|A year of The Official Starships Collection ships|
To look back at the first year of the collection, and ahead to things to come, I am delighted that the series' manager, Ben Robinson agreed to talk with me about his work on the model ship and magazine collection. The interview continues after the jump:
|The Star Trek Fact Files ran for 304 issues!|
It's a very long story. I got the job on the Fact Files when I responded to a newspaper ad. I was already working in publishing and Star Trek was both my hobby and my passion. Back then, no-one knew how long the Fact Files would run. It's success was about an absolute phenomenon. After about a year, the company I was working for decided to try to take it to the US. That meant doing it in a different format, so we launched a US magazine that combined the Fact Files with new behind the scenes material. I was responsible for that and in many ways it was a dream come true. My job was to find out and write about Star Trek. I could literally choose who to interview myself, and they almost always said yes. The magazine ran for four years and I got to talk to almost everyone I wanted to. I made a lot of contacts and collected a lot of material, often tracking down the stuff that no-one had seen before. I still have a pretty hefty archive and I'm very happy to say that a lot of the people I interviewed became friends so if we're working on something I can dash off an email and there's a good chance someone will come back to me.
After the magazine came to an end I carried on working for the publisher, mostly on 'genre' products. I launched a couple of very successful collections - we've done three Doctor Who ones - Battles in Time trading cards, which were a big deal, a DVD collection and now the figurine collection, which I love just as much as Star Trek. I did a James Bond car collection, some DVD collections, TMNT and Transformers collections for Russia. A couple of years ago, the company got bought out by Eaglemoss and I got to add Marvel and DC comics stuff to my CV. We're doing Marvel and DC Chess sets and the Marvel Fact Files. We're pretty busy!
|Issue one, a year old today.|
Is it only a year?! It's being a lot longer than that for me. After the success of the Fact Files we were always looking for another Trek product. Ships seemed like a natural idea, particularly as we'd had so much success with the James Bond cars. I had a few rules: there couldn't be any holes in the ships, they had to be as accurate and as well painted as possible, and they had to be a pleasing size that you could actually get in your home. I know a lot of people wish they were in scale with one another, but I don't think many people have thought through the implications of that. If you keep the NX-01 at the size it is, then the E should be over 2-feet long. There's no way we could do them all for the same price if we did that and there's no way you'd get a Voth city ship through your letterbox.
For the magazine, I knew from the Fact Files that people have a great interest in in-universe stuff. I also knew there's lots of interesting material out there about the filming models and the design process and that's not something I, personally, can ever get enough of. I love my Art of Star Trek book but I was always very frustrated that there was no explanation about what I was looking at.
The running order is interesting. I've learned a bit as we've gone along. The point of the collection was always to give people things that they hadn't been able to get before. I think you want to make it clear from the beginning that this isn't just a collection that has the Enterprises and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. So I tried to make it clear that it would be varied from the word go so people understood what they'd be signing up for. As we've progressed, it's become clear that people are passionate about Federation ships, so I try to make sure we never go long without a Fed ship, even if it's something fairly obscure such as the Norway class.
|Will the Son'a fleet join The Collection? (screencap via TrekCore)|
I have a long list of ships that we might do. It then becomes a case of tracking down the reference or the original 3D model. How good that is affects the order that I do things in. For example, I'd love to do all the ships from Insurrection but the CG models were made and saved in a different format. They never got archived at CBS - in fact, most of the models never reached an archive of any kind. I've used my own contacts to retrieve them. At the moment I'm just sending off the reference for issues 56-59. I've got a plan for another 30 but it's a very fluid one.Working with designs from half a century of television and film production, you must be facing a variety of challenges translating physical and CGI models into miniatures. Can you tell us about that process, and the sort of reference materials you have available to base the models on?
