Wednesday 23 April 2014

Drex Files: New York World's Fair in the Trekverse

This year, this month in fact, marks the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 New York World's Fair, a showcase of innovation and futuristic architecture, themed on the Star-Trekian ideals of "Peace Through Understanding" and showcasing "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe". Why do I mention this half century old exhibition here? Well the gleaming world presented at the Fair quickly found itself brought to life in the Star Trek future, with the futuristic designs making their way to distant worlds, starships, and other parts of future Earth. In this Drex Files in Exile, Doug Drexler guides us through the Fair's influence on him, and his predecessors, in Star Trek.

Doug Drexler, then and now.
Doug's life long love for the Fair began in his childhood, when he regularly visited:
Twice a week and for two summers, impressionable eleven year old Doug Drexler was dropped off by his Dad at the front gate of the world of tomorrow. It did not neccessitate a slingshot around the sun, nor did it call for call for Mr. Atoz and his Atavachron. The lad’s awe inspiring and futuristic destination was not some far flung decade, but then and there in 1964. It rose from the most unlikely of places… a landfill in Flushing Meadow. It was the New York World’s Fair, and it was the proverbial world of tomorrow. It would impress him to the core.

As Spock observed, time could be perceived as a river, with eddies and backwashes. Someone else was washed up onto that shore, and our paths undoubtedly crossed at the jetting waters of the iconic Unisphere, or trekked side by side along the undulating Kodak Moon Deck, or stood in line at Ford’s Magic Skyway. My fellow time traveler was Walter “Matt” Jefferies… aviator, illustrator, art director, and he would become one of the most important artistic influences in my life.

The 1964-65 New York World’s Fair was the largest international exhibition ever buit in the United States, and it was all about THE FUTURE. Never before, and never again would there be such an amazing conglomeration of optimistic, sci-fi, wet dream, futurism in one place. Matt Jefferies absorbed it all with intense fascination. And so the New York World’s Fair was the birthplace of the Star Trek design ethic. I would never be the same because of it…
Albert Whitlock Jr.'s Starbase 11 matte painting

The real world Starbase 11 at the World's Fair
Perhaps the most iconic influence of the Fair in Star Trek can be seen in the form of Starbase 11, as seen in the TOS episode Court Martial. The Starbase, depicted in Albert Whitlock Jr.'s iconic matte painting, includes the New York State Pavillion and the nearby Astro-View Towers, almost exactly duplicated on a distant alien world. Some of the few remaining structures at the original site, these have recently been declared a "National Treasure” by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, paving the way for their ongoing preservation and restoration. Doug explains how these structures found there way into the Trekverse:
Long before there was Internet, there were World’s Fair’s. That’s how new ideas were introduced, and affluent American corporations opened their dream labs to the wide-eyed public. The NYWF was nicknamed “The Billion-Dollar Fair” and it’s official theme was Peace through Understanding. Robert Moses, the Fair’s chairman proclaimed that it “had something for everyone.” American industry was booming, and corporations had money to burn. Forty years later, Matt would tell Mike Okuda and I what an impression it had made on him. When he returned home to southern California, there was a message “… from a guy named Roddenberry.” The Fair’s impact on Star Trek would be considerable.
Continue after the jump to see where else in the Trekverse the Fair has found itself:

Doug revisited Starbase 11 himself many years later in an illustration for the book New Worlds, New Civilizations. He added several more World's Fair buildings to expand the view to previously unseen parts of the base:
This was an updated version of Starbase 11, the Albert Whitlock matte painting from the original Star Trek series (1966). I created it for a book tie-in called "Star Trek: New Worlds, New Civilizations" (1999). The idea was that the base continued to expand over the years. Visible are the Ford Pavilion, Travelers Insurance, and Johnson Wax.
Back in the sixties, the World's Fair had established itself at a smaller scale from the very first episode of Star Trek, the video communications device seen in The Cage takes it's form and function directly from the Bell Video Phone, a device introduced at the World's Fair.

Following the example of Jefferies and his contemporaries, modern Star Trek productions has also channelled the New York World's Fair aesthetic. Here's Doug with a miniature seen in Voyager:
That's me with a miniature we built for the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Lifesigns" (1996). It is part of the Utopia Planitia fleet yards on Mars. The New York State Pavilion influence is evident.
Like their predecessors' example, Doug and other members of the art department on more recent productions have also taken buildings almost directly from the Fair into the Trekverse. Starfleet Command for example:

The General Motor’s pavilion was one of the largest buildings at the fair. Approximately 4.000 tons of structural steel and 10,500 cubic yards of concrete went into it’s construction. The distinctive canopy that served as the pavilions entrance soared 10 stories over a reflecting pool, and was visible for miles. Housed within was the popular Futurama ride, which predicted moon bases and vacation hotels under the sea. It was a huge inspiration to thousands of kids who grew up to be scientists, engineers, and yours truly.
Many years later in the DS9 episode Homefront, VFX supervisor Gary Hutzel called Mike looking for a model of starfleet command... and he needed it yesterday. The GM pavilion came instantly to mind. To me, the soaring canopy reminded me of the billowing sail of a ship of the line. I showed it to Mike, and he handed it over to Anthony Fredrickson. Anthony slammed it together using an old levelor blind and spare parts. The train was made out of bird feeders and cassette racks. Considering he had no time, he did a marvy job, but it was not as elegant as I would have liked. Still a kick.
Several buildings made it into another part of San Francisco, a century earlier, too:
A shot Mike Okuda and I put together for Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut, while working at Foundation Imaging. On the bluff (left) are visible New York World's Fair Buildings - Ford, Travelers, and the New York State Pavilion.
If you'd like a better look at the real world buildings that have migrated to the Trekverse, Doug has a big gallery of images on Facebook, and indeed if you follow Doug on Facebook you'll find a wealth of information about the New York World's Fair. You can also find out more about the influence of the Fair, including features on Doug, in recent reports from The New York Times, and New York Daily News. For further reading, Doug also recommends a book which gave him a lot of information on the Fair to expand upon his own experiences, The 1964-1965 New York World's Fair, by Bill Cotter and Bill Young.

Doug's fascination with the New York World's Fair doesn't stop at sneaking it into Star Trek, he actually now owns a few relics from it too! Here's Doug with his very own Luminaire, one of the distinctive pixel-like street lights once at the World's Fair.

You can see more of this and some of Doug other World's Fair memorabilia in two of his galleries on Facebook, here, and here.

For more of the Drex Files in Exile, check out our index page here on The Trek Collective. And for more from Doug, you can befriend him on Facebook, where you'll find lots more about the World's Fair, Star Trek, and more.

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