Getting Animated Over TNG

The shirt came from K-Mart.  Or maybe it was Target, I’m not sure.  In any case, the recent trend toward retro fashions has resulted in the availability of some really awesome clothes and my wife, knowing what a die hard Trek geek I am, couldn’t resist getting me the dark green T-shirt depicting the lead characters from Star Trek in their 1970’s animated form.  So enamored am I with my retro TAS (The Animated Series) shirt, that I wore it on the first day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas.  Today’s post has its genesis in a conversation about that very shirt; a conversation involving Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, and myself.

Brent Spiner

"Yep, I can do Old Baldy's voice pretty well."

For those very few readers who may not be aware, the aforementioned gentlemen portrayed Cmdr. Will Riker and Lt. Cmdr Data (respectively) on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I had the good fortune to meet them in the dealers’ room at the con and we were discussing something completely unrelated when Spiner commented on my shirt.  “Are those cartoons of the original series guys?”, he asked.  “Did they have an animated show?”  When I told him that they had, indeed, done a Saturday morning Star Trek cartoon, he leaned over toward his costar and inquired, “Hey Frakes, did you know the old guys did an animated show?”.

Mr. Frakes was well aware of the existence of the ’70’s Star Trek cartoon series and suggested to Mr. Spiner that the Next Generation cast should do something similar,  “We could do that.”. “Yeah”, said Spiner, “…and we wouldn’t even need to look good!”.  When I suggested that either one of them could voice Picard if Patrick Stewart were unwilling or unable to do it, Brent Spiner regaled me with his excellent impression of Sir Patrick and we all had a good laugh.

It was a memorable moment for more than one reason.  Obviously, as a fan, I was thrilled to even be talking to those guys.  However, as a fan who believes there hasn’t been any really good new Star Trek since Voyager went off the air, it really got me thinking about how great an animated version of NextGen could be!

It’s an affliction from which we Trek fans suffer – we are forever hopeful that our favorite characters from our favorite show(s) will return to television or theatrical films in one form or another.  And why not?  With rotoscoping and other awesome animation techniques now being possible (and affordable) on computers as well as the wealth of experience the cast has in voicing cartoon characters, it seems that good writing would be the only other element required to produce a phenomenal TNG cartoon series.  Personally, I’d love to see that happen.

The 1970’s animated Star Trek was actually fairly cheesy in many regards but it included the voices of [most of] the original cast and it did have good writing.  In fact, it won an Emmy in 1975.  I can’t think of any reason, except perhaps the prohibitive salaries of the actors, that a TNG animated series couldn’t be made and be ten times as good.

I know I’m not the only person who’s ever thought of this either.  Several years ago CBS/StarTrek.com artist David Reddick had a similar idea and even prepared an imageJean Luc Picard cartoon pitch depicting Captain Jean Luc Picard as he might appear in animated form.  A slightly altered version of his original image appears to the right.  It is fairly obvious that he chose to emulate the animation style of the old ’70’s animated Trek … and that’s fine.  Although I still contend that better animation would be easily and cheaply achievable.  All the same, there might be something rather novel about a TNG cartoon that borrowed the visual characteristics of its classic Trek predecessor.  The quality of the stories and the believability of the voices would really be the keys that could make it work.  Terrific animation quality would just be a bonus.

As exciting as the prospect is though, it seems wildly unlikely.  After all, if there were a market for a TNG cartoon, someone would probably have seen to it already.  Furthermore, Sir Patrick Stewart himself indicated at the Vegas con that he would have no interest in reviving Captain Picard in animated series (other than Family Guy anyway).  Oh well. Maybe, by some miracle, it can be made to happen and, if need be, Brent Spiner can do his very convincing Picard impression on a weekly basis.

Surely the best of times…

Although it is relatively rare, we do occasionally see birthday celebrations in Star Trek. Kirk’s birthday is a plot device in STII: The Wrath of Khan and Lieutenant Worf’s birthday celebration is shown in ST: The Next Generation episode “Parallels”.