In most cases we use the original Lightwave CG models that were built for the show(s). By definition that reference is pretty much perfect. It gets a bit tricky when you realise that the only CG version of a ship that appeared on screen is a good but not quite perfect copy of the studio model. When a ship doesn't exist in CG we have to track down photographic reference of the model and get it built in CG. Sometimes that's easy; sometimes it's next to impossible. We have recently been talking to the legendary Greg Jein, who turns out to have a lot of photographs of a lot of ships including ones he didn't build himself.
The tricky part is the painting. You have to make sure the ship looks the way it did on screen, rather than the way the model looked itself. For example, the Ent-D shooting model was painted blue, but it definitely isn't blue onscreen. There's a yellow model of the Stargazer and so on. I was talking to Gary Hutzel about this the other day - in particular about the Jem'hadar fighter - and he told me that they deliberately desaturated the model shots by 50% to get more control over the colour.
|The Bajoran Solar Sailor, a unique challenge|
The difficult ones are the ones I remember - for obvious reasons. And I think on the whole they end up being my favourites. I've been very pleased with the Bajoran Solar Sailor and now the Romulan Drone just because I wasn't sure how we were going to do them when we started out. They're both very pretty models that bring something very different to the collection. There are times when I've been particularly pleased with a paint effect we've been able to achieve. I was delighted that we were able to get a hint of violet into the Jem'hadar bug, plus it's a really cool Jim Martin design. Finally, I think some ships just make more pleasing models than others at our scale. I think the Reliant is a great success.
|Getting the details right on the TOS Enterprise|
They all get the same amount of attention. It's just that... well, the OS Enterprise is the most important ship in the history of Star Trek. I would love for people to think we did the best possible model at the scale. There's also a practical reason. The ships that people seem to like the most are the ones with lots of details on them, in particular people seem to like aztec patterns, and lots of hatches and windows. Matt always wanted his ships to be plain and smooth. He figured that's what a spaceship would be like because you weren't going to grab a spanner and nip outside to make adjustments. That means there aren't a lot of details on the outside of the OS ships. So when we're modelling them we better make sure that all the details there are, are in the right place.Looking at the magazine, the highlight for me every time is the behind-the-scenes section, especially as it’s often revealed images and information I’ve never seen before. In the process of putting the magazine together are you discovering a lot of new material? How closely are you working with the original production artists to bring us these sections?
Sorry, completely failed to answer your question.
I have a lot of this material in my own archives. Concept art is one of my obsessions. I'm in pretty much constant contact with Rick Sternbach, Mike Okuda and John Eaves. Andy Probert is always willing to help, as are most people. We're working with Doug Drexler on the Enterprise-J and the NX-01.5. I'm name dropping here, but I was talking to Ira Behr about the Jem'hadar the other day and he pointed that it's nearly 20 years since they were working on the stories I'm asking him about, so I often find myself looking back to old interviews I did with people nearer the time. But, yes, they're (almost) all onboard and are lovely and helpful people.I know my readers and I are eager to know what’s coming. What can you tell us about what’s planned in the following areas:
|Kelvin might be coming, the Narada more challenging (image via TrekCore)|
Erm, yes. No promises but I think there's a very good chance we'll see the Kelvin next year. I was looking at the 3D model of the Narada and honestly, it fills me with fear. I'm really not sure how to make it into a die-cast model. It has a lot of very thin, fronds for want of a better word. I keep thinking about it though! Beyond that, I'm not sure. We are doing the Klingon fighter from STID after the Vengeance.TOS ships – We’ve had a few movie era ships, but nothing from the TV period yet. We know the Enterprise is on the way, will others from that era be following?
Absolutely. I'd like to do them all. Maybe not Yonada since I'm not sure people would feel a rock was good value.Shuttles – We know the Delta Flyer is coming, can we expect other smaller ships to also feature?
The Delta Flyer is about as small as we're going at the moment. We are doing a Runabout and the Raven. Shuttles are the obvious omission from the collection. When we started out I felt that the scale was too different and that it seemed really wrong to have a model of the Galileo that was bigger than the Excelsior, but now I'm not so sure. I would love to do them. I'm not sure we can do them within the 90 issues that we've got planned at the moment. If people keep buying the collection, and it's financially viable to do more ships, I think we'll find a way.Space stations – DS9 being included gave me hope of a big model of the movie-era mushroom station someday. Might that, or any other stations, ever come?
