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.

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