Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Complete Guide to Starfleet Style: The TOS Movies Rad Suit

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in 1979, Trek fans were introduced to an entirely new Star Trek, far removed from anything seen before. One of the key components introduced was completely new costume design by Robert Fletcher. Gone were the bright golds, blues and reds from The Original Series. In their place were muted colors with an emphasis on gray, a directive from director Robert Wise. And instead of a single style of uniform as seen in TOS, there were now uniforms for every occasion, use, or taste. The crew were dressed in one-piece jumpsuits, 2-piece pajamas, 3-piece lounge wear (no, I'm not kidding) and on and on in a seemingly endless variety. But perhaps the most striking new costumes were featured in Scotty's engine room – the Engineering Radiation Suit or Rad Suit.
Scotty and crew in Rad Suits. Note the helmets held by actors.
The Rad Suit was a completely new concept that had no counterpart in TOS. It spoke to the idea that the Engineering section of a starship can be a very harsh and dangerous place – when energy is released by the controlled annihilation of antimatter, there must be one heck of a lot of radiation. Hence, Rad Suits to protect the engineers that work right on top of a force of nature.

Fletcher's original sketch courtesy of Brett Leggett
The suits were bright white with all sorts of padding and whiz-bang accoutrements that hinted at mysterious, unknown uses. They were finished off with a heavy black collar, heavy gloves, and big black-treaded boots. Some engineers could be seen wearing matching helmets. While it would have made sense to have everyone wearing helmets (the head would be the most important body part to protect, after all) the fact is that when actors wear helmets, everyone looks alike. And in Engineering, we need to pick out Scotty right away, so drama trumps reality and the helmets became strictly background pieces, usually being carried under an actor's arm.

Though most suits were white, there were a few that were not. On his original design sketch, designer Fletcher make this notation: "Make 4 in orange for emergency fire suits". I have not been able to find these in TMP, but they show up in later movies so I have no doubt that they were made for TMP.

Orange "Fire Suits" from Star Trek IV
It's impossible to say exactly how many suits were made, but based on known sales there had to be at least twenty-eight white versions and six orange. And since a lot of money was spent on The Motion Picture ($40 million – the most expensive movie ever made at the time!) and later productions were always tight with budgets, I think it likely that all Rad Suits seen throughout the TOS films were originally made for TMP in 1979 and reused over and over. This idea is supported by the appearance of multiple actor's names inside various Rad Suit components.

An interesting side note: in TMP, an old movie-making trick effect called "forced perspective" was used with the help of Rad Suits. Two special Rad Suits were made in very small sizes and worn by small actors (kids?) in the background of the Engineering Warp Core shots. The small suits made the set appear larger and deeper than it actually was (see photo, below).

Small, "forced perspective" suit is seen in background to help give the illusion of depth.

When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came along, the Rad suits were reused and seen extensively throughout the movie. Minor updates made by Fletcher included the addition of a rank/department strap on the arm, a Starfleet patch on the shoulder, some metal clips to the suit's front and a disk designed to accept an emergency breathing tube. Scotty and his crew were wearing Rad Suits throughout the attack by Khan, and when Scotty memorably carries his dying nephew onto the bridge, both are clad in burnt, heavily distressed versions. It became an iconic moment in the film.
Scotty with his injured nephew.
In both Kirk's inspection scene and Spock's funeral scene, both the white and orange suits are present.

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, some of the orange Rad suits appeared briefly in the Starfleet Command scenes and were worn by emergency crews.

The Rad Suits returned for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Again, they were shown extensively in various Engineering scenes, but this time they also filled a special role. Modified Rad Suits were worn by two Enterprise crewmen who acted as assassins. Their suits were modified with a smaller gray collar which fitted under an all-new, very cool space helmet. Instead of the usual boots, they wore magnetic boots. Later, these same suits were found on board the Enterprise with pink Klingon blood. My specimen matches specifically to one of the assassins, complete with gray collar and blood stains.

For some reason, later incarnations of Star Trek had no equivalent to the Rad Suit. Perhaps they felt that they got in the way of TV storytelling, or maybe by the 24th century (NextGen's era) radiation in Engineering was supposed to be more under control. But whatever the reason, when the Rad Suit concept was discarded, Star Trek lost a unique background element that added to the complex feel of the Star Trek Universe.



Friday, January 18, 2013

The Complete Guide to Starfleet Style: The TOS Movies Crewman Jumpsuit

Let's start the style guide with a piece that became synonymous with Enterprise crewmen – the maroon jumpsuit.

Starting with Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (WOK), Enterprise officers began wearing the stylish Class A maroon jackets, and enlisted personnel wore the workaday maroon jumpsuit. The jumpsuits were dyed the same color as the Class A jackets to integrate the two with each other. But while the Class As were created from scratch for WOK, the jumpsuits were strictly hand-me-downs from the Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even though they looked nothing like anything seen in that film.