I happen to like the depiction of characters’ birthdays in Trek.  Somehow it makes those characters feel more real and reveals more about them.  One Star Trek regular whose birthday I do not recall seeing played out on screen is Commander Riker, although I would like to have seen how that would have been handled.  I imagine Riker might be a bit of a party animal and could end up in Sickbay the morning after his birthday.  Oh well.  We’ll never know.

Until recently, I wouldn’t have had the vaguest idea how Jonathan Frakes (the actor whoJonathan Frakes brought Riker to life) might celebrate his birthday.  After having met him last week, however, and seeing how outgoing and funny he is, I imagine he might be a blast at parties – especially one in his honor!   I further imagine that there may be just such a party tonight as today is Frakes’ 59th birthday.  I will have to settle for wishing him a happy birthday from the paragraphs of this blog as I’ve yet to receive my invitation to the shindig. So, a very happy birthday Mr. Frakes and many more to you!  If you get that invite to me by way of email or a telephone call, I might just have time to book a flight.  Nudge nudge, wink wink, ring ring!!

By the way, today would also have been the 90th birthday of the Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, Mr. Eugene Wesley Roddenberry.  I also had the pleasure of meeting Gene a couple of times and found him to be among the warmest, most sincere individuals I have ever encountered.  I hope, wherever he is, he realizes the great impact he and his television shows have had on me and so many millions of others like me.  Wishing you a happy birthday Gene!

The Voyage Home

We couldn’t wait to get to Las Vegas to experience the Creation Star Trek convention and then, suddenly, it was over.  Like so many other significant events in life, our whirlwind tour of all things Trek passed far too quickly; as did our visit to Santa Barbara afterward.  Yet we managed to squeeze in a great many things in five days and we’ve come away with so much that mere words cannot adequately describe.

Perhaps the greatest thing we got from the trip was a lasting memory to be shared by a father and son.  At 13 years old, my boy is rapidly approaching the period in his life when hanging out with Dad will undoubtedly be pretty low on his priority list.  So it was with great satisfaction that I brought him on this journey with me – not just because I love his company but to allow him a unique opportunity to experience so many things on such a grand scale: the plane rides, the hotel stay, the convention with its myriad activities and galaxy of stars, the drive to California afterward, staying with cool relatives he had never met, and so much more.  I like to think the convention was a high point of our trip but really the whole trip was one big high point!  I hope my son feels the same way.  I’m pretty sure he does.

In any case, since this is a Star Trek blog, it would seem that a summary of the final day in Vegas is in order.  If I haven’t completely crapped out when I finish typing, I may recap the con as a whole also.

Our Sunday began even earlier than our Saturday did.  The biggest difference, however, is that we were well rested.  So we managed to get out of bed and dressed in ample time to make our 7:00 am “Classic Trek Breakfast”.  This is a continental breakfast attended by a half dozen actors who appeared in the original ’60’s Star Trek TV series – some regulars, some guest stars.  It’s a great concept.  50 or 60 fans have breakfast, seated at round tables in groups of 7 or 8 each.  The stars in attendance come and sit down, sip coffee and eat croissants, and talk to the fans.  After a while they rotate to different tables.  When an hour or two have elapsed, all the stars have ended up sitting with all the fans.  We had the great pleasure of dining with George Takei, Nichele Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Charlie Brill, and two actors who appeared as gangsters in the episode “A Piece of the Action”.  It was a terrific way to start our final day and it immediately put us in a good mood.

