Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Vulcans in Plastic: Star Trek V

Galoob held a license to create Star Trek toys from 1988-1997.  In 1988 they launched the first Star Trek: The Next Generation action figures and later they created a successful line of Star Trek MicroMachines.  But in 1989, they released what are perhaps the worst Star Trek action figures ever made, for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

By 1989, high-end Trek collectables were becoming very popular so instead of standard action figures, Galoob released five "Limited Edition" figures that were more like statues made of rubber: Captain Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Sybok and Captain Klaa.  Obviously, the two Vulcan ones are of interest to us here.

Without a doubt, this is the worst Spock figure ever created.  It looks like a Vulcan but nothing like Leonard Nimoy.  The head is disproportionately large and it features one of the ugliest Starfleet uniforms ever designed.
This figure does have articulated arms but, like the others, the feet are mounted to a black plastic base embossed with the film's logo.  The base has a slot at the back to slide in a cardboard backdrop.  The art on the backdrop might be the best feature of this figure.
The Sybok figure is slightly better.  His head is not quite as disproportionate as Spock's and the sculptor did a good job of recreating his costume, albeit in a basic, textureless fashion.
Sybok has no articulation whatsoever.  He reminds me a bit of the giant, hollow vinyl Marshmallow Man figure from the Ghostbusters movie.
Overall, perhaps these are fitting collectables for the Star Trek film that is least popular.  As action figures they are sorely lacking and as higher-end collectables they are also sorely lacking.  Lost somewhere between two worlds, these items are still fairly highly sought-after since not very many seem to have been made.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Nilo Rodis: Costumes From the Final Frontier

Nilo Rodis (or Nilo Rodis-Jamero) worked at ILM in the 1980s.  He served as a visual effects art director on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.  He is credited as the designer of the popular Klingon Bird of Prey first seen in Star Trek III.  He went on to work as a costume designer for Return of the Jedi and as an art director on Star Trek IV, V and VI.  When William Shatner saw the detail that Rodis put into his storyboards for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, he hired him as a costume designer.  He shared those duties with Dodie Shepard.
Nilo Rodis in the Star Trek V DVD Bonus Features

In his designs for Sybok, Rodis displays his knowledge of Vulcan design from previous Trek films.  I really like that he put so much emphasis on including triangular shapes.  Triangles have been important visual cues in Vulcan design since William Ware Theiss created the IDIC for TOS.  Designers in for ST: TMP continued the trend and brought it into Vulcan architecture.
Robert Fletcher continued to develop the idea with his costumes for Spock in ST: TMP and for T'Lar in Star Trek III.  
Here are some sketches and a storyboard featuring Sybok by Nilo Rodis.


Maintaining these kinds of design archetypes really helped Star Trek continuity over the years.  Vulcans are easily distinguishable from Klingons, Romulans and everyone else because of design tricks like this.  These designs provide Vulcan clothing with a sense of geometrical order which seems to me, perfectly logical.  The resulting costume for Sybok displays echoes of the previous designs so he can be identified as a Vulcan even though he's the most different Vulcan we've ever seen.
After Star Trek VI, Nilo Rodis has continued to build a rich career in design for film.  Most recently, he served as visual effects art director on Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.  His attention to detail is a trait shared with most Trek designers and one of the things that allows Star Trek's designs to hold up so well over time.

A good source for more of Rodis' work is The Art of Star Trek by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Traditional Greeting Hoodie

Threadless.com has a new hoodie available.  It's called "Traditional Greeting" and was designed by Paulo Bruno.
I think this is a really clever design!  Live long and prosper.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Review: Sarek by A.C. Crispin

This review may contain spoilers.


Sarek is A.C. Crispin’s fourth Star Trek novel.  It was originally published as a hardcover edition by Pocket Books in 1994 and featured beautiful cover art by Keith Birdsong.  It has since been re-printed in various mass market editions and also in the 2004 “Signature Edition” omnibus, Sand and Stars.
The story takes place in 2293 about a month after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and is a nice coda to the original series of films.  It ties in characters from ST III, ST V and VI in a believable manner and brings a nice sense of unity to those stories.  As the title suggests, the novel focuses on Sarek who is one of my favourite Star Trek characters.  Mark Lenard did a brilliant job of bringing the character to life and of keeping him consistent.


Spock's mother, Amanda Grayson is dying and Crispin does a great job of giving us a sense of Sarek's emotional state without compromising his Vulcan control.  The plot forces Sarek to leave his wife's deathbed to meditate an important dispute light years away.  He is clearly tormented by this but his duty to save many lives must outweigh his need to be with Amanda.  Though Amanda understands this, Spock is incredibly angry at his father.  He is left to hear Amanda cry for Sarek as she slips away.  I like what Crispin does to develop and explain the rift between Sarek and his son.  


