Interview: Herman Zimmerman Talks About Trek’s Future Without Him

If you don’t know Herman Zimmerman’s name, you certainly know his work. Mr. Zimmerman has been the production designer on almost every Star Trek project for the last two decades, helping define the look of almost every Trek era. Star Trek XI will be the first film to without Mr. Zimmerman since the 80s, but the veteran designer tells he is just fine with that.

I have enjoyed being the keeper of the flame as far as the look of the franchise since 1987.  I knew Gene Roddenberry personally and was always a fan of the show,never dreaming I would work on it when I was a young art director at NBC in the 60s. I have had a hell of a good time. It is more fun than work,  but I am officially retired.

Zimmerman tells that he never expected to be asked, nor did he want to be production designer for JJ Abrams Star Trek XI. He was not surprised at all to learn that Scott Chambliss was chosen, saying "It’s a natural to gravitate to the people who have worked with you in the past." However the production designer for 16 films and TV shows is quick to point out that Chambliss didn’t just get the job merely due to his long time association with Abrams

You should always take your hat off to anyone who gets the job of production designer because he didn’t get it because he is someone’s nephew. He got it because he earned it. I am sure Scott Chambliss has done his homework and will do an excellent job.

Zimmerman was impressed with Chambliss’ work with Mission: Impossible III, quipping "what’s not to like?" He also noted the historical significance of Chambliss’ working on both the Trek and the MI franchises:

Those two icons of popular television literature and are being rediscovered, and Scott Chambliss has the opportunity to reinvent both of them.

The man who defined the look for ever Trek film since Star Trek V recognizes that the choice of an entirely new team to head up the franchise signals a change for Star Trek.

His [Abrams] charge from Paramount management is to come up with a new direction for the Star Trek franchise. Coming up with an idea that sits under the vision of Gene Roddenberry, a positive vision of human kinds future is still something that has to fit into the envelope of what is happening in today’s society and today’s science. It is entirely appropriate at this time and probably necessary that the franchise get a new kick in the butt.

Even though he is happy sitting this one out, Zimmerman does have some thoughts on how he would approach the look of the original Star Trek series. The designer feels that for the exteriors you can’t do much to improve on the original design, but feels that the interiors could use a little sprucing up. "The bridge of the Enterprise is such an opportunity," enthuses Zimmerman. If the film is truly set in the period before TOS, Zimmerman hopes they take some cues from the functional and more realistic looking bridge of the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise. "If I were doing the picture that is what I would do"

Star Trek isn’t entirely out of Mr. Zimmerman’s life just yet. Recently has has been doing some work on the upcoming Star Trek: The Tour, which will hopefully be traveling across the country later this year. He also hopes to write a book on production design, which would of course include some of his work on Trek. And does he have any specific advice for Trek’s new production designer Chambliss?

I wouldn’t presume. I would be honored to answer any questions they had.


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April 12, 2007 9:29 pm

First to post. Interesting stuff. New blood can be good, sometimes old blood isn’t bad either.

Overall I’ve only been half impressed by Abrams and his usual crew on the work they’ve done so we’ll have to just see.

April 12, 2007 9:46 pm

I have great respect for Mr. Zimmerman, his long career and his great additions to a large body of Star Trek designs.

Having said that, I completely disagree with his suggestion that the new film should incorporate some design elements similar to that of the Enterprise series. I don’t go to Star Trek movies or watch Star Trek TV shows for “realism”. I want Star Trek in all its colorful and often implausible glory. Save the “realism” for something else.

April 12, 2007 9:49 pm

Mr. Z sounds hopeful and I like that.
And despite the uproar it will cause some of the faithful, I agree with him that taking some cues from the NX-01 Enterprise Bridge would be a smart choice.

Stanklin T. McFibberich
April 12, 2007 9:52 pm

“Zimmerman hopes they take some cues from the functional and more realistic looking bridge of the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise. “If I were doing the picture that is what I would do””

Crazy stuff.

Of course with a fake Kirk and crew, it really matters very little. It’s not real.

April 12, 2007 9:53 pm

it’s funny how to avid star trek fans, behind-the-scenes figures like mr. zimmerman can be just as iconic as on-screen characters.

i met him once and acted like a giddy moron. it was the day they canceled ‘enterprise’, he was less than thrilled. it’s kind of sad he’s not going to be working on the next film, but also exciting that it’s going to be approached with fresh eyes.

um. hopefully.

April 12, 2007 9:55 pm
I agree, mission impossible was good but not all that. I always wondered what would have come of ST: ENT with Many Cotto season 4 was the best Trek I have ever seen, and I think if it had been given a Fifth Seaon the ratings would have turned around. I am not a big fan if Sci Fi but do like Trek, I think Abrams has to begin to merge the set designs of ST: Ent and the ST: TMP and through in a bit or ST: TOS. The original trek sets are to bright and to unfunctional as Mr. Zimmerman said. I liked the interior of Enterprise NX – 01. Also new more realistic costumes will be needed. On a seperate note i want to say a couple of things: 1. I am glad the Berman and Braga bashing has died down, it must not have been easy keeping Trek interesting and fresh after nearly 20 years of constant screenings. 2. Enterprise would have been the best Trek, a Cpt. who was naeive about the universe and learnt the hard way not all species are a peaceful as humanity (in the future at least) 3. Many Cotto’s influence brought the show to where it needed be albeit to late. Which is why if a new TV series is produced he should be the leading light. I honestly think Abrams will do a good job, but I doubt he can achieve what fans will want. But to him I… Read more »
Xai ( I christen thee... Enterprise..)
April 12, 2007 9:57 pm

#2 Steve
I recognize your opinion, but I cannot see this new bridge’s control surfaces being populated with knobs, levers and rocker swtiches. Big E needs to better reflect the possible technology of her time. I don’t want “cheesey” looking sets to interfere with my, or anyones, enjoyment of the film. Lets substitute the word “plausable” in for realism.

Xai ( I christen thee... Enterprise..)
April 12, 2007 10:04 pm

#4 Stanky, you have little to worry about since you are completely on the record saying you won’t be in the theater. True?

Kirk and co are fictional, bud. You cannot make a fake of something or someone that really doesn’t exist. Isn’t a little early in the thread to already be pooping on a Trek Icon? ;)

April 12, 2007 10:10 pm

#8 Xai – thank you! You can not make a fake of a fake as the original is a fake. Trek got tired in the end, I honestly don’t care if Abrams changes the look of the Enterprise, I honestly don’t, I think following design cues from Ent, is a great idea! Why can’t people realise that trek is just a T.V show? Yes a very important part of our culture but still only a show.

April 12, 2007 10:17 pm

I’ve admired Mr. Zimmerman’s work throughout his history with the Trek franchise. His set designs were clean, elegant and very pleasing to the eye. They were also very functional looking, nothing too out there, no garish colors. The camera moved naturally around his set pieces and he had a knack for building sets that helped accentuate the mood of a scene. Like Matt Jeffries before him, Herman Zimmerman is one of the great unsung heroes behind the scenes on Trek.

Star Trek V wasn’t a great movie, but his set for the bridge of the Enterprise-A was the best one ever built for the movie series.

April 12, 2007 10:29 pm

Forget any retro looking sets for Star Trek. Star Trek is set in the future and thus should reflect as futuristic a look as possible. It should be full of futuristic gadgets, sets, clothing etc.

If these people have warp drive, surely they have also made huge advancements in starship interior fitouts!

April 12, 2007 11:10 pm

As for the original Enterprise being re-done and the “new” Kirk being a fake, etc, I have three words: GET OVER IT.

What were people expecting — that they would drag the original model out of the Smithsonian and film it? Why don’t we give Shatner a couple of botox injections, some liposuction, and a new hairpeice — I’m sure we could get him close to 1960s standards. Please.

Star Trek is entirely about imagination and possibility. If fans can’t have enough of an open mind to see a new ship with new faces then what does that say about their imagination and openness to possibility? They must have really had a fit when Wolverine showed up in X-Men without his spandex…

Jon-Star Trek Lives On D
April 12, 2007 11:20 pm

I love the classic trek. I grew to like TNG

Jon-Star Trek Lives On D
April 12, 2007 11:25 pm

Evolution things to change. However it is the ideals that can remain. I do not think that the changes that might happen to Star Trek in the future will hurt it. Yeah the nacelles may be a different color. The mini skirts might take a back seat. hell the comunicators may not look like a flip toy. But that does not mean that the spirit of the show will die.

April 12, 2007 11:41 pm

One reason the first two season of TOS was so strong because they had a lot of great writer in the Sci-fi community writting episodes for it and now we have another great writer working on Trek. If it looks good then I’m sure fans will support it.

I agree with Tim on his comment on Enterprise. It was a great show worthy of the name Star Trek and Manny Cotto was great for the show.

April 13, 2007 1:27 am

On the subject of preserving some of the classic retro feel in the new film (or not), recognize that the various design styles of trek throughout its history is not completely exclusive from the eras in which they were designed. I’m talking about TOS and its 60’s hairdos and go-go boots, disco collars in TMP, and let’s not forget some of awesome 80’s-ness from TNG.

Nowadays, technology takes on a very clean, smooth look. Just take a look at the iBook/Mac style that fits so well with our smooth, flat Ikea office furniture. Lots of plain surfaces, polished wood and brushed metal.
Let’s also take into account the many products and designs drawing inspiration from vintage sources. I’ve just bought an iPod dock/stereo that was made to look very ‘atomic 60’s’.

Hmmm… our clean modern style with inspiration from the past run through the trek design grinder–
It might turn out well after all.

Besides, in the future, I’ll bet we can make a tricorder any shape and size we want. Maybe they’re kind of big with knobs and encased in black leather because that’s what we like in the future.

April 13, 2007 2:09 am

I always felt that the look of TOS Trek reflected an actual design movement, the same way different decades have seen different dress senses, building styles and so on. The TOS Enterprise wasn’t just functional, it reflected a period design ethic!

Josh T. ( The Phantom Shatners balding smirking countenance) Kirk Esquire'
April 13, 2007 3:12 am

I never cared for Zimmermans production design aesthetic, I thought his work on Final Frontier and Undiscovered Country was quite utilitarian and uninspired. Contrast the rich symmetry, funtionalism, and production value of the cargo bay area in the first film, with the turbolift shaft in Trek V, granted, it’s a long vertical corridor but, what’s with the Blue light district appearance?

Zimmerman never in my mind recognized that Star Trek supposedly exists in the future, with futuristic materials and alloys, what’s with the wooden conference table on Nimbus III? Again, granted they made do with what they had but, it’s simply unimaginative.

Dan Lewis
April 13, 2007 4:18 am

His thoughts on what he would do for the new movie is probably the reason he isnt involved this time. I thought his design for the ST: ENTERPRISE bridge set was too NASA-esque, and totally diregarded the original series. I would like to see them thrive on the sixties design and make it look really retro, with some extra crome and polish to make it a little more up to date, perhaps with some digital displays etc, but keep the old look, as retro is great. People of today wear retro clothes, deck their homes out in retro furniture, it is a really stylish effect at the moment, so why not incorporate the old elements into the new film, and stop doing it the same old way that Zimmerman used to. He was of course a great Production Designer, but people who are in a job so long can get used to doing the same old stuff…

Stanklin T. McFibberich
April 13, 2007 5:03 am

re: 8. Xai ( I christen thee… Enterprise..) – April 12, 2007

“#4 Stanky, you have little to worry about since you are completely on the record saying you won’t be in the theater. True?”

Close, but not quite. I have previously stated that as much as I loathe the idea, I will likely attend out of masochistic curiosity.

What bothered me about his statement is that he thinks that cluttered Enterprise bridge design is somehow superior to the real bridge.

I am not “pooping” on an icon, but I am pooping on that particular statement.

