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Doug Drexler
(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.

In 2009 Doug Drexler began a new blog called The Drex Files.

Tyler: Tell me about yourself. (e.g. where/when born, education, hobbies, etc.)
Drexler: 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."
Tyler: When did you first become interested in Star Trek?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: How did you become involved with the Star Trek Giant Poster Book?
Drexler: 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 Starlog.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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 collectibles.
Tyler: 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 you?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: How did you become involved with the Star Fleet Medical Reference Manual?
Drexler: 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 experience.
Tyler: Were you involved with the production of the U.S.S. Enterprise Officer's Manual?
Drexler: 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 Medical Reference.
Tyler: Did Star Trek inspire you to pursue a career in television and feature films? How so?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: How did you decide to pursue make-up artistry as a career?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: How did you become involved in Star Trek: The Next Generation?
Drexler: 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 miraculous.

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!
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: It only made it better.
Tyler: Your fondness for the original series is well known. Were you involved in recreating the bridge of the original Enterprise for ST:TNG's "Relics?"
Drexler: 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!).
Tyler: What are some of your favorite personal contributions to ST:TNG?
Drexler: Data's daughter Lal, Picard living an entire lifetime in "Inner Light," and Mark Twain, in "Time's Arrow."
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: Was it difficult to make the transition from make-up on ST:TNG to design and illustration on ST:DS9?
Drexler: 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 programs.
Tyler: What are some of your favorite personal contributions to ST:DS9?
Drexler: Over 7 years on DS9, there were many, many opportunities, and tons of fun, but the crowning achievement was "Trials and Tribble-ations."
Tyler: How difficult was it to recreate the original Enterprise for ST:DS9's "Trials and Tribble-ations"?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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 photogrammetry?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: What are some of your favorite personal contributions to ST:ENT?
Drexler: 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 Time Tunnel.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: What is your opinion of the complete Defiant bridge? What did you think of the subtle enhancements?
Drexler: 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!
Tyler: What did you think of the Tholian and Gorn?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: How did you become involved in the new Battlestar Galactica television series?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: What is your role on Battlestar Galactica? What sorts of things do you do?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: 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.
Tyler: 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?
Drexler: I'd ask Gene where he got those great sweaters, and I'd ask Paramount to replace Les Moonves with me.
Tyler: Is there anything you'd like to say to Star Trek fans about the series or films, your works, fandom, or just general comments?
Drexler: 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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