Space helmet design

Designing The Motion Picture’s Spacesuits

The company Brick Price Movie Miniatures provided more than 1200 of the props used in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, including those worn by the principals and the extras in the recreation room scene. Many of these props included phasers, tricorders and biorhythm belt buckles. These belt buckles were supposed to register the biorythm of the person wearing them at any given time. Since these were worn at waist level, and the railings on the bridge set were also at this height, they were having to repair and replace these medical monitors on a daily basis because they were hollow and easily crushed.

The original spacesuit for The Motion Picture was designed in part and built by Brick Price’s shop after the Paramount inhouse prop department came up with helmets that looked like the very last word in science fiction in 1949. This was because many of those who worked in the prop departments of studios (as opposed to the outside independent contractors like Robert Abel, Doug Trumbull, John Dykstra, Greg Jein and Brick Price, and many others) had been in the business for twenty or thirty years and were not up to date on the fresh outlooks and points of view being discussed by people who were genuinely interested in this facet of design and construction.

Spacesuit that was rejected
Spacesuit that was rejected

Because Brick Price had been brought in on The Motion Picture by Robert Abel’s group, there was some strain between Paramount and Price at the time Abel was replaced. Brick had to write a letter to Paramount detailing his involvement with Abel and explaining why certain things took as long as they did. What it came down to was that Paramount kept wanting changes and extending the shooting schedule until the studio decided they wanted to shoot something in November of 1978. Brick Price’s crew was caught without enough time to do the time consuming work involved in the most recent change the studio had requested.

Space helmet design
Space helmet design

The spacesuits, as mentioned earlier, went through many changes. The one mentioned as clearly being all wrong from the shop was also rejected because it smelled terrible and the actors would not have worn it. “We had originally designed the spacesuit for air conditioning so you wouldn’t have a problem with fog on the faceplate and also for the comfort of the actors,” Brick Price explained. “They had these stupid rubber wetsuits and we wanted to use dance skins. Found some material that would have been wonderful, but they ended up using this pudgy stuff which was really hot and sweaty.”

We were trying to make this thing as functional and realistic as possible, even to using parts from the real suits. We had a system for the arm with the joints so you couldn’t see anything and it was real clean, not a vacuum cleaner hose like in Robby the Robot, either. Then instead they (Paramount) went with quilting, and I didn’t much care for that.

Neutrino Welder
Neutrino Welder

Brick Price and his group developed many designs for the film, many of which were never used. In some ways they felt hampered in that they wanted to come up with a completely new look whereas Roddenberry wanted to have it new and yet look like it was an extension of the old series. Some of the Paramount designs which had been approved were of strange suits for workmen who were called “Neutrino Welders.” Nobody could figure out exactly what that implied of what a “Neutrino Welder” did. Weld Neutrinos?

From “The Unseen Star Trek (Part II–Star Trek: The Motion Picture),” Star Blazers Magazine

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