||Uncharted Content from the Final Frontier - Since 1999
(Interview conducted via email from March-November 2006)
Doug Drexler's enthusiasm for Star Trek
began with the debut of the original television series. The show inspired
him to enter the movie and television industry. After winning an Oscar for his
makeup work on Dick Tracy, Drexler joined
Star Trek: The Next Generation, where he received
two Emmy nominations. Drexler also contributed to Star
Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and
Star Trek: Enterprise -- for which he designed that
series' titular spacecraft -- as well as
Star Trek Generations, Star Trek
First Contact, Star Trek Insurrection and
Star Trek Nemesis. Drexler's Trek
contributions also extend to the publishing world. He worked on one of the earliest licensed
publications, the Star Trek Giant Poster Book, and he
has contributed to more recent works such as the Star Trek
Encyclopedia, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical
Manual, the Ships of the Line calendars and the
Ships of the Line book.
Outside Star Trek, Drexler has contributed to
features such as The Hunger, Starman,
Manhunter, C.H.U.D. and
F/X. Drexler currently works as CG supervisor for the new
Battlestar Galactica television series, for which he
has received an Emmy nomination.
Tell me about yourself. (e.g. where/when born, education, hobbies, etc.)
I was born in NYC, but I often think a little bit of me was "born" in every
science-fiction classic ever written. From Burroughs to Heinlein. Books written long before
I was born. Because of that, in some ways I'm well over 100 years old.
During high school, my guidance counselors all told me that
I should go to a trade school. Learn to fix cars. That mystified me. All you had to
do was look at my grades to see what I was good at, and it sure wasn't auto shop. I
got As in art class, and creative writing classes.
I've always been able to earn a living by what some people
would call a hobby. Some people might think that I haven't "worked" a day in my
life. Jeez, would they be shocked. My "hobbies" are what you've seen me doing
throughout my career: Character makeup, graphics, scenic art, illustrator, visual
effects ... bottom line, I'm a dreamer that loves to "real-ize."
When did you first become interested in
Oh, I'm a first-generation fan. Watched the entire first season in black and white.
Now that's science fiction! Imagine after a year, seeing your first
Trek in full color. It was "Amok Time," and that
red Vulcan sky was incredible! But yeah, pretty much from day one. I say pretty much,
because in 1966 my parents experimented with a "no TV policy" on school days. I saw
press on the "New Season on NBC!". There was that great piece of early promotional
art, which ended up on the first Trek anthology
book by James Blish. I had to endure my sci-fi friends describing
Trek to me. A quick note here about sci-fi on
television in the '60s. It was a barren time, friends. Even admitting that you liked
science fiction branded you as a kook. It's a whole different thing today. On the
other hand, I find that people who are watchers of sci-fi movies today are not really
science fiction fans, but fans of action/adventure in general. But I digress! Where
was I? Of course ... television banned for Doug on school nites! So it was a Thursday
night in 1966. I'm 13. My Mom's taking a bath. She can't hear what I'm doing, she can't
see what I'm doing. I snuck downstairs to the den and turned on the
B&W Muntz TV, full of glowing tubes and tangling wires. When the picture coalesced
I saw it, it was "This Side of Paradise." Instantly I could see that this show was
different. You know how the monolith in 2001 was
"full of stars?" Well, this show was full of character. I was hooked, and lobbied my
parents for an hour of TV a week. It took some doing. After that I sketched
Star Trek, wrote
Star Trek and built
Star Trek. The most infamous thing my father ever
said to me was, "If you spent half the time on your school work, that you spend on
that TV show, you'd be ok!" I tease him about that now -- he loves it.
How did you become involved with the Star Trek Giant
Ron Barlow and I ran a strange little store, on the corner of 53rd and Third, in
Manhattan. It was called "The Federation Trading Post." It was a
Star Trek store at a time when there was no
Star Trek, and precious little science fiction.
How did we manage that? On a prime piece of Manhattan? We didn't start off too
well. Not much business. The neighborhood merchants laughed at us. But we knew
that there was a Trek groundswell building.
