Exclusive: Interview with Star Trek: TNG-Enterprise Production Designer Herman Zimmerman

Yesterday TrekMovie put up our interview with Scott Chambliss, Star Trek’s new production designer. The man who held that position for the last couple of decades was Herman Zimmerman, who will join Chambliss at an event on Sunday honoring the design of Trek over the years. In an exclusive interview with Zimmerman below, we talk to him about his time with Trek, and also get his thoughts on the new Star Trek.

 

Interview: Herman Zimmerman – Star Trek Production Designer from 1987 – 2005

Herman Zimmerman was production designer on three series: “Star Trek The Next Generation”, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek Enterprise”. He was also production designer on six Star Trek feature films, starting with “Star Trek V” through to “Star Trek: Nemesis”.

TrekMovie: This weekend the Art Director’s Guild is celebrating the 43 years of Star Trek. You joined Star Trek in 1987 with Next Generation

Herman Zimmerman: I was working as an art director on the soap opera The Days of our Lives back in 1966, and watched all the old Star Trek shows when they were running and thought they were the best thing on television, never thinking I would work on it.

TrekMovie: Looking back on that era, and then going into the Zimmerman era starting with Next Generation, what do you think are the quintessential things about the look of Star Trek that flow through all of it?

Herman Zimmerman: Well the first thing you need to know is that the Enterprise itself is one of the characters. And everything you invent on the Enterprise, whatever new room or engineering facility, or any part of the ship that hasn’t been shown before, is a new opportunity to re-introduce the character and to bring audience awareness of the advances in technology onto the screen. That is part of the fun of doing a new series. Even on Enterprise, which was going back in time to before the era of Kirk and Spock. I enjoyed it to put a nail on something that would grow to be what we are already really familiar with, from the original Matt Jeffries work and Robert Wise film, to the Next Generation and the Enterprise D and on the the Enterprise E. We had to start from the premise that wherever it is that we start, it must be logical where it ends up. That was a fun exercise, it is literally back to the future. Enterprise was also more fun for me because it
was more present day. It was only 90 years in the future, so we can more readily see HD video screens on the bridge. On Next Generation everything was on black plastic, very slick, everything touch screen. On Enterprise we were able to give the actors knobs and levers and things they can actually deal with. I was able to do a couple of fun things, like putting chairs on the bridge that were on glides. so the operator could turn around and slide, and then slide back. I liked that bridge almost more than the Enterprise E bridge, which was considerably more elaborate.   


Zimmerman oversaw the look of Trek from Next Gen to Enterprise

TrekMovie: Of all the ships and bridges you worked on, can you pick a favorite?

Herman Zimmerman: I was blessed with a crew of people that worked with me pretty much from 1987 until 2005, but I had the most talented people in the industry. It is really hard to pin down what was a favorite, because it was the experience of all of us being creative. Taking the sometimes hair-brained ideas of a script and finding a way to make it happen in a very compressed time period. I can say Enterprise was my favorite because it was closer to our own reality, but I could also say the Enterprise E is my favorite bridge, because Patrick Stewart liked it best. 


Bridge of the Enterprise E – Patrick Stewart’s favorite

TrekMovie: Looking at this another way, of all of the shows (TNG, DS9, Enterprise) and ships, the D, the E, the NX-01, and the original series era movies you worked on, which was the most challenging for you and your team?

Herman Zimmerman: It always boils down to: do I have enough time and did they give me enough money? Even with the films, we were always trying to make a silk purse out of something other. I inherited a lot of stuff from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II, and III and IV, which had been saved –  most of it in really bad shape. Where possible, I recycled things and I certainly owe a lot of the ideas of the Next Generation ship interior to Hal Michaelson from the Robert Wise movie [Motion Picture], because those things were still physically standing on the stages when I started Next Generation. Every movie that I did owed a lot to the scenery that was left in the warehouses, that I was able to mix and match and re-invent. And then as things went on, things from the movies would wind there way back to the TV series. It is kind of like you are doing crisis management all the time, when you are doing Star Trek.     


