Thursday, June 28, 2018


We can all point to some moment that forever changed our lives and set a direction for everything that followed. Getting married. Having kids. Seeing Wrath of Khan for the first time. Stuff like that.

For us Star Trek fans, there are seven crucial seconds that were filmed in 1986 that would quite literally affect  everything that would follow. I guarantee that no one else really thinks about it in that way, though. These seven seconds have been seen millions of times by millions of fans, and while it has always brought a smile to my face, until recently I didn't understand how critical these few brief moments really were to everything that would follow. 

Here's what I'm talking about. Start the clip below and go to 1:09 and watch the following seven seconds – 1:10 to 1:17.

Did you see it? No? Those seven seconds don't really seem to have that big of an impact outside of the story, right? Other than the crew getting a new Enterprise, what's the big deal?

Plenty. Because those seven seconds show us what would become LCARS. They weren't called that, yet. But the panels we see on the bridge of the new Enterprise-A are the first of their kind in Star Trek history. They would definitely not be the last.

Let's back up a bit. In the early eighties there was as young graphic designer – who also happened to be a Star Trek fan – by the name of Mike Okuda. As we all know, Mr. Okuda would go on to fame by having screen credit on more Star Trek productions than anyone short of Gene Roddenberry himself. But these were early, pre-Trek days and Mike was trying to break into the business. In an interview with, Mike put it this way:

"When the first two Star Trek movies came out, I noticed that the bridge of the refit starship Enterprise had video readout screens with round frames, rather than rectangular. They looked really cool, but I wondered why someone might have built round screens for a starship. I decided that it must have been because they were designed to display information that was circular in format, rather than rectangular.

For no good reason, I sketched up some ideas for graphics that might fit those round screens and for control panels that might work with that style.

On a lark, I sent some of those sketches in to Paramount, where they ended up on the desk of Ralph Winter, who was the associate producer on Star Trek III. Ralph telephoned me and told me that they were already staffed up on Star Trek III, which was just going into production at the time, but he said that he’d keep me in mind if they ever did a Star Trek IV. I was thrilled to get a call from Paramount, and I thought, “Gee, that’s the nicest brush-off I’ve ever gotten.”

Imagine my shock, when two years later, Ralph called back and said, “We’re doing another Star Trek movie. Would you like to work on it?”

That would be Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (TVH), of course, and Mike would be tasked with doing something that few before him had ever done – design the controls for a starship called Enterprise.

It's important to note that Mike worked on several sets for TVH. For instance, he contributed the Klingon back-lit panels found on the revamped Bird of Prey:
I recently had the opportunity to ask Mike about the Klingon graphics and how he approached them:

"I loved the look of the Klingon animation in ST:TMP, so when I found the art for the Klingon lettering from that film, I used it as the basis for the backlit displays and signage in ST4 and beyond.

Those letters looked like they were based on the markings that Matt Jefferies designed for the wing of the Klingon Battle Cruiser in the original series."

So Okuda used the color scheme and animation from The Motion Picture to inform his new, expanded take on Klingon motifs. And, of course, they look a LOT like those dozens (hundreds?)  of Klingon panels to come over the next twenty years or so. And, though cool, it was more "evolutionary" than "revolutionary".

His work also appears in the Spacedock control room scene. Don't remember them? That's because they barely show up:
If you look sharply you can just make out some panels that seem to show, well...something. Here's what they look like close up.
Nice stuff but there's just not much there, there. So we go back to The Big Scene. The new Enterprise bridge:
Let's take a quick look at what had come before. This is more or less what the bridge looked like in the first three Trek movies (this is from Star Trek II):
We've got the round screens with animations that Okuda had noted. We also have a lot of switches and buttons. And blinky lights – let's not forget the blinky lights! Up to then, this was what the future looked like. This approach was an extension of the controls seen on the original series from the sixties.

Now compare this with this shot from the Star Trek IV bridge:
Same angle, same consoles but now with a totally different look and feel. Gone is everything physical. There's no raised buttons or switches, no blinky lights sticking out. It was literally like nothing that had come before! Here's another angle, this time a behind-the-scenes shot with the Roddenberrys themselves:
Note the sleek surfaces, the abstract presentation of information on flat panels. And not an actual keyboard in sight!

As with The Next Generation panels (which would come just a year later) these were driven by several factors, not the least of which was cost. The Star Trek IV production team was given a rather tough assignment: "give the world a new take on the Enterprise bridge – but don't blow the budget!"

It would only be on screen for seven seconds, after all. So here's what they did:

1. They reused the same bridge set from the previous films.

2. They painted that dark gray set white! It sounds kind of silly yet it worked really well. The stark difference in color was, well – stark!

3. They threw out all the old console controls. No buttons, switches or blinkys.

4. They replaced them with (drumroll, please!) the first Starfleet Okudagrams!
The actual design motifs created for the scene were so well received that they were fleshed out and expanded upon in the next several films:
The approach would also come to represent older ships throughout The Next Generation's run as with the Stargazer and Hathaway bridges:

So there you have it. Mike Okuda gets to design the new Enterprise-A panels which leads to the Enterprise-D LCARS which gets continually finessed and updated through the production of three different Star Trek shows and four feature films. Those panels define the look of the twenty-fourth century like no other visual element can. That's quite a legacy for a graphic designer who drew up some ideas and sent them out with no real expectation.

And it all started with seven seconds of film. Nice work, Mike! Very nice!



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