00:01:45 on October 01 2002
|Place an ad today!|
Typhon Station is a very fastpaced PBeM RPG with skilled, experienced
players and a warm sense of bonding and community. We play at the
turn-of-the-century, 2400, and are located in the Typhon Expanses,
bordering the Neutral Zone, proximate to the Romulan Empire, and near
the Iconian Digs, and are on the first warning route of the original
We have three stations to post from, SB 185, USS Odyssey, and USS
Wraith. They all have general and particular storylines and all
interact. This game is not for the faint of heart! The writing is
superb and comes hot and heavy. We have some open spots and also we
will consider character suggestions. So, longtime RPGers and novices,
check us out. See if you want to make Typhon Station your home away
(0 comments | Add)
By: Steve Krutzler
Dept: TrekWeb Features
Written for TrekWeb by Salvador Nogueira, edited by Steve Krutzler
Special co-feature with Trek Brasilis, a TrekWeb partner
His latest work is the utterly daunting task of pin-pointing each and every major star system ever referred to in the STAR TREK lore in a map of the Milky Way galaxy. The result of his work, "Star Trek: Star Charts," is being published October 8th by Pocket Books.
It may seem like an impossible mission for some, but Geoffrey Mandel has been preparing for this at least for the last two decades. In 1980, he was already working in TREK literature, when he published "The Star Trek Maps." Since then, he had the opportunity to enrich his own knowledge (not to say his professional career) by working as an art designer in some major science fiction and adventure franchises, including "The X-Files," "JAG," and, of course, "Star Trek."
We caught up with Geoffrey to ask about his new "Star Charts," his experiences of creative freedom on VOYAGER, and his ENTERPRISE job last season, including the not-so-fun task of exchanging some "4" and "8" signs on the walls, in this new interview, published in Portuguese by Brazilian Trek website Trek Brasilis (www.trekbrasilis.aidi.com.br) and in English exclusively by TrekWeb.
TW/TB: Your relationship with STAR TRE is as old as your first listed work, as writer and illustrator, of the book “The Star Fleet Medical Reference,” from Ballantine Books (1977). That you were a fan from the very beginning is evident, but did STAR TRE actively motivate and point out some directions for your career and your professional objectives all those years?
GM: I’ll start with a little story. Back in 1979, Doug Drexler and I were probably the two biggest Star Trek fans in New York City. We knew that Star Trek: The Motion Picture was being filmed, and we knew we had to be a part of it, so we took time off from work and school to fly to L.A. and do our best to sneak onto the sound stages of Paramount. Of course, we had no connections, barely a place to stay, and only by sheer chutzpah did we finally manage to get onto the lot, tiptoe upstairs to the Star Trek art department (ironically, the same room I worked in for two years on Voyager), and talk to some of the designers, including Mike Minor and Lee Cole. What was probably a routine meeting for them with two Trek geeks was a decisive moment in my career, and Doug’s-we suddenly realized that there was actually a PAYING JOB for people like us, who liked to design spacecraft and draw little diagrams of ray guns. I can remember coming back home to New York and telling my mother that I finally knew what I wanted to do with my life, and she had a good laugh when I said it was to work in science fiction art departments. Who could possibly make a living at that?! So, to answer your question, Star Trek was a powerful motivating force in my professional life, even though for many years I had nothing to do with it, other than watching episodes of TNG.
TW/TB: Your first involvement with the actual production of TREK was in 1994, with DEEP SPACE NINE. Then you transferred yourself to the production of “Space: Above and Beyond,” followed by “JAG,” the movie “Star Trek: Insurrection,” the “The X-Files,” the “VIP,” then back to the franchise with VOYAGER and ENTERPRISE. Unlike so many of your colleagues in the art department in the last decade, you feel somewhat uncomfortable with settling down for a long time. Is that really that so?
