Michael and Denise Okuda are Star Trek royalty, their histories with the show spanning decades and encompassing multiple films and series. From Star Trek IV to Enterprise and across numerous non-fiction works, the talented pair have worked tirelessly behind the scenes as technical supervisors and graphic artists, creating the future on screen that we viewers all-too-often take for granted.
This month, to further celebrate Star Trek‘s landmark fiftieth anniversary, the Okudas’ magnum opus, the comprehensive and enthralling Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future, sees a fourth edition. Heavily revised and much expanded, it is now elegantly presented in two volumes and has been updated for the first time since 1999.
Here, we discuss this mammoth task, and explore why Star Trek is a dream that still endures…
Your first Star Trek Encyclopedia was published in 1994. How vastly does this new edition differ from that original?
M: The basic concept is the same, but it’s amazing how much more material has been added. I’m not sure about exact numbers, but there’s two, maybe three times as much text in the 2016 edition as in the original, and way more than three times as many photos and illustrations. So much more Star Trek!
D: It speaks to how much the Star Trek universe has grown, how much richer it has become over the years. Not only has the number of episodes and movies grown, but the depth of the backstories and the consistency between storylines has multiplied. Trying to capture that richness was a huge part of this new edition.
It’s probably impossible to give an accurate number, but at a guess, how many hours/days/weeks has this massive project taken you?
D: A lot.
M: It was at least full-time for both of us for a little over a full year for writing . . .
D: . . . that’s mostly seven-days-a-week . . .
M: . . . and better than half-time for both of us for another year for editing and working with the good folks doing layout and image selection.
D: You do the math!
What are your favorite entries in the book?
M: I love the illustration collections, like the collections of ship drawings, or the uniforms, or the symbols. That one includes a lot of graphics that I designed for the shows. They’re fun to explore, and they give you a sense of the scope and richness of the Star Trek universe at a single glance.
D: For me, it’s the character entries. Even when you know these people well, as most fans do, it’s fun to sit back and take in their entire arc. A lot of times, all those little factoids in the episodes and movies add up, and you get a new sense of perspective on these old, familiar friends.
What surprised you most, when revising the encyclopedia?
D: The sheer volume of material, and how well everything hangs together, even after 50 years of different writers, producers, directors, and series.
M: Yes, Star Trek’s stories and characters have gotten ever richer and more complex. The amount of story and character information from a single episode of Star Trek: Enterprise was much greater than an episode of the original series, or TNG. Or even DS9 or Voyager. Everything builds on everything that’s come before.
Did you find you had forgotten certain things, and got caught up in reading rather than revising?
M: All the time.
D: That’s really the fun of this book, to sit down and look up some factoid, then get caught up in something else, which leads to yet another thing. It’s the joy of exploring the Star Trek universe.
How does your collaboration work? One of you takes A-K and the other L-Z, or is it a more interactive process?
D: I was mostly in charge of the initial collating of the information. From there, we sort of took turns looking at the material.
M: I did the final pass, which was our attempt to give the book a single unified voice.
What is the most enjoyable part of putting together an exhaustive reference like this? Is it still fun? Was it ever fun?
M: That’s an interesting question. Of course it’s fun, working in the world of Star Trek, but you’re always aware that this is work, and that there are deadlines and expectations, so there’s also a fair bit of pressure. And that does get to you.
D: But of course, we always try to remember that we ARE working on a Star Trek project. And we always try to remember that we love the show as much as the folks who will be reading it. And that keeps it fun, a little, even when the deadlines are about to overtake you.
When the reboot film was first announced, how did you feel about what it would do to all of your hard work with the Encyclopedia? Do you feel the same way about Star Trek: Discovery?
D: Our reaction was the same for both: We’re delighted that there continues to be new Star Trek for us – and everyone else – to discover and to enjoy.
Are you fans of the new movies? How do you feel about the alternate time line?
M: There’s a lot of great stuff in the new films. Obviously, there are things that we might have done differently, but you have to remember that their mission was to shake things up, to make things different to reenergize the show. I think creating the Kelvin timeline was a brilliant way to get the freedom to tell new stories without contradicting or erasing what came before. In that sense, it was remarkably respectful of fans who love the original.
How would you feel about also including the non-canon Star Trek works in the Encyclopedia, like the Pocket Books original novels and the comics, etc.? What about The Animated Series and all the computer games?
