Visit The Official Star Trek Shop Now!
jump to navigation

REPORT: Star Trek Designers Talk Trek History At Art Directors Guild Event September 28, 2009

by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Art,Conventions/Events/Attractions,Feature Films (TMP-NEM),Star Trek (2009 film),Trek on TV , trackback

Sunday night at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, the Art Director’s Guild held a special event honoring the design of Star Trek. On hand was a panel of distinguished designers, including Scott Chambliss and Herman Zimmerman, sharing their thoughts and memories with the capacity crowd. Video will be made available next month, but we have photos and a report with some interesting comments below.


Star Trek Designers Honored
Report from Star Trek ADG Event September 27th

The panelists for the event were John Jefferies, who worked for his brother Matt Jefferies on Star Trek: The Original Series, Joseph R. Jennings, Production Designer on the aborted Star Trek Phase II and then on Wrath of Khan, Herman Zimmerman, production designer for all the Star Trek TV movies and TV shows (except Voyager) from 1987-2005, and Scott Chambliss, Production Designer on the new JJ Abrams Star Trek. The moderator was Darren Dochterman, one of the ultimate Trek fans, who also worked as an illustrator on Voyager and VFX Supervisor on the director’s edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

(L-R) Dochterman, Jefferies, Jennings, Zimmerman & Chambliss

After some quick introductions the event was broken up into four sections, one for each panelist, firstly showing clips. Things kicked off with Jefferies and clips from episodes of the original Star Trek. Jefferies said that he got his start from his brother, but felt pressure because his hiring was "smacking of nepotism" and how he worked "under the shadow" of his brother. One of the tidbits the designer talked about was how much set dressings they used were scavenged from RKO where they would "paint them bright colors, stick ’em on the wall and run a piece of plumbing to it". Noting that they always wanted things to "identify things with a form of nomenclature" so they would color code and put numbers on things even though "it didn’t make sense, but look believable." John got a big laugh telling the crowd his favorite bit of nomenclature was putting "GNDN" onto things, which means "goes nowhere, does nothing."   

John Jefferies

Next up was Joseph R. Jennings, who started talking about being an Art Director for Star Trek Phase II, the aborted TV show that was morphed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. He talked about how the initial challenge for Phase II was how the show was to be set after the original series, noting "how do you go from depicting the future to fifteen years further into the future?" Discussing how TMP inherited the designs of the refit Enterprise, he said that he had a "war on his hand" that after the success of Star Wars, the studio wanted the ship to be much more complex with lots of bits and pieces on it, but in the end he won the argument to keep the simpler "Chris Craft" look, but in the end he said "I won the argument and the Enterprise stayed looking pretty slick."        

Joseph Jennings

Discussing his return to Trek for Star Trek II, the Jennings noted how that film saved a lot of money by using a TV sensibility. On the notion of re-using set pieces Jennings quipped "if you are used to television, they save a lot of money because they don’t have time to argue about it" and joking that usually when you change things over and over "you don’t have anything that is any better." In discussing creating Ceti Alpha V on stages at Paramount, requiring all the sand and the big fans, the people who had it even worse than the actors were the cameramen who had to take apart the equipment at the end of every night worth of shooting because of all the sand that got into the cameras. Jennings also took some credit for the famous Mutara Nebula battle in Star Trek II, saying he had to convince director Nicholas Meyer that it was the only way to make his notion of two galleons fighting make sense, by stripping them of their sensors.

Up next was Trek vet
Herman Zimmerman, who reigned as Production Designer for Star Trek for 18 years. Zimmerman talked about his background before Trek and then how he interviewed with Gene Roddenberry while working at Paramount. According to Zimmerman the word on the lot was that Next Generation "was going to be a failure", but he was convinced by Roddenberry’s personality and commitment so he took the job. Zimmerman also gave credit to illustrators Andy Probert and Rick Sternbach for the look of Next Gen, especially the Enterprise D, but he noted that Probert did not have "a practical bone in his body" with regards to practicality or budget, and his job was to take their designs and "make it happen."   