When WOK went into production, Paramount set a very strict budget for the film in order to avoid the huge over-runs incurred by The Motion Picture (TMP). To that end, anything that could be re-used was pulled out of storage, including sets, models, and the hundreds of costumes from TMP.

But director Nicholas Meyer wanted his Star Trek to look nothing like TMP, which he felt did not embrace the adventure of the original Star Trek series. So while his budget was limited, Meyer wanted his music, costuming, set design, language, and themes to be as far away from TMP as possible. And one of the things he hated most were the drab, boring uniforms used in TMP. They were made to be very utilitarian but they weren't terribly exciting.

To that end, he asked costume designer Robert Fletcher to do the impossible – give him new uniforms that looked nothing like the old ones, without having to create everything from scratch. Fletcher rose to the occasion and gave the main characters – Kirk, Spock and their fellow bridge officers – the new Class A maroon uniforms, while every background crew member would be wearing recycled jumpsuits originally made for TMP, but with a twist.

Fletcher began to experiment with the light-colored TMP jumpsuits and discovered that they could easily be dyed a darker color. Meyer liked the idea of the cast in burgundy red uniforms because they would stand out well against the background, so Fletcher came up with a red dye color that transformed the white and gray Class-D jumpsuits of TMP into the bold maroon jumpsuits of WOK and the entire TOS film series.

It wasn't as simple as just dying the TMP jumpsuits red, though. Fletcher also developed a cream-colored shoulder piece and various other stitched details that, when added, removed any sense of the original TMP design and changed them into customized companions of the new Class-A officer's uniforms.

I have owned four different examples of the jumpsuit and have noticed that there were definitely variations in the maroon color from one example to the next. This could be due to a couple of factors. First, while I think they started with the white TMP jumpsuits, I doubt that they had enough of those and so had to use either tan or gray as well which would yield some variation. Also, since the pieces were dyed individually (rather than their cloth being dyed before construction) variations in color could have entered in based on time in the dyes. Whatever the reason, the variations exist, but they had no impact on the filming. Under the bright lights of the sets, one maroon jumpsuit looked much like the next.
The jumpsuits were finished off with some accessories that tied them into the officer's Class-A, including a high collar (black for regular crew, red for cadets), metal Starfleet badge and beltbuckle, a colored rank band at the left wrist. and black belt and boots, as well as colored shoulder rank tabs (another leftover from TMP), A name plate was added for Star Trek VI.

So a design driven by the necessity of film budgets became a very successful component of the new Starfleet look brought about by Nick Meyers and Robert Fletcher. The transformation of the TMP jumpsuits was so complete as to be undetectable, while being so well done as to be indispensable. These then became the standing crewman uniform for an entire decade of Star Trek films.

Thanks for reading.



Thursday, January 10, 2013

Trek amumni – they're everywhere!

Often while I'm doing some mindless task in my studio (I'm a graphic designer) I have Turner Classic Movies on. I love old movies and I especially get a kick out of watching something for the first time. As luck would have it, a few weeks ago I was watching a 1951 Spencer Tracey movie called " The People Against O'Hara ". I had seen bits and pieces of this movie over the years but I had never seen the entire thing. And while I love Spencer Tracey, I have to say this is not a great movie. Not bad, by and means, but not great. Anyway, I was plugging away at some job or another and only half-watching the movie, when suddenly I heard a voice that I instantly recognized. My head shot up to the screen to see what was going on and there, There, in the middle of a scene, was a matronly-looking actress who I did not recognize. But she spoke with the familiar voice of a Star Trek character.

She spoke in the voice of T'Pau, the legendary matriarch from the TOS classic "Amok Time". Low and behold, it was none other than Celia Lovsky herself! She was playing an immigrant mother and was totally unrecognizable to me. Except for that voice. That unforgettable, distinctive voice!

Fast-forward to today. Again, I had TCM on and they were showing a 1959 film called "The Gene Kruppa Story" with Sal Mineo as Kruppa. Again, I had never seen it all the way through. Once again, though, I was jarred from my work by that familiar voice. Once again it was Celia Lovsky playing a mother – this time the main character's. It made me smile to see her yet again.

But that's not where the smiles stopped. This movie proved to be bursting with future Star Trek actors including:

James Darren (Vic Fontaine)
Susan Oliver (Vina)
Yvonne Craig (Marta)
Lawrence Dobkin (Ambassador Kell)
and, of course, Celia Lovsky

I half expected Shatner and Nimoy to make an appearance!

I see Star Trek actors appear in old movies all the time. But I've never seen so many in one place!