Corridors from TOS movies Enterprise and TNG Enterprise – Zimmerman did a lot of recycling

TrekMovie: Did you ever resent that and wish you didn’t have to re-use things?

Herman Zimmerman: We would always want to start with a blank slate, and the only time I was really able to do that was with Deep Space Nine, and then when Enterprise came along. But then they both ended up making their own scene dock full of things, because you cannot make a series television show without recycling.


Cardassian look of DS9 allowed Zimmerman to start with blank slate

TrekMovie: As you worked on the show, both in the fanzine era and the Internet era, how much of an influence did fan feedback have on your work?

Herman Zimmerman: Many of the people in my art departments were, and are, Trekkies…and now Trekkers. When I was watching the show in the 60s, I had the impression that the people that went to conventions and made Star Trek their life, were the lunatic fringe. I have grown to appreciate them as real visionaries, because they were the ones that kept the show on the air between 1968 and 1979. They were the ones that buy all the products. Faithfully millions of them go to the movies, whether it is a good one or not. Yes, we pay attention, but frankly the fans don’t run the show. The producers and the studio run the show. That doesn’t always make for the best that could be, but it is what has been. It is, after all, a business and casual entertainment. It has become a cult of sorts, a philosophy of sorts. It is a byproduct of this casual entertainment.

TrekMovie: You worked with a lot of different feature film directors over the years with Trek, which one did you enjoy working with the most?

Herman Zimmerman: They were all different. Nick Meyer was one of my heroes. He did Star Trek II and I worked with him on Undiscovered Country, and we worked together really well. He was the one who put me onto what was always my philosophy, but I had never articulated, which was "the future is now." Whatever you think about the future in your imagination. What you know is in the past, and what you aspire to is now. The only way you can imagine it, is by collecting things in your consciousness that already exist. So anything that you are inventing that seems futuristic is always couched in something from the present.


Meyer and Zimmerman applied "the future is now" approach to STVI

TrekMovie: The last feature film you worked on, Nemesis, that had a different look…

Herman Zimmerman: Well [director] Stuart Baird was convinced, in his mind, that this was going to be the first Star Trek movie. He wanted to make it such an important movie in the world of movies in general, that all other Star Trek movies would be forgotten. As such, he was not easy to work with or respectful of the things that had preceded him. He made a movie that was darker. It was a darker story and it was OK. It was certainly worth having done it. Personally, we, meaning the art department, didn’t have as good an experience as we had making the other films. Because of the–I am going to say it–the ego of the director, the film had an edge that well, well I hope we don’t do too many films with that dark philosophy. It was certainly against Gene Roddenberry’s philosophy of Star Trek.  


Zimmerman did not have good time working on ‘Nemesis’

TrekMovie: Let’s talk about the new [Star Trek] movie…

Herman Zimmerman: Well, they did a hell of a job. The movie was terrific. The nod or deep bow to The Original Series, is what put it over the top, because that is what the franchise needed–to go back to its roots. JJ Abrams knows that more than anyone. I know he is a huge fan of the show, and it shows. He was careful with the way he re-invented things. He polished them off and gave them a new lease on life. I love Dr. McCoy with the back story that he invented of this young doctor that is so energetic and so willing and knowledgeable, but not quite experienced enough to make the right choice at the right time, and yet he is lovable, like DeForest Kelley made him. The whole cast was perfect. I can find no fault with it at all.

TrekMovie: With your production designer hat on, what did you think of the look of the JJ Abrams movie?

Herman Zimmerman: Well it is a different problem. The movie is an action-adventure in a way that none of the other Star Trek movies had been. They were slow and pondering by comparison, especially the Robert Wise film which took ten minutes to look at the Enterprise. Since he had CGI to work with, and this cast of characters, and a lot of story to tell in a short time, the problems were entirely different. A good many of them were CGI. And there is nobody better than Scott [Chambliss] to solve those problems. I think it was terrific. If I had done it, I would not have done it as well.

TrekMovie: Did you spot any of your own influences in the film?

