The iconic bridge of Star Trek: The Next Generation was famously destroyed for the production of the Star Trek: Generations movie when the saucer section of the Enterprise-D crashes onto the surface of Veridian III. At the time, the destruction of the production set that had served the TV show for over seven years seemed practical--after all, the crew would be getting a new bridge set for the Enterprise-E that would debut in Generations' follow up, First Contact. Additionally, the production team had already built several replica bridge sets for various purposes, including a traveling museum exhibition and the Star Trek: The Experience amusement ride at the Las Vegas Hilton.
But today, no standing Enterprise-D bridge set exists. The Star Trek museum exhibition, now permanently settled in Orlandao, only houses an Original Series bridge (though it does have a Next Generation Engineering set) and the Las Vegas attraction shuttered it doors in 2008. Pieces of the original and replica sets have since been auctioned off to private collectors and shopping mall developers, with little hope of assembling them back together for public display. That was until late this summer when a fan announced that he had acquired a significant portion of the Exhibition set, with the intent of restoring it with the help and support of The Next Generation's Production Designers.
I spoke with Huston Huddleston, organizer for the Enterprise Bridge Restoration Project and learned how he came into possession of the bridge set components, what the restoration work will entail, and how fans can contribute to the endeavor.
Let's start at the beginning. How did the idea for the restoration come about? Who along with you is directly involved, and what are your backgrounds?
I’m a writer for TV and some film, comedy mostly. I found out from a friend who worked at Paramount that this set had been sitting outside for 5 years and was going to be destroyed. I didn't know what I was going to do with it, but I knew it had to be saved. If I didn't do something, I knew I’d live to regret it, because something like this comes MAYBE once in a lifetime. After months of trying to partner with a "rich cat" to restore it--and having no luck--I went to the annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention and found inspiration from some major producers who were also fans, such as Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. I had a eureka moment and screamed "I'M GOING TO RESTORE THE BRIDGE!" So basically, this stemmed from sleep deprivation and possible insanity. Brian Uiga who helped restore the screen used Doctor Who TARDIS and Herbie The Love Bug and KITT is doing most of the design work, and Rusty Harrell is restoring our Picard's Captain's Chair. We also just launched our Kickstarter, which is going until Dec 18.
Why did you want to restore the TNG bridge specifically? Are there parts of other bridges from the other ST shows that were possible to restore?
It was the only bridge available. 90% of the Enterprise-D Bridge Set was laying there, in pieces. It's made mostly of fiberglass and metal, and considering the set originally cost $600,000 to make in the 1990's, it was in darn good shape. We actually also found pieces from Star Trek: The Original Series bridge, which we hope to someday build. I told someone recently “It’s not like I turned my living room into the bridge, I literally brought the bridge into my living room.”
How does the Enterprise-D bridge set you have differ from the ones built for the now-defunct Star Trek: The Experience ride in Las Vegas?
Ours is not the Vegas bridge--it was a third Enterprise set that was built for display and traveling around the time the Vegas sets were built. [Production Designers] Herman Zimmerman and Michael Okuda oversaw all these sets to make them as screen accurate as safety regulations allowed. All [these replica bridges] were missing were the "side chairs" connected to Troy and Riker's computers and the pull-out chairs in the back. The ramp in the back was also lower in the Vegas bridges to comply with the Disabilities Act. Since we're not a "ride" [like the Vegas sets] we're making ours as close to screen accurate as possible, which has never been done before. Plus we're making all the computers real touchscreens which is also a first.
What happened to those other Experience bridges after the Vegas attraction was shut down? Who owned them and what was the original plan for them?
The whole thing was totally destroyed, in pieces and left outside (are you seeing a pattern here?) When the Las Vegas ST Experience company lost their license with Paramount, they had to get it out of the Hilton as quickly as possible and everything was gutted. Parts of it were sold at auction--we have a few of the Vegas pieces: the walls, Data's Chair, Riker and Troy's chairs and computers--the rest was either thrown out or went into people’s homes. There were rumors about re-opening the ride in Vegas, but it was probably just wishful thinking.
What is the current condition of the bridge and how much needs to be restored?
