It all started about 25 years ago when he responded to an advertisement. A publisher needed someone to work on something called the “Fact Files.” They needed to be a great writer, a dedicated worker, and know a whole lot about the “Star Trek” franchise. Ben Robinson took the job.
Back then, Robinson was known as a well-respected freelance writer. Today, he’s the real-life Commander in Chief of HERO Collector’s Starships Collection, the high-quality series of models from the “Star Trek Universe.” There are now over 300 models in the collection, with more debuting soon.
Thanks to his passion and knowledge for Trek, Robinson has become one of the go-to people in Trek when it comes to the history of the ships and their design and has even helped collect long-lost drawings and starship schematics. Robinson’s journey began with the “Star Trek Fact Files,” which most U.S.-based fans are probably unfamiliar with.
“The Fact Files was not published in the U.S.,” says Robinson, who connected with Heavy over Zoom a few weeks ago from his home in England. “It was kind of a pull-apart encyclopedia. I always say to people that it was kind of like ‘Memory Alpha’ on paper.”
The Starships Collection
Robinson says that the team producing “Fact Files” figured that it would last about 96 issues, but they printed over 300 in all. Thanks to his work on “Fact Files,” which was written as if it was to be read by someone living in the “Star Trek Universe,” Robinson dove into ship design. They commissioned original artwork and illustrations to give readers more depth on the vessels in the films and shows.
“The Illustrated Handbooks are basically the material from the ‘Fact Files,’ and given a more modern design and a bit of an upgrade,” says Robinson. “As we were writing, the shows were still being made, and things would turn up that we didn’t know about.”
After the end of “Fact Files,” Robinson and his team worked on a new publication, which American Trek fans may be familiar with — “Star Trek: The Magazine.” This publication lasted four years, and each issue was over 100 pages. Eventually, the magazine ended as well.
“We were always looking for the next ‘Star Trek’ thing,” said Robinson. He says that the company tried figurines at first but quickly realized that they should be making ships. Thanks to his work on the “Fact Files,” Robinson had great connections with the special effects houses, creating Computer Graphic (CG) models for the various Trek shows.
“That meant that our models would be as accurate as possible because they would literally be the same thing that was used to make the shots that you saw on the screen,” said Robinson.
Television Ads from the U.K.
Outside of the United States, Robinson’s company, EagleMoss, created television ads that showed off the design and quality of the ships. They had some success with Marvel and DC figures, which were for sale at comic book stores. But for “Star Trek,” Robinson and his team decided to showcase their ships at conventions rather than at comic shops. Folks at EagleMoss thought that they’d sell just a few subscriptions to the ship collection.
“We sold 400 subscribers in that first weekend,” said Robinson. “And we’ve never looked back.”
Since that first show nine years ago, Robinson and his team have created nearly every ship that has seen screen time in all the films, shows, and even the animated series. The U.S.S. Cerritos from “Star Trek: Lower Decks” is even part of HERO Collector’s massive collection.
Robinson says that there are just a few ships that have not made ‘model status’ yet. One of those is the Wadi Ship, seen on “Deep Space Nine.” He says that the Wadi Ship will soon be added to the fleet. He says they are also working on the Straleb security ship and a few variants of that design.
There is one design that EagleMoss has not created and may never do — the Narada. This was the Romulan mining ship featured in “Star Trek (2009).” Hot Wheels released a small version of the Narada, but that model is much simpler in detail compared to anything from the Starships collection.
The U.S.S. Cerritos
“There is nothing in the middle to give it the physical integrity it needs to make a model,” says Robinson. “That is a real problem that we can’t overcome.”
Even though Robinson had contacts from the CG-era of “Star Trek” production design, there were nearly 25 years of Trek ships that were created with practical effects. Those models were sometimes converted to CG, especially for “Deep Space Nine,” but some were not.
Paramount has been kind enough then to send Robinson and the team high-resolution photographs of those older ships, so the team could recreate them. But surprisingly, Jean-Luc Picard’s ship was the only one of those practical ships that did not get a CG re-do.
“There were some Galaxy-class ships in the Dominion War, but they were in the background, and they were not a big deal,” says Robinson. The Enterprise-D, which starred in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” was created by noted designer Andrew Probert.
The Enterprise-D model from EagleMoss
Robinson says part of his task is to reassemble and organize the ship design archives, but working with newer designs is entirely different. The new ships created for “Discovery” and “Picard” are often so detailed and complicated that his computers at EagleMoss cannot open the files sent from CBS.
“The visual effects have gotten really sophisticated, and you need a really big computer to render [the ships],” says Robinson. He says that he and his team must simplify the ship design files to work with them and to convert them into the format to make the final real-world model.
Looking back at the collection, Robinson is proud of the work he and the team have done through the years. The high-quality standard set at the start of the series has held true throughout. Robinson says that while that is true, he is always learning about “Star Trek,” the fandom, and the franchise. He notes one situation at the start of the Starships collection as a case in point.
“One of the things you realize is how different the colors are from episode to episode,” says Robinson. “And even the difference between watching the ‘Next Gen’ remastered episodes versus the [standard definition] ones.”
“There are a lot of factors that go into making the ship look the way you think it does,” says Robinson. “If you look at the physical model of the Jem’Hadar fighter… it’s very colorful. It’s got lots of purples and blues on it.”
The Jem’Hadar Model
“But when you see it on screen, it’s pretty much silver,” says Robinson. “I was aiming to get it to be a paler version of those colors but still silvery. And that was a real success. But I remember talking to Gary Hutzel, who’s sadly no longer with us. He was the effects supervisor for most of DS9… more than anybody else.”
“He said that [the Jem’Hadar fighter] was that colorful because it made it easier for them to control it when they were compositing it for the visual effects,” says Robinson. “They would knock the color out when they were compositing.”
“You have to know the people involved to understand the processes to know why it was the way it was,” says Robinson. “I hope the reason why people have responded as well as they have to the ‘Star Trek’ ships is that they all feel pretty right. You just kind of go, ‘Oh, that looks right.’ It’s believable, and it’s an art as much as it is a science, I think.”
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