Wolf 359 - Interview with Michael Okuda

Timo was lucky to ask Michael Okuda some questions about the ship wrecks at Wolf 359, and he got detailed answers. Here are some excerpts from their e-mail communication (as of February 2000).


The Interview

Timo: This is all in reply to an old topic where I wrote something about the Fact Files Niagara at r.a.st.tech and Okuda emailed to ask that I tell him if we ever find anything definite about the ship.

Michael Okuda: Thanks for the note and for the link. The website is interesting. Please tell Bernd and company that I enjoyed looking at it and I applaud their efforts.


Rigel: I don't think we ever came up with a ship design specifically tied to that name. (I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm not remembering correctly. I don't have my notes here at the moment).

Freedom: Upon reflection, I think this may have been something that Greg Jein came up with for one of the kitbashes he contributed to either BoBW or Unification. I'm not sure which model this was, and I'm not at all confident that Fact Files checked with anyone.


Nebula-class USS Melbourne. The original version of the Nebula. Ed made us two nearly-identical Melbourne models. I destroyed one of them to create a battle-damaged ship for BoBW2. (I recall being up in the art department one evening, Dremel tool in hand, cutting up the ship, while Patrick Stewart, in Borg costume, came upstairs to use the Xerox machine. He asked me what I was doing. I showed him the model and said something like, "See what you did!") Rick Sternbach helped with the battle damage, too. And Greg Jein contributed quite a bit of wreckage as well. The other Nebula model ended up on one of the side tables in Sisko's office in DS9. I think it was label "Melbourne," too.


New Orleans-class USS Kyushu. Again, a scaled-down Galaxy saucer (meaning it was made from an Enterprise kit, but with a larger bridge and larger windows, intended to imply a smaller ship). Two nacelles on pylons above the center axis of the ship. I think this was my favorite of the Miarecki study models. At Dan Curry's suggestion, I added two or three "outboard pods" to the ship in an effort to make it look a little less Enterprise-like. The photos in the Encyclopedia are all photos of the study model, retouched to add lights in the windows. I took the photos just before starting the battle damage work.

I think the fourth was the Cheyenne-class USS Ahwahnee. (Again, without my notes, I'm not entirely sure). This was a scaled-down Galaxy saucer with four nacelles, arranged in a manner similar to the Constellation. Ed made the nacelles from marker pens.

Some other notes:

The mysterious four-nacelled ship appears to have been another Excelsior study model built by Bill George for Star Trek III. I think there might have been a photo of it in one of the "art-of" books. We had at least three or four of those Bill George models kicking around. One of them is still hanging in the DS9 graphics department.

There were two different Star Trek Phase II maquette that we put into the pile of ships for the BoBW2 graveyard, as well as the Unification junkyard. I'm not sure if both of them were filmed, however. There is also a Phase II shuttlecraft maquette, but I don't think it was ever photographed.


The purpose of these study models was originally to develop starships that were clearly sister ships of the Galaxy-class Enterprise. (Remember, this was when nearly every guest starship was a recycled movie model.) I wanted to show that the Enterprise-D was only one of many similar ships with related designs, even if she was the largest and most powerful.




Michael Okuda: The various "mystery" ships in the BoBW2 listings in the Encyclopedia were all ships that were either referred to in dialog, or were models that were filmed for the "graveyard" scene. We did not make up any specifically to flesh out the Encyclopedia, although we (the production staff) did NOT come up with a definitive list of ships in the battle. I was tempted to try to develop one, but it occured to me that future episodes might need to "remember" a previously forgotten Wolf 359 ship for as-yet-unwritten storylines, just as the DS9 pilot did with Sisko's ship, the Saratoga.

Larry's list in the Companion was info that I provided to him.

We did the USS Chekov model because Riker (or was it Shelby?) had a line in the script in which he mentioned the ship in the graveyard. The line was filmed, but later, someone thought the reference to Pavel was too cute, so it was changed in postproduction to Tolstoy.


Very few photos were taken. Schedules and logistics make it surprisingly hard for this to happen, unless there's a reason (like Licensing is going to do a model kit). Even so, the Licencing department is loathe to pay for photos, so a lot of the ones that do exist are photos that folks on the crew simply shot for their own records.

Greg Jein built a number of severely-damaged hulls and parts for the graveyard scene. Greg is one of the unsung heroes of Star Trek.

I seem to recall that another of the models was a small destroyed TMP Enterprise used by ILM for a couple of shots in Star Trek III. The wrecked saucer got a pretty close shot, if I recall.

There aren't many more photos of the final versions of the Miarecki study models. The Cheyenne-class ship on the Collectable Card Game (and other card sets) was, almost certainly, a photo that I took. It was probably part of the photos that I took for that slideshow. (I'm trying to track down some of those shots, but it's a slow process.)

I'm pretty sure the Phase II shuttle was NOT in the graveyard shot or in the junkyard.