Herman Zimmerman: Well the bridge looks like all the other bridges we have done. It is innovative in that it is a whole new bridge, but it is made up of same elements that all the other bridges are made of, but they took everything a step further. 

TrekMovie: When I talked to Jonathan Frakes, he too praised the film, but did admit to having some budget envy…

Herman Zimmerman: Well, we all had that. [laughs] Yes we did have budget envy. That again is a function of the times. The studio’s willingness to put that kind of money on the screen is kind of a new thing, but they got a great film out of it. 


Zimmerman impressed with the work of Chambliss on the new Star Trek movie

TrekMovie: So are you now retired?

Herman Zimmerman: Well I am officially retired as I am not looking for work as a production designer or art director. But I am working as visual consultant to architects. I worked for the Army doing Iraqi Villages, which are like sets, at Fort Irwin, for the all the people that go to the Middle East (see LA Times article for more). I am also working on the back lot at Paramount, re-inventing the New York street there. And I am just about to start working on Plymouth Rock Studios in Massachusetts, they have asked me to design the back lot there.


Zimmerman at Star Trek: The Tour opening in 2008 – officially retired, but still designing

See Zimmerman, Chambliss and more this Sunday in LA
On Sunday September 27th the Art Directors Guild Film Society will be honoring the the designers of Star Trek movies at an event at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. Here is a blurb explaining the event from the press release.

John Jefferies, Joseph R. Jennings, Herman Zimmerman and Scott Chambliss will participate in a panel discussion to be moderated by Production Illustrator Daren R. Dochterman, featuring video clips from their work on Star Trek, as well as a screening of the Director’s Edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Documentary video clips of the late Harold Michelson, Production Designer of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, will also be shown

General admission: $10. American Cinematheque members: $7. Students/Seniors with valid ID: $8. 24-hour ticket information is available at 323-466-FILM (3456). More info at americancinematheque.com, and you can buy tickets at Fandango.

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Patrick Stewart really liked the Enterprise-E bridge the best? I think that’s my least favorite bridge, at least out of the Enterprise ones. It felt too narrow to me, although it does mirror the oval saucer section. I guess I’m just biased to the Enterprise-D set-up because that’s what i grew up on.

I have a huge respect for Mr. Zimmerman. His reputation for being not only a great production designer, but also a fair and easy going boss who believed in the abilities of his staff are incredibly hard to come by.

I so admire him. I have admired his work for a lot of years now.

I always liked his work. Good article!

Mr. "There are always possibilities".

Zimmerman’s work was outstanding.

As to the bridge sets, IMO they are all memorable. There are some elements of some I don’t like. For instance, I didn’t like the single seat in front of the captain like in VOY, DS9 (the Reliant) and ENT. I prefer having both the navigator and the helmsman sharing a common station between the captain and the front of the bridge. I find it much more pleasing to the eye.

Did anyone enjoy working with Stuart Baird… or think he knew what he was doing?
Anyone?

The E bridge definitely had the better color scheme, which allowed for more flattering lighting. I can see why it’s an actor’s favorite. The D had the size, but that lighting… yikes.

I love the console, although they were perhaps overused because the same basic asthetic suddenly became the galaxy standard. Still, it’s a cool look.

Chair movement… also very cool.

Anyway… thanks for decades of great eye-candy that has supported great story-telling.

Classy response re: the new enterprise. I wouldn’t have been as charitable. :)

“Herman Zimmerman: Well [director] Stuart Baird was convinced, in his mind, that this was going to be the first Star Trek movie. He wanted to make it such an important movie in the world of movies in general, that all other Star Trek movies would be forgotten.”

What?!? That is too funny. Baird gets the Ed Wood award for aiming so high and hitting so low.

Cheers to you sir! For creating the backdrop to my very favorite shows and movies! I wish you well.

I think must be rare to have one man helm the PD of a show/movie franchise for so long. Having one vision look forward, to the present, and back (in the future) gives Trek a consistency of vision across its “centuries” that has frankly spoiled us.

He sounds like a terrific guy, and his honesty with regard to Stuart Baird is refreshing.

