I was sitting in Mr. Harp’s 5th grade class at Sycamore Grade school in Gridley, CA waiting for class to start. Janice Thorpe, another student, walked in and took the desk next to mine. As she set down her books, I glanced over and saw it, sitting there on top. It was a thick paperback, reflecting the sunlight streaming in through the bank of windows behind us. Seeing the book caused a bolt of adrenalin to zap my body and if my life was a movie, the soundtrack would have provided a strong burst of strings and horns at that moment. The book’s title spoke of a world far away from Gridley, far away from that classroom and far away from my life where only the ordinary seemed to happen.
After I was able to breathe normally, I asked Janice if I could look at the book. She said yes, but only until class started. She passed the book to me and I checked the clock. I had just 3 minutes to look at the book I had waited all my life for: “The Making of Star Trek.”
Here for the first time I saw photos of the models and props that I could only see briefly on my television at home. (VCR’s were over a decade away.) It was proof that the show that I loved was MADE by people, and that, in a way, was just as compelling as the show itself. That afternoon when I got home I pestered my mother, using my most annoying techniques, to drive me to Marysville so I could get my own copy of the book. Of course this strategy worked, and soon I was in my bedroom staring at the photos in the book for hours.
For me it wasn’t enough just to LOVE something, I had to manifest that love into doing something tangible, like making a replica of it. Unfortunately I had very limited resources and even less experience with tools. I made a communicator out of a razorblade dispenser and a hinge and tried unsuccessfully to form another communicator out of a record I made soft by placing it in the oven.
Over time I did get better, and using the photos from the “Making of Star Trek,” I carved a pretty good phaser out of a wood 2x4 (and I still have it, 40 years later!) As I entered high school, I lost interest in science fiction, and started making my own films and art.
My love for the genre was reawakened in a major way one Saturday afternoon in May of 1977. Like so many young people I was awestruck by “Star Wars.” Almost immediately I started model making again – only this time I had the advantage having taken of shop class in Junior High, and had a car at my disposal.
Soon I was displaying my models at science fiction in Los Angeles, and in the summer of 1979 I was offered a job to work on “Star Trek: the Motion Picture.” I started as a production assistant working in the model shop, and before long was working on building models. In 1981 one of my personal dreams came true – I landed a job at Industrial Light and Magic.
Over the years I’ve worked with some hugely talented people and gotten to experience the life I saw in the photographs in Janice’s book. Through it all I still have a passion for those fantasy worlds of my youth. And, with the information that’s available online, along with digital photography and the power of Adobe’s amazing Photoshop software, “The Sci-Fi Air Show” is now possible.
People have asked me why I’ve put all the effort and energy into this project. My answer is, “Because sometimes just loving something is not enough.”
Bill George Is a Visual Effects Supervisor who works at Industrial Light and Magic. Having worked on 6 “Star Trek” and 2 “Star Wars” films, he is considered an authority on absolutely nothing.
His full list of credits can be found at the Internet Movie Database, at
“The Eagle” 1976 Acrylic on Canvas.