"Star Trek Paper Universe"

by Michelle Erica Green

"Create your own makeup and props!" urges the cover of Star Trek: Aliens and Artifacts, and indeed the final section shows ordinary people -- well, ordinary actors and models, meaning they're still more buff than the average fan -- using Rubies makeup kits to become Klingon, Borg, Romulan, and other aliens. In other words, you've got to spend a lot of dough and get a lot of equipment not included in the book if you want to reproduce Trek makeup. Plus you need something called a Dremel tool to make a "dermal regenerator" out of a hairbrush; I'm not even sure what that is, let alone how to use it.

Don't be fooled by the misleading hype for this volume, claiming that makeup and props are as easy to recreate as the ships in Star Trek: Paper Universe. This book demonstrates far more effectively that the fabulous alien faces and cultures could not have been created by amateurs. Trek has won numerous Emmy awards for makeup and visual effects, and reading this volume, it's obvious why. Paramount makeup supervisor Michael Westmore, Trek property master Alan Sims, and Emmy-winning makeup artist Bradley M. Look collaborate with New York Times bestselling writer William J. Birnes to give an overview of three decades of Trek development.

In addition to numerous color illustrations from the shows, sketches of tattoo and sideburn designs, and in-production shots from various makeup trailers, Aliens & Artifacts offers fascinating explanations of the rationale behind many of the decisions that shaped the franchise. We discover that Cardassian neck ridges were developed because the producers didn't want full prosthetics and Marc Alaimo, who played the first Cardassian as Gul Macet, has an exceptionally long neck that Westmore likened to a cobra. We learn that Bajorans differ from humans via their nose ridges because the producers wanted simple makeup to emphasize Michelle Forbes' attractive features, but the ridges were modified for Kira and later Bajorans because the uppermost ridge furrows caused problems with the frown lines across many actors' foreheads.

Because viewers had already seen a wide variety of Klingon skin tones and foreheads on the original series and in the films by the time The Next Generation started filming so there was, the makeup crew decided that all brown-toned actors would play Northern Klingons, like Worf, while all fair-skinned actors would be Southern Klingons. The Duras family members were all given similar cranial ridges, while half-Klingons like K'Ehleyr and B'Elanna Torres have muted ridges and attractive human-standard teeth. Visual effects specialist and Klingon fan Dan Curry came up with the bat'leth, the mek'leth, and other weapons with the idea that Klingons would use a kind of tai chi, to get up close to their enemies and force combatants to become covered in one another's blood.

Though the original series aliens suffer a bit by comparison to the extraordinary creations of the later shows, the props remain fascinating. The neural parasites of "Operation: Annihilate!" were made out of vinyl and "breathed" through a balloon inserted into the center. The Horta was created by a stuntman who showed off his creature costume to writer Gene L. Coon; Coon, who helped invent the Klingons, developed "The Devil in the Dark" from ann impromptu demonstration on the sidewalk outside the production offices.

In the later series, the props get short shift compared to the makeup. We are told that great care was taken in the creation of the Orb case because the writers knew Bajoran religion would play an important role in the series, but we don't learn whether a Torah case, reliquary or other object inspired its builders. We discover that the gold head at the end of the Nagus' staff resembles Quark because its designer used him as reference, since he didn't know that the staff would be held by the Ferengi leader, but there's no discussion of the development of Wallace Shawn's staff-banging, sneering characterization of the many-lobed Nagus. There's more on the "how" of the props -- converted potato peelers, new tricorder models -- than the "why" of the props, the script or production notes that inspired the creators' imaginations.

Patrick Stewart wrote the introduction, primarily a tribute to Westmore, though the book is dedicated to Rick Berman, because "his vision...is Star Trek." Yet the first chapter makes clear that Gene Roddenberry was a hands-on exec. He wasn't only the writer of the pilot and the creator of the characters; he was the one who insisted that Vina's green skin would have to be believable for audiences to accept the series, so he kept after the color lab to get it right, and he came up with the idea of having the Talosians played by androgynous-looking females with fake big heads so that they would be diminutive, yet frighteningly alien.

Not all the good ideas were Roddenberry's -- for instance, he originally wanted a red-skinned, energy-devouring Spock, but was persuaded by Samuel A. Peeples that humans wouldn't relate to such a character. Roddenberry seems to have known when to insist on his own ideas and when to let the professionals around him refine them. It's been alleged that Gene Coon came up with many of the Trek concepts for which Roddenberry has been given credit, but even if that's true, the creator deserves credit for putting together a team that often put their egos aside to make the series work.

From this book, Berman's single biggest influence on the look of the show has been to insist on muted prosthetics for all attractive stars -- Suzie Plakson, Famke Janssen, Michelle Forbes, Terry Farrell, Robert Beltran -- so as not to detract from their human allure. Westmore may owe Berman many favors, but Aliens & Artifacts strongly suggests that when Trek's alien cultures make an impression, it's because of Roddenberry's original team's vision. . .and it was Roddenberry who hired Westmore in the first place. I don't like it when current Trek people overlook the contributions of the founders.

The surprisingly short section on Voyager concentrates mostly on aliens like the Borg and Hirogen, and makes no mention of the struggle visible onscreen to perfect Seven of Nine's body-sculpting costume. Sims seems to have had fun with the Captain Proton toys and Borg equipment, but one wonders whether Westmore might be burning out -- or just less inspired by the come-and-go Voyager aliens of the week than he was by Mask, Rocky, and the many other films for which he has won Academy and Emmy Awards. Aliens & Artifacts is a fitting tribute to his Star Trek legacy.

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