Andrew Probert: two
and a DeLorean in the résumé
Editor of Trek Brasilis
Probert was not just a designer who happened to work in Star Trek.
He was the man responsible for the updating of the original
series' Enterprise to the motion picture format and the one
associated with the visual creation of the Enterprise-D, in "Star
Trek - The Next Generation". After the first season of
the series, however, he just left. Now, from his home in Dallas,
he tells us why and remembers how it was to work for Star Trek,
Disney Imagineering and his current attempt to get aboard for the
updated version of the 70s' series "Battlestar Gallactica".
Trek Brasilis - Many people who
later became involved in Star Trek were long-time fans of the
original show. Were you one of them?
Andrew Probert - Very much so. I loved Star Trek from
the very beginning because it was intelligent and did not play
down to the audience.
TB - How did you come to first get
involved in Star Trek, during the production of "Star Trek
- The Motion Picture"?
Probert - I had become friends with Star Wars designer/illustrator
Ralph McQuarrie and he had been working on the "Television
Movie" of Star Trek when George Lucas asked him to come work
on Star Wars II. At that point, he had just begun work on "The
Motion Picture" so he recommended that I come apply for his
position of concept designer/illustrator. That was at the special
effects studio of Robert Abel. I showed them my stuff, they liked
it and I was in.
TB - You are known to be the
creator of the upgraded version of the Enterprise for the original
series movies. Did you talk to Matt Jefferies (the artist who
created the original Enterprise) prior to preparing your first
Probert - No, I never had the privilege of meeting the
legendary Matt Jefferies. Being a fan of the series, however, I
was very familiar with the show's design philosophies when the
Trek Movie of the Week was canceled in order to produce "The
Motion Picture". Joe Jennings (the Art Director) had
already put together their version of the "upgraded"
Enterprise and a model had been loosely put together. We, on the
motion picture team, took on the challenge of providing a look
that was beyond that scope of television thinking. You see, the
image was to be SO much larger that we needed a look to match it,
and that's where I came in. My effects art director, Richard
Taylor, assigned me the task of designing all the humanoid
hardware including the Enterprise. His one stipulation, however,
was to stay close to the proportions of the Jennings design. He
also wanted to strongly influence the new ship's warp engine
design, but beyond that, the ship was pretty much mine. We stayed
fairly close to that concept, but we changed most of the details
--most of the engines, photon torpedo tubes, the top and bottom of
TB - And how did the enlargement
of budget and the fact that you had a larger screen to fill affect
Probert - Well, it's just that a larger screen dictated
that we needed a larger miniature. I never actually saw it, but
from what I understand, it [The Phase II miniature] was about 3 or
4 feet long, probably closer to 3. The Enterprise we built for "The
Motion Picture" was about 6 feet long.
TB - It is said the Enterprise you
projected was able to separate in two sections, like the
Enterprise-D from The Next Generation. And it is also said
you suggested how to use this feature at the ending of the movie.
What is true about all that?
Probert - Well, knowing that the Enterprise had always
been designed in two pieces, the primary and the secondary hull, I
wanted to carry that idea all the way through --at least in my
design. People may remember an episode of Star Trek, the original
Star Trek, called "The Apple", in which there is
a machine-god on a planet that is attacking the Enterprise, and
Kirk is on the planet, but he orders Scotty, who is in charge of
the ship, to do what he needs to save the ship. He says: "Break
out of the main hull if you have to, but save the ship" --the
main hull, of course, being the saucer. So, when I did the
Enterprise for "The Motion Picture", I created a
specific separation line on the dorsal, just under the saucer,
indicated by two red lines. Additionally, I created space for four
landing legs under the saucer.
As The Motion Picture was being filmed, the script was being
changed almost daily. So, I found out that there wasn't a real
solid ending for the movie, and that inspired me to write a few
pages of script, suggesting a dialog where Kirk actually orders to
separate the saucer. Starfleet has ordered the Enterprise back to
be inspected after the V'Ger incident, and Kirk is unfulfilled in
this maiden voyage of the motion picture Enterprise and so he
comes up with a plan where he would fly the ship into the dry dock,
but then, under the excuse of testing the ship's separation, he'd
allow them to keep the engineering hull but he wanted to fly away
with the saucer. That was my version.
