Fans were -- yeah, we're going to boldy go there -- stunned when ThinkGeek introduced the Star Trek: The Original Series Phaser Universal Remote, produced by The Wand Company, at Comic-Con 2014 in San Diego. The Phaser -- which was previewed at Comic-Con and is available now in the Star Trek Shop -- was created from meticulous 3D scans of the last-known TOS hero prop and is a fully functional, gesture-based universal remote control that can be used to control many home entertainment systems and other IR-controlled devices. The 1:1-scale Phaser is equipped with 10 authentic phaser firing sounds, a customizable personal lock code, tactile force-feedback, and it can store up to 36 remote commands. Today, StarTrek.com takes a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the TOS Phaers Universal Remote.
From the first time Chris Barnardo, co-director of the Wand Company, heard that haunting theme tune and the legendary words: “These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise…,” he was hooked. Chris was born in 1962, so at the age of four he was too young to watch Star Trek the first time round, but caught up in the 1970s with reruns and was a confirmed fan when the Next Generation beamed on to the screen. By the time Captain Janeway got trapped in the Delta Quadrant, Chris was such a follower that when he discovered that the show’s producers were accepting unsolicited submissions, he wrote and sent off a full length script for Star Trek: Voyager. Although his dreams of working with the Star Trek production team were dashed when the script was rejected, he still hoped that one day he would find a way to be involved with Star Trek.
In 2009, Chris and his old friend and work colleague, Richard Blakesley, formed the Wand Company. They very quickly gained notoriety with the Kymera Wand -- the world’s first real magic wand -- after images, and the story of the product, went viral. And they were subsequently featured on BBC 2’s Dragons’ Den. Their success was consolidated by the launch of their Doctor Who Eleventh Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver and, as a result, in 2012 they were approached by CPLG (Copyright Promotions Licensing Group), the company responsible for licensing the Star Trek property in the UK, asking if they would consider making a universal remote control prop replica Star Trek Phaser.
Chris couldn’t believe his luck and did everything he could to persuade Richard that they should tackle this exciting project. Richard agreed, but as they began to research the Phaser to see what reference was available, they realized that creating a definitive replica of this iconic piece was not going to be easy. For a start, the original hero prop was, by film prop standards, a complex piece of equipment. Despite being small, the prop had functional electronics and a number of internal mechanisms that made the various knobs and dials appear to work. Added to that, the original came in three parts, and it was clear that any decent Wand Company replica would have to do the same.
Over the years, a number of toys and replicas had been produced by different manufacturers, but accurate dimensional reference of the original screen-used hero prop on which they were all based was shockingly scant. A determined and vociferous body of dedicated fans and scratch-build model makers populated the online forums with all kinds of hotly debated information about the original prop and its various dimensions. Arguments raged about which of the toys and prop replicas had got certain details right and importantly, where they had got things wrong. Thus the merits and failings of the previously manufactured prop replicas were passionately discussed at length.
Immersing themselves into this world of obsession and desire was exciting, but Chris and Richard understood that if they were going to be successful, they had to do their research very carefully and nothing short of seeing the original prop for themselves was going to be a good enough basis for making a product for this highly critical and extremely knowledgeable market.
Research quickly revealed that there was only one known remaining screen-used hero prop Phaser and that was owned by a well-respected prop collector and Academy Award-nominated model maker named Greg Jein. Greg had worked in the industry for a long time and had some serious prop building credits to his name. He had worked for Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind and, amongst other things, had built the mothership that famously featured in the film’s climatic sequences; but it was his work as a model maker on Star Trek that was interesting to The Wand Company.
In the days when TOS was being filmed, few people had any idea that the props used for filming had any value beyond their screen life. As a result, when filming was finished, and the props were no longer required, instead of being kept for prosperity, quite often they were just thrown out with the rubbish. As a committed model maker and someone who loved the art of model making, Greg couldn’t bear to see what he considered as iconic memorabilia, and works of art in their own right, being so casually discarded, and being a bit of a collector, he picked up whatever he could when it was thrown out, and kept it. His collection, and standing as an authority in Star Trek grew, and by the time he came to own the original Phaser, the value of original TV and movie props was also beginning to climb and he was entrusted with the care of the last remaining known Phaser hero prop, a piece that by 2013 had become a priceless artifact and achieved almost mythical status amongst Star Trek fans.
In 2003 a company called Master Replicas had made a prop replica Phaser in limited quantities. It had been designed based on measurements taken manually from the original prop, some 2D photographic scans made using a document scanner and a collection of photographs taken in a trailer park in the late 1980’s. It was a good replica, but had certain inbuilt inaccuracies, and Chris and Richard realized how important it was to their project try and get to meet Greg Jein and see the original prop for themselves. Greg was known to be rather shy and still a very busy model maker, and for obvious reasons, not particularly interested in letting the priceless Phaser out of his sight.
Towards the end of 2012, The Wand Company kicked off a project to evaluate the feasibility and costs involved in developing a new Phaser replica. By May of the following year, Chris and Richard were confident enough that they could build a high quality replica Phaser that Richard contacted John Van Citters, Product Development VP at CBS, to see if a meeting could be arranged with Greg Jein to view and 3D laser scan the original prop. Chris Richard and John met at San Diego Comic Con in July, and John, who knew Greg well, was convinced that this would be something that would interest the naturally reclusive modelmaker enough for him to agree to meet with Chris and Richard. A further six months of careful negotiation followed, and finally in February 2014, it was agreed that Chris and Richard would fly out to Hollywood to meet Greg, to view and for the first time 3D laser scan the original Phaser prop. So, more than a year after starting the project, on the 7th February 2014, Chris and Richard met John and Greg in Burbank, California at Gentle Giant Studios.
Chris and Richard found Greg to be both a charming and humble man. He turned up at the studio perfectly on time with the priceless Phaser hero prop just wrapped in tissue in a cardboard box under his arm. The unboxing captivated everyone in the studio as the staff crowded round to catch a glimpse of the legendary relic that was the forefather of all the high-tech weaponry the studio was more accustomed to creating for the 21st century science fiction century films that were their stock and trade.
3D laser scanning is a non-destructive process that uses a low-power laser beam coupled with a CCD camera to make, and then record the exact position of, millions of light spots on the surface of an object, thus enabling a highly accurate topological model of the object to be built up. Under Greg’s watchful, but surprisingly relaxed eye, the Phaser prop was gently laid on a soft foam bed and for the rest of the morning was repeatedly scanned back and forth to build up an accurate computer model of every tiny detail of its shape.
Chris and Richard got on well with Greg and over the lunch that followed agreed to keep in touch. They promised to give Greg the first Phaser Universal Remote Control that came off the production line to add to his collection, sure in the fact that if they have created something that gets Greg Jein’s approval, they will have done justice to this iconic piece of Sci-Fi history and produced something that Star Trek fans all over the world will be proud to own and have in their collections as well. And here we are.
Click HERE to purchase Star Trek: The Original Series Phaser Universal Remote.