One of the major highlights of my early career was Star Trek:The Motion Picture. I was hired by Apogee Productions in Van Nuys, California, which had been the original home of Industrial Light & Magic.

V'ger probe

One of the first tasks I was assigned involved the sequence known as the "V'ger Probe". As the newly refurbished Enterprise approaches V'ger, V'ger inserts a probe onto the bridge of the Enterprise.

As originally filmed, the probe was a huge tube with a xenon light literally carried around the set by a technician (whoes tush kept sticking out behind the edge of the tube and into view.

The decision had been made to use the footage for the wonderful lighting effects seen in the scene but to replace the solid tube with an animated moire' glint done in rotoscope. This required the removal of the actual tube (and tush) from the field of view.

Again, this being before the age of the computer graphics systems, the solution was rather streightforward. The live action footage was reflected in a mylar mirror in the rear of which was a metal streightedge whoes position was controlled by stepper motors and an Apple II computer. When the streightedge was pressed in the mylar from the rear, the resulting deformation, like a funhouse mirror, eliminated a portion of the field and stretched the rest of the image to fit. This created an artifact seen as a vertical line, which was covered over by the animated moire'.

One trivial note is that the best lubricant we could find to minimise the drag between the metal edge and the Mylar was banana oil, the aroma of which was a source of puzzlement to visitors.


The Paramount executives wanted the transporters to have a new look to them; something beyond the aluminum dust poured in front of a high intensity light (in hindsight, a risky effect owing to the explosiveness of powdered aluminum).

This effect was acheived by having a motor spin a wire in a tube shape on an optical table. Using a clip of film from the live action shot held in the film gate of the 70mm effects camera, the spinning wire was super imposed over the correct location for the transporter, then was illuminated with a laser beam that was first projected through some rippled plastic, creating the interference patterns across the wire. A second motor, holding a shutter wheel, and running in sync with the spinning wire, allowed the tube to be shot as a front half or back half, to enable the insertion of the actor "within" the tube during the optical composites.

While it may sound high-tech, the reality was slightly less glamourous. The assembly was mostly hot glue and wooden tinkertoys, and the rippled plastic was literally stolen out of John Dykstra's office ceiling light (we were up against a deadline).

Transporter eating people

For some reason, Star Trek fans had made an issue of the fact that the transporter never mangled anyone, so the following effect was created to satisfy what was considered a shortcoming by the fans, and to get rid of the other Vulcan so that Spock can make a dramatic entrance.

To distort the images of the tranportees, Matt Beck and I resurrected the mylar mirror from the V'ger probe and replaced with metal streightedge with a contraption hotglued together out of film cores, tinker toys, and pieces from a plastic doormat bought at the local hardware store (I was exiled from Dykstra's office furnishings by this point in the project). The machine, powered by a stepping motor, vaguely resembled a military tank, with a band of much abused doormat plastic functioning as the tread looping over and over the film cores. When pressed into the back of the mylar, it rippled the reflected image of the transportees. This was shot several times with different speed settings for the "tank" and combined in the optical printer.

Some other shots.


Klingon ships

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