Welcome! As part of its ongoing mission to document the Art and Production History of Star Trek, this site will present technical articles on Star Trek prop and costume authentication - focusing on The Original Series - with detailed photos and episode screenshots to complement the information presented; as well as feature pictorials to showcase Star Trek memorabilia in private & public collections, present rare Behind The Scenes TOS imagery & discuss other topics.
Gerald Gurian is a 40+ year collector of screen used Star Trek memorabilia and a passionate fan of TOS
- Star Trek TOS At Auction Part I - Gurian Collection Highlights - Greg Jein TOS Hero Type II Phaser
-Authenticating a TOS Communicator -6 Myths About Star Trek Prop Design -Star Trek 3rd Season Command Tunic
- Design Features of TOS Tricorders -Star Trek Props At National Air & Space - TOS Leatherette Tricorder
- TOS Federation Sciences Dress -Desilu Studio TOS Prop Fabrication - Unreleased Allen/Gurian Prop Photos
- The Beautiful Women of TOS Part I -TOS U.S.S. Enterprise 11' Filming Model - Captain Kirk's Chair from TOS
- Spock Ears -TOS Control Panels & Displays - Mr. Spock's Science Station
- TOS Soundstage at Desilu -TOS Shatner Romulan Pants - The Beautiful Women of TOS Pt. II
- TOS Galileo Shuttlecraft -Greg Jein TOS Cage Laser Pistol - TOS 3rd Season Midgrade Type II Phaser
- Dr. McCoy's Sickbay on TOS -TOS Balok Puppet Head - Captain Kirk "Mirror, Mirror" Tunic
- Greg Jein TOS Hero Tricorder -1992 Smithsonian TOS Cast Video - TOS 1st Season Command Tunic
- TOS "Where No Man" Silver Contact Lenses -TOS Special Effects: The Transporter - The Art of Matt Jefferies
- TOS "Space Seed" Gold Mesh Jumpsuit -Gorn Costume from "Arena" - Rare TOS Behind-the-Scenes Videos
- TOS Stunt Type II Phaser -1993 Bill Theiss Estate Auction - TOS Shatner Command Dress Tunic
- TOS Elasian Royal Guard Tunic -TOS Finnegan Silver "Shore Leave" Tunic - TOS Science Officer Tunic "The Cage"
- TOS Shatner Early 1st Season Command Tunic -William Shatner TOS Tunics At Auction - TOS Shatner Late 1st Season Command Tunic

Thursday, January 1, 2009

TOS Special Effects: The Transporter

The transporter device, which made its first appearance in “The Cage” (1964) - the pilot episode for Star Trek, was an ingenious creation that, according to The Star Trek Encyclopedia (Pocket Books, 1994) “briefly converts an object or person into energy, beams that energy to another location, then reassembles the subject into its original form.” Its usage in The Original Series was a necessity to help the Desilu production team control budget, as discussed by TOS Assistant Director and later Co-Producer Robert Justman in the book “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story” (Pocket Books, 1996) …

My other major worry (the first being no gravity in outer space, which was “solved” by Gene Roddenberry’s decision to equip the Enterprise with it’s own artificial gravity field) was the enormous cost of optical effects to land the Enterprise on a new planet every week. Gene’s clever solution: the transporter effect, “beaming” people to other locations with no apparent loss of molecules, other than when required for story purposes.
When I first viewed the transporter effect, I was as curious as anyone else might be and asked the inventive Darrell Anderson how he achieved it. Darrell said, “I just turned a slow-motion camera upside down and photographed some backlit shiny grains of aluminum powder that we dropped between the camera and a black background.”

And using a piece of Sandy Courage “shimmer” music, we gave the visual effect its distinctive sound. Gene’s creative solution to my “landing” dilemma resulted in a new catch-phrase and a wealth of bumper stickers, “Beam me up, Scotty.”
Incidentally, the exact words “Beam me up, Scotty” were never spoken in the dialogue of a TOS episode. A typical command might be “Mr. Scott, one to beam aboard.”

A full technical description of the film editing process involved in creating the Transporter effect is provided by Stephen Whitfield in “The Making of Star Trek” (Ballantine Books, 1968) …

The dematerialization and rematerialization of crewmen (the Transporter Effect) is accomplished as follows:

