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Defining The Look Of Starfleet Headquarters

Star Trek movies, spinoff shows brought spotlight to San Francisco command center

During the original “Star Trek” series, the show’s tiny budget didn’t allow them to show Starfleet Command, so headquarters was usually just a voice on the radio or a face on a screen. But by the time of the Star Trek movies and spinoff shows, budgets had improved to the point where an occasional visit was possible. Those were always fun.

Star Trek’s first visit to Starfleet Headquarters in San Francisco was a brief scene in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” where Kirk had a chat with Cmdr. Sonak near the beginning of the film. “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” spent more time at Starfleet Command, and “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Star Trek: Voyager” made occasional visits as well.

Being a more Earth-centric series, “Star Trek: Enterprise” visited headquarters even more often. In one episode during the third season, our characters were seen walking outside the building. The scene was to be shot outside a modern-looking office building facade on the Paramount backlot. It was just a quick shot, and we weren’t planning to do too much to change the setting.

The day before filming, Mike walked through the location with Herman Zimmerman, our production designer. Mike lamented to him that he wished there had been time and money to build a cool sign out in front of the building. Zimmerman, who is justifiably famous for his ability to look at things from unusual angles, immediately reached down to a large empty planter box. He tilted the box back so it was standing on its edge. He pointed to the blank bottom of the box. He grinned at Mike and said, “I’ll have this painted this afternoon, and you can put lettering on it.” And so the Fleet Operations Center of Starfleet Command had a cool sign.

One of our favorite trips to Starfleet Command was in two episodes of the fourth season of “Star Trek: Enterprise” when Capt. Archer played a pivotal role in a conference that would lay the groundwork for the founding of the Federation. During those episodes, all three of Star Trek’s sound stages were completely full with sets, meaning there was no room to build a large conference room.

That’s why the lobby of the beautiful Paramount Theater stood in for Starfleet Command in February 2005 for “Demons” and “Terra Prime.” Zimmerman and art director Louise Dorton felt that the theatre, the site of many movie premieres, had just the right combination of elegance and modern design. Also, it was right on the Paramount lot, which meant that it was really convenient for production purposes.

Zimmerman and Louise dressed up the lobby with a beautiful semicircle of custom-built desks, each topped with simulated marble, giving the room a sense of importance. Since this wasn’t a control center, there wasn’t much work for us in the way of control panels, but there still was a lot of fun stuff for the graphics department.

Zimmerman asked Mike to come up with a Starfleet-themed mural for one wall of the theater, and he also wanted something to hide a big Paramount logo on the railing of the mezzanine. That was fun. He did a stylized spacescape showing a starship departing from Earth for parts unknown. Above it was a Starfleet emblem, covering the Paramount logo. Director of photography Marvin Rush and chief lighting technician Billy Peets did a great job making the mural and the emblem look important with their lighting. (They also did a great job lighting the entire set, but for some reason, we seem to focus mostly on the graphics!)

Zimmerman also wanted a focal point for the center of the conference room carpet. Mike did a big Starfleet Command emblem. Earlier for “Enterprise,” he had designed a new version of the Starfleet arrowhead. He’s usually a stickler for maintaining the design integrity of the traditional arrowhead (or “vector”), but since this was a century before Kirk’s time, we felt it was appropriate to meld the uniform insignias from the original series with the red “swoosh” from the real-life NASA logo.

And Mike couldn’t resist one more touch. On previous versions of the Enterprise-era Starfleet patch, he had used the motto “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” which translates approximately as “a difficult road leads to the stars.” But for this version, he added the name “United Earth Space Probe Agency.” During the first season of the original series, before the term “Starfleet” had been invented, this name was used as the operating authority for the Enterprise. We thought it would be nice for the name to appear on a Starfleet Command emblem as an homage to those early episodes. That floor emblem was later auctioned at Christie’s for $10,000! Set decorator Jimmy Mees even let me throw in a few flags, including the United Earth flag that Mike had designed earlier in the series.

Zimmerman also needed some miscellaneous signage for the set. These included a couple of big “building directory” signs. As usual, these directories listed nearly everyone working on the show. But we’d learned from previous Starfleet building directories in earlier episodes. Instead of giving everyone a military title (admiral, captain, commander, etc.), he gave everyone job titles from NASA’s Mission Control. We hoped that all of these technical-sounding jobs would sound equal in importance, so no one would feel hurt that his or her coworker got a “higher” title. (Except, of course, for our producers, who all got the prestigious title of flight director, and for the late Gene Roddenberry, who was chief of staff.) Our producers liked the directories so much that they later gave out smaller versions of these signs to the cast and crew.

But our favorite moment on that set came just as we were finishing up our prep. Mike was taking some quick reference photos, even as the actors and crew were starting to move in. He took a photo of the floor emblem, then looked up and found myself face-to-face with a cool-looking alien delegate, who was played by one of our regular stand-ins. We chatted for a few moments, then he handed my camera to a coworker. A moment later, we had a great photo with with Mike’s new-found alien friend.

Too bad we never asked him what planet he was from!

Original posting date: Aug. 12, 2010. © 2015 Michael and Denise Okuda.

The Fleet Operations Center of Starfleet Command receives a cool sign on the Paramount backlot.

The Paramount Theater stood in for Starfleet Command conference room in February 2005 for the “Star Trek: Enterprise” episodes “Demons” and “Terra Prime.”

The logo in the Starfleet Command conference room featured the United Earth Space Probe Agency title, which was used during the first season of the original “Star Trek” series.

Michael Okuda greets an alien in the Starfleet Command conference room.

The Starfleet Command center included several big “building directory” signs.

Related Topics: Herman Zimmerman  Gene Roddenberry 

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