The fans of the day were optimistic, creative, go-getters. There was very little
of the whining and anger that is common on the boards these days. Anyway, we had
this store that was failing ... until we ran a 30-second commercial during
syndicated Star Trek on WPIX. The next morning
there was a line down the block, and it stayed that way for at least a year. So
the store became famous. Anytime anyone in big-time NY media did anything
Star Trek, they came to our store first.
Saturday Night Live,
Mad Magazine, talk shows and then Fiona Press.
They had an idea to do a Star Trek poster book,
and got the rights for a song (dead property, you know!). The publisher came into
the store, looking for people who might edit this thing. We said, "Why not us?!"
He said, "Why not you!" We were among the first, if not the first
Star Trek magazine, predating
The Star Trek Giant Poster Book's credits include
Geoffrey Mandel and Allan Asherman. Did you know them prior to your contributions
to the Giant Poster Book?
Certainly! It was that store! Everyone who had a passing interest in
Star Trek came in. The wild thing about
Star Trek is that "shared experience" thing.
You become instant old friends. I think Geoff was 13 years old! Allan was a resource
of Trek data, props, uniforms and images. We
opened a museum in the back of the Trading Post that featured many of his
In Voyage Ten of the Star Trek Giant Poster Book,
you describe a visit to the Smithsonian Institution, during which you were able
to closely observe the eleven-foot filiming miniature of the original U.S.S.
Enterprise, as well as the Klingon D-7 miniature and
the "Catspaw" Enterprise. What was it like to have
privileged access to the miniatures? Did anything about the miniatures surprise
That was an amazing adventure. First, just getting into that stunning museum while
it was closed was incredible enough. It was us, the Wright Flyer,
Apollo 11, Glamorous Glennis
and the U.S.S. Enterprise! At the time, the "E" was
suspended about 15 to 20 feet up. They gave us ladders. The first thing I did was
leave my lip prints on its bow. Not much surprised me -- it was what I was expecting.
What was surprising was spending quality time with this silent celebrity of a starship
miniature. Seriously, the most surprising thing about the model was how it was built.
It was like a piece of heavy living room furniture, a lot of it wood. The construction
was solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Those big engines on the ends of frail looking
struts haven't sagged in 40 years. That was all great, but later that day, after
finishing our photo shoot, I spent some time with the associate director of the museum,
Fred Durant, a wonderful guy. While chitchatting, the director of the museum came in,
and my jaw went slack. It was Michael Collins, Apollo 11
astronaut. It was almost too much for one day.
How did you become involved with the Star Fleet Medical
Trading Post again. Ron's girlfriend was a registered nurse. It was her idea. I
wasn't crazy about it. My stuff in it is mostly horrible. It was a learning
Were you involved with the production of the U.S.S.
Enterprise Officer's Manual?
It was Geoff Mandel's booklet. We got along great, and he asked me if I'd like
to lend a hand. It was fun. I was just a little better than I was in the
Did Star Trek inspire you to pursue a career
in television and feature films? How so?
Undoubtedly. I put it squarely on Stephen (E. Whitfield) Poe. He wrote the
book that illuminated the world of film making for me,
The Making of Star Trek. It should be required
reading for all aspiring film makers. For the first time I saw budgets, call
sheets and script notes. I discovered what made a movie company ... departments
like makeup, visual effects and art.
How did you decide to pursue make-up artistry as a career?
I generally have always been a fan of any kind of effects work. The truth,
however, was that I never grew up dreaming about being a makeup artist. It
was Halloween, I had a terrific article I had saved from the original
fan-published Cinemagic magazine. It spelled
the entire prosthetic fabrication process out. I dove in, discovered for the
first time that I had the ability to sculpt. Discovered what Dick Smith
(the greatest character makeup artist in the world) calls
"The Frankenstein effect," (that moment when the makeup becomes alive, and
you become giddy!) and I was hooked. My first makeup, like many people, was
a Planet of the Apes deal. A few months later,
I ran into an old pal, Doug Murray, who just happened to have interviewed
Dick Smith recently. Doug gave me his telephone number. With heart in mouth,
I screwed up my courage and called him. Dick couldn't have been kinder, and
actually kept me on the phone, giving me data and advice. He has always been
well known for his generosity. A few months later, he asked me to come to work
on Tony Scott's vampire opus, The Hunger.