TB - And why didn't it come to the
Probert - It would have been another model had to be
built. At least a model of the saucer. They could have hidden the
saucer and showed only engineering hull in dry dock, but they'd
need another version of the saucer so that they could put it on
the motion-control machinery. They didn't want to afford that. But
that trouble was all that were, for the idea of showing the
separation in the film they designed was that when V'Ger morphs
into a life form, after it joins with Decker and Ilya and releases
all of those memory crystals that it has stored --all the things
that it had collected, including those Klingon battlecruisers that
appeared at the beginning of the movie. And a couple of the
crystals would collide with the battlecruisers and they find that
they're a mile away from the Enterprise. So they fire on it to
disable it so they could get away from Earth space, and by doing
that it destroys the engineering hull, so Kirk needs to separate
the saucer to go after the Klingons. The trouble was in the saucer,
the flying model to engage the Klingons in battle that was just
going to be it. So, either way, the saucer, of course, would have
to be built as a separate feature.
TB - Paramount is now working on a
new version of that film for DVD. Among the new features, we'll
have a new cut made by Robert Wise and new special effects by
Foundation Imaging. Do you believe the movie will really benefit
from these changes? Do you feel "The Motion Picture"
needed to be reworked?
Probert - Yes, definitely yes. There were a lot of slow
moments of the film, there were a lot of contingencies because of
the constant indecision of the writers and the executives. You
know, Bob Wise, let's say, Mr. Wise, used to turn out top quality
films. I'm sure that Star Trek was not one of his favorite
projects when it was finished. I'm guessing this is one way for
him to make it better, the way he wanted to.
TB - Were you aware of, involved
in, or consulted for this DVD project before it reached the press?
Probert - No, not at all. Later, I got an e-mail from
one of their art staff complementing me on all the work that I did,
because they had to review all the past work, and I can't help but
wonder why, if they liked my work so much, they didn't call me
back to carry out one of these arts and finish it.
TB - Having worked on that movie,
you must also have some insights about the production problems
involving special effects. What could you say about those problems?
Probert - Well, you're asking me to reach back in twenty
years, but the biggest problem that comes to mind was one of a
complication with Paramount. Harold Michelson, the show's art
director [he is credited as Production Designer] is a top-notch
art director and professional designer, but he doesn't understand
science fiction. I was working over at the Robert Abel and
Associates, and they were aware of science fiction requirements (a
couple of their people had worked on "2001 - A Space
Odyssey", and I had done, by that time, "Battlestar
Gallactica", and several of us were very science fiction
savvy). When we tried to make proposals to Paramount that would
have enhanced the fantasy of Star Trek, that was met with a lot of
resistance from the people at Paramount. That because they didn't
For instance, the cargo deck in the Enterprise --where Kirk
first comes aboard the ship-- it was obvious matte paintings.
Before the matte painting is attempted, there are what is called
matte painting renderings. They're drawings, sometimes paintings,
that show what the matte shall look like. I was working alongside
another illustrator, who was doing his own version of that space,
and he had a huge window --I'm talking four decks high-- inside
the shift of the cargo. And I was trying to find out his logic,
and his logic was, "well, we need to see out of that area, to
look out of this bay, to see out." He opened up a window and
made the picture bigger. Now, that's very typical Hollywood
thinking. No way you'll have a transparent wall window four decks
high in the cargo space, that's ludicrous! So, most of production
people's requirements agenda is much different than that of
someone in the industry sector. That was the only real problem we
had. Models came together fairly well. I really don't remember any
TB - After the work in "The
Motion Picture", how did you get involved in The Next
Probert - Gene Roddenberry made an announcement that he
wanted to try it all again. And I heard that announcement and I
got very excited and called his office. He had remembered me from "The
Motion Picture" --understand, this is 10 years later, but
he had remembered me-- and he wanted me to bring my portfolio by
to see what I had done in the past ten years. So I came by and
showed him my work. The other producers were there, Bob Justman
and the other producer. They all looked at my work, and about a
week later they all met me and asked me to come work with them,
and I ended up being the eleventh person they hired on the show.
The reason they wanted to bring me aboard so early was to start
doing concept sketches of the bridge. Their concern was that,
because the bridge was going to be the central set, they wanted to
make sure they were very happy with it, and they wanted to have
plenty of time to make any changes they needed to.