GM: It’s not always your choice to move from show to show or from film to film; that’s just the way the entertainment industry works. Most films last for just a few months, and most TV shows don’t know if they’ll be renewed after 13 episodes; right now, I’m working on a show that may only last five episodes. Star Trek is a rare bird, a show that’s all but guaranteed to last seven seasons, and with luck, lead into another seven-year show. The people who work at Star Trek know that they have a good thing going, and as a result, it’s a tough to get a job on Trek…you have to wait until someone dies or retires! As for me, I finally got the chance on the sixth season of Voyager, when Wendy Drapanas decided it was time to move on, and I stuck with it for the next three seasons. Before that, I was sort of a Star Trek temp, brought on when they needed an extra person; and with luck, I’ll continue to get a call from Mike Okuda when they need a graphic artist for the next feature or special project.
TW/TB: Many artists consider STAR TREK some kind of “paradise” in creative terms. Rick Sternbach sounds a little bit like that when I talked to him, last year. Do you feel that that TREK opens the doors of creativity when it comes to props, ships, panels, costumes and alien designs?
GM: Although it’s always a pleasure to work on Star Trek if you’re a fan, I wouldn’t call it creative paradise, and I doubt that Rick Sternbach meant it quite like that, especially after the stressful last few months of Voyager! Like any television show, Star Trek is a pretty rigid hierarch, with the producers at the top, the writers and directors a notch below, the production designer below that, and so on down through the art director, prop master, set decorator, scenic artist supervisor, to the very bottom, where you are. It’s fairly rare when all of those people above you think you got something right the very first time, and usually it’s a matter of give-and-take until you’ve either convinced all the key people or run out of time before the episode shoots. Don’t get me wrong…ALL films and TV shows are like this, and Star Trek is better than most. The last two seasons of Voyager were a pleasure to work on largely because the producers were focused on the pre-production of Enterprise, so no one really cared what I or Rick Sternbach or Tim Earls did. All three of us are passionate about our work, and I think we did some very nice stuff during those two seasons when no one was paying attention. On Enterprise, it’s a brand new show with a lot of added pressure, so there wasn’t quite so much freedom.
TW/TB: One of the main ideas behind the new series ENTERPRISE is that it should blow some fresh air to the people involved with the franchise. Executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, as well some other people involved with the series, especially in the art department, seemed reinvigorated by this feeling last year. But you decided to leave the series for season two, saying you were “creatively frustrated.” Wasn’t coming back to the 22nd century not such a novelty for you after all?
GM: My creative frustration had very little to do with the show, which I think is terrific…I’m looking forward to watching the second season without any idea of what’s going to happen. There’s no question that Enterprise has breathed new life into the Star Trek franchise-the cast is outstanding, and Rick and Brannon are clearly enjoying themselves, as well as coming up with some great scripts. For my money, “Broken Bow,” “Dear Doctor” and “Fusion” are as good as any episodes we’ve seen on Star Trek. Having said that, they brought me on after the pilot, and there really wasn’t a great deal to do graphics-wise-the style of the show was already pretty much set. I enjoyed doing the whacky alien graphics for “Unexpected,” and some cool Vulcan sets, but its hard to get excited about designing a big “4” for the cargo hold in “Fortunate Son.” By the way, I actually had go up on a ladder and switch that “4” with an “8” about a half a dozen times, as they shot the cargo hold scenes out of sequence!
TW/TB: Myimpression is that some things in the management changed from VOY to ENT, since Voyager’s final season production was going smoothly, almost by inertia, with artists, writers, actors and directors knowing exactly what they were doing and what they should do next. ENT was the one just being conceived and the feel was yet to be defined by the producers. This change of pace must have translated into the way producers dealt with artists (or even into a more active role of the Production Designer) in the new series. Was it more stressful to work in Enterprise than in Voyager? What about creative freedom?
GM: There’s some irony in the fact that a new concept and new cast which breathes life into the franchise doesn’t always translate into exciting tasks for those of us in the art department. The people I saw having fun were the illustrators: John Eaves, Doug Drexler and Dave Duncan. I’m not sure the graphic artists or set designers were being as creatively challenged.