After a brief return to our hotel for check-out, we proceeded back to the Rio and hit the dealers’ room one last time.  So many family members deserved souvenirs that we felt like we were on a mission to find something special for each of them.  Of course, we were so successful that I had to make a trip to the car with all of the items we had bought. Meanwhile, my son decided to wait for me in the unmanned “Star Trek – Infinite Space” booth and he saw Patrick Stewart while I was gone.  As luck would have it, Sir Patrick left the room almost right behind me – had I stopped and turned around I’d have likely bumped right into him! Oh well.  It didn’t bother us that much because after I returned, we found the incredibly talented David Gerrold sitting alone at the tribbletoys.com booth and we were able to spend a good 15 minutes talking to him about the excellent seminar he had conducted the previous day and about my son’s interest in writing.  Mr. Gerrold, of course, remembered my son and called him by name.  He also autographed a copy of his book and two Star Trek scripts for us which had us walking on air for the remainder of the morning.

We wandered around a bit more and ran into some very nice fans dressed asPosing with "Yeoman Rand" Yeoman Rand and Captain KIrk.  We took some pictures with them and then finished our last little bit of shopping, stopping to say hi to Lawrence Montaigne (“Stonn”) along the way. After a break for lunch, we went to the main theater to find our seats for the upcoming appearance of Patrick Stewart.  Once we got situated, I stepped out of the theater for a moment and ended up bumping into Don Marshall (“Lt. Boma”)… he really is a nice guy whose acting career apparently fizzled after the ’70’s and he does the cons as a way to make a little extra cash.  It was the second time I had a chance to talk to him at length and I thoroughly enjoyed his company.

When I returned to my seat, the house lights were just coming down and an instant later Sir Patrick Stewart was stepping onstage to a rousing ovation.  He did a very abbreviated presentation before going directly to Q&A with fans who had lined up at microphones on either side of the stage.  This is standard fare at the cons and most actors who take the stage will answer questions from some fans.  I had experienced this in New York City when I saw Patrick Stewart in the early ’90’s.  His answers were entertaining and, in some cases, led to the telling of wonderful stories.  Then, out of the blue, he called out to Adam (the Creation Entertainment rep who oversees the stars’ stage appearances) and said, “Adam, I thought you told me this guy wasn’t going to be allowed at any more of your conventions!”.  We were a bit taken aback at first until we realized it was Brent Spiner standing at the mic waiting to ask a question!  Mr. Spiner hilariously poked fun at Mr. Stewart – the whole time in character as nerd who pesters the star to the point of aggravation.  It was obviously improvised and side-splittingly funny!

About 30 minutes into his appearance, Sir Patrick was joined onstage by Kate Mulgrew Three Captains onstageand William Shatner.  The three Star Trek captains did a great shtick and kept us entertained for the better part of the next half hour.  It was really the most exciting stage appearance of the whole con in terms of sheer “wow factor” and both my son and I were fairly well blown away by it – so much so that we didn’t feel it necessary to stay and hear Ms. Mulgrew and Mr. Shatner speak individually.  We really felt that nothing they could say or do alone would top the camaraderie they exhibited when together and we had a 350 mile drive ahead of us!  So we left the Rio Suites and headed for Santa Barbara, CA to visit relatives but we felt completely satisfied doing so as we had gotten more than our money’s worth out of the whole experience.

A Star Trek convention is, after all, so many wonderful things all under one roof.  There are countless activities other than the ones I’ve touched on here: trivia contests, cabaret performances, music videos, costume balls, and more.  There are so many unique opportunities for fans to feel connected to their beloved Star Trek and its actors & creators,  Mostly though, there is the pervasive attitude among all the fans who get together there that our future, as depicted in Star Trek, is one that is worth looking forward to, aspiring to, and making happen.  I have had two lovely days on the shores of sunny California to mull over what a wonderful experience it was to be with so many other people whose outlook (and love of Star Trek) is so much like mine and my son’s.  Now that it’s time to begin the voyage home, I know those great feelings will stay with me and make this part of the journey a memorable one.

NOTE:  For a visual recap of the events at the con, follow the link below to the Las Vegas Sun website for photo coverage of many of the events (including a shot of the humble author and son taking a much needed lunch break!)

http://www.lasvegassun.com/photos/galleries/2011/aug/14/las-vegas-star-trek-convention/#127181

All Good Things…

Suffice it to say I am exhausted in the best possible way.  I so much want to recap our final day at the Creation Star Trek Las Vegas convention but I have just driven 8 hours in heavy traffic to Santa Barbara, CA and I don’t have a full blog entry in me tonight (this morning, actually).