Herman Zimmerman

Zimmerman went on to discuss Star Trek V and VI, noting that on Final Frontier "the studio cut the legs out from under that film", citing how the studio would not give director Shatner the $2 million he needed to do the elaborate ending the film needed. Zimmerman talked glowingly about working with Nick Meyer on Star Trek VI. Zimmerman then went off on a tangent on how Gene Roddenberry’s vision of Star Trek is like the Sherlock Holmes series, where Arthur Conan Doyle set up the premise and other writers can come along and do Holmes stories. He then tied this to the new Star Trek movie saying:

I think the biggest tribute to Star Trek storytelling is what happened with Scott Chambliss’ film, and how JJ Abrams is able to grab a hold of the original story and take it way, way up in the stratosphere. Don’t you think? 

Zimmerman pays Chambliss a compliment

Going on to talk about Deep Space Nine, he admitted that it was his favorite series to work on, as he had "three empty stages to fill" starting from scratch. And regarding his work on the TNG feature films, he discussed a highlight being the Ba’ku village that was built for Star Trek Insurrection, where he noted how the art department "made a village  where there was nothing." Wrapping the discussion of his time with Trek, Zimmerman said of Star Trek Enterprise again talked about how he liked that the show was "closer to our reality"

The final panelist up was Scott Chambliss, the Production Designer on the latest Star Trek movie. Dochterman started off noted that Chambliss had the "no win scenario" taking on the venerable franchise and trying to please both core base and new fans, with Darren paying the compliment "I think you did it."  Chambliss admitted that his first reaction to getting the job was "terror". He was concerned that director JJ Abrams would want to make a film dark, like the dystopic film Children of Men, which was released around the time Star Trek was in pre-production. However, and the designer was relieved in his early talks finding that with Abrams wanted an optimistic look for the film, actually telling Chambliss ‘we are not doing Children of Men, we are going Roddenberry here.’ Chambliss was also magnanimous in calling out his whole art department and how they "all did their best work on this film", especially noting the work of concept
illustrators Ryan Church and James Clyne.

Scott Chambliss

The discussion then moved on to the decision making for using sets, versus locations and CGI. Chambliss noted that they were blessed with a large budget, however that doesn’t mean that they got to always do everything they wanted as they wanted it. He then brought up the controversial use of a Budweiser plant for the engineering set of the USS Enterprise, as well as another industrial location for the engineering set for the USS Kelvin. Chambliss explained:

Those were choices based on the circumstance we were in with the budget. Both engine rooms were designed to be massive entire sound-stage filling sets that did not look at all what you saw on screen. But the realities of what we had to deal with made JJ And I go "okay, let’s find a location that has got to have huge scale…and see what we can find." I think that is the most vivid case where our original intention had to be modified to fit our budget circumstance.

Chambliss also discussed the different looks of the Earth/Federation, Vulcan and Romulans, explaining:

That was a building block of doing the show. It is three different cultures, and in our philosophy of where they came from, they come from three different places. The Vulcan culture, that technology so heavily relied on logic and science and the sensibility of emotion being way down there [motions down]. Starfleet and human beings obviously, emotion plus logic, hopefully in equal parts. And we determined that the Romulans were very much physicality, emotion, passion–that defined their world and technology.

Regarding the part of the film he was most proud of, Chambliss cited the interior of Spock’s "Jellyfish" ship. And, as he noted in our recent interview, he again cited the Iowa Bar scene as his least favorite. He went into more detail noting that originally that part of the film was to take place in a big village on an alien planet, but again it was something they couldn’t afford, so the scene was rewritten for Earth and Chambliss (noting he wanted to do it at the funky Clifton’s) chose to use the bar in an American Legion hall to suit Abrams taste.

Things wrapped up with some audience Q&A followed by a special credits reel made by Mike Okuda, crediting everyone who worked in the art department on Star Trek over the years, followed by a very candid unaired interview with the late Harold Michelson, Production Designer on Star Trek The Motion Picture.

