Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Trek’s Props

Published 5 years ago by , Updated January 23rd, 2013 at 6:55 am,

star trek trailer 34 Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Treks Props

One of the favorite things about Star Trek to any bonafide Trekkie is the gadgets. We love to examine, obsess over and collect prop replicas from every iteration of the franchise in TV and film. One of the (many) concerns of long time Star Trek fans has been: What will the phaser, communicator and tricorder look like? How will they compare to the iconic designs of The Original Series?

Today we have a few answers for you thanks to Russell Bobbitt, a property master (aka prop master) with over 20 years of experience. Russell was in charge of all props on the Star Trek set, and also worked on Iron Man and is now working on Iron Man 2.

I had hoped for a more interactive interview, but due to technical issues it had to be conducted via email. In any case here are a few answers for you about not only Star Trek but Iron Man 2 as well. Enjoy!

Do you have personal experience/love of those properties – comics, TV, etc., and if so, how do you feel about getting to see and manage iconic elements of those properties in person?

I was not a comic book kind of guy growing up and that’s intriguing to the directors that I work with, because I am not attached to what “should be.” I am open to different interpretations on props, which allows for enhancing a story with no limitations. So often great ideas will never be developed because the lore of what has been created in the past. It is a goal of mine to help develop new looks and ideas that aid in moving a story forward.

old new communicator Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Treks Props
Original series and new Star Trek movie Communicator (toy versions)

How do you feel about the changes/modernization of the iconic props of Star Trek compared to the originals?

The greatest challenge in the modernization of iconic props of any kind is to satisfy both the fan and the non-fan visually by coming up with ways to portray the props as recognizable for the fan, as possible and to add enough tech for the non-fan, to make it believable as a prop that would exist in the environment that we are creating. It is very challenging. For instance the original communicator had elements that at the time were very futuristic looking but by today’s standards would not be futuristic. In fact, by today’s standards we now have the coolest most futuristic communicators in existence; they’re called cell phones.

So what’s a prop guy to do? I connected with Nokia, their engineers and we asked ourselves, “What will it be 400 years in the future?” We did some conceptual drawings and built a $50,000.00 prototype communicator. Who knows, with any luck you may see one in the movie.

old new phaser Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Treks Props
Original series and new Star Trek movie Phaser (toy versions)

Is the new phaser really all chrome in the film as depicted in the toy version we’ve seen? It doesn’t seem like a very logical choice, especially for the grip.

No, the new phaser is not “all” chrome but it is very comfortable to handle. I feel strongly that when the first phaser was invented, someone had to “think outside the box” and in turn the audience had to think outside the box as well. I think it would be too easy to assume that a prop would never change. It wouldn’t be a challenge for the filmmakers or the fans if nothing ever changed. What comes with the change is speculation, possible ridicule and potential praise – but never in that order and never all three simultaneously. My goal, whether good, bad, or indifferent, is to give the public something to talk about. By the way, the new phaser is very cool and the collectors are already knocking (pounding) on my door. Sorry collectors, I am not in sales.

old new tricorder Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Treks Props
Original series (prop replica) and new (toy) Star Trek movie Tricorder (not to scale)

How large is the tricorder as compared to the original from TOS? It’s not as small as a TNG tricorder, is it?

There were several items where we made great leaps in design choice. One is the Tricorder. I presented a TOS Tricorder to the actors and their reaction was that the size was too big with the amount of action there is in our film. So I immediately went to my ace-in-the-hole designer, Doug Brody, an adamant trekker who became our tech advisor. I gave him the task of designing a smaller version of the Tricorder, which would not be like any other, but would include all the elements needed to scan the environment appropriately.

What sorts of props will you be creating/developing for the new Iron Man movie?

The new Iron Man movie is no secret, however I’m under contract not to share any privileged information pertaining to script and story. I can say that I am responsible for creating and building all of the RTs (Repulsor Technology) for all of the Iron Man suits. We will be introducing some new tech in many different scenes in the film. Again, I’m challenged with trying to up the ante, compared to what we did in the first Iron Man. We have a few tricks up our sleeves.

iron man downey gauntlet1 Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Treks Props

Favreau has stated that the armor will become more sophisticated in subsequent films… any design changes that you can comment on for Iron Man 2? Is it easier for him to put on and take off?