While away from Vulcan, Sarek begins to uncover a 70 year-old Romulan plot to destroy the Federation.  The conspiracy has links to General Chang and Valeris.  It is suggested that Ambassador Nanclus may have masterminded the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon.  Sarek discovers that a secretive race called the Freelans is actually made up of disguised Romulans who have infiltrated the Federation and are funding a group called KEHL (Keep Earth Human League) on Earth.
Meanwhile, also on Earth, Peter Kirk, nephew of James T. Kirk, prepares to take the Kobyashi Maru test and graduate from Starfleet Academy.  He is kidnapped by the KEHL but finds himself imprisoned by the Klingon Ambassador, thus revealing that the Romulan plot also has influence in the Klingon Empire.  While imprisoned, Peter falls in love with the ambassador's niece, Valdyr.  Their love suggests a beginning to positive Human-Klingon relations.


All of these events come to be intertwined and resolved successfully though a satisfying series of events that gives all the characters a chance to shine but is also believable.  The novel is peppered with journal entries by Amanda Grayson as Sarek reads them to learn more about his beloved wife.  They give us a great deal of insight into Amanda and into her complicated relationship with Sarek.  Crispin establishes a strong backstory for these important characters and also looks to the future, sowing the seeds of Spock's relationship with Pardek and his goal of Romulan reunification.  For whatever reason, Crispin seems to have more latitude than most Star Trek authors.  Where most Trek novels insist on making no lasting changes to the universe, Crispin is able to deal with the deaths of two important characters.  The gravity of the events lends a credibility to the story.


Though Crispin has written two short Star Trek stories since this novel was published she has not written another Star Trek novel.  I really wish she would because in Sarek, she has crafted one of the best Star Trek novels I've read.  I would love to see more!  I give this novel five Vulcan diplomats out of five.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Remembering Mike Minor

Emmy Award-winner Mike Minor is another of the incredible Star Trek artists who is not well-known but deserves to be!  He was born on September 25, 1940 and one of his first Hollywood jobs was working as an artist on Star Trek: TOS beginning in 1968.  He was responsible for designing the Tholian Web from the episode of the same name and the Melkotian from "Spectre of the Gun."  Minor also created many of the wall paintings and diagrams seen on the USS Enterprise.  He went on to work on fan favourites like The Beastmaster and The Man Who Saw Tomorrow and won his Emmy for visual effects on The Winds of War.
Mike Minor in 1979 (note the Trek art above him)

Years later, when Gene Roddenberry began developing Star Trek: Phase II, he hired Minor as a conceptual designer.  Minor contributed to the overall design of the new USS Enterprise and also to many of the interior sets including the Bridge, Sickbay and Engineering.  Many of his designs remained intact when Phase II became Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Moreover, many of his designs influenced those who designed Starfleet sets for the next 30 years.  It is for Star Trek: TMP that Minor contributed to Vulcan design.

Minor worked on designing the planet Vulcan for the scene where Spock addresses the Vulcan Masters.  Recently, Rick Sternbach sold four original pieces of Minor's art for this sequence on eBay.  This is the first time they have been seen by the general public because they have been in his private collection since Minor gifted them to him in 1979.
Most of this sequence was shot in a large outdoor tank at Paramount.  It's clear from this illustrations just how much influence Minor had on the design of this set.  
Sternbach remembers that "...Mike was frequently out in the middle of the Paramount lot in front of the giant "B" tank, directing where the foam spray gun guy was to point his nozzle (to make the hot springs landscape), and wrangling the giant red fiberglass feet of the statue with the staff shop crew."  He says that "Mike was truly enthusiastic about SF and film; he knew a great deal about its history, knew a lot of people in the business, and had a great design sense."

Famous Hollywood curator, Bob Burns, was good friends with Mike Minor.  Burns remembers "Mike Minor was like my younger brother. My wife and I meet him when he was 18 years old and immediately became the best of friends and were until the day he passed away. It still hurts till this day. Not only was he incredibly talented he was also one of the greatest people on the face of the Earth."  Mr. Burns went through his archives for me and dug up this rarely seen piece of work by Minor.  The top image is an actual photo from a shoot at Yellowstone.  The foreground is a detailed miniature that was suspended in front of the camera.  The lower image was modified by Minor featuring a beautiful background painting that was, unfortunately, not used in the final film.
The completed shot is different from what Minor originally proposed but his influence is obvious.  Here are two different versions from different editions of the film.


That red head that appears so mammoth on screen was actually a miniature about 8 inches across.  It was made of resin and recently sold at the Profiles in History Hollywood Auction 40.

Rick Sternbach worked with Mike Minor and Bob Burns on Burns' 1979 Halloween Alien Extravaganza.  Sternbach remembers "Mike was essentially the production designer on that, and we all merrily glued and hammered and detailed the Nostromo set piece. Walter Koenig played Captain Dallas; it was a great deal of fun."