Star Trek panel at ADG event honoring Star Trek

Video for the evening, both the panel as well as the clips shown, will be made available by the Art Director’s Guild in October. The above is only a small taste of the full event which went on for around 2 hours, so when the video is available TrekMovie will post it.

Star Trek panel at ADG event honoring Star Trek


Photos: Paul Cantillon


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
September 29, 2009 1:06 am

The more I hear about why star trek V was left unfinished, the more I understand it.

Millennium Vulcan
September 29, 2009 1:11 am

Chambliss seems to like the bling.

September 29, 2009 1:14 am

yeah I felt that the only set on the Enterprise that really didn’t look right was the engineering set. It looked too industrial and 21st century to be part of a 23rd-century starship.

Chris Dawson
September 29, 2009 1:35 am
I was there for the event – Daren Dochterman was a perfect moderator, the Okuda’s did a wonderful credit roll of Art department personel over the course of the series’ and movies and had a great choice of music to go along – “Fly Me To The Moon” by Sinatra. They really have class. The Harold Michelson footage was also wonderful, especially his use of the word “Shock” to describe his experience with a Trek Convention! That was a great article – glad that they will make a video available. Thanks for getting that for us all. And it was… Read more »
The Riddler
September 29, 2009 2:30 am

This is the problem with the new film, instead of sticking with a Star Trek Themed look liked Joseph Jennings fought for, they go for the Star Wars moving parts look for the ships in the new movie.

screaming satellite
September 29, 2009 2:44 am
regarding TFF – when Paramount said no couldnt Shatner have raised the 2m himself to finish the ending? i mean it was his film and his reputation as a film director was on the line….or maybe he couldve said ‘ok forego my fee and i’ll take points’ or something…i dunno. im sure he mustve done something like that to try and get his vision up there as he was wanting it to be the best and most epic Trek… its odd though that out of all the stories he couldve come up with (both new and recyclyed/sequels to TOS eps… Read more »
angry rockman
September 29, 2009 5:19 am

c’mon paramount…give The Shat the green light for a fully realized directors cut DVD of Trek V

screaming satellite
September 29, 2009 5:29 am

7 – someones trying to start the ball rolling on it:

September 29, 2009 6:39 am

If only JJ Abrams could have known ahead of time that he was not going to need the Rura Penthe scenes for the final film, he could have scrapped the scene altogether and put that money into a proper Engineering set…

September 29, 2009 8:25 am

LOL, Shatner and The Final Frontier suffered the same fate as Abrams and NuTrek? Nice.

September 29, 2009 8:30 am
I still dislike the engineering sets. But now I have a better understanding of the facts about why they were chosen. I still don’t know why they had to be so massive, or for that matter, why the whole ship had to be so gigantic. My preference wuld have been to scale back the size of the ship (didn’t it look big in all the other Trek movies? I never got the feeling that the Enterprise in the new movie was over twice as big.) that way there would have been no real necessity to have a set that was… Read more »
Kosher Coder
September 29, 2009 9:12 am

Interesting that they showed TMP on the big screen. I’ve heard that the Director’s Cut isn’t viewable at that resolution.

September 29, 2009 9:36 am
#12, I’ve always wondered about that as well, especially as I’m pretty certain the director’s edition was screened at a movie theater prior to its home video release. I’ve always been interested in the evolution of Trek’s production design over the years so this would have been a fun panel to attend. I’d especially love to see that interview with the late Harold Michaelson as I always loved his work on ST:TMP even though, from interviews that I’d read, it sounded like he wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan. It’s also good to finally get some concrete info on why… Read more »
September 29, 2009 9:37 am

Maybe now with the standing sets built, they can spiff up Engineering within the new film’s budget: At least show us a central control area buzzing with activity. A Jefferies Tube would be nice as well.

Would love to see Simon Pegg’s Scotty Jerry-rigging something in the tube while Spock looks in the from the corridor

Dr. Image
September 29, 2009 9:46 am

I hope some of the other guys “rubbed off” on Chambliss.
It would do him good.