You mention, “Favreau stated that the armor is becoming more sophisticated.” While we still have time prior to shooting, we are constantly developing better ways of creating, engineering and getting in and out of all suits.

Do you ever get to keep cool and important props from any of the films you work on? Do you have a collection of said things?

I used to collect a lot of the props from the films I worked on. However I had no idea that my film resume would grow to the proportion that it did and the space needed to accommodate that number of props would be vast – much more space than I have. So I stopped. Within my “Prop Kit,” however there are probably some 500 watches, 300 pair of sunglasses and hundreds of rings that have been worn by everyone from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Robert De Niro. The most memorable items for me are snapshots and stills taken on the set of me working with an array of wonderful actors, directors, producers and crew. I have a wall dedicated in my shop to the entire photo collection – literally a “Wall of Fame.” You can find a few of those shots in the gallery on RussellBobbitt.com

And in closing, Russell had this message for long time Star Trek fans:

We all will have different interpretations of what should or should not be in life. In films, the beauty is that we create the past, present, and future. In the case of the future….be open to change and you may “live long and prosper.”

So there you have it, a peek inside the head of one of the folks responsible for redesigning the Trek universe. I hope you enjoyed it!

Star Trek opens on May 8, 2009.

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TAGS: iron man, iron man 2, star trek

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  1. This is a great read packed with interesting info. I love finding out about the creative people behind props. I’m off to check out Russell Bobbitt’s site now.

  2. Thank you Vic, that was a good read. I wish I could visit Mr. Bobbit’s house and see his wall of fame. I’m also interested to see how they have updated the transdator technology and the warp coil. Alright, no more geek stuff. :-)

  3. Sorry, it doesn’t matter what Bobbitt, Abrams or even Chabliss say about the logic behind their design choices (that we have seen so far). The fact remains that this is really a movie about the future as much as it is a movie about the origins of Star Trek. Granted that things don’t have to be 100% like they were in the series, but their solutions are a bit too far from that mark (IMO).

    It’s about identity and branding—these devices appear in Trek by gadget type but really do not invoke enough TOS design standards.

    It’s also about heritage and demonstrating respect from where it all began. That respect is not reflected in these new designs (IMO).

  4. Too shiney

    good article though Vicamania

  5. I love the gadgets from TOS. The look if the new gadgets is going to take a little getting used to.

    I like them, except the Tricorder seems a little slim in the picture to be able to do all those things a Tricorder should be able to do. Also where is McCoy going to keep his hand scanner? Thankfully the Phaser won’t be chrome plated.

    They all seem kinda delicate for an action packed science fiction film to me though.

  6. Even with less chrome I am still not crazy about the phaser. TOS version way better. I’ve watched every series and know all about the canon of Star Trek but I think no one can deny the TV and theater series direction were becoming very stale and predictable. Without a reimagining of the series there would be no new material.

  7. I think the new tricorder should really be like a large iphone! To scan the environment you would need a variable interface for all the information displayed…

    I always used to wonder what they where looking at in the TOS version and it was a leap of faith to assume those tricorder’s where of any use lol

    Same could be said for TNG versions

  8. Hi I am looking for prop repkica ideas to make using:
    a small square woodn box with gold latch and hinge,
    and a
    small Godiva candbt box that trapezoidal in shape that’s smaller on top.
    Looking for something besides a communicator or tricorder.
    I appreciate any ideas.Thanks!

  9. That phaser really was very shiny. It took a while to get used to. By the way, I happen to be fascinated with the Captain Garth character, so big kudos to you for your username. I love it!

  10. That phaser really was very shiny. It took a while to get used to. By the way, I happen to be fascinated with the Captain Garth character, so big kudos to you for your username. I love it!