TW/TB: Are many of the people currently in the art department TREK enthusiasts?
GM: The absolute WORST way to get a job at Star Trek is to tell them that you’re a Star Trek fan! When they started Enterprise, they made a conscious decision to bring in some new blood, and not just round up the usual suspects; but in practice, it meant that fans like Rick Sternbach, Tim Earls and myself weren’t asked back. However, a number of fans who had worked on DS9 and had been taking an extended leave of absence came back when Enterprise started, so the total number of Star Trek fans stayed about the same.
TW/TB: Conceiving the new series’ look must have been somewhat fun, given the opportunities to pay some tributes to the original series. Was that an amusing “bonus” to this job? Have you put some of those tidbits in your creations for ENT that you could tell us about, even though they could be too small to be seen in a TV set?
GM: Yes, I love the references to the original series-the colored stripes on the coveralls that match the uniform tunics from TOS, the doo-dads on the exterior of the NX-01 that come from the original Enterprise, and the Vulcan ship that echoes the Matt Jefferies Starliner as seen in the rec deck of TMP. For my part, I enjoyed using the cool Vulcan characters on Spock’s robe in TMP (and some nice IDICs) on the relics in “The Andorian Incident” and the Vulcan ship in “Fusion.” In other cases, I probably would have been less faithful to TOS…for instance, I wouldn’t have used the military-looking Amarillo typeface for “ENTEPRISE NX-O1” on the shuttlepods, but would have picked something a little more contemporary, like on the space shuttle. Back in 1967, they simply didn’t have the graphic tools we have now, and if they had, they certainly would have used them.
TW/TB: Many fans criticized the “new old” Enterprise, a concept reminiscient of the Akira design. What is your personal take on Eaves' and Drexler’s efforts?
GM: I love the NX-01, and think that the criticism is complete groundless. The Akira was designed up at ILM, not by the Star Trek art department, and if it weren’t for the various reference books, no one would have ever heard of it…you hardly even saw it in First Contact! And while the Akira is a rather ugly, bowlegged vessel from some angles, the NX-01 is streamlined and elegant, and looks good from almost any angle. Having been around then, I also know that Doug Drexler and John Eaves did EXACTLY what the producers asked them to: Rick and Braga had very strong opinions, and knew exactly what they wanted. There was an earlier version of the NX-01 with a secondary hull and dorsal fin, but the general feeling was that it looked too much like the TOS Enterprise.
TW/TB: When I talked to Andy Probert, he was very critical of Rick Berman’s attitude back in 1988. He said Berman didn’t understand science and science fiction and that he was unable to discuss intelligently about design problems. It was just a matter of saying “oh, this doesn’t look good, this looks good,” and so on. Others, like Sternbach, have said they were given a lot of creative freedom. What is your personal take on the matter and what is your personal opinion about Rick Berman?
GM: Mr. Berman may not have a strong science fiction background, but what you need for Star Trek is a strong storytelling background, and Rick and Brannon have proven themselves in that respect. I’ve had very few dealings with Mr. Berman, as my work usually gets approved (or disapproved) at a lower level; nevertheless, I have found both him and Brannon to be reasonable guys who appreciate good work. Some producers on other shows (who shall remain nameless) think they have to yell and disparage creative work just to show who’s boss.
TW/TB: As a writer, did you try to pitch some ideas for TREK (and other series) episodes during those years?
GM: Yes indeed, I pitched to DS9 twice, once before the show aired and once during the first season, and to Voyager as well. With a writing partner, I pitched to Michael Piller, who couldn’t have been nicer and more encouraging. The problem is that they have already heard just about every possible story idea, so by the time you go in, it’s the fourth or fifth time for them. My advice to someone going into pitch would be to come up with ideas that are REALLY out there; another case where someone without a Star Trek or science fiction background might actually have an advantage.
TW/TB: You’ve also worked on two TREK feature films, “Generations” (some panels, you mention in your resumé) and “Insurrection." What are the main differences, for an illustrator, between working for a TREK series and working for a TREK film?