Thanks, Herman, for all the hard work. Many nerdgasmic dreams take place in your corridors.

Okay, I must raise the stereotypical Trekkie geek complaint (please read in a nasally tone): The Favorite Star Trek bridge poll is a unclear as Enterprise refit/A had (at least) two designs: 1701 (ST:I-IV) and 1701-A (ST:V-VI). So, to clarify my vote, the 1701-A bridge is my favorite (ST:VI, specifically) — which seemed to have been reused for 1701-E (ST:VII-IX).

More importantly, the worse bridge set was 1701-D (ST:TNG), which was awkward and boring. It seemed more like a medical office waiting room than a command center (just missing a few ferns and coffee table). Fortunately, I don’t believe Zimmerman was involved in its design (right?).

Zimmerman seems like a class act.

Definitely a class act and a very talented gentleman.

I really like the NX-01’s lines, but I still wonder why the details had to mirror the Akira class so closely. It would be interesting to hear the reasoning behind that.

Still a cool ship. I should get around to building my model kit of it.

I have to concur that the 1701-D bridge was probably my least favorite of Zimmerman’s designs but only during TNG’s run. However, when Generations came out, I liked it a lot more b/c Zimmerman finally added stations on the port/starboard sides (similar to Yesterday’s Enterprise) and made it more of a command center. Too bad, the Enterprise-D got destroyed but when I see the future version of it from All Good Things…, I’d like to think it had that same bridge instead of what it ended up with. I almost wished it was used instead for the 1701-E.

Although I absolutely loved the 1701-A bridge from ST:VI, the 1701-B version of it was much better b/c it had the TNG-like helm/navigation consoles and I could do without the ceremonial chairs, of course.

He does seem like a really nice guy, especially on the bonus feature of the Star Trek V Collector’s Edition DVD, but I wish SOMEONE would have the honesty to criticize J.J. Abrams and company for their complete lack of originality or courage. The story was dumb and ambitionless and insulting. It had nothing to do with the human condition, which was a part of every Trek incarnation until this one. Abrams doesn’t care about elevating his audience to think about the most pressing issues of our time, unlike the great Ira Steven Behr. He only cares about making money. This Trek is unartistic, soulless fluff, and, even on superficial terms, isn’t entertaining. DS9 was much more exciting, tension-driven, and funny.

#15; He does seem like a really nice guy, especially on the bonus feature of the Star Trek V Collector’s Edition DVD, but I wish SOMEONE would have the honesty to criticize J.J. Abrams and company for their complete lack of originality or courage.

Has it occurred to you that maybe it’s not that no one has the “honesty” to criticize Abrams and Company, but that they honestly disagree with your opinion of Abrams and Co.’s work?

#15: I completely agree with you! I feel like people are blindly loving JJ’s Star Trek. But I ask people this all the time, where was the “message,” or the “moral,” that has been at the heart of every Star Trek story. Coming of Age story aside it was mostly just fluff.

And we can all agree to disagree, it’s part of Star Trek paradigm, and part of the nature of being Star Trek fans.

I have always loved Herman Zimmerman’s designs and he defined the look of Star Trek for 18 years. I agree with Patrick Stewart that the Enterprise-E bridge was the best. In my opinion it appeared the most functional compared to all the other bridges – new movie included. The same goes for all the Enterprise-E sets with the exception of Stellar Cartography which I think the one used in Generations was better. It seems no one liked working with Stuart Baird. With that said, Herman Zimmerman outdid himself with the Romulan Senate set which was one of the best sets ever created, imo. 14, I agree that the Enterprise-D bridge got a lot better in Generations as it looked more like a bridge than it ever did in the series. 6, the lighting of the Ent-D bridge got better in Generations. The Enterprise sets were really cool and did look a lot closer to our time than any other Star Trek set, but then it was set closer to our time so everything fit. As for the new Star Trek, I loved the bridge as it kept the classic Star Trek look but I wasn’t too fond of the industrial engineering and shuttlebay sets, and I really didn’t like the Narada (sets and ship alike). With that said, while it didn’t match my tastes the sets were well done and looked authentic, something that I’ve come to expect out of Star Trek so that made me happy. Despite that I… Read more »

Did Andrew Probert do the TNG bridge? I think I remember seeing an early sketch in one of the Trek art books that had planters on the bridge, like in my dentists’ office. I say this as a fan of the TNG bridge.