I will point out that the old adage “Save the best things for last” was applicable on our final day at the con.  Rubbing elbows with some TOS stars, a heap of souvenirs from the dealers’ room, and three captains on stage at once were among the highlights.  Details to follow in tomorrow’s post along with a full recap of the con.

Meanwhile, goodbye Nevada – hello California!  Resting here for two days before making the final trek home should be a nice way to recharge the old batteries.

LLAP

The Measure of a Fan

Our second day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas was a little less hectic than our first but filled with fun stuff just the same.  In a way, it was nice to slow down the pace a bit and focus our energy on some special things we wanted to do.

The day began sluggishly, however, as we had to be up quite early and we were still exhausted from yesterday.  Our slow start was most evident in the ineptitude of two over-tired Trek fans trying to get into complex costumes and having a great deal less enthusiasm than one might expect – it was, after all, only 7:00 AM.  This was necessary though because we had to be at the Rio Suites by 8:00 AM for our beginners writing workshop which was directed by none other than David Gerrold, the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.   Having seen him way back in the ’70’s I knew we were in for a treat!  I didn’t realize just what a treat it would be, though.  I expected to be seated in a ballroom with about two hundred other people, straining to see and hear. Instead, we were nestled in a little space with only about 15 other fans and had Mr. Gerrold practically all to ourselves for two hours.  What made it even more special was the fact that my 13 year old son was the only youngster in the group and he received a great deal of personal attention from Mr. Gerrold throughout.  So excited was my son that, shortly after the heavy duty lesson began, he requested a pad and pen so he could take notes.  I wonder if he ever gets that enthusiastic at school.

We wandered the dealers’ room for a while after the writing seminar and then took a muchLeonard Nimoy needed rest back in our hotel room. We wanted to be as fresh as possible for the big events of the afternoon, both of which were high points of our day. After catching a presentation by the CBS merchandising rep, who showed off all kinds of nifty items that will soon be hitting store shelves, we had the great joy of seeing the incomparable Leonard Nimoy on stage in the main theater.  This was to be his last appearance at the Vegas con and he really gave it his all, telling stories, showing photos, reading poetry, and ultimately moving all of us in the crowd to tears and then to a 5 minute standing ovation as he said his farewell.  I had seen him 4 times in the past and this was, far and away, the best!

We had a short time to eat our lunch and did so standing in the large corridor thatFather and son in Star Trek costumes interconnects all the ballrooms. Since this is the main route between the theaters and the dealers’ room, and is often crowded with fans playing dress up, we were not particularly surprised when a young man stopped nearby to take our picture (we were still in costume, of course).  This type of impromptu photography has been going on between fans since the convention got underway.  We were, however, elated when he introduced himself as a member of the press from the Las Vegas Sun and asked us our names and where we are from.  It does seem as though we could end up in the local paper tomorrow and the potential for a little personal publicity made us all the happier that we had our Star Trek uniforms on.

Fans gather to attempt a world recordThe big event, and the one that put a beautiful finishing touch on our day, was the gathering of fans  in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people in one place in Star Trek costumes.  The 45 minutes or so that we spent huddled together with over 1000 others was the culmination of weeks of anticipation (and hard work on the part of my lovely wife who handmade our costumes).  Moreover, it was a continual demonstration of the good will and friendly outgoing nature that permeates these conventions.  We met and talked to dozens of great folks.  We took pictures and posed for pictures.  We cheered at the tops of our lungs whenever an update on our approach to the record was announced.  The stage was lined with members of the media snapping pictures and taking video as 1040 of us surpassed, and ultimately obliterated, the previous record of 691.  When it was all over we wished a happy 45th birthday to our beloved Star Trek and it took quite a while to come down from the high of the afternoon.

