(written from a Production point of view)
|Birth name:||William George|
|Place of birth:||California, USA|
|Roles:||Model Maker, Visual Effects Art Director, Art Consultant|
|...interviewed ca. 2001|
|...(2nd right) with his "dumpster diving" team at ILM's Van Nuys facility, flanked on his left by Lisa Morton ca. 1978|
William "Bill" George was a studio model maker, and subsequently a visual effects art director, who has worked on six of the Star Trek films, Star Trek: The Motion Picture being his earliest recorded professional motion picture contribution, as well as having contributed to two outings in the Star Trek: The Next Generation spin-off television series.
In 1979, he began his career in earnest, building miniatures for Greg Jein in Los Angeles, The Motion Picture being his first, albeit uncredited, professional assignment. He was part of Jein's "following", having made his acquaintance through the movie memorabilia collector (which Jein was) convention circuit, as fellow model builder at the time, Lisa Morton, recalled, "There were are group of us he [Jein] kind of mentioned it to, and he called us one day and said, "Hey, we are on Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and we need an army to get this thing done on time. Do you want to come to work?" Needless to say, yes was the answer." (Sense of Scale) George happened to be one of Morton's "group". Brought in by Gregory Jein, Inc., which in turn was commissioned by Entertainment Effects Group, in order to alleviate the time pressure on that company, Jein's "group", was tasked with the construction of the interior model sections of V'Ger. George's professional start was somewhat less glamorous, as Morton made it out to be, as he reminisced, "Being a P[roduction]A[assistant], I was basically a "gofer", driving around picking up supplies and running errands, but at night I was able to work on building models. All of the work I did was very basic, but being in a working model shop was incredibly exciting." Yet, aside from his excitement, he was rewarded in other ways as well, "Greg's shop was away from the main shooting facility. I was not authorised to be on the shooting stage, but one day while making a delivery there I saw the model of the ST:TMP Enterprise for the first time. For me that was really a magic moment. The Enterprise model was really breathtaking and huge (about 9 feet [sic.] long). It had a polished pearlescent paint job that gave it live and depth that I hadn't seen anywhere else. Its appearance on film muted the magic of the paint job because the naked eye is much more sensitive to subtlety of the colours." (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 76)
Later on, as a newly hired employee at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), his very first assignments in that company was as model maker for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However one of his very first jobs on the project was a heart-wrenching one as it concerned the Enterprise model that enthralled him so much three years earlier, "I'm sad to say that a few years later one of my first jobs at Industrial Light & Magic was to spray that Enterprise model from stem to stern with a dulling spray to make it possible to shoot the ship using the bluescreen process." (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 76)
On Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, he again worked at ILM as model maker. By that time he had already made a reputation for himself as a very fast model maker and this was partly the reason that the design process followed a deviant pattern, not seen before or after in the Star Trek franchise. Instead of the traditional way of thinking out a design, devising a design, coming up with detailed drawings to be approved of by effects supervisors and building models from blueprints, this time ILM's visual artists David Carson and Nilo Rodis-Jamero produced their pre-visualization artwork and handed it over to model makers Steve Gawley, Bill George and their team to be translated into study models, in essence inviting them to use their own imagination to finish up on the design. An appreciative Visual Effects Supervisor Kenneth Ralston recalled the proceedings, "When Leonard [Nimoy] and Harve [Bennett] and Ralph Winter came to meetings we presented them with three dimensional models. It really is a lot better doing it that way because they can physically see how different angles would work. What was unusual about the space dock was that it was redesigned several times in one day. Leonard would make suggestions and Bill George would grab the prototype and run out. Fifteen minutes later he would come back with all the changes made. This went on for hours. We'd make more changes and he'd go out, break it and repaint it. Finally in that day we had the finished design right there. Off it went to be made. It saved a lot of time in the long run." (American Cinematographer, August/September 1984, p. 62) Nevertheless, George's most significant contribution to the movie was his design of the Excelsior-class studio model, that was chosen by Director Nimoy over the version of Carson and Rodis-Jamero, "What's funny is I think that's what Leonard responded to. When laid out all these things on the table, he pointed to the study model that I had done and said "That one." And I think it was just because it was so much more familiar. It was quite a surprise when I found out that was the one he wanted. There were a couple of the other study models that I really liked, and I certainly hadn't trying to figure out which one he was going to choose.", George mused. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, p. 70) George also had a big part in the construction of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey model. A less auspicious model George built was the orbital shuttle model. Additionally, he was also credited with being the "co-inventor" of the design of the phaser on the design patent No. D285467 issued for it in 1986, and subsequently as sole inventor of the communicator on design patent No. D287739, issued the following year, and both used in the movie. Ironically, the patent design credits for the Excelsior-class vessel went to Carson and Rodis-Jamero.
