StarTrek.com pauses to reflect upon the life and career of the legendary Star Trek model maker, landscape miniatures maker, and visual effects team member Gregory Jein. The acclaimed Oscar and Emmy nominee was 76.
Jein, a lifelong Trek fan and self-professed “collector and accumulator” of comics, pulp magazines, and entertainment memorabilia, transformed his passions into a career. Jein most notably worked for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Walt Disney Imagineering, and other production houses, before starting his own model shop, Gregory Jein, Inc., creating miniatures for many sci-fi films and television series.
Jein began his Star Trek career in 1977 with the never-released Star Trek: Phase II, building a studio model of a variant Klingon D7-class battlecruiser. He would go on to work on the following Trek films — Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek Nemesis.
On the television side of the Trek universe, Jein worked on the Star Trek: The Next Generation series, building the studio models of the U.S.S. Enterprise-D for the pilot episode, “Encounter at Farpoint,” and bring to life such designs as the Klingon Vor’cha-class ship and the Ferengi Marauder ship during its later seasons. Jein built studio models of the U.S.S. Enterprise and Deep Space Station K-7 for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as additional model, artwork, and design contributions to Star Trek: Voyager. For their visual effects work on the “Trials and Tribble-ations” episode, Jein and his team were recognized with an Academy Award nomination. Jein briefly cameoed in Deep Space Nine as the baseball card image of Buck Bokai, a baseball player admired by Captain Sisko.
In addition to his Star Trek work, Jein was known as the chief model maker for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), for which Jein and his team were nominated for Best Visual Effects at the 50th Academy Awards. The model of the alien Mothership from the film, constructed by Jein and his team, is a permanent fixture of the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum collection at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA.
His memory will always be with us, and he will live on forever within the Star Trek family and beyond.
In remembrance of his life and work, veteran Star Trek artist and illustrator John Eaves penned the following tribute. Eaves also reached out to several of Greg’s friends and colleagues to share with StarTrek.com their memories and first contact with the acclaimed model maker.
A Tribute from John Eaves:
“On May 22, 2022, the movie industry lost one of its greatest behind-the-scenes VFX model makers, Mr. Gregory Jein. To those who knew him, we lost a dear, dear friend.
He carried his passions, such as aircrafts, special effects, entertainment in all forms of media, and vintage pinup, from his youth through adulthood, and turned them into a remarkable career. He was a collector of all the above, as well as a well-known movie studios dumpster diver. Thanks to Greg, we can credit an unfathomable amount of movie history saved from oblivion due to his frequent stops at dumpsters at the major studios where he worked.
Greg’s career soon took off with Dark Star, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Laserblast, 1941, and decades of Star Trek features and television series. If anyone needed models built, they all called Greg. As the shift from practical miniatures and props to the CG-world disrupted the industry, altering and/or shortening the careers of many master model makers and VFX artists. Adapting to the industry change, Greg started making set models for art departments, which kept him going up until a few years ago. A magnificent model maker and a magician at his craft, he and his work inspired and will continue to inspire several generations of hopeful creatives.
His loved ones and collaborators feared the day that he may no longer be with us as Greg’s health started to decline. This past May, those fears materialized with the news of his passing. What he leaves behind, for fans of cinema and heavy visual effects, is a legacy of motion picture splendor through the epic models and miniatures brought to life by Jein and his crew. The Mothership from Close Encounters and the interior of V’ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture will forever be visual moments of unimaginable beauty that continue to enthrall audiences, both old and new.
My introduction to Greg began when I discovered him and his work in the pages of Starlog and Cinefex magazines. In 1984, by chance, I found his shop’s number in a movie directory and called him up and Greg invited me over for a visit of his studio. The next year, I got my foot in the door at Apogee thanks to my great friend Grant McCune. Shortly after starting there, Greg came over to lend a hand on a film project. When Star Trek V came along, Greg remembered me; he gave me that big break by calling me up and asking me to work with him. This led to an incredible journey and bond — from fan admiration to an enduring friendship — encompassing nearly 40 years. He will be dearly missed.
To demonstrate his generosity and impact, I called upon a few friends to share their first meeting, or the lessons learned from him. One of Greg’s greatest attributes was that he loved to recruit and encourage new model makers that possessed the same dreams that he had. He gave so many of us our first jobs; if he saw your talent, passion, and drive, he would give you an opportunity in his model shop. Below, are a few accounts of the many people he had touched and opened his door too.
