(Interview conducted via email in August 1999)
Tell me about yourself. (e.g. where/when born, education, hobbies, etc.)
I was born in 1946 (yeah, an old guy) in Independence, Missouri. At the age
of six, my mom drug me out to California where I lived until the middle of
high school. I spent a year with my dad, in Missouri, and then later joined
the Navy where I finished my high school education. After I got out, I got
married (it's been 32 years, now) and, after kicking around in some
go-nowhere jobs, got myself into art college.
How did you become interested in art and design?
I've always been interested in art and design. I started drawing as soon as I
could hold a pencil and started redesigning things when I was about five.
Strangely enough, the earliest design I can remember was a spaceship. I
continued my interest through the Navy and ended up attending the "Art Center
College of Design", which is located in Pasadena, California.
You have stated on your web site that your preferred medium is markers.
How did this come to be?
Actually, acrylic paint is my preferred medium but markers are a close
second. The reason is that they're the best and fastest tool to produce
quick concept sketches. I use a ball-point pen 98% of the time because they
photocopy better than pencil. That's important when you need to distribute
How did you get involved in Hollywood?
When I was close to graduating from Art Center, the phenomenal Star Wars
came out and we were all blown away. My interest in science fiction was
higher than ever and I had become fascinated by the film design process.
Many of the printed magazine articles about the movie were accompanied by art
work that was (one article said) from the Los Angeles-based artist: Ralph
McQuarrie. His work was fresh and his drawing skills were awesome and I just
HAD to meet this guy. I looked him up in the L.A. phone book and when he
answered, I told him that I wanted to interview him for my schools newspaper.
He invited me over and I actually did interview him and it actually did get
published. Just about that time, however, my car died on me and I had to
skip the rest of that school season. Ralph and I were keeping in touch and I
told him I needed work for a while. After looking at my sketchbook, he
recommended me to John Dykstra and Joe Johnston whose team had produced the
incredible visual effects for Star Wars. They were working on a television
pilot film, at the time, called: Star World for Universal studios, and were
in need of some robot designs. They looked at my stuff and hired me to start
sketching robots. The name of the film was soon changed to Battlestar:
Galactica, and my robots became the fearful Cylons bent on the eradication of
humankind. Not a bad beginning, huh?
Why did you leave Hollywood?
Well, there were a lot of personal reasons for leaving TinselTown. As much
as I (still) love making films, I hated the politics, ass-kissing, and
back-stabbing that it took to get most jobs in that town. I never learned to
"play the game". I don't lie, I don't schmooze, I just like to work. In my
ten years of Hollywood, however, there were some good people who were great
to work for and I'd like to name them. Richard Taylor (Star Trek:
The Motion Picture), Barry Levinson (Tin Men), Robert Zemeckis
(Back to the Future), Dan Curtis (War and Remembrance),
Steven Spielberg (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Back to the
Future), Don Bellisario (AirWolf), and Gene Roddenberry
(Star Trek: The Motion Picture & Star Trek: The Next Generation).
What are your memories of Gene Roddenberry?
Gene was a funny guy. Some people disliked him while others feared him.
Most of us, however, liked him.........a lot. He was very approachable and,
if he wasn't in a meeting with someone, you could almost always drop in on
him. I found him easy to talk to and he ALWAYS seemed open to other people's
ideas. He would then run them through his "Gene-filter" to see if they
worked with his vision of the Trek universe. Sometimes they did, and
sometimes they didn't but I always had the feeling that he gave my ideas
serious consideration. That was nice because the few times that he turned me
down flat, I knew he had a good & logical reason. Usually, he would come
back at me, though, with a variation of one of my suggestions which somehow
would work for the both of us. On the script writing side, I've heard things
were different, but on the design side, he was good at delegating work and
then stepping back to see what you could do. If it didn't work for him, he
would always work with you to get it right. When he saw my initial ideas on
what I'd hoped the Next Generation's Enterprise might look like, he really
liked them and, as I developed the ship's look, his only two changes were
that I place the ship's bridge back on top of the saucer, (I had it buried in
the middle) and that I make the ship's engines a little longer (my design was
stylishly shorter). What a compliment! Everything else went through as
designed. I couldn't have asked for anything better. Then Rick Berman was
placed in charge about halfway through the first season. Suddenly we couldn't
see Gene any more unless we went through Berman first. I don't know what
happened but I do know that this was Hollywood rearing its head once again
and things went downhill from there. That was my final "straw" and I moved
away from the film business after Trek's first season ended production.
What or who are sources of inspiration in your designs?
The three designers I admire most are: Syd Mead, Luigi Colani, and Ralph
McQuarrie, with Ron Cobb a very close forth. They represent the "who" and
God's natural forms, all around us, represent the "what". I closely identify
with Colani's observations that "natural" forms are better, in that they're
stronger and more in harmony with our "beings", our subconscious connections
to everything in nature. There are no straight lines in nature, (with the
exception of crystals, maybe), and so I designed the Enterprise "D" to have a
more sculpted, naturally flowing shape to the components which are
characteristic to all the Roddenberry StarFleet Cruisers before it.
Interview copyright 1999 by Greg Tyler and Andrew Probert.
by Greg Tyler unless otherwise noted. This web site
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