Working on a television show can be grueling. Ask anyone who worked on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” They will share that all those 15-hour days on set add up quickly. Sir Patrick Stewart told CinemaBlend that while they filmed the show, he had very little social life.
“We’d work a 5-day week, 12, 13, 14, sometimes 15-hour days, especially toward the end of the week,” Stewart said in the interview. “Then Saturday, I’d allow a little sleep-in and do my own laundry — which I still do.”
This sounds brutal. But remember that when Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, and the rest of the cast showed up to act, there were dozens of others who had been working to prepare their uniforms, sets, cameras, and everything else that it took to produce an episode.
TNG cinematographer Marvin Rush told American Cinematographer magazine that cast and crew began work at 7 a.m. and finished at 7 or 8 p.m.
“We do ten months of this, and I think the battleground is inside your own emotions, your own head, your own spirit,” Rush said in the interview. “It’s hard on families, it’s hard on the crewmembers, and you have to be sensitive to the basic fact that people get tired. The most important thing for myself is to keep a really positive attitude, a real sense of excitement about the work, and a commitment to artistry.”
An interesting note is that for the finale of the series, “All Good Things…” the scenes where Q (John De Lancie) and Picard watched the primordial ooze not create life on Earth (which happened 3.5 billion years back) took some 300 hours to complete by the set designers and crew.
This sort of thing was commonplace. The talented behind-the-scenes team of artisans and illustrators created something which would appear for mere seconds on screen. But the device or food or uniform had to look like it belonged in the 24th Century.
Behind the Scenes with the Okudas
It was in this crush of episodic work which Michael and Denise Okuda toiled. The Okudas are essentially “Star Trek” royalty. They helped define the look of so much on “The Next Generation.”
Michael Okuda served the show as a Scenic Art Supervisor, Scenic Artist, or Scenic Consultant. He went on to work on “Deep Space Nine,” “Voyager,” and “Enterprise,” as well as working on all four TNG motion pictures.
Fans associate Michael with the incredible user interface he created for the Enterprise-D, known as LCARS ( Library Computer Access and Retrieval System). This UI is still the gold standard for science-fiction computers and is widely imitated and recreated.
Amazingly, Denise Okuda was right there, too, helping create designs of her own as a scenic artist and video coordinator. She also appeared in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” as an extra.
One can imagine that the crush of the 12 hour day shooting schedule was hard to keep up with for everyone. So it is no surprise that sometimes, the small details of a show are not created by the book — or even kept in canon.
Labels Meant Nothing — and Everything
On “The Original Series,” the person in charge of creating the various pipes and conduits throughout the Enterprise set was named Dick Brownfield. According to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual,” he regularly labeled these pipes GNDN.
The audience was unaware of its true meaning but likely assumed the pipes were transmitting some futuristic substance. In reality, “GNDN” stood for “goes nowhere, does nothing.” It was both an inside joke and added complexity to the look of the ship’s interior.
These sorts of little jokes were never intended for the audience to see. Okuda wrote in “Technical Manual” that the LCARS interface was labeled with the “initials of members of the Star Trek production crew.” He also noted that they were “too small to be legible on television.”
Getting In On The Joke
Some of these inside jokes made it through, and the fans got the last laugh. Take this recent tweet by Twitter user @SheHulk, who noted that during the TNG episode “Sub Rosa,” the character Ronin stood next to two tombstones. Upon close examination of the carvings, the names of VADER and McFLY can be seen.
Because I fail to notice so much, this was just pointed out to me.
— Laura ⚢✇ (@SheHulk) May 10, 2021
Yes, VADER as in “Darth Vader,” and McFLY as in “Marty McFly” (Michael J. Fox) from the “Back to the Future” films. When Michael Okuda was notified that someone had figured out his inside joke, he was not too happy:
To be honest, that was a joke gone awry. Such things should never, ever be readily noticeable to the viewer. In this case, we did a significant disservice to the episode and to the viewer.
— Michael Okuda (@MikeOkuda) May 10, 2021
Hopefully, he’s not too upset. Everyone wants to laugh together, and, interestingly, both Darth Vader and Marty McFly died in the prime “Star Trek” timeline.
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