The ‘Phantom Creator’ Behind ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’

Wah Ming Chang and some of his creations for ‘Star Trek.’

YouTube Wah Ming Chang and some of his creations for ‘Star Trek.’

Movie and television props are among the most hotly collected items from the entertainment industry. Fans take part in auctions to acquire these one-of-a-kind and rare items, often created by hand for one film or show. 

Part of the thrill of owning something seen on film or on television includes that nostalgia and the fact that a “star” used it. In fact, fans can browse the “Star Trek” movie and show memorabilia available to purchase now from the PropStore. For some collectors, there is more to it than just being star-struck. According to the collector site ShowReelReclics.com, some collect props from their favorite movies simply as an appreciation. 

“It’s also about celebrating the behind-the-scenes creativity and processes,” the article states. Owning a small piece of movie or TV history is an appreciation of “the thousands of hours and the hundreds of talented people who contribute to bringing us that ninety-odd minutes of entertainment.”


‘Star Trek’ Props


Pawn Stars: BOLD PRICE for RARE Star Trek Props (Season 7) | HistoryWatch all new episodes of Pawn Stars returning soon, and stay up to date on all of your favorite History Channel shows at history.com/schedule. The owner of original "Star Trek" props is ready to make a big profit, but with no proof of authenticity, Corey takes a gamble, in this clip from Season 7, "Beam…2020-09-11T17:59:53Z

And as the author rightly points out, much of what viewers see on screen these days is created on a computer screen and not something anyone can hold in their hands. Many of the objects seen in “Star Trek: Discovery” fall into this category. For example, the weapons that appear on the bad guys’ fists and wrists at the start of Season 3 were all CGI. 

This was not the case for “Star Trek” when it started. For one thing, there was no such thing as “computer-generated” television graphics. Anything that needed to be used on the show must be made in real life. CGI would not enter the world of entertainment until the 1980s

And so, Gene Roddenberry assembled his team of creatives to put his vision on television. Many of these names are familiar to Trek fans. Walter “Matt” Jefferies created the Enterprise, the Klingon battle cruiser, and so much of what fans saw inside the ships. William Ware Theiss created the uniforms for the crew and the costumes for everyone else. Fred Phillips made people green, blue or gave them pointed ears. But there is one name missing from this list. 

Wah Ming Chang was a gifted sculptor who was the creative mind behind an incredible amount of props for “Star Trek.” Chang, born in Honolulu, was recognized as a genius in his childhood. He was gifted as a sculptor, illustrator, and puppeteer. He won an Oscar for his work on the 1961 film “The Time Machine” and also worked on “The Outer Limits” and “Planet of the Apes.” He also created a short film called “Dinosaurs: The Terrible Lizards,” which featured his talents on full display.


‘Dinosaur: The Terrible Lizards’


Dinosaurs: The Terrible LizardsThis film was not created by me. It was created by Wah Ming Chang, who is known for his work on the original Star Trek, his creation of the titular Time Machine from the 1960 film, and his work on the 70s television show Land of the Lost. I sourced it from a 16mm copy.2009-02-22T17:31:13Z

According to the Los Angeles Times, Chang’s work was not limited to just science fiction. He also made the masks for the ballet sequence in Yul Brenner’s “The King and I.” He also built the intricate headdress for the film “Cleopatra.” Chang also created the very first Pillsbury Doughboy, which is now made with computer graphics. He also worked for Walt Disney, creating the models on which the animators based their drawings.

Thanks to the book “Star Trek Sketchbook,” authors Herbert F. Solow and Yvonne Fern Solow explained that Chang’s name is not familiar to the millions of Trek fans like his contemporaries because of “union complications and restrictions.” Mr. Solow was the executive producer of the first two seasons of TOS.

A feature article on StarTrek.com lists Chang’s accomplishments in the following order — “the phaser, the communicator, the tricorder, the Gorn, the first Romulan ship, the tribble, and the list goes on…”


Wang’s Gorn Costume


Star Trek The fight between Kirk and the GornLa lucha entre el Gorn y el Capitán Kirk en un episodio de Star Trek La Serie Original, como homenaje a la serie que dió comienzo al universo trek. The struggle between Gorn and Captain Kirk in an episode of Star Trek The Original Series as a tribute to the series that began the trek…2011-02-23T19:14:02Z

The story goes that after TOS producer Robert Justman was not happy with the look of the phaser props, they brought in Chang, who had created the alien prosthetic heads for “The Cage.” Chang created new phasers, which served as the basis for all Trek weapons which followed — except the infamous phaser rifle.

Chang created the famous “fake” alien head, which was featured in “The Corbomite Maneuver,” the Romulan helmets for “The Balance of Terror,” and the “Salt Vampire” costume for “The Man Trap.” 

In the “Star Trek Sketchbook” Solow wrote that Chang’s “skill infused compassion and tenderness into the latex mask” for the Salt Vampire. He also created the Vulcan harp which Spock (Leonard Nimoy) played in “Charlie X.” Truth be told, it seems that there were very few props for TOS which Chang did not make. The “Star Trek Sketchbook” even includes copies of the receipts that Desilu Studios paid to Chang.

Chang passed away in 2003, but his legacy of work will live on for decades to come. 

READ NEXT: How Did Starfleet Officers Pay for Drinks at Quark’s Bar?


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