Never say never, but it's not on my list of things to do at the moment. If - and it's a big if - we do more space stations, I'd probably do K-7 first.
|V'ger concept art (via Film Sketchr)|
The Doomsday Machine is long and thin and kind of looks like a log. I'm not sure it would make the most exciting model. V'ger is different. I have got artwork showing what it looks like inside the cloud that was done for the Motion Picture back in 1979. There was originally going to be a shot in the movie that showed it silhouetted against the moon but I'm not sure how people would feel about a model of a ship that they never actually saw in its entirety. I know what V'Ger looks like, but I'll be amazed if you can find me 10 people that can give me a drawing. I think that raises some questions.Variants – We’re expecting Enterprise-A and B, on top of the existing Enterprise refit and Excelsior models. Will there be other variants of existing classes in the collection? For instance different Miranda or Nebula class configurations, or miniatures which got reused in different ways over the course of production?
It's not a priority. I can understand why people like variants, but as a fan myself I also know that getting the "same" ship again can feel as if you are being cheated. Again, if people keep buying the collection beyond the issues I have planned and there's an appetite for it, I can see us doing some Miranda and Nebula class variants. I guess it is relevant when it comes to doing different Fed ships. One to think about for the longer term - if we get there.
|The NX refit, an exception for non-canon ships|
I think the NX-01.5 is a special case. Again, I know there are people out there who are passionate about the video games and the novels (or old FASA manuals for that matter) but for the moment we've drawn a line that says it has to have appeared in a live action TV series or movie for us to do it. There are a lot of those and it will keep us busy for a while. Of course, I do occasionally have dreams about doing ships from the Animated Series. That said, if more than 5,000 people sign up solemnly promising to buy a Titan or an Enterprise-F, we'll almost certainly do it. If anyone wants to make that happen then feel free - it's a serious offer. But, whatever you do, don't email me! I'm not going to count 5,000 emails.
|Want a USS Titan model? Sign the petition!|
I know there are lots of Titan lovers out there, it's perhaps the most significant of the non-canon ships, and indeed, the only canon non-canon ship! So if you would like a little model of the Titan, please go add your name to the petition I've set up, and I will be very happy to deliver a single email to Ben when we've found five-thousand Titan fans!
Oh, and if you don't know all the background of the Titan design, I just, coincidentally, posted an article about that today... Anywho, back to the interview!
Haynes Star Trek Manuals. Might we every see another addition to that series?
I'd love to do another one, but I think Haynes feel they've done enough. I can't say enough how much I enjoyed doing the Klingon book in particular. We talked long and hard to CBS about how much freedom we'd have. I'm always concerned about books that add to the canon. Too often they don't feel quite right to me. In this case, I think having Rick onboard made a big difference and I did an enormous amount of research into the Klingon Empire.Huge thanks to Ben for his insightful answers. I certainly cant wait to see what comes next, and hopefully many more years of these great little ships!
I was amazed at how consistent it was and how easy and logical it was to fill in details in places. One of my favourite things was to do with the escape pods. We know the Bird-of-Prey has them because we actually saw one in the last season of Deep Space Nine. The rest of the team kept saying that Klingons would never use escape pods, but I always think they are a bit more practical than that. I pondered long and hard about it and decided that although they'd have escape pods they'd only use them in extreme circumstances i.e. when at least a third of the crew was dead. Then I thought about accidents and I decided that the way Klingons see it, if the ship was lost in an accident then it was the engineers' fault and there was no way they were getting in an escape pod since the ship was only being lost because of their incompetence!
So, yes, I'd love to get the team back together and do another one... all we need is a publisher.
For a listing of all the ships in the Starships Collection, including links to all my previous previews and reviews, see my index page.
And don't forget, sign the petition to get the USS Titan in The Collection!