that he started having me do stuff for the show inhouse. We had a lot of fun. I remember saying that I hoped we got a chance to do that again. He said, “... be careful what you wish for!”.
When Enterprise was cancelled, I remember driving home thinking that maybe the supernaturally long run was over. As soon as I opened the door, Dorth said that Gary Hutzel left me a message. I was like, holy cow! He’s going to ask me to join him on Galactica. I think it’s been more than ten years now! Galactica is simply one of the best Space Operas EVER. I’m amazed at how many Trek fans won’t watch it out of loyalty to Star Trek. First, Ron Moore’s Galactica is a direct descendant of Trek. It reflects everything Ron learned working on Star Trek. If you haven’t seen it, watch the mini series. Do yourself a favor.
So yes, we did a bunch of years doing Galactica, Caprica, Blood & Chrome, and currently Defiance, on SyFY. I’m one lucky kid!