Very cool Facebook post by Doug Drexler that goes into great detail on how the TNG Graphics were made and his restoration of one from his garage.
The TNG sets were seconds away from oblivion. They were being demolished just downstairs from us. I fairly flew down the steps of the art department and into the over chilled stage. Gasp! I could see the warp core from the stage door… that’s how much of the engineering bulkheads were already shredded. On the verge of going into a dumpster was the iconic Master Systems Display in Engineering. Hold it! I yelled. The demolition guys looked up. Gimme a minute to strip this graphic, fellas! I flipped the heavy plex over, and began to peel the translite off of it. It had been securely glued by Mike himself 8 years before, and it was on like a mo-fo! The men waited sort of patiently while I struggled to free the graphic without destroying it.
That was twenty years ago. I had rolled it up, still sticky with adhesive, and put it in a safe place in the art department. When Enterprise went down, everything was being stripped out of our art dept home. This was the end. I grabbed the sticky roll of film neg, gels and diffusion, and took them home. They have been in my garage ever since. The glue crystallizing and gathering dust.
Rob and Roger gave Dorth and I a copy of the 4th season TNG Bluray. There is a fantastic extra in there called: “In Conversation - The Star Trek Art Department”. If you dig behind the scenes stuff, be sure and see it. It’s Herman Zimmerman, Dan Curry, Mike and Denise Okuda, and myself. Anyway, last night, Dorth and I watched “Data’s Day”. We loved it. But there was this gorgeous shot of the Engineering MSD.
The next morning I went right out to the garage and pulled that big sucker out… with all it’s crystalized glue… all stuck together. It was time to show it some love.
Acetone, gloves, rags, and a translite… who knew that that’s all you needed to travel through time? The waves of nostalgia swept over me as I lovingly cleaned the greatest Okudagram ever. It was an uncanny experience. I figure one more weekend to get it ship-shape.
PREVIOUSLY on Master Systems Display, you saw me cleaning decades of crystallized adhesive off of the front of the backlit. A truly horrible job. In the early days, every backlit was spray glued to the smoked plex. We used Super 77. It’s like atomic adhesion. They fall in love, and there is no gettin’ 'em apart! Later we learned that you could just masking tape 'em to the plex. Even if they weren’t dead against the glass, it didn’t matter, you couldn’t tell. It also made it easy to swap graphics out on the spur of the moment.
Today I’m replacing the old diffusion paper on the back of the graphic. In the old days we spray glued it over the colored gels. This always proved to be an unwieldy operation with only two hands, and especially with a big graphic like this. We used 77 for this as well, and that stuff is totally unforgiving. If the diffusion folds over on itself, or goes down crooked… you’re screwed. Pulling it back up will ruin all the colored gels that you so lovingly cut and shaped. My blood pressure is going up just talking about it!
Up until about season 4 or 5 on DS9 we made backlits with what today seems like stone knives and bearskins. First you drew it up on paper, or if you were lucky and had a computer, you’d create it as a black and white vector graphic. Now you have to print the graphic out.
We had an 8.5x11 black and white printer in the art department, and that was it. If you had a giant back lit, you would have to print out the large graphic like a mosaic, in 8.5x11 pieces, then trim, and fit, and spray glue them together on a large artboard.
Next you call the off the lot photstat house. they would send a messenger to pick it up, and take it back to the stat house. There they would put it on a large platen with a giant overhead camera, and shoot a large format negative. If all goes well, the stat house sends the messenger back with the giant neg. The fun is just beginning…
Now that you have the film neg of the graphic, you have add all of the colors by hand. Denise and I would go over to the grip and lighting department on the lot, and pick up rolls of gels made by Rosco. The gels are flexible rolls of material like acetate. They are used on stage by the grips to put over lights in order to tint them… if a scene is cuddly and happy, you might put amber gels on a light, and so on. Get it?
Mike kept all of the displays to a very finite color palette. The was very wise, and we were able to give every alien races graphic an identity thru color scheme. If you use every color in the rainbow, you end up with a muddy mess, especially when these things end up being out of focus blobs of light behind the actors.
So you hand cut these colored gels, and glue 'em where you want color. We used a spray glue made by 3M called Spray Mount. This is a low tack spray that allows you to reposition the gels. Once all of that is done, the scary part is dead ahead. Gluing down the diffusion!
So saddle-up, and take a little trip back thru time with 'ol Doug. This is how we used to do it in the before times. Now, you simply press a button, and a giant printer in the sign shop spits it out whole… color… diffusion… the whole magilla, in one shot! Ain’t technology wonderful?
Join me for part two of the restoration of the TNG Master System Display, on a sunny Sunday in the big valley!