Star Trek: The Next Generation PADD

I never watched Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) while it was actually on the air. I purchased the 7-season DVD collection and watched all the episodes over the course of a few years and then watched the four movies.

Sometimes I’ll see a prop in a movie that intrigues me, and I’ll try my hand at recreating it. I liked the way the PADDs looked on television, so I decided to make one.  PADD stands for Personal Access Display Device and its eerie how some of the models resemble an iPAD, only 25 years earlier.

The picture at the left is the actual prop that I based my recreation on. It was carried by Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and recently sold at Christie’s for $5000 (US).

The prop I created was slightly different because pictures of the actual prop became available AFTER I started my project. I used screenshots from the TV show to build mine.

As I did my research and grabbed screen shots from the DVDs, I decided to make a “HERO” version of the PADD, which in television speak means an actual working prop that is used in close ups. Many of the props were static and made of solid wood or plastic; these were used for long shots. My PADD would actually work. Lucky for me, others had done this before, and there was plenty of information on the Internet.

These particular PADDs were made from lightboxes manufactured in the mid-1980s.

According to several sources who worked on Star Trek, TNG, the prop people just happened into a camera store on Melrose Avenue (Hollywood), a few doors down from Paramount, saw the lightbox on a shelf, and asked the salesman for 50.

And while 50 light boxes were easy to come by in 1987, when I built my PADD last year, 25 years later, they were a bit harder to find. I located one on eBay and snapped it up.

Here’s the transformation.

I purchased the Cabin CL-5000P lightbox on eBay for about $80 (US).

It’s dark gray and measures about 7.5″ x 4.5″ with a screen measuring 5″ x 4″.  It runs on four AAA batteries or via an AC adapter.

It comes apart easily by removing the four screws on the back. There’s an on/off switch at the top.

Once you remove the four screws on the back, the lightbox separates into three distinct parts.

The first part is the top of the lightbox and includes the glass cover where you would rest your slides.

The second part, or parts, is the white reflector box, several pieces of diffused plastic, and a piece of frosted glass.

I found the diffuser sheets blurred my graphic once I assembled the unit, so I removed them and simply used the reflector box, and the two pieces of glass.

The final part is the bottom of the light box with the wiring, circuit board, light bulb, and battery compartment.

My first job would be to paint the top and the bottom. Since the lightbox was in good shape, smooth, and clean, I painted the pieces directly with plastic spray paint.The painting went well and took several coats to over the gray.

Now that the case was painted, I wanted to put the whole thing back together again, but before I could that, I would need the graphic for the screen. I searched the internet and found a great picture with pretty decent resolution.I printed the graphic on both my laser printer and my ink jet printer using transparency paper and compared the results. Although the prints looked good, once I put them on the light panel and turned on the light, they looked washed out. The reason was that the black area of the graphic was letting light through.

I set the laser printer to “overtone” and the graphic printed quite a bit darker in the black areas, but the detailed portions of the graphic lost their sharpness.

Next, I tried printing two transparencies and placing them on top of each other. This helped with the colors and detail, but the light was now less intense and the graphic appeared dull.

I finally resorted to eBay and searched for PADD graphics.

I found a guy living in Los Angeles who had worked on TNG, and had made actual color transparencies from his originals.

As it turns out, the guy was Rick Sternbach, the Senior Illustrator on TNG and Voyager. It’s nice to live in Los Angeles.

I purchased one of his transparencies, and when I finally got a look at it, it was impressive. There’s no way I could have ever matched the quality of this new transparency.

I reinstalled the electronic parts from the photos I had taken, and replaced the white cardboard reflector.

I placed one of the pieces of glass on top of the reflector box, and then positioned the graphic on top of the glass.

I then placed the second piece of glass over the graphic, put the top cover on, and reassembled the box.

The insides were now complete.

Next, I needed to apply the vinyl metallic tape and decals. I found the tape at an auto parts store and measuring and cutting were quick and simple.

I traced the lightbox and then cut the tape to match.

I created the “circuit board” bars and the small display window in Photoshop, and positioned them based on the other TNG props I had seen. The color of the graphic to the left looks slightly different because it’s adjusted for my printer and doesn’t display properly on a monitor.

Here is the final prop:


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