So, I started in doing bridge concepts, but as you can
understand, I was also very interested in what the new Enterprise
would look like, because this Star Trek, in our planning, was to
take place 85 years after "The Motion Picture".
So I started, just for my own amusement, to make sketches of the
Enterprise at the same time I was doing concepts for the bridge. I
had one of these sketches up on my wall, just for myself. David
Gerrold, who was also on the project, saw this drawing on my wall
and said, "That's the new Enterprise". I said, "I
don't know, that's what I would like it would look like". He
asked to borrow that, pulled out of the wall and went out of the
room. About half an hour later he came back and put it on my desk
and said, "That's the new Enterprise". And I asked what
he meant by that and he said he took it to a meeting that he was
going, showed it to the producers, said "What do you all make
of this?", and they all liked. So, that has to be some sort
of a record. Some sort of a record for getting into time with the
There were a lot of changes after that meeting, but that's the
drawing that showed pretty much the direction I wanted to go. Gene
pretty well liked everything that I showed him after that, and
when I presented my final design for the Enterprise, I thought
that the bridge should be at the center of the saucer, because
that would be the most protective part of the saucer, and it was
the center of command, so it should be easily reachable from all
parts of the saucer. And I had engines that, while they were much
larger than the original Enterprise engines (that were more than
the Enterprise itself), because this new ship was 2,000 feet long,
compared to Enterprise 1701-D, the engines looked small in
proportion. So Gene's only two changes in my final design were
that I put the bridge back on top of the saucer, because he felt
that's where it belonged, but also because its shape and size get
people understanding actually how big the ship was, in that basis
comparison, and he asked me to make the engines a little bit
longer, because he felt that, while they were bigger, they still
looked smaller. That was it, everything else in terms of the ship's
design went very calmly.
TB - You touched a very
interesting point when you said you had to update the new
Enterprise 85 years in the future. Now the next Star Trek series
will be set 100 years before the original series. From a
designer's point of view, how difficult is it to project ship and
technology that precedes the original series?
Probert - Well, when the original series came out,
probably a lot of people can remember how incredibly revolutionary
that design was. It was such a departure from everything we've
seen before that it was very exciting. But projecting backwards
from there... there have been attempts to come up with ships
before Kirk's Enterprise. I think in one point the Enterprise was
thought of looking more like a wheel and a very long nose,
pointing out away from the center axis. And there's at least one
painting of that, a documented reference that there was another
Enterprise design. And, of course, they showed how Cochrane's
first warp drive ship would look like. It was probably be up to
anyone's guess where they should go with it, but Rick Berman is in
charge of the show, he'll manipulate it into whatever he thinks it
TB - Are you implying Rick Berman
doesn't give the designers a lot of freedom in terms of creation?
Probert - Yes.
TB - Did you have problems with
Rick Berman during the first season of The Next Generation?
Probert - Yes.
TB - Could you elaborate?
Probert - Gene Roddenberry was initially in charge of Star
Trek The Next Generation, as he well should be, and something
happened politically to change that. You know, I had no idea what
caused that change. But while Gene was in charge, he and I got
along very well. We understood each other. And I liked him because
of his creation of Star Trek, and he fully understood exactly
where he wanted his show to go. Yet he was fully opened to any
ideas that we threw at him, and he would talk about that, and he
talked about it intelligently. When Rick Berman took over the
show, half way through the first season, every time we showed him
a design concept, his constant response was, "no, we can't do
that, because it reminds me of something that I've seen somewhere",
or "it looks like a shaver", or "it looks like
something I've seen in a furniture store".
The only thing of note that Rick Berman did before Star Trek
was a show called "The Big Blue Marble", a kid's show.
For some reason, Paramount left him into this. I don't know. I've
heard conflicted stories that Gene thought he was a great producer
and wanted to bring him in. Whatever it is, Rick Berman did not,
in that time, and, as far as I can see from what is being produced,
does not understand science fiction. I've seen a lot of great
concepts, by Doug Drexler and a few of the other illustrators that
they have working on the projects, all by the way in favor of much
more controlled concepts. My experience with Rick Berman is, you
know, he does not understand what he's doing, he does not
understand science fiction.