  1. The crewman to be transported steps into the transporter and is filmed.
  2. As the camera continues to run, the crewman steps out of camera range and the empty set is filmed. Later, the action of the man leaving the set will be clipped out of the film … and the footage spliced into one piece.
  3. On a duplicate piece of film shot in 2, above, a mask, exactly outlining the person’s figure as he appeared in the transporter, is superimposed, creating a piece of film with a “hole” in it.
  4. These pieces of film are then rephotographed simultaneously in the optical printer:
    a. The original film.
    b. The masked film.
    c. A length of film containing only the glitter effect of the transporter. To obtain the “glitter effect”, aluminum dust was photographed as it was dropped from overhead, falling through a beam of high-intensity light.
  5. The “glitter effect” goes through the “hole” in the second piece of film and thus coincides with the outline of the crewman. When the film is run, the man is slowly “faded” out of the picture, momentarily leaving the glitter effect in place of his body. The glitter is then faded (“dissolved”) out as well.
Pony Horton, a professional Visual Effects artist who worked at Van der Veer Photo Effects in the late 1970's, has reported some additional insights on the development of the Transporter special effect for TOS.  (Van der Veer Photo Effects was one of several optical houses; including The Westheimer Company, Film Effects of Hollywood and others; who were brought in sometime early during the first season of production of the Original Series to help process the tremendous backlog of sfx shots required for the episodes that the original contractor - the Howard Anderson Company - could not efficiently handle all by itself.  The Anderson Company had previously done all the effects for the 2 Star Trek pilot productions: "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before", as well as "The Corbomite Maneuver" and possibly others of the very earliest regular season episodes.)   According to Mr. Horton, a colleague of his at Van der Veer was Hugh Wade, who became one of the primary optical printer operators at the company, and who was "the man who actually created the authentic effect used by the other houses.  It was only glitter (= aluminum dust photographed falling through a high-intensity light beam) during the first tests of the VFX.  It was never glitter on the show: the final effect was Alka-Seltzer shot in hot water".  Horton indicated that Hugh Wade originally created the effect back in 1964 or 1965, and that Wade was inspired to use Alka Seltzer since he was familiar with its appearance after having been previously involved in shooting a number of the television commercials for the product.  Horton himself went on to become the VFX Supervisor for the well known fan film series Star Trek: The New Voyages, where he replicated the '60s technique to create the Transporter special effects for those productions.   Special thanks to Pony Horton for his kindness in providing the following imagery from New Voyages; which includes a shot of the base Alka Seltzer sparkles themselves as well as some episode screenshots that incorporate them, presented below ...

In TOS, it was established that transporters are unable to function when deflector shields are raised. Transporter malfunctions were also the source of some extraordinary storyline developments in The Original Series. In the first season episode “The Enemy Within”, for example, a mishap during a routine transport aboard ship causes both a “good” and “evil” Kirk to be created. Fortunately, Scotty manages to diagnose the problem and use the device to reassemble the Captain into his original form and rescue a stranded landed party on the verge of freezing to death. In the popular second season episode “Mirror, Mirror”, it is another transporter accident, triggered by an unexpected ion storm, that causes the landing party to exchange places with identical “barbarian” counterparts from a parallel or mirror universe, that were in the act of beaming back to their ship at the same instant in time.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the audience is provided with more details on the underlying operating theory and some of the critical technical components of the device. Specifically, in the TNG episodes “The Hunted” and “Power Play”, the annular confinement beam or ACB is introduced. As described in The Star Trek Encyclopedia, it is “a cylindrically shaped forcefield used to insure that a person being transported remains within the beam. Failure to remain within the confinement field can cause a dangerous release of beam energy, possibly fatally injuring the transport subject and those nearby.” Transporter Pattern Buffers played a significant role in the famous TNG episode “Relics”, which featured a guest star appearance of actor James Doohan reprising his role as Montgomery Scott. As described in The Star Trek Encyclopedia, the pattern buffer was a key transporter component “in which a transport subject’s image is briefly stored so that transmission frequency can be adjusted to compensate for the Doppler effect caused by any relative motion between the transport chamber and the target. Because of the criticality of this subsystem, two buffers must be operated in synchronization with each other so that in case of failure of one unit, the beam can be immediately handed off to the backup.” Scotty successfully modified the pattern buffers of the U.S.S. Jenolen in “Relics” so that he was able to survive for 75 years in a suspended state awaiting rescue by the USS Enterprise-D.

One of the most often cited reasons why some scientists believe that the development of a “real” working transporter may be impossible has to do with an important and central part of quantum mechanics called the Heisenberg Uncertainly Principle. This principle states that it is impossible to know with absolute certainly both the location and motion vector of a subatomic particle (for example, an electron orbiting a nucleus in a target atom); although, any one of the two characteristics, either the location or the vector of the particle, may be precisely known. A transporter device would have to be able to derive the exact positional and vector data of all of the subatomic particles in the subject being “beamed” in order to reassemble the person or object at the destination location. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, there is mention of a Heisenberg Compensator – another key piece of transporter technology – but no detailed explanation of its operating theory is provided.

Complications with Transporters in the ST:TNG years were also possible. A somewhat interesting affliction called “Transporter psychosis” is described in The Star Trek Encyclopedia as follows:

Transporter psychosis. Rare medical disorder caused by a breakdown of neurochemical molecules during transport. Transporter psychosis was first diagnosed in 2209 by researchers on planet Delinia II. The condition affected the body’s motor functions, as well as autonomic systems and higher brain functions. Victims were found to suffer from paranoid delusions, multi-infarct dementia, tactile and visual hallucinations, and psychogenic hysteria.
No wonder why Dr. McCoy had his reservations about stepping into the Transporter chamber during the feature film years!

Below are some photos of the Transporter Chamber and the Transporter Console as seen in TOS. (Not all Star Trek fans may know that the floor discs used in The Original Series transporter chamber were reused in the production of TNG and Voyager and were, in fact, installed as the ceiling discs for those transporter chambers.) …

And some photos of a rematerialization special effect as seen in the TOS first season episode “Shore Leave” …

Finally, perhaps the first recorded use of a transporter on a dog-like creature since the alien dog in “The Enemy Within” met with an unfortunate, premature demise. I checked for Transporter psychosis afterwards and did not detect anything; although there is a slight twitching of the tail following rematerialization …