Throughout Star Trek (The Original Series), most of the walls (er, “bulkheads”) on the Enterprise were a uniform light gray color.  This non-descript, neutral color looks somewhat militaristic (kind of a “battleship gray” color) and it looks rather institutional–immediately conveying to viewers much of what needs to be conveyed from an Art Design standpoint.  (“This is a quasi-military vessel where 400+ people live and work in close quarters.”)  This neutral color also acts as a nice background “canvas” for other colorful things: paintings, sculptures, various innocuous wall decorations, “futuristic” signage, cabin labels and wayfinders, etc.  In fact, the lighting folks on Star Trek, headed by Cinematographers Jerry Finnerman, Al Francis, and others, along with gaffer George H. Merhoff would often “paint with light.”  Colored gels were placed in front of the studio lights, and the lights would be shone on to the neutral gray walls to give the color effect needed–without having to actually paint the walls.  Here’s one such typical “painting with light” shot from the episode “Charlie X” (episode 8):

"Charlie X"

But there is one room that throughout all three seasons of Star Trek was not painted this ubiquitous light gray color: the “Sick Bay Ward Room.” Here’s a typical shot of this room from the episode “Journey To Babel” (episode 44):

"Journey to Babel"

You can see that the walls of the Sick Bay Ward Room are not the regular light gray seen throughout most of the ship; they are a light minty-turquoise green color.  It turns out that at about the turn of the century (the 20th century, not the 21st century), a very specific shade of green (called “eye-ease green”) was developed.  It was (and still is) used in hospitals (notably in operating rooms) and is the photonegative of the color of blood.  (Well, human blood, I suppose.)   It turns out that when surgeons had been staring for long periods of time into an open surgical wound, when they looked up at the white walls of the surgical suite or the white linens or the white operating garb of other surgeons and scrub and circuling nurses, the negative afterimage from the blood would float around the surgeon’s field of view, being annoying and arguably dangerous.  Having everything white made a perfect “canvas” for this annoying anti-blood greenish splotchy negative afterimage to show up against.

Harrmy M. Sherman, A.M., M.D., summarizes it fairly nicely in his old article “The Green Operating Room at St. Luke’s Hospital” from the May, 1914, issue of the California State Journal of Medicine: 

“I advised that green, the complementary color to red, should be chosen as the color of the floor and wainscot.  The particular shade of green to be selected was that which was complementary to hemoglobin, and it was found to be the green of the spinach leaf.  Incidentally it may be said that the iron in the chlorophyl of spinach is said to be in the same chemical combination as the iron in hemoglobin, but I know nothing of the value of this, in making spinach green complementary to hemoglobin red.”1

So Dr. Sherman’s idea was to simply make everything in the operating theater this anti-blood green color to begin with–so that the splotchy greenish negative afterimage couldn’t be seen very well; it would disappear into the background “canvas.”  Indeed, even today, most operating suites, surgical gowns, drapes, cloths, sponges, and even the paint on the walls are now generally this strange anti-blood “eye-ease green” color.  (Further reading of the complete article will reveal that not only is the subject actually pretty interesting, but Dr. Sherman seems to have been a bit of a kook.)

At any rate, it is this anti-blood “eye-ease green” color that’s used in the Sick Bay Ward Room (and the Sick Bay Examination Room starting in the second season).  I’m not sure if doctors on board the Enterprise (or on other starships, since we did see this same green in Sick Bay on the U.S.S. Defiant in “The Tholian Web”) ever have much cause to look at bright red surgical incisions to such a degree that they need “eye-ease green” walls to reduce annoying afterimages.  But certainly using this color immediately conveys a sense of “hospital” and “medicine” to viewers–if only on a subconscious level.  (It also raises the interesting question of whether or not Vulcan surgeons paint their operating rooms with pale pink, and have pink scrubs–the photonegative of their blood.  But I seem to have digressed.) 