TB - Do you believe his conducting
of Star Trek was not able to fulfill the standards of the original
series and the early Next Generation episodes?
Probert - No. I think Star Trek died when Gene died.
Well, as I said, Gene understood exactly what he wanted for his
show, and his main focus was maintaining consistency in the show.
And everybody who cared about Star Trek eventually left the show.
Bill Theiss, the costumer, left, I left, Bob Justman left. So... I
don't know what to say, it was very frustrating working on that.
TB - Do you believe Rick Berman
cares about Star Trek?
Probert - I think he cares about it for the money. I
think he cares about it because he is confident that, no matter
what they produce, if it has the name "Star Trek" on it,
people will go watch it. They'll complain about it, but they will
still make money from the watchers. But, you know, this is just my
TB - Turning back to your
creations during the first season of The Next Generation,
we have a lot of ships, like the Ferengi cruiser and the Romulan
Warbird. Do you have a favorite?
Probert - There was a ship, which you would call an
alien ship, from "Haven". I think I like that one
the most. My favorite ship is still the Enterprise, although a lot
like the Romulan ship more. And a surprising majority prefer the
motion pictures Enterprise over all of them. My favorite ship is
the Enterprise itself, but beyond that, I like the ship from "Haven"
for a couple of reasons. One, it was a ship that Gene and I put
together. I was stuck on a concept of the ship I wanted to be
different. Every ship we've ever seen typically has its power
source in the back, engines-like, pushing the ship. I was working
on a concept where the engine will be in the front, somehow
manipulating and pulling the ship. I went to Gene and I just told
him I got this kind of creative block and I really wanted to have
something different. I told I thought of having the engines on the
front. And Gene said: "Put the engine in the middle". I
said, "What do you mean?". "Well, just put your
power source in the middle. The ship is built around it and makes
it go where it was meant to go." And I came with that design.
Power source is as a big energy thing --of course, you don't
necessarily have to fully explain how it worked--, and I took from
Herman Zimmerman, you know, the production designer, I took his
"zap screener", or their "breech", which was
basically a triangular shape, and I duplicated that at the front
of that ship. I don't know, I was just very pleased with the shape,
the concept, it brings me good memories of Gene and me working
TB - About the Romulan Warbird,
did you have any inspiration from the Romulan ships shown in the
original series, or was it all from scratch?
Probert - The Romulan Warbird from the original series
had, of course, a bird design on it. And I wanted to stay with
that in someway. So, I started with bird and bird wing shapes. And
eventually came to a design similar to what is on the screen. But
my concept was to have one engine above and one below, because I
felt that having a vertical design alien ship in front of the
Enterprise, which has a very horizontal configuration, would be a
nice contrast of ships. Now, Gene dictated that there are no
three-engine starships and no single-engine starships. When I was
first designing the new Enterprise he said, "The Federation
ship's engines always are co-dependent". It is the same as to
say they always worked in twos. So that's why when Sternbach and I
came up with the Stargazer, it had two sets of twos.
And then I started thinking that, back in World War II, all the
nations that had fighter aircraft and airplanes did the same thing:
they took off, they flew, they landed, they maneuvered. They
usually had one engine, two wings, two tailwings --so they all had
the same components, but they all looked different. There was a
national design bias to each aircraft, but technically they all
did the same thing. So my thinking in Star Trek was --since the
Enterprise used to have two engines --I came up with the idea that
the engines had to reach out each other in order to work
co-dependently. In other words, there would be no obstructions
between the engines to disrupt the energy fields or connecting
forces between them. And, well, all the alien ships could look
different but still operate in the same principle. So that's why
the Ferengi Marauder is curved, is concave, because that allows
the two engines to reach each other. And the same thing, the
Romulan Warbird, the engines would see each other through the ship.
The ship is built above and below the energy field of those
engines. But my original concept would be that there was a lot
more ship, a lot more structure, packed inside those wings. So it
was, look like two big wing sections, obviously big enough to
contain people and cargo. But my original concept had that bigger.
TB - You've had the experience of
both upgrading and creating a new Enterprise. Which do you think
is most difficult?
