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.
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.
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.
The first part is the top of the lightbox and includes the glass cover where you would rest your slides.
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.
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 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.
The insides were now complete.
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: