John Eaves, a respected, veteran concept illustrator and designer whose credits include decades of “Star Trek” shows and features, is mourning the loss of his friend and mentor, Gregory Jein, he told Heavy in an exclusive interview. Jein was an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated model maker, artist, and landscape miniature creator whose many credits, according to the Internet Movie Database, included multiple iterations of “Star Trek” as well as “Dark Star,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “1941,” “One from the Heart,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” “The Hunt for Red October,” “The Scorpion King,” “Avatar,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Interstellar,” and the live-action version of “Mulan.”
Eaves, according to Memory Alpha, has served as a production illustrator for “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” “Star Trek: Enterprise,” “Star Trek: Discovery,” and “Star Trek: Picard,” as well as eight “Star Trek” feature films. Heavy spoke with Eaves on June 29, 2022, the day after word of Jein’s death had been shared publicly by his friends and associates.
Jein Died on May 22, 2022, at the Age of 76
How familiar had you been with Jein’s early work on such films as “Flesh Gordon,” “Close Encounters” and “Buckaroo Bonzai”?
Eaves: My introduction to Greg Jein was through Starlog magazine. Starlog came out around 1976 and was pretty heavily into “Star Trek” in the beginning, sprinkled in with a lot of pre-“Star Wars” pieces. Somewhere in those issues, there was an article on John Carpenter’s “Dark Star” which featured art by Ron Cobb and some miniature work by Greg Jein. After the huge explosion of “Star Wars,” Starlog started creating special editions and one of them featured all of the models for a film called “Flesh Gordon,” definitely not to be confused with “Flash Gordon!” Greg and a host of future VFX GOATs got their foot in the door with this X-rated parody, and Greg’s models were incredible. I scoured over those images, examining all the tiniest of details. Thanks to Starlog and later Cinefex, which went deeper into only the FX world, pieces written about Greg were a constant. Issue #2 had a feature called “Greg Jein, The Miniature Giant,” and that one piece I read constantly. The next big issue on Greg came out in 1984 with the release of “Buckaroo Banzai” and once again my fandom of Greg and his work had a heyday with all the pictures of his miniature work.
How did you meet him?
Eaves: I met Greg in the summer of 1984, while I was desperately trying to get into the VFX world. I grew up in Arizona and during a visit to our state film commission, I came across a motion picture directory. And in the list of services was the phone number to Greg’s shop. I raced home and gave him a call and he so kindly invited me down for a visit. Within a couple of days, I was on my way out to his shop and spent about an hour there talking while he was casting parts out of a mold. It was a day I will never forget.
What do you feel were his most important specific contributions to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” his other “Trek” films, “TNG,” “DS9,” and “VOY,” but especially “TNG”?
Eaves: Greg’s contributions to “Star Trek” are not only legendary, but they stand out on screen. Watching “TMP” on opening day, the scene that stood out the most to me was when the Enterprise is deep inside V’ger and is surrounded by spheres of light and huge triangular architecture. I remember thinking that it was as beautiful as the mothership from “Close Encounters.” Ironically, reading the Cinefex mag article on “TMP,” I realized that, of course, it was Greg’s work. I started working with Greg when he came over to lend a hand on a project we were working on over at an effects company called Apogee. We struck up a great friendship on that project and shortly after he invited me to come over to his place to work on “Star Trek V.” Once there, he had modeled from the first episodes of “TNG” that he had a hand in creating at ILM. At any given moment during the “Trek V” model work, the phone would ring and a load of new “TNG” models would be added to the list. The days were long and grand. We would start about 7:00 in the morning and wrap out around 10:00 at night. When “DS9” and “Voyager” started up, Greg was a major model maker for both, not only with creating miniatures but also contributing artwork and designs. There was nothing he couldn’t do.
What kind of a boss and mentor was he?
Eaves: Well, Greg never seemed like a boss, but more like a fellow part of the crew. His boss duties were more on the phone with the studio, but back in the shop he would assign tasks, and off we would go. He was always working with us when his boss duties were over. He really gave all of us a sense of freedom to build what needed to be built on our own. He hired you because of your skills and really let you run with them. He also hired you for your attitude, how fun you were, and how well you worked for others. There were tense times due to deadlines, but it never mattered because he made every situation a good one. His knowledge of everything model-related was passed on without measure. If you had a problem, he could solve it, and what was very unique was his style was crude. The criteria were if it works that is all it has to do.
What did you learn personally and professionally from him?
Eaves: On a professional and personal level, I learned from Greg that we are all lucky fans of the movies that got into model-making. Greg was the biggest fan and he shared everything with us. He took us to all the comic-cons and a variety of comic and specialty stores all across L.A. and little Tokyo to find cool collectibles. Greg introduced us to fried milk in Chinatown, Hawaiian cuisine, sushi, and dim sum. He was a friend more than an employer, and that is who Greg was to all of us, a friend.
He was also reportedly very good at encouraging up-and-coming artists. Who else in the “Trek” universe learned under his wing?
Eaves: Greg was the one that gave everyone a chance! If he saw talent in you, he would bring you on no matter what stage of a novice you were. We all learned from Greg and each other, and he would encourage your talents by giving you tasks that gave you the opportunity to grow and learn more. Without ever saying a word, he would put you where he thought you could do your best! Working for Greg on any project would eventually become a “Star Trek” project. On many many occasions, he would take on emergency “Trek” model jobs for free. We all got paid, but he would bite the bullet to help his friends in time of need and also because he lived to make the models. We all would work deep into the night to get these jobs done and it was always a good time.
Jein and Eaves Worked Together on Many Projects, including ‘Star Trek’ and ‘The Hunt for Red October’
Gregory Jein and John Eaves joined forces with Nick Seldon (far right) to work on a “Hunt for Red October” model.
Did you ever get to see his private collection of memorabilia and props, and if so, what “Trek” items were you most in awe of? What was he proudest to own?
Eaves: Greg had a massive collection of just about everything. He had a lot of vintage “Star Trek” props and costumes from “The Original Series,” models and set pieces from “The Planet of the Apes,” “Lost in Space,” “2001,” “Silent Running,” and the list goes on and on. It’s hard to say what he was most proud of, but if I had to guess, it would be anything from the original “Star Trek.”
What was your last conversation or get-together with him — and when?
Eaves: Greg, for the most part, retired a few years back mainly because of health issues. We kept in touch and had dinners often. (More recently), Covid got in the way of a lot of get-togethers, but we would often talk on the phone. Last month, I called him to see if he wanted to get dinner and I got his old voice machine that he has had for 30-plus years. Sadly, an hour later, I got a call back from his family stating that he had passed away two days earlier. We all knew his time was coming, but that call is one I wish I never received. If it was not for Greg and Grant McCune from Apogee, I never would have made it into the movies. Greg took a chance on me and I can not come up with enough words to describe the gratitude behind his very kind gesture. His passing has definitely left a huge hole in my heart.
Lastly, what do you feel is his legacy. To borrow a phrase from “Deep Space Nine,” what does Greg Jein leave behind?
Eaves: For many, he leaves decades of historical movie memorabilia behind, but for all of us who knew him, he has left behind a bond and friendship full of wonderful memories. His impact on movies and models is known around the world and he encouraged countless individuals to follow in his dreams and footsteps. What does Greg leave behind? A world of fandom that is without measure. Godspeed to you Greg — and give Sid the cat some love from all of us.