Probert - Upgrading. My educational background is
industrial design. We're taught to generate new ideas, and
therefore to come up with a new concept, rather than take
something and sort of turn it toward an upgraded version. And Gene
always maintained that the Enterprise was a character in the show,
so it has to basically look, or at least feel, the same way. So,
much like an old model T4 and a brand new Ferrari have the same
components, they obviously look very different, that was where I
was taking the Enterprise. I was maintaining the same components
--the saucer, the engineering hull, the pylons holding the two
engine nacelles-- and that maintained Gene's idea of keeping the
same carrier ship when the picture starts, visually.
TB - Do you believe this concept
of creating ships is now perverted in Star Trek? Because we have
different ships with three nacelles, four nacelles...
Probert - Yes. And it is a bad thing because it deludes
the consistency that Gene was trying to maintain. I'd say that
most of the concepts that Gene dictated were purposely dropped
when Gene died. And that goes with the three-engine Enterprise [seen
in "All Good Things..."]. The idea of having this
huge cannon under the saucer is totally against Gene's thinking of
what the Enterprise represented. The Enterprise, yes, does have a
lot of weapons, but having a huge cannon like a battleship or a
TB - With CGI [computer generated
imagery] you can do everything you want, either if the model can
be built or put into a state of balance or not. Do you believe
this somehow distracts the designers from the realistic sensation
of projecting ships, the fact they are building something that
should be an actual ship?
Probert - That's very possible. I haven't actually
thought of that but everything I've designed, because of my
industrial design education, has been designed as if it were a
real project. You know, when they came up with the idea (again,
this is Hollywood, Gene wouldn't have a starship landing) of have
Voyager landing on a planet, and that was so out of balance, and
you had those tiny little sticks for landing with that incredible
huge bow. That was ridiculous.
TB - Do you think CGI participates
in that effect? Because if they construct a model and put it over
a surface and discover the model doesn't stand, they can realize
that was not a good idea.
Probert - Well, they should be, but the producers don't
follow logic. But I don't think CGI is the problem. I think people
don't understand hardware designs, and science-fiction logic. CGI
is just a way of presenting visuals, and I don't think that
computer graphics are yet capable of replacing miniatures. They
may well be, but right now probably CGI is "too perfect"
and therefore lack a real quality to it.
TB - When designing a ship, do you
generally look more at the technical aspects of it or the overall
look of the vessel?
Probert - The first thing I like to come up with is a
pleasing shape. Then, I look at it with a technical eye to
determine how practical the initial shape might be, and if there
are some little red flags going on. Then I change the shape to
accommodate those technical requirements. But I still try to keep
the pleasing visual.
TB - And are there times those
technical aspects simply tear apart the original concept, because
they can't work both in the same project? Or is there always a way
to accommodate things?
Probert - Well, for me there is always a way to
accommodate things. Because we always have to remember we're
designing a science-fiction spaceship that represents a vehicle of
the future, and one must always assume there will be technological
breakthroughs that will have occurred, allowing certain
technologies to work. If somebody had thought of having a steel
airplane that would fly, back when the Wright brothers flew, they
would think that this was fic scene, especially a plane the size
of a 747 or a Concord. They would not even imagine something like
that getting off the ground, because their small engines would
never have the power to get lift for a 47. So, there are times
when practical technology or technology based on today's
understanding of power sources needs to be sort of replaced. As
long as it is based in logic, consistent logic, it works.
TB - After the first season of The
Next Generation you left Paramount and went to Disney. What
works did you do at Disney? Were you happy with this decision?
Probert - At the time I was happy with it, because I was
very tired of Hollywood politics and I did have a lot of success
designing hardware and various objects for motion pictures, so I
wanted to try my hand designing for the real world. I'm not
talking about real world toasters, or hand mixers, but I'm talking
about the real world entertainment on a scale of Disney's.
Walt Disney has been a hero of mine, and every time I visited
Disneyland, I was fascinated by the processes behind the design in
all of those attractions. A couple of classmates of mine, who
coursed college design when I went to school, were at Disney. And
when I left Paramount I called one of them to ask about the
opportunities as a Walt Disney Imagineer. Imagineers, of course,
were the designers of the rides from the parks. And he encouraged
me to come by and show my portfolio.