That was the beginning for me. It hasn't stopped for 26 years.
How did you become involved in
Star Trek: The Next Generation?
I was living in NYC when TNG was being
prepared. I just had to be a part of it. I called the Paramount switchboard
and asked to be connected to Bob Justman's office. Within 10 minutes I had
Bob on the phone! Just like Dick Smith, Bob was generous with his time and
was warm and friendly. As the song goes, "there are no people like show people,
no people I know...." We corresponded. I made two trips out to visit him during
preproduction. That's when I met Mike Westmore, another lovely, lovely human
being. Unfortunately, due to Union rules, there was no way for me work on the
show. That would change, thanks to Warren Beatty.
We relocated to California to create makeups for
Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. Warren is an
extremely powerful man in Hollywood. He wanted us, so he made us part of his
deal with the LA Union for Dick Tracy. It was
As soon as DT was over,
I beat a path over to TNG and Mikey Westmore.
I begged him to let me come work on the show. He said, "Why do you want to do
that? You're doing features?" I said: Mike! Trek is where it's at for a cat like
me! Please, oh please, oh please! That was that! I worked for Mike on
TNG for the next three years. Nirvana!
When you began working on ST:TNG as a make-up
artist, did your witnessing and participating in creating
Star Trek affect your ability to immerse
yourself in the fictional world depicted in the episodes and films? For example,
did seeing the molds for Worf's forehead or the plywood walls of the
Enterprise bridge on Stage 8 affect how you perceived
the show when you watched it on television?
It only made it better.
Your fondness for the original series is well known. Were you involved in recreating
the bridge of the original Enterprise for
Yes. My friendship with Mike Okuda is well known, and after three years in the
makeup department, I ended up working for Mike in the art department. Mike and I
were the fountainheads and guardians of original Trek.
When "Relics" happened, we knew that it was an incredible opportunity that would
never happen again (ha!).
What are some of your favorite personal contributions to
Data's daughter Lal, Picard living an entire lifetime in "Inner Light," and Mark Twain,
in "Time's Arrow."
Were you present when any of the ST:TNG standing
sets were demolished following production of Star Trek
Generations? What was the mood around the soundstages -- was striking the
sets "business as usual," simply providing space and reusable materials for
Star Trek: Voyager, or was there a sense of loss,
since many of the sets had originally been constructed for
Star Trek: Phase II and
Star Trek: The Motion Picture?
Mostly business as usual for the crew. For those of us who were long time fans,
like Mikey O and myself, it was bittersweet. We were highly optimistic however,
and had our eyes firmly on the future.
Was it difficult to make the transition from make-up on
ST:TNG to design and illustration on
It was a little scary, naturally. Mike took a chance on this "makeup guy."
I had to prove myself, and not let him down. I had never touched a computer
before, and it was imperative to have an understanding of Adobe Illustrator and
Photoshop. In the two weeks before I went to work, I went out and bought a
computer, and in the time left, got myself a basic understanding of the
What are some of your favorite personal contributions to
Over 7 years on DS9, there were many, many
opportunities, and tons of fun, but the crowning achievement was
"Trials and Tribble-ations."
How difficult was it to recreate the original Enterprise
for ST:DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations"?
For guys like us, it wasn't difficult at all, because it was a labor of love.
Hard work, yes, after all, we got the entire thing together in about two weeks.
How does one go about creating schematics of sets and props based only on TV
images? Is it mostly intuitive, or are more formal techniques employed, such as
You have to remember, that I had been saving and storing data on this subject
starting September 8, 1966, so we had a giant head start. There was a lot of
intuition involved, and a lot of photogrammetry-like deduction as well.
