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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About The Star Trek Phase 2 Team

Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II is an award-winning independent webseries that produces new episodes of Classic Star Trek. Continuing the fourth and fifth seasons of the original series, we film the untold stories of the U.S.S. Enterprise, Captain Kirk, and his crew with the intention of filling in the missing years of the original five year mission, and bridging the gap to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. We are a group of fans who have come together with a common love for the classic era Star Trek for the purpose of having fun while making new episodes. It is the goal of Star Trek New Voyages: Phase II to support and promote the CBS/Paramount Star Trek franchise by giving fans an active way to continue their interest in Classic Star Trek.