GM: I was a production assistant during Generations, and my job was basically to make the coffee and deliver blueprints, so they were very generous to give me stuff to design. I ended up doing a lot of the Klingon bird-of-prey graphics, which showed up on DS9 for many years to come, as well as the futuristic network logos on the reporters’ “steadicams.” Also, many, many pages for Picard’s scrapbook, which we never saw in the movie, although if you go to Star Trek: The Experience in Las Vegas, it’s on display there.
On Insurrection, I was the lead scenic artist, which means that most of the Son’a panels and the various PADDs (which Mr. Frakes very kindly featured) were mine. A lot of the Enterprise-E graphics had already been designed for First Contact, but I did a few, including the bridge science stations and the engineering pool table, as well the cool moving light gag on the turbolift. But to answer your question, the difference between working on a Star Trek film and the TV series is (1) you have more time and money; (2) you need to sweat the small stuff, or else you’ll see your crooked tape job on a big screen 40 feet wide. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same group of people doing both the films and the show.
TW/TB: “Insurrection” has some incredible artwork designs but was bothered by writing and special effects. Do you artists feel somewhat uncomfortable with the fact that, no matter how good your work in a project is, some things in the long chain between conception and production can put the whole effort to loss?
GM: A better way to put this would be that when the script is great, we get even MORE excited. A so-so script doesn’t change the fact that we still do the best work that we can; sometimes it’s the not-so-great scripts that turn out to be great episodes, and vice-versa.
TW/TB: Many fans were saddened when they heard the VOYAGER sets were going to be disassembled and destroyed. Why didn’t Paramount preserved some of the sets and even took them to “The Experience,” in Vegas, instead of simply destroying them? Wouldn’t that be a good addition to the attraction, that you also helped to develop?
GM: I think most fans don’t realize that the Voyager sets could be rebuilt from scratch in a week if there was ever a need for them…all the blueprints exist, and if there’s one thing the Trek construction crew knows how to do, it’s recreate sets from previous episodes. As an example, we rebuilt the Borg Queen’s chamber from the ground up not once but twice while I was working on Voyager: for “Unimatrix Zero,” and then for “Endgame.” It would be much too expensive to keep sets like that up for months at a time just in case you might have the opportunity to use them!
Also, you must remember that the sets themselves are relatively flimsy-basically just plywood, two-by-fours, and paint. They wouldn’t last long at a high-traffic attraction like the Star Trek Experience, and in fact all the Enterprise-D sets in Las Vegas had to be re-engineered with steel supports and “real world” materials. Even the stickers there are protected by Plexiglas covers!
TW/TB: Your latest TREK effort is the book “Star Trek: Star Charts” (Pocket Books, 2002). Pocket recently decided to reduce resources for reference books. How hard it was to sell the project to them, and for how long did you work on the book?
GM: Surprisingly, it turned out to be very easy…I did a proposal, with thumbnail sketches of the maps, and submitted it to Margaret Clark. It might have helped that I had done the Star Trek Maps back in the distant past, and that I was working on the show at the time. I know it helped that Mike Okuda put in a good word for me.
The actual book took almost a year, and it got very intense toward the end of the first season of Enterprise, when I was struggling with my day job as well as trying to get the book done by Pocket’s deadline. As Margaret will verify, I was a little late turning it in, and kept going back and making changes. I wish I could add a few more things, but I feel 90% happy about what I was able to accomplish.
TW/TB: Reading this new book felt like going back to “The Star Trek Maps” and “The Star Fleet Medical Reference,” made in a time when TREK books were much less controlled by Paramount than they are now?
GM: I had very little in the way of interference from Paramount. Dave Rossi gave me some very sensible notes-maybe a couple of dozen changes altogether, which I was happy to make. Andre Bormanis gave me some technical corrections, and Margaret found a few mistakes and inconsistencies…other than that, the book is pretty much the way I wanted it to be. However, on this book, just like on the maps back in 1980, they wouldn’t let me mention the Kzinti from the animated episode “The Slaver Weapon.” I guess Larry Niven still owns the rights to the Kziniti.