I'll try to take a photo of the ship hanging in the graphics department. Someone glued back a broken nacelle, so I'll try to get to it in the next few days (or weeks). Yes, it is a four-engined ship.



Michael Okuda: I don't recall what Ed's original version of the Buran was, but I added the submarine parts and glued on the engines, although it looks like Ed assembled the engines. I thought it was a clever idea, but it ended up looking like a lollipop. Maybe Ed's version was a single nacelle, and I added the second. I don't remember. The Chekov was built by Ed, based on the small Ent-D model saucer, with two nacelles and marker pen engines. Unfortunately, I can't release these photos, but I think they'll eventually be in print.


I had custom rub-ons, called INTs, made. Not decals, but yes, they did have names and registry numbers.

The Melbourne, Kyushu, and Chekov were specifically labeled as such because of the script references to those ships. I didn't know about the re-voiced name (Tolstoy) until I saw the final episode on the air, so I didn't do a label for that ship.

Rick S. built the Mars perimeter ship from the same type of model kit. I think the body was made from a Typhoon-class Russian sub kit, although it was not specifically tied to the movie Red October. If I recall, he and I bought a whole bunch of kits, including the Russian subs, in hopes of doing some kitbash ships ourselves. I used a couple of other subs on the Buran.


We rolled up our sleeves on occasion when there was a particularly interesting project, or when the budget needed to be stretched, or when there was something that we wanted to see that wouldn't happen any other way. Other than that, our colleagues in visual effects did a whole lot of really wonderful work. I wouldn't want to give the impression that we are claiming credit for work that were actually done by Dan Curry, Rob Legato, Ron Moore, Gary Hutzel, David Stipes, Mitch Suskin, David Takemura, Judy Elkins, Liz Castro, Adam Buckner, Greg Jein, Tony Meininger, and a whole bunch of their talented, hard-working colleagues.

Timo: Again, thanks for your effort. I'm afraid the only way to really deliver the thanks is to keep watching and thus funding Trek, and we are doing that anyway! :-D

Thank YOU. Obviously, we do these things because we love this stuff as much as you do, so it is good to know that some people do indeed appreciate it.


Timo: All RIGHT, we are in business now! So Buran/"Challenger class" has dorsal-ventral nacelles on submarine conning tower pylons, with a downscaled Galaxy saucer as the primary hull. Was the secondary hull perhaps a custom piece or a Trek model component? Were the engines custom jobs (like the stretched ones on the New Orleans) since they were "assembled"?

Michael Okuda: I think one of the engine mounts was a submarine tower, but I wouldn't swear that both were. I'm pretty sure both engines were fairly stock Ertl large Galaxy nacelles that Ed had made. The actual amount of modelmaking time that Rick S. and I had was minimal, so we would tend to have stuck with stuff that Ed did for us.

...but this is great news! Could you tell more about where the nacelles were on the Chekov? Directly glued to the saucer somehow, or was there a secondary hull arrangement or something? And do you have any info on a three-nacelled ship?

Not glued directly onto the saucer. I think Ed made some pylons from sheet styrene. I'm pretty sure that Greg built the three-nacelled ship. I remember reminding Greg that Gene didn't approve of odd-numbers of nacelles.

That always warms the heart of a starship freak. The ships feel more "real" that way... I take it that none of the Ralph McQuarrie or Bill George ships were named or registered for the brief shots?

I didn't do numbers on the McQuarrie or the George models. Bill and/or his cohorts at ILM did some simple lettering on their models; I remember one of them was labeled the "Alka-selsior."

So the filming went something like this: script calls for a shot where the bridge crew looks at ships and names some of them; the scene is shot, with the original lines; the VFX is made for the scene; and then the lines are altered in post-production. Would this mean that you did the VFX shot so that it specifically showed the three ships named Melbourne, Kyushu and Chekov (in addition to random ships and debris)? Knowing whether this is the case would make it easier to try and spot the three ship models from the episode. The Kyushu is clearly seen in that scene, the Melbourne is a maybe, but the Chekov...

Not quite so formally. I provided the models with those names, in addition to some other ships. Greg also contributed quite a few models and parts. Our visual effects colleagues shot them as they saw fit; not necessarily featuring the models that were called out in the script.



The following is an additional reply Mike Okuda gave to Chris.


Michael Okuda: The three-nacelled ship was made by Greg Jein. I don't recall what the designation was for that ship. I'll try to remember to ask Greg if he remembers.


I seem to recall that the only time I noticed the Melbourne in BoBW2 was from a fairly head-on angle, and it was rather small in the frame. Bear in mind that while I was one of the people who helped with the models, I did NOT shoot the models, nor was I there when they were composited, so I could easily have missed something there.

Hope this helps a little.


Chris: Boah yes!!! This helps more than just a little




Thank you very much to Mike Okuda for taking the time to answer our questions and giving us some insight into the production process. Not everyone would still be so dedicated to a show that aired years ago. Thanks to Timo for bugging him with our questions and to TSN for the transcript.


Back to Starship Articles index

View as gallery