Jeff Bond
September 29, 2009 9:47 am

That Budweiser plant bought a lot of other production value for the film, period. You wouldn’t have seen the scope, the level of physical action and the polish of effects work that put the new film over the top without using that location and that’s a trade I’m happy they made.

I didn’t stay for the TMP screening but I did see it screened at Paramount and I believe it was projected right off the DVD–not exactly 70mm quality but it looked acceptable.

September 29, 2009 9:58 am


I don’t know, I thought it was about time they scaled up the size of the Enterprise a bit. While the designs still worked, the earlier ships no longer seemed quite as impressively huge and GRAND as they used to.

Especially when you compare it to something like the Galactica.

September 29, 2009 10:17 am

And if they didn’t BLOW most of the budget @ Shaper Image for the UPC Scanners, they’d have had the $ they needed for engineering set..ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Price check on the bridge! oyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyvieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

September 29, 2009 10:29 am

“The Director’s Edition” of Star Trek – The Motion Picture was shown in standard definition from the DVD and it looked fantastic! Nobody complained about the image, which filled the screen and held up. I saw no jagged lines and details were very clear and the color was rock solid. The sound was also wonderful.

September 29, 2009 10:42 am

Star Trek always looked great, even when the stories weren’t exactly up to par. Thanks to Jefferies, Zimmerman, and the rest for making the future look so cool. I can’t wait until we get there….

BTW: I agree with Zimmerman that DS9 had the best production designs of any Trek show, or, maybe, any show in history, IMHO.

September 29, 2009 10:44 am
6. screaming satellite – September 29, 2009: ‘plus Trek09 – Kirk hitting his head like Scotty……Spock poking the fire like he did at the start of Trek V toasting marshmallows…i really got a Trek V vibe when he said ‘mutiny?!’ just the camera angle, Nimoys expression and the flames lighting his face…..Spock getting it on with Uhura – like Scotty in TFF……..Kirk leading the assualt team with Sulu and Olsen – like Kirk leading the assualt team in Trek V with Sulu and a bunch of security guys.’ Yes. Star Trek 11 is replete with references to past Trek. Here’s… Read more »
September 29, 2009 10:58 am

wish I’d have had the possibility to attend. looking forward for updates.

is there any documentary or book out on various Star Trek designs (interiors and locations), with drawings, concepts, ideas that never were realised or how things were and are done if built physically and not CGI?

I for one would love to know how I can construct myself a Star Trek themed living room…

September 29, 2009 11:01 am
7. angry rockman – September 29, 2009: ‘c’mon paramount…give The Shat the green light for a fully realized directors cut DVD of Trek V’. Sadly, I think that it’ll most probably never happen. TFF is certainly not one of the best Trek films; but I think that most fans are too critical of it. TFF has some great character moments; we learn intimate character details about two of the three leads, details of their past, of their roots, details that have shaped who they are, and details which weren’t considered in the TOS. This revelation should be valued by anyone… Read more »
September 29, 2009 11:17 am
16. Jeff Bond – September 29, 2009: ‘That Budweiser plant bought a lot of other production value for the film, period. You wouldn’t have seen the scope, the level of physical action and the polish of effects work that put the new film over the top without using that location and that’s a trade I’m happy they made’. Nevertheless, do you agree with those of us (who in fact seem to be the majority here) who think that the engineering set looked anachronistic and somewhat difficult to believe? Difficult to believe that the flagship of a 23rd century space armada,… Read more »
September 29, 2009 11:43 am

I hope that someone had the temerity to honor Matt Jeffries, from whom all their hard work laid the foundation for their work.

bill hiro
September 29, 2009 11:48 am

#24 – don’t expect much in the way of criticism of anything associated with the film from anyone closely linked to

