From the files: Evolution of the Bridge

This is the first of several articles “from the files” – these were published in January of 2009 as part of the “Production Club Newsletter”. There is some great information in them and some personal sharing/visiting with some of our wonderful, gifted crew and “family members” that deserves to be shared.

This is one of two written by our lost brother, “Tony D”. We miss you Tony!

EVOLUTION OF THE BRIDGE

By Tony DeGregorio

James Cawley and Jeff Mailhotte talk about the new sets and their preparation for shooting!

 

 When one thinks of Star Trek hardware, the most frequently thought of piece of  hardware is the U.S.S. Enterprise herself. The beloved ship is as much a character in the story as is Kirk, or Spock, or McCoy. The heart of the Enterprise is her bridge. This is the place where much of the action in any episode of Star Trek takes place.

Phase 2 could never be the show that it is without a workable bridge. In this article, I am going to do my best to acquaint you with the Phase 2 Bridge set, from its humble beginnings to its present status, to its future.

 

In the beginning…

The first incarnation of the bridge for James Cawley was not the one that we see in the episodes of New Voyages and Phase 2. The first bridge set was built by James’ father in their basement for James and his friends to create their very own Star Trek adventures. Of course that was a long time ago, in a basement, far, far, away.

When the New Voyages project began in earnest, the bridge set that was built was only the helm, the captain’s chair, the turbo lift door, and a couple of stations in a small room in Ticonderoga, NY. Watching the first episodes of New Voyages, you never know that there was so little, but they made it work. The set was mostly constructed by James himself from copies of the original plans which were used to build the actual TOS Bridge back in the 60’s.

Set Construction Foreman, Jeff Mailhotte, directs the design and construction of new sets.

The next generation…

When New Voyages moved to its larger, current studio in Port Henry, NY, the original bridge was dismantled. Some of it was moved to the new studio, some of it was discarded.

Now in a bigger building, James and Jeff Mailhotte set to work on building something that had never been done for the original Star Trek, building a full 360 degree bridge set.

Let me interject here… the feeling one gets the first time you step through the turbo lift doors onto the bridge is something that cannot be described. If you are a true fan you can imagine it. If you’ve been there you know the feeling. We have had stars from the original series compliment the bridge and how it’s as good as or, better than the original one.

In the 60’s they were never able to do an entire 360 degrees due to the fact that the film cameras and lighting were too large to fit in an enclosed set like the bridge. But with today’s smaller more powerful lighting and digital cameras, it became practical, to build a full sized 360 degree set. And that’s exactly what they did. They began constructing console sections one by one, out of plywood and various other materials, fitting the console wedges together to form the upper platform on the bridge behind the rails, which includes the communications station, the science station, damage control, engineering, the view screen, and of course the turbo lift.

In the command pit they built the platform for the captain’s chair and helm and the helm/astrogator/nav console itself.

The control panels are made from colored Plexiglas panels with buttons and switches installed on them. Some are lit from behind, some aren’t. The smaller monitors at each station were made from static graphics which were attached over cutout holes on the consoles, and covered with darkened plexi. The monitors were then back lit by various blinking and non blinking lights to make them appear like computer displays. This is pretty much how it was done on the original set. The larger monitors over each station were made by installing static graphics of planets and such with rear projected light. All the graphics were duplicated from the ones used on the TOS set.

The helm station contains one of the most interesting pieces of hardware on the bridge short of the captain’s chair itself, the battle scanner. The battle scanner affectionately known as the “Sulu Scope” rises up out of the helm console through hidden doors allowing the helmsman so see sensor data directly which is crucial to targeting the weapons and piloting the ship in a battle situation.

The “Sulu Scope” used in the Enterprise episodes “In a Mirror Darkly” Pts 1 & 2 was in fact borrowed from New Voyages.

Over the last couple of years the monitors on the communications and some on the science station have been replaced with LCD screens. These screens run live computer graphics designed by our own chief engineer, Charles “Scotty” Root. Charles painstakingly duplicated the static graphics that were seen in those “fake” monitors and made them come alive with color and motion.

 

The new sets starts taking shape.

Where are we now…

At the wrap of the shoot for Enemy: Starfleet back in June of 2008, James and Jeff began the Herculean task of rebuilding the bridge. Why you might ask. Although the bridge looks great, there is so much more that can be done with it by today’s standards and still maintain the classic look of TOS. It was decided to replace the bridge with a newer more high tech one. Now please don’t panic, we haven’t gone all JJ Abrams on you!

Allow me to explain.

The old/current bridge is made out of plywood. Plywood, while sturdy has an unfortunate tendency to creek when walked on. Plus its texture is not really contusive to a smooth surface. Advances on wood making have produced Medium Density Fiberboard, AKA: MDF. MDF is a very strong, very smooth material that does not have the inherent creek that plywood has. (Our audio guys love this) It is also very smooth and very easy to work with. It allows for more intricate shaping and cutting.