Iamtosk and friend in dessert robesOne specific meeting of a fellow fan stands out from the many that took place today.  For some time leading up to this convention, I have been an active participant in the trekkbbs.com web bulletin board.  There is an ongoing thread there that focuses entirely on this Las Vegas convention and in it one of the members posted pictures of the costume he had wanted to make for the con. All of the other members who planned to be in Vegas posted promises in the thread to look for him.  Although I don’t know if any others were successful, I had the good fortune to meet this nice young man face to face and see the fruits of his labors – the desert robes worn by the character of Ezri Dax in DS9.  The encounter was a refreshing reminder to me that behind the words appearing daily on my computer screen was a real live human being who is genuinely nice, friendly, and obviously as big a Star Trek fan as I.  It was also an impressive statement as to the lengths to which we fans will go to demonstrate and share our love for everything Star Trek.  I can think of no better yard stick by which to gauge the measure of a fan.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

We had barely begun our walk down the long corridor that leads to the ballrooms when I spotted it scurrying along the floor.  “Look!”, I said to my teenage son, “A horta!”.  He knewStar Trek Horta the reference immediately and bent down to have a close look at it.  A resourceful fan had constructed it so that it could be remote controlled from a few feet away and, except for being a tad smaller than one might expect, it was a very faithful recreation of the silicon-based life form from the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark”.  Two things occurred to me as the horta encounter transpired: this was going to be a good first day at Creation Star Trek 2011 Las Vegas and my son, attending his very first Trek convention, reminded me of myself 38 years ago attending mine.  In fact, my first day at the New York City International Star Trek Convention in 1973 began very much as this one did – with a homemade horta on the hotel carpet.

There are, of course, some significant differences between the Trek conventions of the early ’70’s and those of today; the sizes of the crowds and the prices being among them. Nevertheless, all the great things I remember from being a kid at my first con were still evident (and still great!) in 2011.  The array of stars was larger than any I’ve experienced at past cons and many of them were wandering around among the fans or seated in the dealers’ room so they were incredibly accessible.  The variety and amount of merchandise for sale would leave any Star Trek fan salivating.  The number of people adorned in costumes was mind-boggling and many of the uniforms and alien outfits were really well put together.  Most of all, however, the people at Star Trek conventions are just so friendly, outgoing, and positive that you can’t help but enjoy being around them.  To me, the interaction with other fans is one of the most enjoyable aspects of going to these things in the first place.

Us posing with Grace Lee As for the activities in which we engaged, they were many and varied. We got to see Walter Koenig on stage in the morning.  We met in-person and spoke at some length to Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ, Mariette Hartley, John DeLancie, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Don Marshall, and Stephen Manley (all of Star Trek) and Richard Hatch and Herb Jefferson (of the original Battlestar Galactica).  We picked up some cool stuff in the dealers’ room and bid on some items at the auction.  My son’s tribble was a great conversation piece, especially with fans dressed as Klingons – one of them even “attacked” it!  We saw the TOS blooper reel and laughed out loud watching it. We laughed more when we took in Jonathan Frakes’ stage appearance – he is hilariously entertaining.  We got autographs from him and from Brent Spiner.  All in all, I’d say those things made for a good day…then there were the other fans who helped make it a great day!

There were people in attendance of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some of them came from a few miles away and some from other parts of the U.S. and even from otherFans in costume countries.  There was no shortage of homemade costumes on display as well, many of which were outlandish and all of which were very creative. The common denominator in all these cases though was the great joy in meeting and talking with all these folks who were beyond friendly.  They made me feel comfortable, which was nice as I hadn’t been to a Trek con in over 15 years and they made my son comfortable, too.  I think it’s safe to say that he will look back on this day with fondness, just as I do when reminiscing about my first experience at a Star Trek convention.  In many ways, I was enjoying being a kid again vicariously.  It was like we spent a day back in 1973 at the International Star Trek Convention…and we’ll do it again tomorrow.  I guess tomorrow really is yesterday!