“I don’t think Matt Jefferies would mind that I put Andrew Probert up on that same Star Trek design pedestal he is on. Andy revolutionized the look of Star Trek, an almost impossible task… and I don’t care who you are. It takes a person who is not only a brilliant industrial designer, but a guy who truly understands the underpinnings of Star Trek, and Gene Roddenberry’s love affair with technology. His brilliance makes me crazy. I am a huge fan.” -Doug Drexler, Makeup Artist, Designer, Oscar Winner.
Today we look at a giant in the world of Star Trek, Andrew Probert. He is responsible for the design of not one but two incarnations of the Starship Enterprise! Outside of Star Trek, Probert designed the frightening Cylon Centurions in the original Battlestar Galactica and the iconic, time-travelling Delorian in the Back to the Future movies. Most recently he worked in conjunction with Doug Drexler and Douglas Graves on the design of the new Deep Space Nine for Pocket Books. For the related articles please click here for part one and here for part two of an in-depth look at that process.
Andrew Probert was born in Independence, Missouri in 1946, where he lived the first 6 years of his life. His mother then moved him to California. He spent time in the U.S. Navy, and after he got out, he went to art school at the Art Center College of Design, located in Pasadena, California.
When asked how he got started in films, Probert has this to say:
“When I was close to graduating from Art Center, the phenomenal Star Wars came out and we were fascinated by the film design process. Many of the printed magazine articles about the movie were accompanied by art work that was (one article said) from the Los Angeles-based artist: Ralph McQuarrie. I looked him up in the L.A. phone book and when he answered, I told him that I wanted to interview him for my school’s newspaper.
He (McQuarrie) recommended me to John Dykstra and Joe Johnston whose team had produced the incredible visual effects for Star Wars. They were working on a television pilot film, at the time, called: Star World for Universal studios, and were in need of some robot designs. They looked at my stuff and hired me to start sketching robots. The name of the film was soon changed to Battlestar: Galactica, and my robots became the fearful Cylons bent on the eradication of humankind. Not a bad beginning, huh?”
He began his professional associations with Star Trek by working on the aborted series, Star Trek: Phase Two. This series was retooled into Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Andrew redesigned the USS Enterprise we knew and loved throughout Star Trek I-VI. The original Enterprise was destroyed over the Genesis Planet in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, only to be replaced by an identical ship, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A. That ship was due to be decommissioned after the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
One of the most emotional scenes in Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the moment the James T. Kirk, now an admiral, sees the Enterprise for the first time in two years. What is most striking about this moment is the fact that it’s the first time in 10 years that the audience has seen her too. We the audience shared this moment in time with the good admiral. We were along on this trek with him.
That first shot of the Enterprise is obscured because it is actually a reflection in the glass as Kirk sees that breathtaking ship. What follows is a joyride, nearly six minutes in length, accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith’s sweeping orchestral suite, as we fly around examining the ship from almost every angle. We drank it in, we all experienced that together. It’s a moment that has never really been duplicated in any of the films that followed. It was vitally important that we reconnect with that ship in the latest films, we were never given the opportunity to get a good look at the Enterprise. Sure there were quick shots but they never lingered. They never gave us a chance to examine the new ship in any great detail.
One might wonder what Andrew thinks of the USS Enterprise introduced in Star Trek 2009. As a Trekkie, one might feel like it’s a bit of an insult to Probert to not involve him in the design process but it seems that Mr. Abrams wanted nothing to do with designers from previous incarnations of Star Trek. When asked about the overall design of the 2009 Enterprise, Andrew had this to say:
“J.J. Abrams specifically did not want anyone on the production that was a Star Trek fan. Having said that, I would have been quite happy redesigning his alternate time-line Enterprise but instead it looks like they attempted to appease die-hard Trekkers by plopping a TMP saucer on a VERY different engineering section producing a visually awkward hybrid which just doesn’t work…. for me. The TMP Enterprise made more sense visually I think… it was designed as a whole with each area relating to the next in a logical manner.”
One of the things that Trekkies will find most intriguing is the fact that Andrew knew “The Great Bird of the Galaxy,” Gene Roddenberry, the Creator of Star Trek. He has nothing but wonderful things to say about Gene. When it’s pointed out to him that Trekkies would have found it astounding to know Gene, Andrew says:
“Yeah, that freaks me out too, thinking back on it.”
Imagine actually having a working relationship with Gene Roddenberry, the man that created Star Trek. We are talking about a legend. When asked how he got along with Gene, Andrew has this to say:
“Working with him was fantastic, before the show was taken over by Rick Berman towards the end of the show’s first season. After that, we were technically ‘forbidden’ to talk to him,… but you can’t just cut someone off like that so we would still occasionally talk. I respected Gene to the highest degree and found it easy to approach him for his opinions or suggestions on new ships for upcoming episodes.”
A huge thanks goes out to Andrew Probert for his insights into Star Trek. He is working on some interesting projects you might want to check out. Here is what he had to say about them:
“I’m working on three projects at the moment… an independent TV Series proposal from a new Producer: Darcel Walker titled: ‘Starlight Source’, a book series, hopefully to become a Television or feature production, from Jamie Anderson (Gerry’s son) titled: ‘Gemini Force One’, and a CG animated TV Series Space Adventure from Brazilian Animator-Producer Alé Camargo titled: “The Adventures of Fujiwara Manchester’.”
In part two of our feature on Andrew Probert, we look at his design for the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D for Star Trek: The Next Generation and his other contributions to that series. Also, we will take a candid look at his opinion of Star Trek after Gene Roddenberry’s role in the show was diminished.