By Ray Cole
Back in February of this year, Star Trek Prop, Costume, and Auction Discussion Forum member “Seleya” posted a link to three Star Trek Production Design Drawings that were being sold as a lot at the Heritage Auction Galleries online store for a nice “buy it now” price. I eyed the lot for about a week before buying it on March 2nd. The two costume sketches were each signed by Robert Fletcher. But who drew the sketch of Chekov’s particle collector from Star Trek IV? The drawing was unsigned, so the hunt for the artist was on.
At first, I made casual enquiries to other fans and collectors. “Who drew this sketch?” But no one knew.
Then, in May, I started a thread on the Star Trek Prop, Costume, and Auction Discussion Forum where collectors of pre-production design sketches, production art, signage, and other “wall art” could discuss our collections. In the course of discussing the sketches, I mentioned that I had this photon collector design sketch. I thought that Richard Coyle might have made the physical prop, meaning he probably worked from this drawing, but I still didn’t know who drew the original design sketch.
Forum member “Lynsioux” posted Richard Coyle’s web address, and in early June I sent the legendary prop-maker a short email asking if he could help me identify the artist. Mr. Coyle responded that the drawing was done by someone at ILM, but he didn’t know exactly who. He suggested I try to either contact Ron Greenwood, the property master from Star Trek IV, or perhaps enquire directly with ILM about their work on this film.
I had no leads on contacting Ron Greenwood, but I did have a high-school buddy who used to work at ILM. Of course, he was there long after production on Star Trek IV had wrapped, but still, sometimes a collector has to make use of whatever contacts present themselves. As it turned out, my ex-ILM friend was instrumental in solving the mystery. He joined an email list that had been set up for ex-ILM employees, and once on the list, he posted a scan of my sketch and asked if anyone could help identify the artist. I had no other leads, so now there seemed to be nothing else to do but wait and see if my friend’s post turned up anything interesting.
In July, I attended the San Diego Comic-Con, the world’s largest celebration of pop-culture. This year, Comic-Con scheduled several panel presentations by various costume designers, production illustrators, and art directors. I attended a couple of the sessions, including one on Saturday morning entitled Film Illustrators.
This panel was moderated by Ricardo Delgado, whose work in Star Trek includes design illustrations for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s first season, and illustration work on Star Trek: First Contact. The other panel members were Gabriel Hardman, Trevor Goring, Mark Moretti, Benton Jew, Tim Burgard, and Phil Saunders. When Benton Jew introduced himself at the start of the panel, he mentioned he’d worked at ILM for several years, so after the panel, I sidled up to him and gave him the quick version of my story: “I have an original design sketch of the particle collector hand prop used by Chekov in Star Trek IV and I’m trying to find out who drew it. I know it was someone at ILM and …”
That’s about as far as I got with my tale, because right away, Mr. Jew knew what I was talking about: “Oh, that’s you!” he said. “I answered that question on the mailing list. John Bell drew that sketch. I even confirmed it directly with him.”
I thanked Mr. Jew and as soon as I got home, I emailed my high-school buddy. He hadn’t checked the email list in a while, but with my prompting, he logged back in and was able to send me the message in which Benton Jew confirmed that John Bell drew the sketch.
So that’s the story of how I was able to reunite the name of the artist with the sketch. During the hectic design phase, a talented pool of designers and illustrators draws many sketches, but they don’t necessarily remember to sign every drawing. Yet every drawing does have an artist, and I feel it is an important part of the hobby to preserve some of the history behind the production of these shows. Knowing the name of the artist who drew the design for such an important hand-prop (it is central to the Star Trek IV story, afterall) was very important to me, and I can’t thank “Seleya,” “Lynsioux,” Mr. Coyle, Mr. Jew, and my high-school pal Mr. Malione enough for the assistance in tracking down the right name.
Now, when people visit my little mini-Star Trek museum, I will be able to tell them that the sketch of the photon collector was drawn by John Bell at ILM.