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Wah Chang

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
Wah Chang ca.2000

Chang ca. 1997

Hawaiian prop and creature designer Wah Ming Chang (2 August 191722 December 2003; age 86), contracted by Desilu Productions Inc., had been responsible for the design and construction of many familiar items used in Star Trek: The Original Series.

Chang and his company Project Unlimited, Inc. designed puppets, costumes, sets, make-up, and special effects for a number of films, most notably producer/director George Pal's science fiction and fantasy features, including tom thumb (1958), The Time Machine (1960, with Whit Bissell), and The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm (1962, with Ian Wolfe and Jon Lormer). He also worked on classic pictures such as The King and I (1956), Spartacus (1960, with Jean Simmons, Peter Brocco, John Hoyt, Arthur Batanides, William Blackburn, Paul Lambert, Dick Crockett, Seamon Glass, and narration by Vic Perrin), and Mutiny of the Bounty (1962, with Antoinette Bower, Torin Thatcher, and stunts by Paul Baxley). Chang designed the famous headdresses worn by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra (1963, with John Hoyt).

On television, Chang designed masks, creatures, and special effects for The Outer Limits (1963-1965), where his cooperation with Star Trek associate producer Robert H. Justman began. He was also a dinosaur model maker on the television series Land of the Lost (1974-1976) and also worked on the special effects of the original Planet of the Apes (1968, with Lou Wagner, James Daly, Paul Lambert, Billy Curtis, Jane Ross and Felix Silla and music by Jerry Goldsmith).

Chang's association with Star Trek began in 1964 when he was hired to create make-up and props for TOS: "The Cage" by Justman. His first contribution was the prosthetic Talosian head make-up. He then designed the laser pistol for the pilot, after Justman was unsatisfied with the original designs. He was later hired to design various items for the regular series, including the famous tricorder, flip-top communicator props and the Romulan Bird of Prey studio model. He was usually sent a copy of the script for the episode he was hired to work on, and he began to work on design, make sketches and models in his home. Chang's association with Star Trek ended in middle of the second season after the fabrication of dozens of Tribbles props, either because of the budget cuts or Desilu's purchase by Paramount (or both).

Originally his work was not credited, nor did Chang take the credit afterwards and his work for Star Trek went unnoticed well into the 1970s. It was through the fandom of the 1970s that his contributions became known. The reason for this state of affairs was eventually revealed when Herb Solow and Robert Justman published their book Inside Star Trek: The Real Story in 1996. In it (pages 119-120) Justman described that it all originated from a conflict with a propmaker's union. Chang as a non-member was not allowed per their rules to fabricate props for the show, nor was he allowed to join. On Justman's urging, who considered Chang's work superior to anything else available, the studio devised a ruse to make it appear that the props were bought as pre-existing and off-the-shelf from Chang and it was reflected as such in the invoices sent to Desilu. As a result Chang could not be officially credited for his contributions.

In 1994, he was given the George Pal Memorial Award by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films for his contributions to the genres.

Contributions

Manufactured props

Designed and manufactured props

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