Of course, the Sick Bay Ward Room also had a sub-motif of red-orange.  The linens on the beds and the pillows are red-orange, the color behind the corrugated glass supply cabinet (where Dr. McCoy keeps his Saurian brandy and his trombone mutes) is red-orange, key surgical instruments are red-orange, and even colored fluid in spray bottles is generally red-orange:
"The Deadly Years"
Interestingly, for “The Tholian Web,” in order to give the viewer an immediate sense that we were on board a different starship, the bed linens and the pillows were replaced with light blue material, and the corrugated glass supply cabinet was lit from behind with a bluish color instead of its usual red-orange color.  So, in some subconscious way, this just doesn’t quite feel like the Enterprise’s Sick Bay Ward Room.  (It’s a fine line to walk–trying to make other Constitution-class starships look different enough so that viewers can feel they are on some other different ship, yet not so different that the surroundings no longer look and feel like a Constitution-class starship anymore.)
 "The Tholian Web"

As a bit of a side note, for the third season of Star Trek, the Sick Bay Ward Room was given a tiny painting overhaul: the top of the bedside tables and the credenza underneath the frosted glass supply cabinet were changed from being a simple grayish color (the same color as the Sick Bay beds) to being a brighter lemon-yellowish color.  (The small swing-arm TV sets also went away, too.)  Not only can you see the yellow countertops in the above “The Tholian Web” shot, but here’s a shot of this new yellowish color from the episode “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” (episode 62):

"Is There in Truth No Beauty?"

As a late addition to this article (October 13, 2015), I note that light green walls were added to two panels in the Sick Bay Examination Room in the second season.  The wall sections with the exercise foot pedals and the panel next to it–with the large computer panel–were given that light green color, matching the color of the door to the ship’s corridor.  It’s an icy teal color–and you can see it in these shots from “Journey to Babel” (episode 44) and “Mirror, Mirror” (episode 39).     

That same icy teal color was extended to the entire Sick Bay Examination Room–all of the wall segments.  (Well, with the exception of the diagonal door jamb at the corridor door.)  Here’s a shot from “The Way to Eden” (episode 75). 

So, the subtlety of color choices in Sick Bay might not even be noticed on a conscious level by the viewer, but those colors are doing their duty on a subconscious level.  It’s details like this that contribute to Star Trek‘s enduring popularity even forty+ years later.

If anyone is interested, on our Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II sets, our Sick Bay Ward Room and Sick Bay Examination Room are painted with the following:

Wal-Mart ColorPlace Medium Base "Clear Turquoise" 91394

As always, questions, comments, feedback, and, of course, “shares,” “likes,” or “+1s” are always appreciated.

So, are you getting any educational or entertainment value from this post?  Send us a couple of bucks! (See the links below to donate.)

1  Harry M Sherman, “The Green Operating Room at St. Lukes Hospital,” California State Journal of Medicine 12, no. 5 (1914): 181-183.

Author Greg Schnitzer

Gregory L. Schnitzer is Co-Executive Producer on the fan-based Internet series Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II (formerly known as Star Trek New Voyages). Greg is a Registered Nurse and is often in charge of Emergency Medical Services at the Star Trek New Voyages/Phase II shoots. He is also the production's Property Master and on-again, off-again Set Decorator. Born and raised in Los Angeles (which he still calls "home"), in real life, Greg is a Registered Nurse, currently working in Health Information Management at a variety of medical facilities in the greater metropolitan Washington, D.C., area. Find Greg's page on the IMDB at:

More posts by Greg Schnitzer

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • John says:

    I really enjoy these types of “why we did it” trivia articles. These are loads of fun and I hope you keep posting.

  • Moeskido says:

    Detailed write-up, as always. But there’s one other factor determining set-design color treatments in this show: selling color television sets, which has little to do with either scientific provenance or the need to retro-rationalize for it. Especially if the major proponent of the theory you’re examining was “a bit of a kook.” 😉

    Jefferies and Justman simply made the show as colorful as possible, everywhere they could, which was a large part of why it appealed so much to kids.

    That said… As a child, I subscribed to a kids’ magazine that was printed on eye-ease greenish paper. I remember their editor describing it as such, and explaining the reason for this when they switched from white.

    • Well, kook or not, Dr. Sherman’s “eye-ease green” theory seems to have taken root in the past one hundred years. Hospital operating rooms and, now, hospitals in general, and institutions of all kinds, including schools and psychiatric facilities seem to use this odd “eye-ease green” color. But I think most would indeed concede that if Matt Jefferies decided to use this eye-ease green color for the Sick Bay Ward room, it’s probably not because it was such a sound scientific theory, but, rather, because over the past century, the color now seems to have become synonymous with clinical care–regardless of how kooky or sound Dr. Sherman’s original theory had been.