Promoted to model shop supervisor George did not work on Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home as he was assigned to Howard the Duck (1986), that was concurrently in production at ILM at the time of The Voyage Home.
Again promoted, he subsequently became the visual effects art director for the two following Star Trek films, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek Generations. According to Michael Okuda, George built the model of the SD-103 for The Undiscovered Country which was later modified and reused as the USS Jenolen in the Star Trek: The Next Generation sixth season episode "Relics". (TNG Season 6 DVD-special feature, "Departmental Briefing Year Six - Production") Though model making was strictly speaking not his job anymore, George the consummate modeler, could not help himself, "We designed and constructed a new shuttlecraft model just for this shot, the only new model we got to do this time. It was done very quickly – in a week – and was about sixteen inches long." (Cinefex, issue 49, p. 48) Aside from this he worked on the Enterprise model, touching it up with battle damage, refurbished, together with colleague John Goodson, the K't'inga-class model, for it to become the Kronos One, and modified "his" Excelsior-class studio model. Credited as art consultant, Star Trek: First Contact, was to date the last Star Trek movie he has worked upon.
Apart from the features, George was also a member of the team, reuniting him with his former mentor Jein, that built both the two and six-foot models of the USS Enterprise-D for the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint" of the 1987 television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, refurbishing it seven years later for Generations. Befittingly, he also contributed to the very last episode of that series, "All Good Things...", when he contributed his privately build USS Pasteur, or rather USS Olympic, the original name he had given to the model, for use in the episode. George, a Star Trek: The Original Series fan had built the model as a hobby project in honor of Original Series designer Matt Jefferies, based on one of his earlier design variants of the original USS Enterprise. For neither production George was individually credited.
Career outside Star Trek Edit
In his youth, Bill George had a variety of interests, model making, make-up and stop-motion techniques, each of which he spent a varying amount of time and attention to. Prop, and model making came to his attention when he was offered a glean into the 1968 reference book, The Making of Star Trek, when he was still in the 5th grade class at Sycamore Grade school in Gridley, CA , making a Star Trek fan out of him as well as urging him on to recreate several Star Trek props using the book as reference.  Yet, model making only became his primary interest after he had seen the 1977 movie Star Wars, enticing him to "kitbash" several models from that movie. With his labors he made several appearances in the science fiction, and model making convention circuits, and it was through one of them he has made the acquaintance with Greg Jein. During these years George also used to forage through the dumpsters outside the Van Nuys, Los Angeles facility of ILM, hoping to find souvenirs. George recalled, not without fondness,
"When I would drive up to the science fiction conventions in LA from San Diego, a friend of mine introduced me to the art of dumpster diving. We would drive by the ILM facility (on Valjean Avenue in Van Nuys) in the early morning hours to see if anyone was about. Then one of us would get into the dumpster and feed stuff out to the others. Some mornings we wouldn't get anything. Sometimes there would be someone around, but some mornings we would "hit the mother lode". At the time ILM was working on Battlestar Galactica, and we found a lot of stuff from that show, as well as lots of stuff from Star wars. We found model pieces, storyboards, artwork and film. Believe it or not, I learned a lot about visual effects work from going through the thrash. One thing that was clear by going through their trash was that ILM-ers back then drank a lot of beer!" (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 77)Incidentally, Lisa Morton was one of George's band of dumpster divers. George was back at home in college, when he received the call from Jein, "At the time I was in my second year of college, but after discussing the idea with my parents, we decided that this was a rare opportunity for me, and that I should give it a try and then return to school later." (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 77) George never did.