In a Cinefantastique article ("Set Design:
Recreating classic Trek's makeshift vision
of the future," Volume 29, Numbers 6/7, pages 76-78) about the making of
"Trials and Tribble-ations," Michael Okuda mentions that you made hundreds of
video frame-grabs when researching the Enterprise
sets. How feasible would it be, in your opinion, for all of the
Enterprise's interiors to be recreated? Which sets
would be the most difficult to recreate?
It's completely feasible. Matt Jefferies designed the original sets to be
inexpensive. Their beauty lies in their elegant simplicity and economy. You
need some money to build the Enterprise-D bridge,
with all of its sophisticated curves. Almost anyone can hammer together a TOS
bridge. I don't think any of them would be difficult to recreate. The devil is
in the details. That's where it lives or dies.
Star Trek: Enterprise gave you the opportunity
to create a starship Enterprise. In a sense, you
were the Matt Jefferies of that series. What was that like both as a professional
and as a longtime fan?
At the time of Enterprise's startup, I was
working on ST: Voyager for Mojo
[Adam "Mojo" Lebowitz] and Rob [Bonchune] at Foundation Imaging. Mike Okuda
suggested to Herman that they invite me to come back and help design the latest
ship using the new 3D tools at our disposal. It was a fantastic experience... to
be back with my family in the art department, to break ground by bringing 3D
in house, and to fulfill a lifetime fantasy. Just when you think it can't get
any better, it always does.
What are some of your favorite personal contributions to
Naturally, being involved with the ship is number one. In many ways, it was a
lot like makeup, because anything you do is cosmetic. Every major starship is
based on Matt's original design. It's the job of the next guy to "style" it.
Give it a new nose.
I did so many things on the show, it's hard to muster
them all. I loved designing matte paintings and environments. One favorite that
comes to mind was the Nazi/Alien time machine. It's totally based on the
The fourth-season episode "In a Mirror Darkly" featured a 3D section view of
the Defiant, a sister ship of Captain Kirk's
original Enterprise. What can you tell us about
how that was created? Is it related to the Captain's Chair cutaway, or to the
[1990s] cutaway poster?
I created that big cutaway for The Captain's Chair interactive. Jeez, I poured
a lot of detail into that. "Mirror" was a perfect opportunity to use. It ended
up in part, on the main viewer. I built that 3D section view for Jimmy Vanover
to use in his playback graphics.
What is your opinion of the complete Defiant
bridge? What did you think of the subtle enhancements?
We looked at the Defiant bridge as a
"fourth-season" bridge. What they might have done to "sweeten" the lines, if
they had more money. Now, I'm a purist, but Herman really wanted to streamline
it 7%, and Manny figured since it was the Defiant,
not the Enterprise, it would be legitimate. To
finally put something together that we could walk around was spectacular.
Total immersion. Plus, the main viewer really worked, so why ever leave? I
remember that Mike and I climbed up into the overheads to get that "Corbomite"
down view. Wow!
What did you think of the Tholian and Gorn?
I loved the Tholian. It didn't violate my purist sensibilities. I thought: Ah!
That's what it looked like after all! In that case, we never got a clear idea
of what a Tholian looked like on the original show. The Gorn however, is a
different story. What I wanted to see was my old friend, the Gorn. What we
ended up with was a little more Jurassic Park.
Not that there is anything wrong with that, except that I did not know this
lizard guy. Beautifully designed, beautifully executed! I understand the thought
processes involved. Dan Curry wanted to make it clear that this could not be a
man in a suit. It works. It just wasn't the Gorn.
How did you become involved in the new
Battlestar Galactica television series?
That's thanks to my old dear friend, Gary Hutzel. As you probably know, Gary was a
visual effects supervisor on Star Trek for many
years. I'd first met Gary back on TNG, never
realizing how far that would go. I got to know him much better when I worked with
Mikey O in the art department. Mike and Gary were good friends, and Mike made sure
that the art department was a resource for visual effects. When Gary ran out of
budget, he knew that we would gleefully kluge a model together for him overnight.
