Yesterday, in part one of our exclusive and extensive interview with Star Trek veterans Michael and Denise Okuda, they filled us in on their involvement in readying Star Trek: The Next Generation for release on Blu-ray, beginning with the Star Trek: The Next Generation -- The Next Level sampler set that CBS Home Entertainment will release on January 31. Today, in the second half of our conversation, the Okudas talk more about the TNG Blu-rays, look back at their long Star Trek association and update us on their other current projects.
Some people who visited the TNG set loved to search for the Okudagrams, the little set decorations that held in-joke messages and sayings, etc., that were never intended to be seen by the public. Given the sheer size of televisions now and the super-high resolution of the images available on something like The Next Level, how concerned are you about things like Okudagrams, that were not meant to be seen, being seen?
Mike: I’ve got to tell you, I was a little bit nervous about that when we first started because there are, in fact, some places where you can see things which weren’t intended to be seen. But, for the most part, they’re still sufficiently obscure that if you’re not looking for them they just go by and you just see the story. If you’re looking for them, you can find them, and that’s kind of how it should be. Those kinds of gags should never, ever draw you out of the episode. You should never notice them unless you’re deliberately looking for them.
Denise: On the other hand, I think they’re fun Easter eggs for fans of the series, because they know that there are things there and they can keep their eyes out for them. I think it just adds another level of entertainment.
How far along are you into the TNG remastering?
Mike: It’s kind of hard to measure because we – CBS and us – are simultaneously working on several different episodes as several different stages. So it’s hard question to answer. But we are still on the first season.
From day one to now, how long has it been so far?
Denise: Oh, I don’t know. We got a call a couple of years ago from producers Ryan Adams and David Grant, explaining the process and asking us, if this project were green-lit, would we be interested in participating. After listening to all the details and the complexity, we said, “Sure, of course we’d be interested.” We hung up the phone and looked at each other and said, “It’ll never happen.” Then, of course, to our amazement and delight, a year and a half later it went forward.
Mike: Not only did it go forward, but there are so many ways they could have cheated the process. The easiest thing to do would have been to simply upscale the original standard-definition recordings. That would have been such a cheat, but CBS, to their very considerable credit, said, “OK, we’re going to bite the bullet. We’re going to spend the money. We’re going to re-scan the film. We’re going to recomposite the effect.” So we take our hats off to them.
Will you stick around and work on all seven TNG sets?
Mike: I hope so.
Let’s switch gears a little bit. What’s it meant to both of you to have Star Trek be such a part of your lives for such a long time?
Mike: Well, both of us growing up separate sides of the Pacific Ocean, we grew up with Star Trek and the space program and science-fiction. To be a part of something that has such a powerful influence on people, it’s not only fun, it’s a considerable honor.
Denise: I’d say basically the same thing. It’s just basically a part of our lives. We’ve met so many wonderful people all over the world who are associated with Star Trek. We’ve done work with NASA and the folks we’ve met at the different NASA centers, so many of them tell us that Star Trek influenced them to choose the professions they are now in. How could you not be blown away? So we feel very, very blessed to be associated with Star Trek and we hope it continues for many years.
It’s not just the shows and films that you’ve been involved with. You’ve written Trek books, including the Star Trek Encyclopedia. You’ve worked on many of the video games. What are some of the Trek side projects that you’re proudest to have had a hand in?
Mike: We are very proud of the Star Trek Encyclopedia, The Star Trek Chronology and The Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual. We have worked on some really fun CD-Rom projects, like The Captain’s Chair and The Interactive Technical Manual. Fairly recently we had a lot of fun working on some of the Star Trek traveling exhibits. Herman Zimmerman, the production designer, brought us in to help out and get those things started. We got to play with a lot of the original props and costumes and things, some of which we’d actually worked on back in the day. So that was absolutely Memory Lane for us.
When Enterprise ended in 2005, did you think your association with Star Trek was over as well, or did you sense that you would somehow get back in the game?
Denise: Oh, no, no. When Enterprise went away, we thought that "That's it. It's gone." It kind of went dormant. We thought, "That was really fun. Let's move on." Then we just kept getting (Star Trek) project after project. We worked for the traveling exhibit company. We worked for Christie's, which was an amazing experience. It's been one thing after another, but every single project, we think it's going to be our last. Seriously, when we finish a project we say, "Well, that's going to be the last thing we do for Star Trek." And then there's another project.
J.J. Abrams came along and directed Star Trek (2009). Fans can debate its merits, but there’s no denying it was a huge hit and helped reinvigorate the franchise as a whole. What are your thoughts on the film and its impact on the franchise?
Mike: Star Trek has always been, at the heart of it, a low-budget television show and a low-budget movie, so it was great to see the movie getting that kind of support from the studio. We’d been fans of J.J. Abrams since he did Alias, and it was an exciting, fun film.
What do you think the odds are that you’ll ever get to work on another Star Trek series?
Mike: Never say never.
Take us to life beyond Star Trek. What else have the two of you been working on?
Mike: Star Trek has opened a lot of doors for us. We’ve been lucky to do quite a number of side projects for NASA. A couple of years ago they launched the last space shuttle servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, and the astronauts wore a mission patch that I designed for them. About a year later they launched something called the Ares 1-X Development Flight Test, which was a test of a proposed new booster system, and on the side of the rocket were, I think, three logos that I designed for them. That was more fun than I can imagine.
Denise: I’ve been doing some work at the Art Directors’ Guild. Michael didn’t mention that he worked on the next Bourne movie, The Bourne Legacy.
Click HERE to read part one of our exclusive StarTrek.com interview with Michael and Denise Okuda. Star Trek: The Next Generation -- The Next Level will be released by CBS Home Entertainment on January 31. Click HERE to pre-order.