September 29, 2009 12:01 pm
Some of the CGI in this edition of TMP was not good on the big screen. Such as the San Francisco Scene. These guys were so nice, they all signed my ST VI Laserdisc cover, as most of them worked on there, also Ralph Winter is coming to my school next week and I am going to have him sign it too! So, it is covered with 10 signatures! But, Scott Chambliss is such a nice guy, I thought he had a lot of class, and here he is, a prod. designer for multi-million dollar films, and he was honored… Read more »
September 29, 2009 12:04 pm
Oh, by the way this part: “That was a building block of doing the show. It is three different cultures, and in our philosophy of where they came from, they come from three different places. The Vulcan culture, that technology so heavily relied on logic and science and the sensibility of emotion being way down there [motions down]. Starfleet and human beings obviously, emotion plus logic, hopefully in equal parts. And we determined that the Romulans were very much physicality, emotion, passion–that defined their world and technology.” Was an answer to my question: Why did the Romulan ship have water… Read more »
September 29, 2009 12:44 pm

I understand they had to use an industrial location for engineering, and it certainly doesn’t bother me as much as you guys, but I agree there are better locations to depict a 23rd century starship. They could have shot on location at a particle accelerator facility for example…

Add minimal set dressings, and more control panels and computers, and you’d really have something nice and more believable than a brewery. However, budget might not have allowed them to aquire such locations.

But in the end, the industrial locations don’t really bother me anyway.

September 29, 2009 12:52 pm

Man, does every comment thread here have to talk about Engineering?

Syd Hughes
September 29, 2009 1:14 pm

Yes, cuz the Budweiser engineering stands out as the only thing that wasn’t damn-near perfect in that entire movie.

It sucked, and therefore stuck out like a sore thumb in a flick that was otherwise a triumph of design.

September 29, 2009 1:16 pm

It didn’t bother me at all. If you bothered to read the Cinescape magazine, they added a lot of CG to that set to make it look different like the piping, etc. I bet most normal moviegoers thought the set looked fine.

September 29, 2009 1:55 pm
24: “Difficult to believe that the flagship of a 23rd century space armada, a ship that could travel faster than light and destroy whole planets no less, would have an engineering section that was replete with water pipes and steam valves?” That is no harder to believe than that here in the 21st century we find modern technology using the same sorts of gears and cogs that have been around for 2000 years, just made of different material and often controlled by computer, but still very prevalent and necessary for modern technological devices to work. Unless you are proposing that… Read more »
Lord Garth, Formerly of Izar
September 29, 2009 2:05 pm

Where was Rotten Rick??

September 29, 2009 2:35 pm

And by the way, during the scene in ST.09 when the cadets are flying aboard the Enterprise via shuttle, what’s that spied through the open bay doors on the ceiling of the cargo deck??? Pipes. Lots of ’em. In CGI.

Can’t blame THOSE pipes on Budweiser.

September 29, 2009 2:44 pm
33. dmduncan – September 29, 2009: ‘I think it’s absurd that so many people here seem to think that how things are done in the 23rd century will have nothing in common with how they are done in the 21st century’. The people who think that the engineering set looks anachronistic and hard to accept don’t deny that there will likely be *some* continuity between the 21st and 23rd centuries. We deny that the continuity is likely to be as *strong* as is depicted in Trek 11. The strong continuity is, in fact, present only (at least it’s by far… Read more »
September 29, 2009 2:53 pm

I remember in Trek 5 where Kirk, Spock, Scotty walk through the corridors, and there’s lots of pipes around. In Trek 6, when the door opens to reveal the body of the dead assassins, you can see pipes all over the place.

September 29, 2009 2:54 pm
29. Daniel Broadway – September 29, 2009: ‘I understand they had to use an industrial location for engineering, and it certainly doesn’t bother me as much as you guys, but I agree there are better locations to depict a 23rd century starship. They could have shot on location at a particle accelerator facility for example…’ Well, it’s a bit more difficult to plug a partial accelerator facility than a beer company in a film! If Uhura had instead said, ‘Hey Kirk, I can’t go out with you anyway: I’m going down to the partical accelerator facility at CERN tomorrow,’ I… Read more »
September 29, 2009 3:02 pm
Conduits are to be expected in any ship or structure until such time as wireless power transmission is feasible ala Tesla. My house and my own business has conduit that I have run myself. More than likely the structure that you are in now has some running through the walls. What I didn’t understand was the use of a water turbine. I’m sure that there will be an explanation of why there is a huge volume of water running through engineering that requires passage through one. And conduits aren’t necessarily “pipes”. I just didn’t like the way the Budweiser plant… Read more »
September 29, 2009 3:26 pm

I always assumed that what we saw in the new movie was just the brewery section of engineering where they make the Enterprise beer for the crew.