You mean to tell me that Star Trek is not real? Is that what you are trying to tell me? As Dana Carvey as the fake Johnny Carson used to say…”I did NOT KNOW that!”


April 13, 2007 5:40 am

“Functional and realistic”???? What?

So design esthetics have no place in a future where material science is perfected? Smooth, sleek and sexy are infunctional and unrealistic?

Has Zimmerman every driven a Porsche 911? Typed on a Mac? Written with a Mont Blanc? Admired a Movado watch? Drooled over the Sydney Opera House? Or the admired the sleekness of the “glass cockpit” of an Airbus?


April 13, 2007 6:10 am

More throw rugs,and maybe some nice drapes

April 13, 2007 6:10 am

More throw rugs,and maybe some nice drapes

April 13, 2007 6:12 am


April 13, 2007 6:13 am

Good interview, nice to see something other than u-tube clips.
I have to laugh when I read some of the posts on this site complaining that any one should dare to even suggest making any changes to the ‘Holly of Hollies’, Star Trek.
It is only a TV show people!
Get a life!
I’m an avid Trek fan, but couldn’t care if the new production team make changes. In fact I look forward to it. I stopped living in the 60’s 37 years ago. Obviously some fans never left them.
One wonders if Trek had never been canceled how it would look now. My guess is very differant from how it did in the 60’s. So why shouldn’t a movie made NOW reflect that differance.
I’ve had my rant now.
Live Long and Prosper.
Ps Remember IDIC.

April 13, 2007 6:14 am

Zimmerman is pure class.

Jim J
April 13, 2007 7:31 am

If Star Trek’s strength is in it’s stories, as many of us constantly say (myself included)…the bridge design shouldn’t matter THAT much. That said, as much as I enjoyed Enterprise (yeah, so sue me) I’m not sure if I’d go with that bridge design. I wouldn’t go completely with TOS bridge either. I think it has to be a hybrid of the two. Whatever they do, it has to be believable by today’s scientific and technological standards.

I will say this, though…nothing ever “feel’s as right” to this Star Trek fan than the good old NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, or D) bridge from the TV show. 40 years of it being in my sight is probably part of why that is true.

billy don't be a hiro
April 13, 2007 7:46 am

Let’s not forget that its entertainment first, and thus fun and interesting should trump realism and functionality. Not so crazy as to be unbelievable but also not so boring as to look like the next generation of the NASA either. If Abrams, et al, have decided the future of Star Trek lay with embracing the past of Star Trek, then they should have the courage of their convictions and really celebrate the look, feel, aesthetic and vibe of the original show. That 30 year old Rebel Blockade Runner set from the original Star Wars certainly looked great when recreated for the last Star Wars from a couple of years ago, and it was a big goosebump moment for fans of that franchise, and I think I subtle and respectful updating of the original show’s look would play. If we’re going to be damned, let’s be damned for what we really are. And besides, if its a good movie, with real characters, a compelling story, adventure and romance, and something to say, then nobody’s going to care if the doors are red or the women are in skirts.

billy don't be a hiro
April 13, 2007 7:51 am

One more thing – there has been so much sci-fi over the last decade: the Stargates, Galactica, all the Trek series, the Star Wars prequels, the Lost in Space remake, on and on. A lot of it really starts to look and feel the same. So if Abrams, et al, want to give their new Trek a really distinctive look that would be different than everything that’s clogged the public pop culture’s sci-fi arteries for ten years, they could ask for a more distinctive and attention grabbing design aesthetic than the original series. Love it or hate it, corny or classic, whatever your view, you have to admit, it gets your attention.

billy don't be a hiro
April 13, 2007 7:52 am

^ “couldn’t”

oops :)

T Negative
April 13, 2007 8:05 am

Zimmerman seems like a nice guy but to reiterate what was already said, I didn’t like how NO ATTEMPT WAS MADE WHATSOEVER by his team to try and capture a fraction of the design aesthetic of the TOS bridge. They lost me immediately as a potential viewer because their design did not sit well with me at all. It bacame VERY obvious that Berman and Co. wanted nothing to do with classic trek until the ratings slipped and they were forced to use more and more TOS themes and ideas. Unfortunately for them it was too little too late.