After The Motion Picture, George stayed in the employ of Jein, working with his mentor on the productions Close Encounters of the Third Kind-Special Edition (1980) and One from the Heart (1982). Though uncredited for both George was ,"(...)incredibly excited to be working on movies, but later would come to understand that the really amazing part of my early years in LA was in meeting and working with incredibly talented people, from whom I learned a great deal." (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 77) A pivotal moment in George's career was when he, on recommendation of Jein, was employed at the Entertainment Effects Group (EEG) of Douglas Trumbull (the visual effects director for The Motion Picture), building models for the science fiction cult movie Blade Runner (1982). Though remaining uncredited as well, here George impressed his employer by very quickly building the background "spinners" models, designed by Syd Mead, extrapolating them accurately from concept artwork, gaining him his reputation that would serve him well several years later for The Search for Spock.
Yet, one year later this nearly backfired when he was invited by Lorne Petersen (the ILM staffer of Star Wars fame) to apply for a position at ILM, George having been referred to Petersen by, again, Greg Jein. Proud of what he had done at EEG, George showed Petersen three of the models, but, "Lorne's reaction was to say, "Well, when we say "I" built a model we all know that actually a lot of other people worked on it too." I didn't argue, but it seemed as if he didn't believe that I had built them on my own!" (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, p. 78) Despite the "faux pas" Petersen hired George five weeks later, The Wrath of Khan the first project George was put to work on. On his interview George also brought along a home made Y-Wing fighter model from Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), with which he had toured the convention circuit four years earlier. ILM bought his model for use in Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983) as the new Y-Wing "hero" model when the original two versions proved unsuitable. This was not unlike his later privately build USS Pasteur, which ended up being filmed for the The Next Generation series' finale.
George has never left ILM and is as of 2014 still in that company's employment, contributing to the majority of its productions. Having started out as a model maker he changed gears in 1986, after his involvement with Howard the Duck, and became visual effects art director, designing visual effects instead of building them, starting with the 1987 movie Innerspace. He ultimately rose to the position of visual effects supervisor. While George, an avid Star Trek fan and having contributed to most Star Trek movie features, never did receive an award nomination or win for Star Trek, he has received two Visual Effects Society Award nominations (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban-2004 and Star Tours: The Adventures Continue-2011), one Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards nomination (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets-2002), one Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards nomination (Galaxy Quest-1999), two BAFTA Film Award nominations (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), four Saturn Award nominations (Innerspace-1987, Galaxy Quest, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), and finally two Academy Award nominations for Innerspace and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the former one he won.
Once George became part of ILM's senior management, the 1999 Star Trek-themed spoof movie Galaxy Quest his first assignment as visual effects supervisor, he rarely has built models anymore professionaly, but continues to do so as a hobby, having stated that traditional and old-fashioned wood and styrene are still the materials of choice for him.
In 2008, George became instrumental, and very much invested, in establishing "The SCI-FI AIR SHOW" foundation, an organization dedicated to "(...) preserve and promote the rich and varied history of Sci-Fi/fantasy vehicles. Through display and education we seek to celebrate the classic design and beauty of these ships and the rich imaginations that created them. When the cameras stopped rolling, many of these proud old ships were lost and forgotten. Please join us in working to keep these rare and beautiful birds soaring!"  Goal of the foundation was to help owners of full-scale shuttle and fighter mock-ups of the several science fiction properties originals, or copies thereof, to sustain their possessions by raising fundings for their upkeep, by having them display their possessions at several public gatherings, such as conventions. George, aside from contributing to the practical sides of running a foundation, provided much promotional (in-flight) CG-imagery for the website.
Star Trek interviews Edit
- "Inside V'ger: an Interview with Greg Jein and Bill George", James Van Hise, John Turek & Martin Cannon, Enterrpise Incidents, issue 8, 1980, pp. 12-17
- Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special - documentary, 1991
- Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (Special Edition) DVD-special feature, "Space Docks and Birds of Prey" (2002)
- Star Trek: First Contact DVD-special feature, "Industrial Light & Magic–The Next Generation" (2009)
- "Bill George: Modelling Memories and Movie Magic", Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Volume 26, 9 July 2012, pp. 73-84
Further reading Edit
- Industrial Light & Magic: The Art of Special Effects, 1988
- Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, 1996