StarTrek.com, for the past several months, has been previewing the release of each Star Trek model issue from Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection. But we thought we’d take a moment this week to introduce readers to Ben Robinson, the project manager at Eaglemoss, the company behind The Official Starships Collection. A longtime Star Trek fan and veteran of the Trek licensed product universe, Robinson is the man behind the ships. StarTrek.com caught up with him for an informative interview, and here’s what he had to say.
What's your history with Trek? What are the shows and movies you enjoyed most? Which ships most captured your imagination? What other jobs have you had that involved Trek?
ROBINSON: Star Trek has always been a part of my life. I grew up with The Original Series and was in my late teens when TNG debuted. I’ve been working on Star Trek stuff for 17 or 18 years now, which is a little bit scary. I started out on the Star Trek Fact Files, and was one of two editors when it launched. Then I edited the big U.S. Star Trek magazine that was published around the turn of the century. After that came to an end, I worked on a lot of genre products, including some really big James Bond and Doctor Who collections. Star Trek never really went away, though, and in my “spare” time I wrote a couple of Star Trek Haynes Manuals. We were always looking for another Star Trek product and the idea of doing ships seemed like a natural, so here we are.
When it comes to my favorite shows and movies, it probably changes every time I think about it. I’m going to have to give you an episode for each series. From the Original Series I’m going to pick “Errand of Mercy.” Obviously, “The City on the Edge of Forever” is probably THE greatest Star Trek episode ever, but I’ve got a real thing for “Errand of Mercy.” To me it is quintessential Star Trek – it introduces the Klingons, John Colicos is brilliant as Kor, and it has great Kirk and Spock interaction, with Spock constantly recalculating their odds of success. The thing I love the most is the end when Kirk is telling the Organians that they have the right to fight, only to realize what he is saying.
For TNG, I’m torn between “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Tapestry.” I’m going to go with “Tapestry” because it’s one of the best Q episodes and because it gave us some real insight into Picard. And I’m going to give a special mention to “Ensign Ro,” not least because I love Michelle Forbes. DS9… can I just pick all of Season 4? No? OK, “Duet.” It’s not the most famous of episodes, but it’s really grown-up storytelling that deals with some complicated issues. It “humanized” the Cardassians without absolving them of their guilt. Voyager… “The Gift.” The proper introduction of Seven of Nine. Star Trek at its best, a really strong new character, who shook the show up in a positive way. It’s an almost perfect episode.
For Enterprise it’s got to be the pilot, which is like a little feature film and really delivers on the show’s promise of being in a rougher time when there was so much to learn about the galaxy. Movies – no question: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. It’s such a tight piece of writing, the direction is brilliant and the cast were never better. That’s a day’s viewing I’d recommend to anyone. Get your Blu-rays out or line them up on Netflix now.
And the ships?
ROBINSON: Which ships captured my imagination the most? The original Enterprise and the D are always going to be at the top of my list, but there’s something about the Romulan design ethic that really appeals to me. I also love some of the stranger ships, such as the Species 8472 Bioship.
How would you describe your job as project manager at Eaglemoss? What does it entail?
ROBINSON: It’s up to me to choose the ships we’re going to do and then shepherd them through the development process. I also oversee the magazines, making sure we’re writing about the right things and that we’ve done all the research we can. In more detail, I track down or commission CG models of each ship, make sure we know exactly which version we’re doing, send those 3D files to our factory along with my instructions about how it should be painted. Then when samples come in, I work with CBS to make changes until we’re both happy. The color is particularly tricky. I’ll let you in on a secret – the VFX team changed the colors if they felt a particular shot didn’t look right, and you can never underestimate the power of lighting.
The Official Starships Collection is being released now. What, in your opinion, makes this a unique project
ROBINSON: There are a lot of different things that make us different. I think the first and probably most important thing is the scope of the collection. We’re producing ships that no one has ever made models of before. Other people have made some lovely models, but no one has made anything like this many. And that means we learn, so I hope each model is even better than the last. We have access to amazing reference because I know the original VFX artists and concept artists. I’d like to think that my OCD and love for Star Trek play a role, too…
What's the process for selecting the ships to be done as models, and how does the Eaglemoss team go about researching/prepping each model to make them as detailed and realistic as possible?
ROBINSON: I start out with the goal of making every possible ship as a die cast model. Then it’s an issue of creating a running order that will keep as many people as possible as happy as possible. That means balancing the series against one another, keeping up a steady flow of Federation ships and throwing in the odd surprise. We have the best possible reference because we work from the original Lightwave models that they used on the shows. Or, if they never built a CG model, I commission one and either Mojo or Rob Bonchune supervise the construction, which is part of what they used to do when they worked on the shows. We dig out all the model photography we can from the CBS archives to compare things. That often reveals that there are subtly different versions of the ship. So then we have to make some decisions.
Now please take us to the making of the models. How is that done? How intricate a process is it?
ROBINSON: The factory takes the 3D data that we supply and makes their own 3D tooling master. I check that and give them the go ahead to make a physical sample. They send me a rough, grey version to show that they’ve got the proportions right. Then we make a die-cast one and start painting it. A lot of effort goes into getting the balance of colors – and in particular the Aztec color, right.
What kind of reaction do you get from some of the designers who actually designed and or made the ships that fans have seen in the shows, movies and Ships of the Line calendars?
ROBINSON: Very flatteringly, the most common reaction is, “Where’s mine?!” They have all been very kind about the models. I’m too modest -- honest, I really am -- to say all the nice things they’ve said, but several of them have dropped by our Facebook page to say how much they like the models. That includes the concept artists and the VFX guys. As I’m sure people can imagine, they have pretty high standards.
What are some of the ships coming up in the Collection that you’re particularly excited to have fans see?
ROBINSON: The Enterprise-C is going to be a particular highlight for me. The Romulan drone looks amazing because it’s so different, and honestly, I didn’t think we’d be able to achieve the results we have. And, of course, there’s the OS Enterprise.
What has been the most enjoyable part of working on Star Trek Starships?
ROBINSON: Hands down, the people. It’s been great to have an excuse to talk to all my old Trek friends. I talk to concept artists, to the VFX team, the model makers, the writers. It’s a real privilege. They’re great, talented people who made my favorite TV show and I actually get to call a good number of them my friends. I am a very lucky man.
You've worked on Trek for more than two decades. Sometimes acquiring an intimate knowledge of how the magic behind it all works takes away from the pure enjoyment of it. Has that happened to you at all, or are you the bright-eyed fan you described yourself as earlier on?
ROBINSON: I can’t say it’s the same. I’m still passionate about Star Trek, but talking to the people who made the show and knowing what they wanted to achieve and how things could have been different changes things - maybe for the better. Getting to work on things I love has been the great privilege of my life. The only thing is that all my hobbies have become work! I have to work harder to find things that I enjoy that aren’t work, so they are properly relaxing.
Visit www.startrek-starships.com for more information about Star Trek The Official Starships Collection.