D: Obviously, we love the novels and comics and pretty much everything that has come from Star Trek. Our goal was to provide a reference to the source material, the episodes and movies themselves, so that anyone building on our book – novelists, fans, game designers – can be reasonably sure that their efforts are rooted in the Star Trek that we all know and love.
What are your personal histories with Star Trek? Were you fans before working on the show?
M: We were both fans, long before we worked on the show. I had been working in corporate graphics and low-budget television commercials when I sent in my resumé and portfolio to Paramount. I know they say that you have to know someone in order to get hired in Hollywood, but I’m living proof that it’s not always the case.
D: I loved the original series as a child. I had friends who were connected with the show, but I never had a chance to work on it until Herman Zimmerman asked me to work on Star Trek VI as a production assistant. From there, he invited me to be a graphic artist on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Do you have a favorite Star Trek series?
D: The original series. Without question.
What makes it your favorite?
M: It’s the show that we both grew up with. We’re both very, very proud of the shows we worked on, but the original Star Trek is the one that captured our imaginations. It’s the crew with which we went boldly into the final frontier, and it’s the show that inspired us to work in the film industry.
Fifty years and still going strong… what is it that makes Star Trek so enduring?
D: For me, it’s the characters and the stories, of a brave family of good people, working hard and risking everything to experience the wonder of the cosmos.
M: The vision of a better tomorrow, Gene Roddenberry’s belief that if we are smart, ethical, and compassionate, the world will be a better place and that we can reach for the stars together.
Do you think there will be new editions of the Encyclopedia in the future?
M: We’d love to see the Encyclopedia continue.
D: But not for a while. We’re still recovering from this one!
And happy birthday, Abby.
As the lead graphic designer for Star Trek, Michael Okuda has earned screen credit on more Star Trek productions than anyone except Gene Roddenberry. Michael was responsible for the control panels, computer readouts, alien written languages, and other cool stuff in Star Trek: The Next Generation through Enterprise, and on Star Trek movies 4-10. He also provided graphics for Clint Eastwood’s Sully, as well as The Bourne Legacy and The West Wing.
Michael’s fascination with the real space program led him to design the mission patch for the STS-125 space shuttle flight, worn by the astronauts on Space Shuttle Atlantis on the final servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope. His NASA work includes the team emblem for Mission Control (Flight Operations Division), the project logo for the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, and the Spaceflight Memorial Patch (with Bill Foster), which hangs on the wall of Mission Control.
Michael has been recognized with three primetime Emmy nominations for Best Visual Effects and NASA’s Exceptional Public Service Medal. He served as a technical consultant to Star Trek’s writing staff, and with Rick Sternbach is coauthor of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual.
Along with his wife, Denise, Michael was co-producer of The Roddenberry Vault, and serves on the Smithsonian Institution’s special advisory committee on the Starship Enterprise filming model.
Michael graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa with a bachelor’s degree in communications and is a member of the Art Directors Guild, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Visual Effects Society. Mike thinks science is the coolest thing ever and he really wants to be the first graphic artist in space.
Denise Okuda served as video/computer playback supervisor and graphic artist for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, as well as for several Star Trek movies made during that period. Her other credits include pilots for Threshold, Star Patrol!, and The Osiris Chronicles. She cowrote the catalog for the Christie’s auction of Star Trek costumes and props in 2006, has been a consultant and writer for several Star Trek museum exhibitions, and has done promotional work for 20th-Century Fox’s cult classic, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.
Drawing on her Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, Denise has served as a medical consultant to the writing staff of Star Trek. She is an ardent fan of the National Football League and has been honored with the Spectrum Award, presented by the Cal State Los Angeles Eagle Con.
Along with her husband, Michael, Denise served as a consultant for the remastered version of Star Trek: The Next Generation and was a producer for new visual effects for the HD remastered version of the original Star Trek series. They have done voice and text commentaries for numerous CBS and Paramount Star Trek DVDs and Blu-ray releases, and even did a comedic in-universe text commentary for the Blu-ray of Galaxy Quest. They wrote The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future, and On Board the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Denise is a member of the Art Directors Guild and wishes she could live in Yosemite National Park. She actually lives happily in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and their dogs, Amber Joy and Scooter T. Rocketboy.
Most recently, Denise served as co-producer for The Roddenberry Vault, a new Blu-ray release from CBS Home Entertainment consisting of twelve episodes of the original Star Trek series, accompanied by new in-depth documentaries featuring never-before-seen footage from the cutting room floor of the original series, offering fascinating glimpses into the making of the beloved series.