The new bridge consoles and decking are all going to be made of MDF. Also while replacing the old consoles we are replacing the old static graphic displays with all LCD screens. This will allow more realistic, moving LCARS displays to be created by Charles Root, and the displays will have the ability to be changed when need be. Thanks to the generous donations made by members of our Phase 2 family, we now have enough LCD monitors to replace all the displays on every console of the bridge. The eventual goal is to have every graphic display on the bridge, including those over each station and the ship graphic in the turbo lift alcove to be replaced by LCDs.

The sections of the bridge which have already been replaced are all the consoles starting from the port side of the turbo lift all the way to the view screen. Like the old consoles these new MDF consoles were made in wedges to form the sections of the circular bridge. The consoles are built on platforms to raise them up off the floor to the height of the upper section of the bridge. Once fitted together, the seams are filled with plastic filler and sanded. The consoles are then primed. After priming, the consoles are checked for smoothness, further filling and sanding are done if necessary, and then the final paint color is applied. This slightly off black color looks beautiful and is smooth as glass when finished. Next the monitors are installed from the rear and darkened plexi is placed over the cutout holes from the front side to create the “face” of the monitor. Switch/button panels are added next and will be eventually lit by individual LEDs.

The first appearance of the new engineering station will be featured in the upcoming episode “The Child”. But don’t look for any hoopla about it. Just take notice of the new displays. A lot of hard work went into them.

Painting was down to the wire and the sets were ready for filming. Don Davison paints under the console.

 

In the future…

As for what is to come, well there is still the rebuild of the entire starboard side of the bridge yet to be done. The installation of the new 42 inch LCD screen over the engineering station has to be done. The lighting of panels, purchase and installation of enough larger LCDs to replace all other remaining static displays, and a proposed rebuild of the helm/navigation console.

The future holds plenty of excitement and a lot of work for Phase 2. Stick with us and see where we take you. It’ll be one hell of a ride.

James Cawley shows off the details of the new bridge sets.

 

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Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Keith Gardner says:

    Great artical… I can see a book comming with a title something like “Star Trek TOS for Dummys” or “How to Build Your Dreams”.

  • David says:

    What does it cost to bulid a 360º Bridge?

  • Tom Nichols says:

    Hi, will someone from the production co. please email me? I am not in a position to donate money but I would like to talk with you regardin a donation of another kind.
    Thank you.
    Tom N

  • Christopher.J.Russo says:

    I can just see it. Instead of fantasy baseball camp, a Fantasy Trekkie Camp. $175 a person for like 8-10 hrs on the bridge with enough other Trekkers to fill all the stations and your own video to take home. it would pay for all those snazzy new upgrades! Sign me up!

  • Chris J. says:

    Hey, that’s a great idea! You could charge money (a.k.a. “donations”) for people to use the awesome set you built. Maybe other fans could film their own movies there, and their donations would help fund your episodes.

    BTW, where do you do the actual filming of the series? Is it in NY?

    • Patty Wright says:

      Sorry, CBS frowns on us charging for use of “their” sets, even if “we” did rebuild them. We do let other productions use our sets if they pay their costs (water, electric and trash removal” and maintain their upkeep while using them. (repainting, repairing chips, etc.) Several fanfilms have already filmed on our sets, including Farragut Films…and a few are scheduled to do so in the next year. The more Trek for everyone, the better!

      • Chris J. says:

        That’s why you don’t charge a specific price. You just list a “suggested donation” amount. If they donate more, that’s great. If they donate less, well, it is only a suggested donation…

        • Patty Wright says:

          Which would get us shut down instantly! We can’t ask for “donations” – we can only ask for “help to pay for this specific thing”. I know, it’s a difficult concept to fully wrap your head around, but it’s a tightrope we walk – very carefully – all the time.

          • Chris J. says:

            I’m just trying to help give you some ideas to get more money and/or supplies for your shows.
            You don’t have to call them ‘donations'; call them whatever your lawyers tell you to call them. The point is, you should be getting something back for letting other people use your sets.

            So how about this — if someone wants to use your set, instead of asking for money, tell them they can use the set as long as they repair any damage they cause, and if they give you 200 lbs of lumber, 5 boxes of nails & 2 gallons of paint to help build some new set that you need for an upcoming episode? That way you’re not asking for money, you’re asking for supplies, and they’re going toward a specific project.

  • Christopher.J.Russo says:

    After spending a week on the set, I can tell you that these guys are amazing! The amt of time and money that comes out of their own pockets is just impossible to measure. Working from sunrise to sometimes well into the next day for like 2 weeks straight. Paying for supplies, food for the cast/crew out of their own pockets, etc. Cast/crew giving up home lives and using vacation time from work. And all to put out a project just because they love it!
    I was amazed when I got there and saw the scope of this production. A full size bridge! With working monitors no less! I literally stood in the turbo lift looking out onto the bridge in awe. One of the crew told me to walk on and check it out and i have to say I was so overcome that I was frozen. I was afraid that walking out onto it would burst that childlike bubble of awe and wonder I felt when I first watched TOS as a child. It didn’t.
    Being anywhere on that set is like being transported into an actual episode. It’s what scifi fans have dreamed about ever since picking up that first scifi novel or watching that first movie serial in black and white, or seeing Star Wars for the first time as an eight year old full of wonder.
    It was a wonderful ride James. Thank you.

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