I for one am glad it got cancelled.

April 13, 2007 8:09 am

The best set design were made by Andrew Probert. He did the beautiful clean sets for TMP which were reused for TNG.

The best set ever was the bridge for the Enterprise-D

Jim J
April 13, 2007 8:18 am

Ughh, as much as I enjoy TNG, the bridge set of the Enterprise D looked like a hair studio and spa, to me. Frankly, I loved the “battle bridge” much more than the big boat’s bridge. It was TOO cushy!

April 13, 2007 8:19 am

I liked Lukas and Dom’s comments (16 & 17). The original Star Trek reflected its era, and had its own design sensibility within that context.

My hope for the design of the new movie would be that it’s inspired by the futuristic, optimistic design of the 50s and 60s, but updated of course. (My buddy Kevin used to call it “Jetsonian.”) Just as Tim Burton’s Batman movie had a strong Art Deco feel that worked well for that movie, I think a new Trek film that centers on the Kirk and Spock era would be well served by looking to that era of US history when there was an optimism about the future. Eero Saarinen-style architecture, kidney-shaped tables, swooping lines, rocket fins and chrome — I’d love to see a bright, open, well-lit, clean and hopeful (though not sterile and cold) future in the design vocabulary. Design goes in cycles, with old looks we thought we’d never see again, resurfacing (long shaggy hair on guys & hip-hugger bell-bottoms, anyone?) I don’t think that the 50s futurist look has been appropriated since it originally appeared; this would be the perfect movie to revive that cool aesthetic.

Scott B. out.

April 13, 2007 8:27 am

I love how alien diplomats from TNG wore shoulder pads as though they were on the show Dallas. Artistically, it’s hard to transcend the time in which you live. The Enterprise should be sleek, smooth and eggshell white on the inside. Like an iBook. That would be neat.

April 13, 2007 8:40 am

The best looking bridges are the Enterprise A from ST: VI and the Enterprise E they both look brilliant.

Sleeper Agent X
April 13, 2007 9:04 am

The bridge from TOS is a classic. So is a Model T Ford. But you don’t see too many people driving Model T’s these days, do you?

I will always be fond of the look and sensibilities of TOS. More so now that we can see that show in its true splendor thanks to the restoration and enhancements done by CBS-D. But even so, this really is the time to update Trek, to allow it to better reflect today’s sense of design and technology.

Mr. Atoz
April 13, 2007 9:10 am

I remain hopefull that there will be elements from TOS in the new movie. If Abrams is a fan of TOS I can’t imagine there wouldn’t be some things that reminded us all of those episodes. Uniforms and set designs should resemble TOS otherwise this fan won’t feel like it takes place during or before, if in fact that’s when the new movie is set.

Mark Lynch
April 13, 2007 9:59 am

Zimmerman hopes they take some cues from the functional and more realistic looking bridge of the NX-01 from Star Trek: Enterprise. “If I were doing the picture that is what I would do”

From that one statement above, I for one am glad that he is not working on the new movie.

What I want to see is something that honours the look of the original sets but looks as if it is made up of materials that really do look and feel the part. Along with wall monitors that have moving displays and a futuristic bridge chronometer…. :)

April 13, 2007 10:01 am

I suupose some purists would insist on marbles for buttons and cardboard pictures for bridge displays as well.

Dr. Image
April 13, 2007 10:15 am

The NX-01 bridge, though cool, looked like some alternate universe styled retro Trek sort-of wannabe. Again, having more in common with TNG than classic Trek- something I’ll never understand.
In this case, new blood is a good thing.
Or… they could just call James (T.) Cawley, (Thankyouverymuch.)

April 13, 2007 11:09 am

#37 Sleeper Agent’s got a good car mataphor.

“The bridge from TOS is a classic. So is a Model T Ford. But you don’t see too many people driving Model T’s these days, do you?”

