Exclusive Interview With The Man Behind Star Trek's 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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 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, star trek, iron man 2

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