For the man that helped start all our careers, Godspeed. Thank you, Greg Jein, for making our dreams come true.”
A Statement from Trek prop maker Dave Chamberlain:
“Greg had this gift of innovation. He always knew the best ways to complete a project, even when conventional techniques said there was no way to do this for the available budget. And he was always willing to share that gift with the people that worked with him.
If you were frustrated, or even getting angry, because you didn’t know how a job could be done on time or budget, he would show you a trick, some new way of looking at a piece, that would allow you to not only accomplish what you had intended but to make it better. And these techniques stuck with you when you went to other jobs. You no longer felt like saying, ‘It can’t be done for that.’ Spending time with Greg gave you the confidence to look at a difficult project, something many people would say was either ‘impossible’ or ‘impractical,’ and say instead, ‘yeah, we can do that.’”
A Statement from Trek model maker Lou Zutavern:
“I met Greg Jein at Forry Ackerman’s house. Ray Harryhausen invited me there to meet Ray Bradbury. I thought I was just there to meet a well-known author, but I also met a friend for life. Greg and I talked on the phone for a couple of years before working together. Our first project was the movie Stargate. After that, we worked on many projects, including Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Our last project together was the live-action Mulan. Our shared passion for the history of film and TV kept a close friendship going, lasting decades. Much of what I know about working as a professional model maker, I learned from Greg. Most of all, he was a true, talented, funny, honest, and kind human being.”
A Statement from Trek model maker Jason Kaufman:
“Every career starts with someone giving you your first chance. Greg Jein was the first one to give me that chance when no one else would. And now 30-plus years later, I have a home-filled with cool stuff and fond memories because of that first kind act.
I and many others like me are his true legacy. He was generous with his knowledge and patient with new talent finding their footing. He even helped me get jobs with other model shops. He would brush off such high praise because of his humble nature, but it is true, as many would testify.
Greg passed away recently just days after I had visited with him to drop off some model building supplies and chat with him for a while. It’s important to remember the ones who help you along the way and I remember him with the same high regard that I remember my parents. Godspeed Greg Jein.”
A Statement from Trek concept set designer Scott Schneider:
“When we first met, Greg was, to me, iconic. Like so many, I had started in the industry at a time when we were surrounded by those we considered legends in our field. Greg was at the top of that list. He was kind, thoughtful and patient. He had a sense of humor so dry it made the Sahara Desert look like a water park. He had a penchant for sparklers attached to models and adding catchy word bubbles to photos he took of us working in the shop. He loved what he did and was a master of his craft. He loved Star Trek. The journey he set me upon by giving me the chance to work not only for him, but on Star Trek, set in motion a career and friendships that continue to this day. He touched the lives and careers of many, and we are all the better for it.
Greg was truly one of a kind.”
A Statement from Randy Cooper:
“How Greg Jein affected my life:
When I was young, it was The Poseidon Adventure that got me into movie magic. It was 2001: A Space Odyssey that got me into miniatures. And it was Space 1999 that got me into scratch building miniatures.
But it was the Cinefex magazine article about Greg Jein that made me seriously think about doing miniatures for film. It wasn’t Star Wars. It wasn’t Star Trek. The article was about his miniature work on 1941 and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I saw that miniature Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, THAT’S when I knew what I wanted to do for a living. I hoped one day I would meet Greg Jein.
When I finally moved to Hollywood in 1989, I got a chance to work at Boss Film Studios where I met John Eaves. Greg Jein’s shop was right around the corner from Boss Film so John took me over there to meet him. And since that meeting, I was able to work on miniatures on a series of television shows and movies for Greg.
He was always very nice. Always knew what he needed. And never got angry if you made a mistake. He trusted you to know and do your job, and it showed with the positive atmosphere working there.
I’ll miss him forever…”
A Statement from Nelson Broskey:
“I will never forget my lifelong dream coming true — becoming friends and working for Greg — especially the day John Eaves first introduced me to him. His back alley LA model shop was filled with Star Trek props, miniatures, and visual effects treasures that spanned decades of ALL my favorite sci-fi movies, just peeking out from under work benches and amongst dusty shelves of paint, resin, styrene, and rags. I think I won a place in their hearts that day, and I definitely gave my fanboy-self away when I begged them to leave me behind to spend the night (and entire weekend!) in the shop with all that ‘cool stuff’ rather than attend the Mr. Olympia contest we were supposed to go see! Happily, I got to spend many more weeks working in that world and with Greg on so many fun projects. My heart is filled with joy whenever I relive those moments.”