Recently, I’ve found Star Trek to be a great way to decompress in one of the most stressful years in our lifetimes. It offers a glimmer of hope for the human race wrapped in an easy-to-digest new adventure every episode. Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation has been a delight, and so has the new Titan Books book Star Trek: The Artistry of Dan Curry. Filled with art from various Star Trek series, this new book gives incredible insight into the special effects in Star Trek starting with The Next Generation through their films and onto Voyager, Deep Space Nine, and Enterprise.
Written by Dan Curry and Ben Robinson, this book is filled with information thanks to Curry himself offering incredible insight and detail into everything he did on the various shows. Casual fans of Star Trek will find something in this book to enjoy, from actors like Michael Dorn (who played Worf) to details from producers at the time reflecting on the special effects. It is a denser read, especially if you’re accustomed to art books from Titan Books, but in many ways that is this book’s strength.
Fans of special effects will be most delighted to find information about how specific effects were pulled off at a time when CGI was in its infancy. Curry gets into the nitty-gritty for various one-time-only effects in specific episodes and effects used throughout, like the many planets the Enterprise hovered over. There’s even info about a planet crafted from an extreme close up of dog feces! Effects range from spaceship shots to alien design and even not so obvious things like tears digitally added to an actor who couldn’t quite get them to come. In every case, Curry details how it was done utilizing language that experts and armchair filmmakers will appreciate.
What’s fascinating about this book in particular, is nothing was easy and budgets were tight. And yet, Curry was able to make something from nothing. Curry speaks in the first person throughout the book, reflecting on tough moments in production where quick thinking saved the day. One example is when Curry needed to create an effect on a killer drone as it re-entered a planet’s orbit. Everyone on set was stumped, but Curry noticed a plastic bag nearby and decided to cover it with strips of the bag. Pointing an electric fan at the plastic and then slowing down the footage created a motion blur that was used to create a gaseous effect. That is just one of many interesting details of how Curry thought of something on the fly.
Bigger picture, it’s also fascinating to read how Curry worked from the early stages of the special effect revolution in the late ’80s through to Enterprise in 2001 and the big-budget Next Generation movies. Curry does a good job describing how a new machine or technology added to each season created new problems to solve, but also made things faster and easier.
Anecdotally, there are many great bits to find within the passages, though you’ll have to dig to find many of them. One example is the famous episode “Conspiracy” and the creation of the exploding body. It’s a striking example of extreme gore and horror, especially in a show like this, and Curry explains how it got past producers. Fascinatingly, you’ll learn Curry helped choreograph and think through Klingon fighting techniques, which in hindsight comes as a surprise since Curry was meant to work on special effects. Then there’s the fun tidbit that is easy to miss in regards to Q‘s (played by John de Lancie) naked floating moment and how he initially came out fully nude much to the surprise of his fellow castmates.
Hardcore Next Generation fans will also adore a chapter devoted to the episode “Birthright, Part II” which Curry directed. Curry offers great insight into his first and only directorial experience, from blocking a scene to how to work with actors. There are also great anecdotes from Curry about working with Dorn. It’s a shame Curry didn’t get to direct more episodes, as it’s quite clear his approach was exceptional even on his first go, but he needed in the special effects department more than anything. Curry was a hugely important aspect to these shows as he allowed the budgets to stay within a range that allowed them to continue to be made while also looking great for the time.
This is a denser read, but if you’re interested at all in special effects and their history told from one of the masters this is well worth your time. As an art book, there’s plenty of great sketches, early CGI, and behind the scenes works to enjoy, too. Star Trek: The Artistry of Dan Curry is a must-read for new insight into Star Trek and a delight for anyone even marginally interested in how special effects are made.
For more on Star Trek, read our review of Titan Books’ Star Trek: The Motion Picture – Inside the Art and Visual Effects.
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