Working there was a fairly good experience. It wasn't great,
because there was frustration in not having any credibility. And
it seemed to me that after having designed for ten years in
Hollywood, and being recognized throughout the world, I shouldn't
have to start from scratch as an Imagineer. Of course, they had a
lot of brilliant people working there, creating these rides. And
they were looking at me, they talked 'you've not created any
rides', and therefore I needed to work my way through as if I was
a kid out of high school. So, there was frustration on my part.
But, generally, the atmosphere was very creative and everybody
there is a great artist. You don't have mediocre people working
there, they were all great talents, so to be in that atmosphere
was a thrill.
TB - What was the specific project
you enjoyed the most when you were in Disney?
Probert - I was there for only four years. Disney was
hiring a lot of people to work on large projects. The project
starts to begin completion, they start to leave people along. So,
a lot of what I've worked on was Euro Disneyworld, the Discovery
Land projects. I also worked on the water park that Disney
proposed for the city of Long Beach, which is close to Los
Angeles. There were some Tomorrow Land upgrades in the Disneyland
TB - Euro Disney is not as
successful as DisneyWorld in the USA. Why do you think this
Probert - I would love to fully understand why that park
is not a successful one. I thought it would be. It is the most
thoroughly thought out and designed park that Disney has ever done.
Any special considerations were in that park's construction. Any
lessons that were learned by other parks were put into place in
Eurodisney. For instance, Main Street has always been crowded with
parades. Eurodisney has long way behind the stores so that you can
get out from the other side of the store and avoid the crowds. So,
I was very optimistic about its success. I was surprised to hear
that had not done well, and I think that there is, well, a
mysterious misunderstanding of Europeans to the amusement park
that Disney conceived.
TB - Tell me a little about what
you're doing now. Are there any projects going on?
Probert - Currently I'm in contact with the producers of
the new Battlestar Gallactica. There was an announcement to
bring back the show Battlestar Gallactica. So, I've been in
contact with the show's producers and director about a possible
work on that show, updating the visual.
TB - But there's no deal yet, is
Probert - There's no deal yet. The last I heard they were
talking to networks to sell the show and they said they would get
back to me, but I don't know.
TB - Is there anything you created,
either for Star Trek or for other projects, that you would improve
now if you had the chance?
Probert - Very good question... If I could have done
something better, what would be? (Some seconds in silence) I can't
think of anything. Probably, that Warbird, I'd like it to have
better proportions, but the fans like the way it is, so I can't
argue with that.
TB - Do you usually participate in
Star Trek conventions?
Probert - I used to go to conventions all the time, I
had a two-hour slide show. But I normally don't go to conventions
as a Star Trek designer anymore because I don't want the people to
believe I am trying to get attention by doing that. I just have
this concern that people will look at me and say, "Gee, it is
over ten years since he worked in The Next Generation and
he is still doing conventions." Unfortunately I don't have
any project that is happening in my life currently that is as
creative. If they pick me up to do the new "Battlestar",
then I'd love to go to conventions and talk about the new "Battlestar
Gallactica", because it is an ongoing current project,
and that will be great. Now, you know, I still get invitations to
go to conventions, but I usually make a stipulation that I'd love
to go if I was just there as a designer that just happened to do
Star Trek, "Battlestar Gallactica", "Back
to the Future" and other projects.
TB - Oh, you were in "Back
to the Future"?
Probert - Yes.
TB - It is sure a great movie.
What did you project for it?
Probert - I did the final design for the car, I did the
show's logotype, I did the comic book cover. I did a lot of
TB - Do you believe there is hope
for a "Back to the Future 4"?
Probert - I don't know. I was amazed there was a 2 and
3. And they did it so well. Usually a sequel is not as good as the
first one, but all the "Back to the Future" are
TB - Do you know Brazil?
Probert - Well, I do know Brazil. I went to the city of
Brasilia, in Brazil, and I was very impressed. And my aunt just
recently visited Brazil, but I cannot remember the city she was
in, it was a small city but... ah... beyond that I know very
little of your country. It is a country that I would like to visit
TB - Perhaps you could come to
talk about "Battlestar Gallactica".
Probert - (laughing) Yes, I would love to have that
TB - Thank you very much for this
Probert - Thank you. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Mr. Probert's homepage is:
Interview made in May 4, 2001.