If Gary was doing a "paintscraper" shot on the K7 spacestation, and the surface
needed distressing, he'd call us, we'd jump in the car, run down to the stage, and
descend on it. I remember Mike and I drawing weathering and panels on the station
with pencils, while Gary plotted motion control moves with the "flying" camera.
He'd yell, "Doug! Duck!", and the camera would whir by.
When Gary started using CG on DS9,
he knew that I had been experimenting with it in the art department. As soon as
the opportunity presented itself, Gary asked if I'd be interested in making a
couple of models for him. I certainly jumped at that. The Breen ship, most notably.
What Gary liked was the flexibility of having it "right here," we also enjoyed
working together. He wasn't a client, you know. Which is how you get treated,
when you go to a big CG house. He was a pal. I remember saying that I hoped we'd
get to do more of this. Hoo boy!
After DS9, Gary moved
on, and eventually ended up being hired by Ron Moore as effects Guru for this new
Battlestar Galactica. I remember that Gary
called me while I was on Enterprise. I was
hip deep in the "final frontier." I felt bad ... here was that chance to work
together again ... and then it was gone! That's this business.
Fade to fourth season Enterprise.
We get the word that Les Moonves has pulled our dilithium. You are philosophical
about it. 17 years of friendship and challenges. I more than had a fantastic time!
Just the same, it was very sad. Driving home, I still had to wonder, would I ever
work again? Maybe that was it.
Twelve hours later, the phone rings. It's Gary Hutzel.
"Doug... heard about Enterprise... but you know?
For every cloud, there is a silver lining..." That was it, Gary hired me as
BSG In House CG Supervisor.
What is your role on Battlestar Galactica?
What sorts of things do you do?
I worked with Gary and Mike Gibson to develop our own "facility" at
BSG. A place that is flexible, doesn't treat
Gary as a client, and moves fast without bureaucracy. I am mostly responsible keeping
us on track, while churning thru the numerous shots that
BSG demands. The show can be huge, with
motion-picture volume and quality. By the way, it's all Gary Hutzel. He gives
the VFX the character everyone is so amazed by. Yes, many artists work on the
effects, but Gary is focus puller extraordinaire. Aside from working to keep things
on track, I get to create shots, animate, model and conceptualize. It's the hardest
job I have ever had. We are very proud of the show.
The Battlestar Galactica series has a very
different aesthetic than most of Star Trek.
How has Galactica's look and feel affected your
opinion of Star Trek's aesthetic?
I love the Galactica aesthetic, but it has
sharpened my appreciation of Trek. Yes, I am a
science fiction guy, but I am also a "futurist." There is no futurism in
Galactica. Star Trek
makes people dream about "tomorrow." I love that. We need that.
If Star Trek were to be "rebooted," and you
were placed in charge of the series' visual effects, with total control over the
look of the production, what might we see?
That's hard to sum up in a paragraph or two. I would strive to make it a showcase
of tomorrow, and I'd never compromise its connection to yesterday.
If there were one question you'd like to ask Gene Roddenberry, what would it be?
If there were one question you'd like to ask the folks at Paramount, what would it be?
I'd ask Gene where he got those great sweaters, and I'd ask Paramount to replace
Les Moonves with me.
Is there anything you'd like to say to Star Trek
fans about the series or films, your works, fandom, or just general comments?
Just remember that Star Trek is about tolerance,
curiosity, friendship, exploration and a bright shiny tomorrow. If we don't dream it,
it will not happen. What I miss most about Gene is his promotion of the world of
tomorrow. He spoke of the future in present tense. When Gene passed on, that's what
Star Trek lost.
The only person I know out there who talks about tomorrow
like Gene used to is futurist Jacque Fresco. Check him out at:
Interview copyright 2006 by Greg Tyler and Doug Drexler.
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