This is the last “Back-Blog” post to catch up on the adventures of our second large North America filming tour that ended this past Fall. We had thought we had wrapped up our shoot following interviews with Kevin Grazier of “Gravity” and “Battlestar Galactica”, and Cariann and Benjamin Higginbotham of SpaceVidCast. However, on our last evening in Los Angeles, Paul and I received an e-mail that Michael Okuda, graphic art designer on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Voyager, and Deep Space 9, might be available. (That news really cheered me up as later that evening I beat up the rental car but still had the interview to look forward to)
As Chasing Atlantis explores the connection that myself, those around me, and the space community at large have with space itself, we inevitably visit our love of science-fiction that inspired our initial interest in space. Star Trek also has a very tangible connection to the actual space program. Many of the astronauts and engineers we interviewed cited Star Trek as the reason why they went into space sciences. As a kid, I had a copy of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual in my room. It was easily the book I picked up most often. It’s burgundy cover was folded and creased with sci-fi love and hours of wanting to remember every detail that I could about the design, look, and feel of the USS Enterprise both inside and out. The book detailed the technical aspects of the ship’s systems such as shields, phasers, and warp drive. It was also filled with insightful and humorous anecdotes from the cast and crew of the show. That book helped make Trek seem that much more real. (I also might have memorized exactly how many times the speed of light you were traveling at every warp factor).
The thought that goes into the fine details of creating the world and rationale behind the construction of the ship is what breaks the screen and immerses the audience within the 24th century. Michael Okuda, co-author of the technical manual and graphic art designer for Star Trek, invented what that future would look like. Michael created the LCARS system used as the fictional interface aboard federation star ships integral to the television sets of all the Next Gen era franchises. He also worked on some of the Enterprise prequel series, and films from Star Trek IV to X. The sleek look of the LCARS design (sometimes referred to as “Okudagrams”) became so popular that even today, one can download skins for iPhones and Android devices based on the LCARS look and feel. Michael worked on Trek with his wife, Denise, who also served as a producer on the Star Trek: Remastered series. (Denise also got to be an extra in a few of the reshot scenes of the remastered version) Both are continuing work on the Star Trek: The Next Generation Blu-Ray edition. At one point, while we were setting up, I noted Michael and Denise had an episode of TNG running on their computer. I sheepishly made a comment saying “You guys work like I do. Work on one monitor and Star Trek playing on the other.” To which Michael responded “No, that is my work. I’m getting this episode ready for the Blu-Ray.” Of course! If only my work and Trek were one and the same as well! #lifedream
Hanging out with the Okudas was such a blast of nostalgia. Although I remain an avid Star Trek fan, I was brought back to those days of being huddled up with that technical manual, taping my favorite episodes of TNG, DS9 and Voyager onto an adhoc VHS collection on the 14″ TV in my room, and going out for Halloween as a gold uniform Lieutenant Commander (like Data, but without the face paint). At the same time, Michael’s interview made our love for Trek fresh again. He was able to talk about working on the show as if they were on set yesterday. He and Denise also shared photo albums with us containing hundreds of pictures from the sets of some of our favorite episodes. Furthermore, they introduced us to the next generation of the Next Generation Technical Manual released this year called; On Board the USS Enterprise-D. Not only is this a full-colour evolution of its predecessor, the book’s accompanying DVD contains digital 3D recreations of sets that you can actually navigate on your computer. It’s like walking around the ship itself.
Next to standing on the bridge of your favorite Trek ship/station, being able to sit down with individuals like Michael and Denise, who were able to work on the show, is about as close to being in the Trek Universe as you could be. We are stoked that we’ll be able to share interviews like Michael’s with you in Chasing Atlantis as a means of sharing that experience with you as well. Below you’ll find some clips from the interview with Michael.
Also, a HUGE thank you to Judy and Garfield Reeve-Stevens for introducing us to Michael and Denise to make the interview possible! We’re still hopeful to catch you guys before we wrap production as well!