THE DOUG DREXLER TAS INTERVIEW
From Star Trek fan and shopkeeper of “The Federation Trading Post” to Oscar winning makeup artist and Emmy winning visual effects artist- he has had a career that any fan would be envious of. With roles that include makeup artist, scenic artist, production illustrator, special effects, visual effects, and author- he’s been called one of the most versatile production staffers in the Star Trek franchise.
Now, startrekanimated.com has had the opportunity to chat with the incomparable Mr. Doug Drexler about his amazing career, the current state of the franchise, and his encounters with the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself...
STA.com: You started off as a special effects makeup man; how did you get into that field? You won an Oscar for your work on Dick Tracy; what can you share about that experience?
Doug Drexler: Makeup is probably the most magical of all the fields that I have been a part of. There is a moment when you have put the final bit of paint on that the character that it comes to life. You have this overwhelming sense that you have created this new life. Dick Smith called it the "Dr Frankenstein Effect". It's truly intoxicating. I haven't experienced that anywhere else. I was a makeup artist for 14 years. Unlike most makeup artists I did not grow up dreaming about becoming one. I'd always had an interest in it, but probably no more or less than many of the arts of the fantastic. This is probably why I have never settled on any one thing. Everything seems equally fascinating. For many years I could not make up my mind whether or not this was an advantage or disadvantage. Jack of all trades, master of none, you know? Ultimately, and after 31 years in the business I've come around, and even feel a little sorry for contemporaries who have been the same damn thing forever. Where is your curiosity, man?
STA.com: Although I am an all around Star Trek fan, my website (startrekanimated.com) focuses on the animated series. Have you ever seen the animated series and do you have any opinions on it?
Doug Drexler: I watched the animated series series first run, and eagerly looked forward to it. While I thought it was very good, and was happy that Roddenberry was involved, it wasn't really a substitute for the live action show. If you had been watching the original series first run, and had it torn away from you, you might have had mixed feeling about it. Yes, I enjoyed it. For Saturday morning fare it was often sophisticated, and I appreciated that Filmation appreciated Trek. But it was a reminder that mass media considered Star Trek second class. I'm sure it is more fun discovering the animateds well after the controversy and sense of loss, but there was a time when it seemed quite possible this could be it.
STA.com: A lot of folks bash The Animated Series. In your opinion, does TAS belong in the canon? Gene Roddenberry's name was on it, so was DC Fontana's, and it had the original cast and writers. What more could anyone ask for?
Doug Drexler: Well, I don't think that Gene considered it "canon". But look, Canon is whatever makes you happy. You don't need anyone to tell you what is Star Trek to you. Don't give a hoot what anyone else thinks. When I was a kid most people I knew laughed at Star Trek. The fact that they didn't like it told me it was special. Today with the Internet, bashing has become a national pastime. It's a sickness. I think that people who bash are making up for their own perceived shortcomings. You don't have to enjoy everything, but tearing down says more about you, than it does about your target.
STA.com: Do you think a new animated Star Trek series could ever happen? Considering the success Star Wars has had on TV with The Clone Wars animated series, do you think a new Star Trek animated series could widen the appeal of Star Trek and bring in new/younger fans?
Doug Drexler: I'd love to see a TOS animated show with more sophisticated animation. My main fear is seeing the mythology further degraded by people who need to pee on everything they work on. For some directors, if they can't turn it upside down, they feel they haven't done their job. For me, they are paying no respect to the beloved mythology, they are paying respect to themselves. Look at the Lost In Space movie. Why call it Lost In Space? It was painful for me to see the more intellectual Star Trek pounded by J.J. Abrams into a more accessible/dumbed down version of itself. I can't fault him. The studio hired him to make Trek more lucrative, and widen its appeal. Widening somethings appeal does not necessarily make it better... well... it makes it's bank better. I would rather see that done without sacrificing that which made Trek it's own thing. That's just me. I don't need more Star Wars. The first J.J. picture left me feeling like I did seeing McMurphy at the end of "Cuckoos Nest.”
STA.com: I couldn't agree more with you about the new Star Trek movies, especially the last one.
What was that about? Unfortunately, it made a ton of money, and not many seemed to notice how much of it was a rip off.
Doug Drexler: J.J.'s movies have bigger box office, but they have discovered that the fans that came from the wider audience don't care about books, magazines, blueprints, collectables and toys. In the long run, everything made previously to Abram's apparently has better staying power, and apparently more long term money making ability.
STA.com: What were some of your favorite Trek projects, and why?
Doug Drexler: Way difficult question. I assume you mean that I was personally involved in. I thrilled to every day working on the show, in everything that I did. Can you imagine? The most incredible project for me was working on the NX. That was a crowning moment. Believe me, it was not just another job.
STA.com: What is your most prized Star Trek possession?
Doug Drexler: Gene Roddenberry's golf clubs, and his Los Angeles Police Band ID card.
STA.com: Did you ever meet Roddenberry? What was your impression?
I find it interesting that of all the Trek souvenirs you must have, his golf clubs are your favorite. Why is that?