I liked Zimmerman’s point about being able to put flat panel monitors on Enterprise’s bridge, compared to the lets-not-use-visble-80s-technology screens on TNG, which were a good idea. The visible 80s CRT screens in some Trek films (or in movies like Total Recall) always kind of took me out of the future fantasy.

Personally, the Ent.E bridge always seemed a little like a recycled version of all the various (awesome) Zimmerman movie bridges. I liked it – but it wasn’t my favourite. Just my opinion. I wonder how much influence Rick Berman had on those designs and if Mr. Zimmerman wishes he could have done things differently…

Herman Zimmerman is one of my favourite designers on Star Trek, what he did on the first season of TNG and his work on DS9 and Enterprise was incredible.

I loved how the Enterprise D looked in Generations and it was down to the lighting and the extra stations. I am a huge fan of his bridge design for the Enterprise E. To mme the Enterprise E bridge is much better than the new bridge for the new movie. In combination with the Okuda graphics Zimmerman’s starfleet ship designs were awesome

I always felt he honoured Matt Jeffries iconic design and show how the tech progressed a century later.

Looking at the poll I am surprised that the new movie bridge gets the highest percentage but I guess its new and shiny and is in the public eye at the moment but to me its not the best.

Zimmerman’s designs and Okuda’s graphics kept the Starfleet look constant in designs

awesome work by a humble man.

I’d love to hear/see more about all the ENT designs and how they came about.

@21: totally agree.

Oh, the Ent-E bridge was fantastic. Loved it best.

Great interview. Zimmerman’s a class act.

Taking ten minutes to look at a new Enterprise rules!

A good way of understanding his talent is to watch the old Land of the Lost Saturday morning kids show. Sure, it looks cheap and it’s from the 70s. But what he did on a Saturday morning kids’ show budget is amazing.

Just think, all of the time they were walking and running around in the jungle, it was all on the same small set. And somehow, you never got the sense that they were in the same place. In other words, you never could tell it was the same set of trees and bushes. He managed to always mix it up, to make it look like a different part of the jungle.

And regarding Star Trek, it’s easier said than done trying to make alien sets look alien with modern, human materials to work with. On a show that shoots a new episode every week. It’s amazing what they were able to do on a television budget with little time to come up with innovated things week to week.

I make a deep bow of this great designer.
He did a fantastic, a brilliant job. He created what Star Trek looked like and nobody ever would confuse with other Scifi shows. One look, and you instantly know “Ah that is from Star Trek”.

@5″There are some elements of some I don’t like. For instance, I didn’t like the single seat in front of the captain like in VOY, DS9 (the Reliant) and ENT. I prefer having both the navigator and the helmsman sharing a common station between the captain and the front of the bridge. I find it much more pleasing to the eye.”

I agree. It is more pleasing to the eye.
But though I think it was the absolute correct decision.
VOY, Reliant, ENT… those were small ships,
1701,A,B,D,E … those were big ships

Would there be any better possibility to show the audience with only one small detail if they either watch a big, powerful cruiser or a small escort, science ship ;)

Thank you for all the great work over the years, Mr. Zimmerman…I admire your work.

Great work, Anthony. Excellent interview.

“Well the first thing you need to know is that the Enterprise itself is one of the characters.”

Hallelujah!

like this guy…

Umm I think Zimmerman is getting too much credit here. He was the Art Director which meant he had others working for him. I bet if you look, most of the designs mentioned were probaly the brainchild of John Eaves and others that worked for Zimmerman. Just a thought…..

I think its great that Zimmerman takes direct aim and fires at Stuart Baird. Is he the only one who has said it like it is and not pussy footed around it?

