While some of the pioneers of Star Trek are gone, companies like Celestis are making sure their legacies live on in space through Celestis memorial Enterprise spaceflight. Among the emerging participants are the late cast and crew, who worked on the franchise, including creator Gene Roddenberry, cast members Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), James Doohan (Scotty), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Chapel), producer Robert Justman, and visual effects specialist Douglas Trumbull. Joining them is the late Greg Jein, who passed on May 22nd. He helped usher new generations of talent as a visual effects artist and miniature model maker working on several projects, including the bulk of the Star Trek franchise starting with The Motion Picture (1979) and The Next Generation. Among those he influenced was Sharon Lee, who worked with him on numerous projects, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1979) in addition to the Robert Wise film. She spoke to Bleeding Cool about how they met, her lifelong friendship with Jein, and his legacy.
How Greg Jein Helped Expand Opportunities on Star Trek
Bleeding Cool: How did you meet Greg?
Lee: I met Greg in 1977 when I went in for an interview to be hired as a model maker for '1941' (1979). That was when affirmative action was in place, and guidelines were set up for hiring women, which Greg pushed for. There was a group of us, the first four women who worked in special effects and were admitted into local 44 IATSE, which is for special effects. I was in that movie for two years.
What other projects did you collaborate with him on?
'Star Trek: The Motion Picture,' 'Close Encounters: Special Edition,' One from the Heart (1981) [from] Francis [Ford] Coppola, and one that escapes me at the moment.
How has Greg's influence worked with him on those projects shaped your career?
There wasn't a whole lot of time to think because we were so busy, and there were no practical breaks between the projects. We would end one and start the other. I never dreamed of working in films, and it was by accident I ended up working on them. I learned a lot about the industry in general. Since my background was in theater, I learned there was that same drive to coordinate and work together as a team. I also learned a lot through osmosis and what it takes to make a movie.
What I learned from Greg was this extraordinary professionalism, an ability to roll with it, and never to keep your nose to the grindstone. In the 45 years I've known Greg, I never once saw him lose his temper or get rattled. That's something I try to emulate in my life in general. My favorite nickname for him and Steven Spielberg used to call him the "Inscrutable Dr. Jein" [laughs]. Dr. Jein's hands had the precision of a surgeon. He had quite an eidetic memory as one in a zillion who can see something and recreate it exactly to scale. At the age of 11, his cousin talks about going to Disneyland for the first time with him. They went on all these rides and had a great time. A week later, when they went to visit Greg at his house, he had an immaculately perfect scale model of Disneyland built after being there for a day. He had such an incredible talent.
How did the collaborative process work with Greg? Did everyone just follow his lead or did everyone have their share of input?
[Greg] was the head of it. He hired good people, knew what they were doing, and had talent and potential in them. He gave them assignments that fit well with their potential. Certain people stuck to this because that's where their talents lie. So he always floated through, and he was born with a vision. It was wonderful, and I learned a long time ago when working on any kind of crew that you're in charge without anyone knowing you're in charge. Greg personified that, and he hired the right people, and he trusted them to do it.
What is your fondest memory of him working on Star Trek?
The V'Ger model because Greg loved working on it so much. All of us who worked on it with him probably would pick that out for that from 'Star Trek: The Motion Picture.'
The designs and VFX were so ahead of their time.
What was amazing is the creative team with Bob Wise and Harold Michelson, who was the production designer, is one of the best. They put together this extraordinary team, and the final project stuck to that vision, and that doesn't always happen.
Did you have any thoughts on the updated, enhanced version of 'The Motion Picture?' Did you know if Greg consulted on it?
I don't think Greg did. Unfortunately, he was not well enough to go see it. So he did not get to see a re-release.
If there's one thing you want everyone to remember about Greg, how would you describe his legacy?
[Greg] was a remarkably talented human being who remained true to his vision and lived life as he wanted. He was proudest of hiring a lot of remarkably successful people in visual effects and the industry for their first jobs and mentoring them. He was so proud of many of them who became real leaders in the industry. I think that's what gave him the most joy. I was a close friend of Greg and his family for 45 years.
I was fortunate in the last couple of years of his life, I got to spend a lot of time with him when he was battling through his health issues. I was able to sit with him every night at the hospital, and they were kind enough to let me stay with him until he fell asleep. We were able to visit, talk about things and bear his heart. For those people who never got to work with him or knew him, this extraordinary man lived so honorably, and his talent was so remarkable. That's what I would most like people to know what a remarkable human being he was. When Celestis contacted us about getting up on this flight to deep space. I know Greg said one of the hardest things he ever had to do in his life was to write something about [visual effects artist] Doug Trumbull, who just passed away before he did a couple of months ago. It was a gut punch for him. It was horrible. The fact that Greg's ashes are going up at the same time is Doug's to me gift beyond measure.
For more on Jein's life, you can check out his Celestis profile here.