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):
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):
You can see that the walls of the Sick Bay Ward Room are not the regular light gray 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.
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. Not only can you see it 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):
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 Phase II sets, our Sick Bay Ward Room and Sick Bay Examination Room are painted with the following:
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