Herman Zimmerman has been with Star Trek since Star Trek: The Next Generation, working on The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Enterprise and six of the eleven Star Trek movies and although he’s now “officially retired,” he still keeps his hand in, working as a visual consultant to architects.
Although he didn’t work on the original series, Zimmerman was a fan of the show when they were first airing. “I was working as an art director on the soap opera The Days of our Lives back in 1966,” he said, “and watched all the old Star Trek shows when they were running and thought they were the best thing on television, never thinking I would work on it.”
When Zimmerman worked on The Next Generation, getting the look of Star Trek correct included realizing the role of the ship itself. “Well the first thing you need to know is that the Enterprise itself is one of the characters,” said Zimmerman. “And everything you invent on the Enterprise, whatever new room or engineering facility, or any part of the ship that hasn’t been shown before, is a new opportunity to re-introduce the character and to bring audience awareness of the advances in technology onto the screen. That is part of the fun of doing a new series.”
Zimmerman enjoyed working on Star Trek: Enterprise because it was closer to modern day. “Enterprise was also more fun for me because it was more present day,” he said. “It was only ninety years in the future, so we can more readily see HD video screens on the bridge. On Next Generation everything was on black plastic, very slick, everything touch screen. On Enterprise we were able to give the actors knobs and levers and things they can actually deal with. I was able to do a couple of fun things, like putting chairs on the bridge that were on glides. so the operator could turn around and slide, and then slide back. I liked that bridge almost more than the Enterprise E bridge, which was considerably more elaborate.”
Part of Zimmerman’s job was trying to re-use scenery and items that were already available. “Even with the films, we were always trying to make a silk purse out of something other,” he said. “I inherited a lot of stuff from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II, and III and IV, which had been saved – most of it in really bad shape. Where possible, I recycled things and I certainly owe a lot of the ideas of the Next Generation ship interior to Hal Michaelson from the Robert Wise movie [Motion Picture], because those things were still physically standing on the stages when I started Next Generation. Every movie that I did owed a lot to the scenery that was left in the warehouses, that I was able to mix and match and re-invent. And then as things went on, things from the movies would wind there way back to the TV series. It is kind of like you are doing crisis management all the time, when you are doing Star Trek.”
And which show and bridge did Zimmerman like best? “It is really hard to pin down what was a favorite, because it was the experience of all of us being creative,” he said. “Taking the sometimes hair-brained ideas of a script and finding a way to make it happen in a very compressed time period. I can say Enterprise was my favorite because it was closer to our own reality, but I could also say the Enterprise E is my favorite bridge, because Patrick Stewart liked it best.”