September 29, 2009 3:27 pm
36: “All or almost every other aspect of the film looks futuristic.” And that’s a totally subjective feeling that I don’t share. I can hear two Mideasterners of the 11th century talking about what life will be like in the 21st century, and one chastises the other claiming that surely by the 21st century steel and concrete will have passed out of use in favor of more “futuristic” materials. “The strong continuity is, in fact, present only (at least it’s by far the most pronounced continuity) with engineering. All or almost every other aspect of the film looks futuristic.” Have… Read more »
September 29, 2009 3:34 pm

39: “What I didn’t understand was the use of a water turbine.”

A few people have commented on the water turbine. I don’t understand other people’s confusion on that. Turbines are used to pump fluid. If you have water in pipes it’s not there to remain still but to get somewhere, and to get it where you need it you will have to pump it. What’s the mystery?

Lt. Bailey
September 29, 2009 3:55 pm
The engineering /brewery was just not right. The majority of new movie goers to Star Trek would not think of it being off base. Although they may now think all engine rooms will be like that…brewing beer. They could have made it look larger by doing something besides the industrial factory look. Not to mention the weight, how did that thing get off the planet? Granted its weightless in space but it must have been hell to get that off the surface into orbit. My vote goes to Insurrection for worst… that was not good film and it is the… Read more »
September 29, 2009 4:12 pm
dmduncan I am familiar with impeller type pumps. I guess in my own clumsy way I’m trying to say that, to me, it looked awkward and out of place. Rather than having a readily discernible function on the ship (other than the obvious moving of water) it seemed to exist only to endanger the future chief engineer. Complete with clear pipes so that you could follow the action. The human eye has ways of detecting when something looks inconsistent with the environment or surroundings it exists in. This is one of those cases where I didn’t buy into what I… Read more »
September 29, 2009 4:13 pm

#42 – What’s the purpose of all that water on a starship? Think very carefully.

September 29, 2009 4:23 pm


So that when the ship needs to sneak up on somebody, they dump the water outside and let it freeze, so they look like a comet to outsiders.

Hey, the rationalizations that have been used for REAL to justify all these screwy art direction and storytelling bits on this Abrams thing are just as screwy as this!

That One Guy
September 29, 2009 4:48 pm
Ah, design threads. How I love thee. My 8 cents (accounting for inflation): Budweisser plant, not the greatest, not the worst. It was actually the ORIGINAL way that they wanted to do the Enterprise in TOS, but they didn’t have the money. Would I like to see the good old thrumming core? Yes, very much so. And maybe we will see it, since they lost their cores to the black hole, they may just do a “refit.” Shredding turbine things: seemed a little bit “Galaxy Quest” for my taste. I could’ve done without it. All in all, I can’t wait… Read more »
September 29, 2009 4:55 pm


Much like the Holiday Inn commercials, no I didn’t make a “multi-million dollar movie(s) along with reenergized a multi-billion dollar franchise.”

But I have seen them. And I know what one looks like.

It’s all a matter of taste. And mine may be different than other’s.

September 29, 2009 4:55 pm

45 – They were living in a brewery. Why do you think they had to have that much plumbing? Duh.

That One Guy
September 29, 2009 5:00 pm

You know I love ya and I respect your tastes. It’s really the ones that say stuff like “the film was bad because of this” or “I won’t see the next one if they have this” that bug me. You just said it seemed out of place, and I agree to an extent. Please see “thrumming warp core” comment above.

It’s a minor itch on the back of the movie. Either way, it lives on.

wpDiscuz is represented by Gorilla Nation. Please contact Gorilla Nation for ad rates, packages and general advertising information.