The floor needs complete rebuilding, which is good because the ramp was the wrong size. Worf’s Horseshoe needs a new base--it was damaged and was the wrong size (due to Disabilities Act compliance). We need a new Ops chair and computer. All the doors are missing, some of the walls need rebuilding, and little touch ups are also needed. We have three of the five rear computers, all heavy metal frames, and quite a few of the Isolinear Chip panels. All in all, it’s about 90% complete. The ceiling is massive, heavy and expensive, and if we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t have the set. The ceiling is the reason no accurate fan film ST TNG set has ever been built.
Are you working with set builders or anyone who worked on the show or ride to rebuild it?
Rusty, who is restoring the chair, started on it months before I knew I was going to be restoring the entire bridge. He did it out of love for Star Trek, since he knew I had no money. Brian has some brilliant people on his side who helped restore his Movie and TV cars. Basically we’re restoring what we can afford to restore, it all depends on the fundraising. We all have day jobs, and we’re all doing this in our spare time. For some of the heavier, larger pieces, we’ll need a warehouse and a crane, and as many volunteers as we can find. But, if all goes well, we should stay on schedule and be completely finished by the end of 2013.
Are you using any of the original production blueprints or design documents to assist in the restoration?
We have some of them, but since Paramount was sold to CBS, not everything is as accessible as it used to be. Most of our set is complete, albeit “not perfect condition”. But thank God original Bridge creators Herman Zimmerman, Doug Drexler, Michael Okuda and Andrew Probert are helping us, or we’d be sunk!
Can you detail some of the improvements you plan on making to the bridge set using modern technology?
We'll be using LCD Lighting wherever possible, and real touchscreen computers that work like they did on the show. We’re super excited about that, and we have several brilliant computer guys helping us to make it a reality, all programmed like the LCAR Okudagrams as seen on the show. They won't just independent computers; they will all work together, so [the idea is that] when the captain goes to red alert, the entire bridge and all the computers will respond. It will be unlike anything that has ever been done anywhere. We’re presently trying to get Apple, Microsoft and other companies to donate computers and technology to make this happen, after all, a lot of their technology have origins in Star Trek...
Let's talk about the Kickstarter. Where will the $20,000 you aim to raise go? What kind of contributions have you received as rewards for supporters?
$20,000 is the lowest we can go to get anything done. The set personally cost me quite a few thousand just to have shipped from the warehouse, and Brian and Rusty are saving up receipts until our Kickstarter is over. Even in pieces, the set is huge, mammoth. It took three guys all day, in a full-sized moving van just to get it here. To do everything we want [with the restoration] and then rent a building or even have a place to store it and move it, with electricity costs--it’s going to be closer to $240,000. That's even a low ball figure. We’re basically trying to create a several-million dollar project on a shoestring, with favors asked of every electronics company we can find. There are so many Sci-fi and Star Trek fans, even if they just gave one dollar each, we’d probably have half a million or more before we blinked.
What are your plans for after the restoration is complete? Where will the set live and will it be open to the public?
We're doing a "Grand Opening" tentatively end of 2013. Our Bridge will be completely set up in a soundstage in Hollywood, where we'll be conducting all the Kickstarter Incentives such as Dinner, Party, Movie, and the infamous, “Romantic Evening for Two on the Bridge.” After that, we don’t know where it will ultimately end up. Worst possible scenario is it will stay in a warehouse until it has a permanent location, with chairs being shipped to various conventions for display and photo ops. Best possible scenario, a museum or city government will help us set it up to put on display for everyone to see. The problem with Smithsonian is they would want our bridge “behind glass” which defeats the purpose, and Seattle Sci-Fi museum doesn’t have the room. Like I say in the Kickstarter video, we want it to be in a city that can get the most people as possible to see it, and experience the joy of this set. Once it’s up, we also want to help the Make A Wish program and Habitat For Humanity, two groups I feel personally close to.
Thanks to Huston for sharing the story of the Bridge Restoration project, and best of luck to his team on their efforts. You can find more photos of the pieces collected for this project at the NewStarship website, and get updates on its progress on Kickstarter and Facebook.