A meeting between Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and inventor Gene Dolgoff, the owner of a holography laboratory in New York City in 1973 led to the holodeck appearing in the StarTrek: The Animated Series episode called ‘The Practical Joker’ which depicted a recreation room that simulated an alternative reality. 13 years later the holodeck made its live-action debut in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode ‘The Big Goodbye’ and became synonymous with the interstellar franchise. Now fiction has given way to science resulting in a partnership between the Roddenberry Estate, cloud graphics company OTOY, and holographic display manufacturer Light Field Lab (LFL) to produce the Roddenberry Archive, a 360 degree, real-time, interactive and immersive experience.
“There is no escaping the magic of seeing that doorway on the ship open and going into a forest [on the holodeck in Star Trek: The Next Generation],” notes Jules Urbach, Founder & CEO, OTOY, who is a driving force behind the Roddenberry Archive. “Everything that came afterwards from VR to the simulation theory is something that Star Trek has shown in a beautiful way. Even if you look at some of the material that Light Field Lab produced is the closest one could get to having that experience. Creating that experience is life-changing more so than VR and the metaverse; it’s something that you can imagine blending the physical world and internet experience without anything in between. The outcome is you will experience the Roddenberry Archive at any point of Star Trek history inside of a real-life holodeck.”
The Roddenberry Archive is going to be the depository of all of the things created by Gene Roddenberry and derived from him. The digital assets are being created at the highest fidelity, thereby, allowing them to be viewed on the platform of one’s choosing. “We can render and distill that to any endpoint including a webpage for live stream or a LFL display that is packaged and ready to go in the format that is designed for that,” states Urbach. “The reason that the Enterprise is in the Smithsonian, along with Dorothy’s red slippers and Indiana Jones’ whip, is that ship is a character in itself. We can build every room and it all makes sense. Every set that was in the pilot has been built, including the planets. We’re filling out that world around the ship.”
1:1 scale assets are being made from television and film production models as well as versions that work inside of the narrative universe. Also, original costumes and props are being scanned and rebuilt. “We can do the exact shots from the films and there’s a script page that Gene wrote that was an alternative ending to the motion picture that was just in the novel,” remarks Urbach. “We can have all of those things available for people to peruse in the way that they want to experience the story or the documentary pieces.” Rod Roddenberry, CEO, Roddenberry Entertainment believes that the legacy of his father is in the safe hands with Urbach who he has known since they were grade seven classmates. “Jules knows the reasons why, the undertones, my father’s intentions, has read the books and between the lines, and has asked the questions. I want this to be something 100, 200 or 300 years from now where people can put whatever equipment they need to put on and immerse themselves either behind or in front of the camera. For me it’s the ultimate museum piece and I love that Star Trek is the first to do this.”
As for deciding what to curate from the films, television, literature and unrealized projects, Roddenberry has brought together Denise and Mike Okuda who authored Star Trek: The Encyclopedia, and Star Trek visual effects artists Doug Drexler and Daren Dochterman. It made sense to recreate the pilot episode with the original director, Robert Butler, serving as an onset consultant. “The Cage” was my father’s original concept and, granted, it was the early days so plenty of things weren’t fleshed out yet,” observes Roddenberry. “It speaks to the core of who Gene Roddenberry was and his philosophy for Star Trek. Having characters who were put into a place where you could throw at them every beauty and opportunity in the world but it wasn’t real and what does it mean to be ‘caged’, what is reality and what does it mean to be human? The fact that the first episode went deep into that direction.”
In terms of holography, do not expect the Roddenberry Archive to be the same experience as what audiences witnessed when watching the digital projection of the late Tupac Shakur performing at 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. “The only thing that I’ve seen which has approached that ground truth light field are Light Field Lab’s displays, ”remarks Urbach. “What separates that technology from the Tupac Shakur and other Pepper’s ghost experiences, is that you can look at a light field display from any angle and all of the reflections are there. You can focus on objects in a way that you can’t do in any other medium, even VR doesn’t give you that.” Another import aspect of the project is verifying the authenticity of everything in the Roddenberry Archive. “We’re building a schematic structure where everything you see has an edit history; that’s something which will matter more, as AI generators and people trying to duplicate things become more mainstream. Separating the fact from the fiction. We can show how the Enterprise came together, and it’s embedded in what we are doing.”
Showcasing the live-size digital recreation of the original Starship Enterprise at Creation: Las Vegas 2022 was only a small demonstration of what is to come in the decades ahead. “There is a lot that the general public and even the fans of Star Trek don’t comprehend about this project because we haven’t said that much about it,” states Roddenberry. “This is certainly a ball in motion and it's growing.” The results have been surprising. “When Spock was recreated, it was so well done that my concern was a fan who does not necessarily understand this world that we’re talking about would assume that it was some lost cut or behind-the-scenes footage that was recently found.
It’s indistinguishable from the real thing and that’s what this entire project is about.” Being prescient about the evolution of technology was something that Gene Roddenberry achieved by consulting the innovators at the California Institute of Technology and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Everything is built on something believable, ”remarks Roddenberry. “It’s art imitating science. Science imitating art. It’s very cyclical. And it’s amazing to know what’s around the corner. Holodecks will be something that we can interact with in the future. I’m excited for it to be in my living room but that might take a little bit longer!”