Monday 7 July 2014

Drex Files: NX Engineering Department

In this edition of the Drex Files in Exile, Doug Drexler takes us behind the scenes of the Enterprise NX-01's magnificent engineering room. This time Doug has not just pictures from the set, but a video of it being created too, enjoy:

Here's Doug's commentary on the video:
One of the most thrilling things about working on Star Trek was watching the construction gang in the Marathon Mill take our sketches and blueprints and make them real… and like magic, sets would seemingly coalesce from thin air.

When Mike Westmore piped me aboard the Enterprise D as a a makeup artist, I got my first closeup look at those classiest of starship sets. Buddy, I was like a kid in a candy store, free to wander the 23rd century and marvel at the magnificent designs and incredible craftsmanship that went into even the smallest detail.

There is a saying in the makeup department… first to get there, last to leave. But there were days when I would finish up at 2am, pack my kit, head across the Paramount lot to the parking structure, and be blown away that the construction guys would still be at it full tilt. Later, when I made the jump from the makeup department to art department, I would learn who this amazing powerhouse of a gang was. Not only would I be privy to their world and particular brand of magic, but I would now be working with them hand in hand. I would not only be wowed by their incredible talent and skill, but by the unique characters and personalities that drove the Trek construction juggernaut. Heady days, my friend.

A rough and tumble world of pneumatic nail guns, saber saws and testosterone. The “Marathon Mill” was a wild and woolly pirate ship that demanded a thick skin and a sense of humor to successfully navigate. Working with construction was one of the funnest, coolest and most satisfying experiences of my widely varied life in Hollywood. Our Star Trek machine was well oiled, and in it’s veins flowed trust, affection, and admiration. I don’t believe that I have ever worked on another show where cooperation between departments was so powerful.

During construction of the NX sets I kept a video record, and this stuff’ll knock your socks off. The first installment makes maximum montage of the construction of the NX warp core and engineering department. Hey you know it, and I know it: A cool engineering department is central to a starship, and we were especially proud of this one. It’s a remarkable document of a very ambitious Star Trek set, and baby you are there!
Continue after the jump as Doug takes us a tour of the set.

As I’m reviewing my files I have come to a realization. I always knew that the Enterprise sets were exceptional, but now with some perspective I say that they are Star Trek masterpieces. They represent years of experience, with input from some of the finest Trek minds it has been my privilege to know. Herman Zimmerman, John Eaves, Mike Okuda, and the set designers blew the doors off. The NX Engineering set is not only convincing and functional looking, you can see the respect for what came before it in every angle. We loved the dedicated horizontal warp core, and felt that if you could rip up the deck in Scotty’s engineering, you would find a gargantuan version of this running off underneath the cathedral, and then straight up to the warp engines.
Wow, it’s glorious! On the “blue sky” list – If we had the money, we would have replaced the back wall with greenscreen, and everyshot would have been a CG set extension. The core would be twice as long, and feeding a TOS inspired cathedral manifold. Note the vertical rail on the left for the one person lift.
Below, the view from the upper balcony down into the lift well. The overall bronzy look was something designed into the CG approval model of the exterior of the ship, but got lost after it left our hands.
This is the view dead center from the forward balcony. Every part of this set feels thought out. There is nothing haphazard about it. If you look at the aft section of the NX saucer, you will see an exterior deck known as the Engineering Staging Platform. From here, engineering crews could work on the warp engines, and operate the space station style robot arm. What isn’t so obvious is that if you slide those bulk heads back, port and starboard, you could pull the entire engine room out, and slide in a new one. The idea being that a new more advanced engineering module was being built back on Earth, while the NX is “seeing what’s out there”.
It’s so obvious to me that the man in charge of the control surfaces, lives breaths and eats technology. Remember that scene of Scotty reading tech briefs in the rec room, and Kirk says, Mr Scott! Don’t you ever relax? And Scotty replies: I am relaxin’! – That’s Mike Okuda. It isn’t science fiction to Mike. I think that’s the difference between good Treknology, and not so good. If it’s treated like science fiction you are riding the ragged edge. Alien tech? Ok. Human tech? No. That’s why so many of Trek’s ideas and devices end up in people’s hands twenty years later. Good Treknology is just a turn of the screw into the future.
Being on the floor below the warp core and balcony was awe inspiring. You felt that you were inside a great machine.

In future posts we'll take at other parts of the Enterprise. You can find a lot of that already in Doug's NX-01 gallery on Facebook; one of many albums highlight his work and love of Star Trek. And for more of the Drex Files in Exile, check out my index page to find listings of previous reports.

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