TW/TB: Trying to convey TREK star charts is probably one of the most terrible challenges someone could face. Although fascinating, we all know some things (especially in the later series) don’t seem to add up. How did you deal with Qo’noS's distance to Earth, as seen in “Broken Bow” (or Rigel that it is not Rigel, also from “Broken Bow”), or with the U.S.S. Voyager that goes, goes, goes, but never reaches the Alpha Quadrant? What about the U.S.S. Enterprise’s trip to the galaxy center? Were there some things that you wanted to get rid of (or effectively did)?
GM: Buy the book! I think I did as well as I could under the circumstances; I certainly didn’t shy away from any of these problems.
TW/TB: Were you aware of some of the fan efforts in trying to solve those “problems?”
GM: Yes indeed. One of the contributors to the book was Christian Rühl, who has by far the most detailed website on Star Trek cartography. Christian was kind enough to plot some real stars for me, and his version of the Federation and the surrounding territories is pretty much the one I used. Also a big help was Timo Saloniemi, a fan in Iceland who expanded on Christian’s work. I had hoped to have a Beta test version of the maps for fans to comment on, but the schedule just got too crazy at the last minute. Besides, I don’t know if it’s possible to come to a complete consensus-there are many things in the book that Christian and Timo are bound to disagree with.
TW/TB: Has anything from the old “Star Trek Maps” remained in this new edition?
GM: Very little; the Federation and the galaxy has changed too much from the old days. Although Mike Okuda wanted me to use as much as I could from the old maps, it just wasn’t practical…for one thing, the actual star positions in the maps were all slightly skewed, the result of my confusion of the galactic plane of ecliptic with Earth’s. Someday, I’d love to do a “star atlas” like the one that came with the maps…a detailed list of inhabited systems and planets, with a short description of each. At the moment, I have about 2,000 entries in my database, which is a good start…
TW/TB: Besides giving star charts in the book you go into some detailed Star System maps, like the one from Talos, and defining the planetary classes. How hard was it to work that out? Did you have any scientific preoccupations while writing this stuff?
GM: I went out my way to keep the science as accurate as possible: lots of real stars are positioned right where they should be, and the map of the Milky Way was painted by Tim Earls, using the latest reference material available. Having said that, there are some things that just don’t seem plausible, given the current state of astronomical knowledge…for instance, there aren’t that many nebulae close to Earth, and if the Badlands is where I say it is, it would be quite visible in the night sky! Also, we now know that that stars like Rigel and Deneb wouldn’t be good places to look for life, although 40 Eridani and Alpha Centauri are still good candidates. The planetary classification system was one holdover from the Star Trek Maps, although I had to switch around some of the letters based on references from TNG and Voyager. I also tried to use the star system data from Shane Johnson’s The Worlds of the Federation where it wasn’t completely contradicted by later episodes. Luckily, a chart of the Talos star group was shown on the viewscreen in “The Cage,” so that was a no-brainer!
TW/TB: You humorously mention in your resumé, “Writer/Graphic Artist for hire--cheap.” Any plans for the near future?
GM: I guess I should cross out the “cheap” part. Since the first season of Enterprise wrapped, I’ve been working pretty steadily: I did video graphics for the Steven Soderbergh/George Clooney film Solaris, then worked on the TV series “24” and the film Spider-Man 2. Most recently, I’ve been working for the NBC series “Kingpin,” which is a somewhat similar to the film Traffic. I’ve also been updating the timeline panels for The Experience in Las Vegas, and finishing up the revisions to the Star Charts book. To tell the truth, I was hoping for some time off, but I’ve been working harder than ever!
STAR TREK: STAR CHARTS hits U.S. shelves next Tuesday. You can pre-order now to help support TrekWeb.
React to this story below and then see what others are saying about this topic at the STAR TREK BBS.
Join our monthly e-mail newsletter!