Also I agree with #31 – the Enterprise is one of the main characters, if not Kirk’s one true love.

Note to Orci and Kurtzman: Enterprise is a character, NOT a prop.

Stuart Baird made what is close to the worst ST movie, with the exception of Star Trek V, of course.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Mr Zimmerman a few years back on the set of ‘Enterprise’. It was an all too short meeting, I would have loved to get into a good chat with him. I love his work and I hope he enjoys his retirement.

Thanks for everything.

If the collective effort of everyone involved in Star Trek is considered a “body” of work, I think we all know which part of the anatomy of said body Stuart Baird represents.

Hint: the word for this body part begins with an “a”.

Gawd, I hate it when someone is egotistical and arrogant with no discernable talent to back it up!

You ARE the weakest link……GOODBYE!!!

Class act. The polar opposite of Chambliss in many ways. (Wish he wasn’t so diplomatic!)
Love the DS9 bridge.
Hell, I think ALL of his work rules.

We need an interview with Stuart Baird on this site. That would be entertaining.

– I really love his work…he was the best trek designer …although the corridors from TOS are looking so damn..futuristic…even now..

37:

Harry:

Stuart Baird is an A-list Hollywood film editor. Just seems that successfully directing is beyond his reach. And ironically, scenes which were edited from the final cut would have actually improved the film a great deal. Not quite Shinola, but at least more character driven.

15

Sorry, but I think you’re making previous Trek out to be a lot deeper than it really was. Sure it’s had it’s moments (especially on DS9), but for the most part Trek has always been a fairly lightweight adventure show, that only superficially touched on the issues of the day.

I mean, besides the simple, feel-good message of “saving the whales”, what exactly was so deep and profound about TVH? The whole setup was just an excuse to send the crew on a fun and crazy adventure– which is no different than what they did with the NEW movie.

41:

AJ:

I don’t care if this moron can turn water to wine, nobody in a position of authority (director) should bully people around or treat them like crap.

38

Well he had no problem calling out Baird, so I’m sure if he really had issues with Chambliss or the new movie, he would have said so.

Surprised the Ent bridge was mentioned as a good design – it was clearly just a redress of the Defiant’s!

Zimmerman is a genuis though, his visual style perfectly suited the TNG era. Wonder what he would have done with the 2009 film’s budget!

#17 – “But I ask people this all the time, where was the “message,” or the “moral,” that has been at the heart of every Star Trek story.”

Umm no it hasn’t. And of course, most of those “morals” and “messages” were hardly groundbreaking in that it is just telling us stuff we knew in grade school. Oh how useful Star Trek was in telling me that “We should be nice to different people.”

#31 – “Is he the only one who has said it like it is and not pussy footed around it?”

No. A couple of the actors have also noted their displeasure in him. In fact that is where I’ve heard about him referring to Levar Burton as “Laverne” or whatever it was.

I think Stuart Baird was caught in an awkward situation: there was a desire coming from somewhere to ‘shake things up’. So the film got a new-to-Trek screenwriter and an ‘outsider’ director, presumably with orders to . . . ‘shake things up!’

Much is made of Trek cast and crew being ‘a family’. I think the whole putting ‘outsiders’ Baird and Logan on the project was a big mistake. If a team is entrenched and perceived as getting stale (there was definitely that feeling well before Nemesis), you don’t shoehorn in new people, you do what Paramount sensibly did next: clear out the entire team and bring in new people.

I liked a lot of Zimmerman’s work. It’s a pity he never really got the Enterprise-D bridge seen the way he wanted it. I remember seeing a Generations pre-filming photo of the bridge with all the additions, noticeably the more prominent ceiling beams, but that was all hidden by the moody lighting in Generations.

It’s not wrong putting “outsiders” on a Trek project. But it was wrong to put these hack outsiders on the project!

My theory is that Paramount wanted Nemesis to fail. According to John Eaves they already started to discard sets while they were filming. Everyone knew it was going to be the last TNG movie, and I do think that someone at Paramount did the Hudsucker Proxy with Baird and Logan.

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