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Rick Sternbach On Voyager Sets

By Christian
April 8, 2001 - 4:23 PM

Since 1977, Stages 8 and 9 on the Paramount lot have been the home of the Star Trek franchise, beginning with the 'Star Trek Phase II' television series and continuing for the movies, 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and 'Star Trek: Voyager'. According to Voyager Senior Illustrator Rick Sternbach, the stages will be used again for the fifth Star Trek television series, though they will lose many of the basic structures that have stood there for the past quarter century.

"The basic structure of the sets [on Stage 9] has stood in place since early 1977, in preparation for Star Trek II, the second television series," Sternbach told TrekToday. "This series was, of course, transformed into Star Trek: The Motion Picture, which I had the privilege of working on, under the command of production designer Harold Michaelson, and alongside illustrator Mike Minor, among others.

"The heavy steel supports for the Engineering second floor are still there, along with a lot of the basic walls. The features, TNG, and Voyager all added and subtracted some bits of construction, but the layout has remained quite recognizable. In 1978, the first time the corridors for ST:TMP were finished, with the doors all closed, all you could see was *starship* and you believed you were there on the Enterprise. I experienced the same thing on TNG when we reworked the sets in 1987. It'll be sad to see those walls come down. A lot of memories are tied up in those spaces."

Currently, most of Voyager is still intact. "Right now [April 5], most of the walls of Engineering are still up, though the warp core is gone. The corridors are still intact, Sickbay too. Over the next few weeks, depending on possible pick-up shots, it should all be cleared out."

Even when the Starship Voyager has been completely removed from the Paramount lot, parts of it will live on in Series V, while others might even be saved for other purposes. "I can't say what the final disposition of all the parts will be. I've seen some walls carefully pulled apart and loaded onto pallets for storage or conversion to Series V walls, etc.; other bits are being totally struck and dumped in the lumber recycling bins. Whether any of the major Voyager sets, like the bridge, get saved for display, I'm not certain, but it wouldn't surprise me if something that lovingly designed and crafted is spared the chainsaw."

According to earlier reports, some of the sets for the next Star Trek series are currently being built on Stage 12, where until recently the Tom Cruise production 'Vanilla Sky' was filming. However, once Voyager has cleared out, Series V will also film on the Voyager stages. "They have a large number of sets, and they won't all fit on one stage," Sternbach said. "From what I understand, [the 'Planet Hell' cave set] will come down, and any planetside sets will be put up on Stage 9."

Stage 9 in particular has a very long association with Star Trek. "Star Trek has used Stages 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 16, and perhaps a couple of others over the years since 1977, for both the features and series. When I was hired on in April of 1978 to work on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, all of the basic sets had already been built on Stage 9 for Star Trek Phase II."

'Phase II' was the Star Trek series featuring Captain Kirk and most of the original crew of the Enterprise that was intended to launch a fourth broadcasting network, the Paramount Network. After the studio scrapped plans to launch its own network, the series was transformed into 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture'. More on this can be found in the extensive background book by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens, entitled 'Star Trek Phase II: The Lost Series'.

"The look [of the Phase II sets] was fairly plain in comparison to what would it would be transformed into," continued Sternbach. "Institutional green walls, polished aluminum headers, very TOS-like. The Bridge did have some interesting compound curves formed by a set of identical fiberglas molded walls, into which were cut turbo doors, the main viewer, Chekov's weapons station, etc. Mike Minor's initial color illustrations nicely document the first design elements. Stage 8 was filled up with the two-story Rec Deck. Once TMP wrapped filming, the Rec Deck was torn down, but everything on Stage 9 was left standing (the V'ger interior and Klingon bridge had been set up elsewhere), and remained idle between features. I imagine as long as the stage rental was covered by the company, they could afford to hang on to them. The Main Engineering space was modified more than a few times for the features, becoming a different kind of Engineering space and torpedo loading area, that sort of thing, but the basic structure remained behind the plywood walls."

In a few weeks, much of that basic structure will be lost, along with the rest of the Voyager sets. Is there anything in particular Sternbach will miss? "I can't say I'll miss any one set particularly. They've all had a certain appeal from a design standpoint, not just the Starfleet bits. We've done countless alien sets, which gave us great opportunities to explore more unfamiliar shapes and colors. I never really got involved in the original set designs, but did work some of the architecture into the ship exteriors and offer occasional input to keep some of the alien cultures separate and distinct - not always an easy task!"

Sternbach won't be taking any souvenirs from the sets. "[That] isn't really an option, because we're talking about mostly largish pieces of wood and aluminum and plexiglas. There really isn't much else," he said.

Soon, there really won't be much else left of Voyager, and on some of the soundstages for the series this is already the case. "I was down on Stage 8 today, and it's feeling particularly 'airy'," Sternbach said, describing the Paramount lot. But even when all sets have been taken down, Star Trek fans will still have six more episodes of 'Voyager' to look forward to, and after that will get to see all-new Star Trek stories filmed on the same soundstages. Hopefully, the association of Stages 8 and 9 with the Star Trek franchise will be able to last at least another quarter century after the final Voyager set has been struck.

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