Doug Drexler: Sure I did. I was worked on TNG while he was still alive. I also saw him regularly at conventions in my early days where he interacted with the fans. FYI - I was at the very first Star Trek convention in NYC in the early 70s. It's ironic that fans bash Roddenberry. They evidently don't know what they are talking about. Roddenberry always appreciated the fans, and always included us. There was never a Trek producer who thought so much of the fans. That's why we were so militantly behind him. In those days Paramount considered the fans a force to be reckoned with. I found Gene to be warm, friendly, and interested. When I came to work on TNG, he had me called to the bridge. He simply wanted to tell me what a wonderful job we did on Dick Tracy. Some of the producers I worked with for years never bothered to ever say hello. When TMP was being made, Gene insisted that the rec deck be populated with the fans. Denise Okuda was one of them. What can I say about that negative element of fandom? I think their issues may lie deeper that Star Trek . Some folks make themselves taller by cutting off another's legs. Why are Gene's personal effects my favorite items? I was a Gene Roddenberry fan well before Star Trek. One of my all time favorite television shows was "Have Gun Will Travel" starring Richard Boone. It was a western that ran from 1957-1963. It was about a man named Paladin, a gentleman gunfighter for hire. He lived in San Francisco (Incidentally, this is why starfleet is based in San Francisco). Gene cut his teeth on HGWT, and wrote more than 24 episodes. There is a lot of HG in Star Trek.
STA.com: You switched from make up artist to digital effects artist, how did that happen? And what special training did you have?
Doug Drexler: I had no special training. Two weeks before Mike hired me, I had never touched a computer. I went out that day, bought one, and worked day and night bringing myself up to speed. Mike took a chance on me, but he knew that I had something more valuable than computer skills... I had respect, love, and a sense of responsibility to the mythology. Incidentally, I went from makeup artist, to graphic designer with scenic art supervisor (and friend) Mike Okuda, then onto Voyager VFX where I got my feet wet in the CG arena, then back to the art department as illustrator.
STA.com: With CG, movies can do anything. Do you think we have lost anything in the process? Although CG can do impressive things, I miss model work. Do you?
Doug Drexler: Everyone loves to have a toy right in front of them. Who doesn't? Imagine a kid being given a picture of a toy on Christmas rather than the physical toy. Not gonna cut it. If you look at it from the POV as a child, the child in you will show disappointment. I know that from my own experience. But If I look at it realistically, I see that we have gained enormously from CG, and I also know how many lives it has saved. Making big models requires extensive use of toxic chemicals. I have personally lost friends due to toxic fumes and their cumulative effects.
STA.com: You went on to work on Battlestar Galactica, another classic show and favorite of mine. How did that happen and how did it compare to working on Star Trek?
Doug Drexler: Four hours after we heard Enterprise was cancelled, I was hired by Gary Hutzel to come work with him in the BSG VFX department. I went from thinking I might never work again, to packing my bags for Vancouver in a matter of hours. Man, have I lead a charmed life. When Gary was a VFX supervisor on DS9, we had a very close working relationship. Physical models were still the order of the day. If Gary ran out of money, he knew he could come to us, and we'd build him something out of spare parts for nothing overnight. One day, Gary was in the office and saw me tinkering with Lightwave. A light bulb went off over his head, and he asked if I would mind building a ship for him. We had a lot of fun exploring new lands on that one. I said to him that I hoped we'd get a chance to do more of that. He told me to be careful what I wished for. Gary is a very hands on guy. During the motion control days, Gary set up the shots, lit, and photographed the ships personally. When work began CG, stuff was framed to outside vendors, and Gary found himself in a position where he was losing control. He was extremely frustrated toward the end of DS9. It wasn't that the CG houses weren't doing a good job, it's just that their main interests were their own ideas. Gary might ask for one thing, and get another. It's no surprise that Gary has his own CG operation now. I've been fortunate to be working with him now for the last ten years. What a guy.
STA.com: I know you have worked with my friends over at Star Trek Continues, and Starship Farragut. What do you think of the Star Trek fan film phenomenon?
Doug Drexler: Star Trek fan films are the 21st century equivalent of what fanzines were in the 70s. It's a sign of a very healthy fan base. I've been involved with them before there was a Youtube. What's interesting is that the TOS era is the fan film era of choice. Why is that? Probably because there is a thrilling honesty to TOS because it was original. It is also the easiest one to recreate. The sets were designed to be easy to fabricate. What do I say to fan filmmakers recreating TOS? Fantastic job! But don't forget to do something original. If you can branch out, you'll really have a tiger by the tail. I don't mean just switching up names and uniforms and calling it something else. A love story, a western, an urban jungle tale, the first trip to Mars... I think that Gene would be proud.
STA.com: Lastly, what are you working on now, and what's in store for Doug Drexler?
Doug Drexler: Since Enterprise wrapped, I've worked with Gary Hutzel on the VFX for Galactica, Blood And Chrome, Caprica, and the current show, Defiance, which is in production of it's second season. What's in store? Hard to say. I feel like I could use three more lifetimes, and fill them up. Right now I'm very happy working with Gary. It's a very fulfilling situation. I hope we get back into space sometime. It's in my DNA.
For more information about Mr. Drexler, please visit http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Doug_Drexler
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