Mike Minor would have celebrated his 70th birthday later this month if he had not been tragically taken from the world too early.  He died of complications from AIDS in 1987.  It is to remember people like Mike Minor that I participate in the AIDS Walk For Life every year.  It has now been 30 years since this horrible disease was properly identified and it is still a worldwide pandemic.  Over 33 million people across the globe are living with AIDS now and it kills over 2 million people a year.  This year's walk is on September 19th.  If you can, please help by donating to the cause.

Though they're not Vulcan-related, I wanted to also share these images of Minor's art for Phase II and TMP.  They are from the collection of Bob Burns and have rarely been seen so clearly.






Mike Minor concept art for V'Ger

Mike Minor concept art for Main Engineering

Mike Minor concept art for a Spacedock


I would like to thank Bob Burns and Rick Sternbach for sharing their recollections of Mike Minor with me and for opening up their collections to share his art with us all.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Happy 44th Anniversary, Star Trek!

44 years ago tonight, NBC aired the first episode of Star Trek.  That episode was "The Man Trap."  Now, 44 years later, 726 episodes of Star Trek have been created over 30 seasons of television.  11 feature films have been made and another is slated to be released in the summer of 2012.

The Man Trap

On September 8, 1966 Star Trek was revolutionary.  Gene Roddenberry's vision of a positive future was astounding given the social and political climate of the day.  He envisioned a future where humanity had not only survived but had overcome the petty jealousies, racism, sexism and capitalistic greed of the twentieth century.  Its vision of hope, more than the nifty gadgets, great adventure stories or larger than life performers, is what has allowed it to become such a huge part of our popular culture.

Gene Roddenberry

Worldwide, whether people are Star Trek "fans" or not, they know the names Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Enterprise.  They know what Warp Speed, Phasers, Communicators and Klingons are.  Catchphrases like "Beam me up, Scotty!", "Make it so!", and "Engage!" can be heard in almost every country.

For me, the appeal of Star Trek is at its roots.  I love Roddenberry's Humanist ideals.  They have informed my own personal philosophies since childhood and helped to make me the person I am today.  For others, the appeal lies in the science fiction adventure and the incredible gadgets that Star Trek has created.  The designers of Star Trek predicted cell phones, personal computers, iPads and needless injection technology many years before any of them were reality.

Whatever its appeal is for you, I hope you take the time today to watch an episode or two of Star Trek and help to celebrate 44 years of entertainment, enlightenment and adventure.  Though we as a species have a long way to go if we're aiming for the ideal of humanity as presented in Star Trek, we will always have it as a guide.  Happy 44th, Star Trek!  May you Live Long and Prosper.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Stuffed Vulcans

This will be one of the strangest posts I'll ever write here but there is a history of Star Trek plush Vulcans that needs uncovering!

The first Star Trek plush toys were released by Knickerbocker in 1979 in conjunction with Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  Knickerbocker was a New York company founded in the 1850s.  It became famous in the mid 1920s when it started producing licensed plush toys based on Disney characters.  The Star Trek line consisted of two toys: Kirk and Spock.  I think they're extremely strange and don't have one in my collection, however, the sculpt of Spock's head is a fairly strong likeness.
Chronologically, we now have to jump forward to the 1990s where Applause (a company that has created many Star Trek collectables over the years) released a Vulcan teddy bear in celebration of Star Trek's 30th anniversary. These bears are about 16 inches tall.
In 1998, my favourite plush Vulcan was released by a New York company called The Idea Factory.  They released a collection of six Star Trek Alien Beans to capitalize on the Beanie Baby craze.  Included in the collection was an Andorian, a Ferengi, a Klingon Targ, a Gorn, a Mugatu and a Vulcan.  

I actually really like all of these but the Vulcan is especially great.  The expression on his face is perfect and his costume is even inscribed with fairly accurate representations of rata, tafar and tapan.
The 2009 Star Trek film created an opportunity for a great deal of licensed products.  Foam hands giving the Vulcan salute were available at the San Diego Comic Con to promote the film.
A company called Toy Box, which is known for creating the products for those toy vending machines with the claws, created four plush Star Trek toys: Kirk, Spock, Scotty and a Vulcan Salute Glove.  These are each about 9-10 inches in height and are still available from ThinkGeek (and in a vending machine near you!).
Notice that the glove even features Spock's rank braid around the wrist.
Finally, in 2009, the Vermont Teddy Bear Company released an incredible pair of 15 inch bears resembling Kirk and Spock.  The Spock bear is now sold out on the official website but the Kirk bear is still available.  Collectors love these!  They feature highly detailed uniforms and even treads on the boots.

I don't yet have one of these in my collection but I do really like the Spock bear so I'll probably hunt eBay for it.

There you have it, a brief history of Stuffed Vulcans.  After all, even Spock had a "teddy bear" in the form of his sehlat, I-Chaya.  Maybe the next Vermont Bear will have six-inch fangs.