You don’t see many model T’s, but there are sure a hell of a lot of PT Cruisers running around, a car whose design obviously has roots in the past.
I’ll be more excited about a new design if they work in some classic feel and nods to TOS, not to please me, but because it will LOOK GOOD.
Even to non-fans.

There are so many elements of the TOS design that would fit so nicely into a revamped design. Even if it turns out ‘hollywood extremified’ these classic elements are what will set it apart from the current sci-fi design norm.

April 13, 2007 11:14 am

BTW, I’m very interested/worried about how the costume design will be handled.
More so than the bridge. . .

Aaron R (Sleeping Beauty Captain Sisko in the Temple of the Prophits w/ 7 dwarves)
April 13, 2007 11:25 am

News this week is soooooooo sloooooooooooooow… … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Argh I am going to take a nap, wake me if something interesting happens besides the has beens. I am sure B and B will give you an interview if you want to talk to has beens…


Aaron R (Sleeping Beauty Captain Sisko in the Temple of the Prophits w/ 7 dwarves)
April 13, 2007 11:32 am

To make it clear I am not trying to insult big Z but I personaly don’t find the news to be very interesting is all. I will perk my ears up quicker than a Vulcan in Pon Far if we get some actual news from some one whom it actually making the new film not from someone who is not going to have any say in it what so ever. No disrespect but I know for a fact the Abrams engine making the new film will not even question Zimmerman on one thing. That is not bad they need to make there own movie and Big Z and Berman and others need to just rest on their pride for a while. They made a lot of Star Trek good or bad and that was accomplishment enough.

Aaron R.

Vifx Twokay
April 13, 2007 11:36 am

I’m glad in a way. Herman did a great job but really we’ve seen the same look for decades now. I’m ready for something top to bottom new. The way the hatch looks on Lost tells me J.J. has a taste for retro. The way the sets look on Alias tells me he knows how to to high-tech. I think we’re in fine hands…

Tenacious MC
April 13, 2007 11:53 am

Best bridge is the Enterprise-B, sans the diplomatic decor.

April 13, 2007 12:43 pm

Once again, I agree with Lukas (#42). That’s sort of what I was alluding to in my post above. A design aesthetic that borrows from a classic look and updates it.

And diabolik, I consider myself a “purist,” when it comes to Star Trek, but I’ll admit, if I could send messages back through time to Gene and Matt Jeffries, I’d encourage them to have more screens with scrolling data on them. I imagine they could have rigged up rolls of negative film, backlit, that some poor stage hand would hand-crank occasionally, to replace some of the small, square blinky light panels at the bridge stations.

I’ll also go along with #39, Mark Lynch’s comments. Just update the original with better materials, some more practical data interfaces, round off some of the edges…stuff like that.

Scott B. out.

April 13, 2007 1:22 pm

Mr. Zimmerman is/was an awesome production designer…but it’s going to be good to see another designer’s vision. Even though I have the utmost respect for Mr. Zimmerman’s work — let’s face it — it was getting a little stale.

Can’t wait to see what Chambliss does with Trek!

April 13, 2007 1:38 pm

The thing that was cool in TOS was that technology had reached a point where it could be made to follow a look, rather than just be functional.

It’s not such a strange idea; I mean, Apple made their iMacs look groovy and turned their fortunes around!

I’ve never entirely liked the ‘functional’ look in Trek or anything else. It seems to me that too much has been influenced by Alien (effectively a film about a big lorry or cargo ship in space) and Star Wars’ rebel ships (cobbled together by whatever was available while fighting the Empire!)

ST:TMP showed us a sleek Enterprise, manufactured by a hugely-rich, multi-planetary Federation. whose design was influenced by a movement that came after the TOS era, STIII-STIV also reflected that, feel with the utilitarian, functional Klingon ships contrasted with the sleek designs of the Enterprise and Excelsior.

The STV Enterprise looked cheap. As has been said earlier, compare the cheap-looking shuttle bay with the fabulous designs from TMP. However STV and VI perhaps reflect a fresh development in design in Starfleet.

However, I feel the whole ‘functional’ look has been done to death now. We need an Enterprise that’s meant to look cool, rather than just do a job.