Star Trek: The Motion Picture‘s V’Ger was divided between two teams, with John Dykstra’s people handling the exterior and Doug Trumbull’s dealing with the interior as well as Spock’s spacewalk. The latter replaced the memory wall sequence that the Abel studios had originally planned and had been filmed during first unit photography. Trumbull did not feel he could make the sequence work with what had been shot without spending an insane amount of money.
The wire work that had been filmed on the stage as awkward and unwieldy. There were problems with reflections in the spacesuit faceplates. Instead Trumbull pursued Robert Wise to let him shoot a new sequence, which he designed himself. The storyboards were worked up by Tom Cranham, with several artists including David J. Negron Sr. and Robert McCall developing concepts for the things that Spock would see. The spacesuits were completely redesigned and built at Apogee.
Trumbull’s new journey into V’Ger was much shorter and involved the actors in only a minimal number of reshoots. Most of the sequence was shown from Spock’s point of view, so Leonard Nimoy was not needed for much of the filming. The shots in his faceplate were accomplished by projecting still images on to a large plexiglas dome and then superimposing them on to the faceplate of his spacesuit.
A stuntman was called in for the shots where Spock’s face could not be seen. He was effectively treated like a model and was mounted on a massive motion control rig that could be attached to various points on the spacesuit and used to spin him around. He was then filmed in front of a bluescreen. The process proved so successful that Trumbull shot some extra footage, and added a spacesuited figure to the sequence where the Enterprise leaves drydock. Other shots for this sequence were done by filming a two foot tall model of Spock that was built by Apogee. This model even had arms and legs that could be move by remote control.
The bizarre images that Spock passed were mostly based on Robert T. McCall’s paintings, and built by Greg Jein. Trumbull remembered that he personally restoryboarded the sequence as he saw the completed models, changing the order in which Spock passed through the various gateways for the maximum effect. McCall spent three months or so working on concepts for the spacewalk. “I was creating other worlds — and especially other universes — that could be part of the trip that Spock takes,” said McCall.
I knew what we were looking for; which was these entities that were hovering in space — huge, baby — that could have been a thousand miles across. The word maw was often used, there were the entranceways Spock would travel through to whole new universes.
The massive Ilia was actually a very detailed plaster cast of Persis Khambatta, with light effects projected on to it. Interestingly, this was basically the same approach that Robert Abel and Associates had planned to take when Ilia merged with Decker.
Text adapted from “Visual Effects: 1979,” Star Trek: The Magazine 2, #8 (December 2001)