      I think NBC did indeed want lots of color so that it would help sell RCA color television sets. But as that first shot from “Charlie X” demonsrates, Finnerman, et al were perfectly capable of making boring gray walls extremely colorful through the use of lighting. The idea that eye-ease green for the Sick Bay Ward Room was to make that room somehow more colorful than than the walls on all the other sets seems, well, not very compelling. My hunch is that this odd color was used in the Sick Bay Ward Room for some reason other than to sell color television sets. Otherwise, they’d just have painted all the sets in eye-ease green or something equally colorful–or the converse: they would have just used gray walls in the Sick Bay Ward Room and then used crazy colorful lighting like they did with all the other sets. But they seem to have handled the wall color of the Sick Bay Ward Room differently from all the other shipboard sets. I don’t know about “retro-raionalization,” but I do know that the Sick Bay Ward Room was singled out for a paint scheme that differed from all the other sets. A quick check of the all the other sets for the first season of Star Trek, back when this eye ease green was first employed in the Sick Bay Ward Room, shows the following:

      INT. TRANSPORTER ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. CORRIDOR: “Wall Gray”
      INT. BRIEFING ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. BOTANY LAB: “Wall Gray”
      INT RECRATION ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. KIRK’S QUARTERS: “Wall Gray”
      INT. MUDD’S QUARTERS: “Wall Gray”
      INT. JANICE’S QUARTERS: “Wall Gray”
      INT. McCOY’S QUARTERS “Wall Gray”
      INT. POWER SHAFT (i.e. “Jefferies Tube”) “Wall Gray”
      INT. ENGINEERING ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. CHAPEL: “Wall Gray”
      INT. SHIP’S THEATER: “Wall Gray”
      INT. GYMNASIUM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. PHASER ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. TURBO LIFT: “Wall Gray”
      INT. HEARING ROOM: “Wall Gray”
      INT. KHAN’S QUARTER’S “Wall Gray”
      INT. McCOY’S LAB: “Wall Gray”
      INT.SICK BAY WARD ROOM “Light Turquoise”

      If Jefferies and Justman used this light turquoise in an effort to make the show as colorful as they could wherever possible, then they missed taking advantage of this same opportunity on all the other sets. On the other hand, if shining crazy colored lights onto gray walls was an effort to make the show as colorful as they could wherever possible, then doing it differently for the Sick Bay Ward Room begs some kind of different explanation.

  • Swampie says:

    Inside of US Army tanks and APC’s are painted this same light green… was inside such vehicles 25+ yrs; and know it well… MSG Swampie

  • Bing says:

    Know what else leaves an annoying negative afterimage? White text on a black background.

  • Crusso says:

    Funny behind the scenes anecdote. I was at the last shoot and got the “honor” of painting those surgical side table tops yellow. It was raining and really damp so the paint wasn’t drying well and a 2nd coat still had to be applied. The lighting crew brought in some huge lights and set them up so the heat produced by the intense light would “bake” the paint. Even after the 2nd coat dried there was some concern that it might be slightly tacky and stick to the props placed on them. So the bottoms of all the props were wiped down with a little Pledge to keep them from sticking during the filming.
    I just found it pretty neat to see all the prep that goes into something as simple as “yellow table tops”. Also now know what it means to “watch paint dry”!

  • ShunkW says:

    I always thought it was neat that the consoles on the main bridge were converted score keepers from a bowling alley.

  • D Jacobs says:

    Interesting article on “eye-ease” green. The navy may prefer “battleship gray,” but the interiors of military aircraft, are often painted a color called “Zinc Chromate” green. Which is a sort of neutral green/mint green. But, it’s not really a “paint,” per say. It’s a protective, anti corrosion, coating. It was initially used, in the aircraft industry, in WWII. But I’ve seen it inside Army M113s and Humvees.

  • shaneavery says:

    why are men kissing and having hot scenes as hot as the original startrek heck maybe more, i just dont understand why that has to be on tv. why confuse kids like that. so what is the deal with television/hollywood ??? are you people really trying to corrupt our minds? is that it? i mean come on man that is traumatic for a kid to see.

    • Really? A man is eaten alive by Regulan Blood Worms–devouring all his limbs until he is just a head and torso–until another Starfleet officer mercifully disintegrates him, and yet two people of the same sex kissing is what provokes your child protective ire? How bizarre!

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