Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Star Trek Viewmaster

by Rob - July 9th, 2009.
Filed under: Star Trek.

Click picture for larger version

Over at, someone asked, about the Star Trek Viewmaster reels from the 1960s: “Always wondered why there was not a real shot of the Enterprise and the Exeter in the set … instead of a shot of two of the model kits in space. Anyone know?”

Yes, indeed. I do. :)

Only the Exeter in the background was the AMT model kit; the Enterprise in the foreground was the 33″ (“the three-footer”) model of the ship created for the TV series; the Viewmaster shot of it (above) is gorgeous.

And the reason it was done that way is simple: to get the Viewmaster 3D effect, they had to shoot with special stereo cameras. That was back when Sawyers (no relation) or GAF actually sent their own camerapeople onto the sets of TV shows they were making Viewmaster reels for (which is why it was “The Omega Glory” — not because it was the best episode, but because it was the one that happened to be filming the week the Viewmaster cameraman was in the studio).

The shots of the Enterprise and Exeter used in the actual episode weren’t new miniature footage, but rather recombinations of existing footage, and so there was no way to get the 3D effect from the existing opticals; Viewmaster redid the shot from scratch, and it actually is quite gorgeous. Think of it as the very first example of Star Trek Remastered. ;)

Later, Viewmaster reels were done on the cheap; the Star Trek: The Motion Picture set is an example. They’d use stills from the movie — two or three split-screened, so that the stills were at different focal depths, but weren’t themselves three-dimensional.

Googling around, I find that the blog My Star Trek Scrapbook has a great page devoted to the Classic Trek Viewmaster set.

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