Oral Histories

Interview of Dan Curry

Visual effects artist and producer for the Star Trek series “The Next Generation,” “Deep Space 9,” “Voyager,” and “Enterprise.” Developed the Klingon Mok’Bara martial arts style, as well as the bat’leth and mek’leth blades.
Topic:
COVID-19 Pandemic
Film and Television
Interviewer:
Collings, Jane
Interviewee:
Curry, Dan
Persons Present:
Curry and Collings
Place Conducted:
Sessions 1-4 took place at Curry's home in North Hollywood, Los Angeles. Because of the necessity of restricting personal contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, the fifth session was conducted by phone.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Jane Collings, principal editor and interviewer, UCLA Center for Oral History Research; Ph.D., Critical Studies in Film and Television, UCLA.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. The interviewee was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and made a number of corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff. The transcript may thus differ slightly from the audio recording because of the changes the interviewee made at the time of their review. Some months after the oral history interview was completed, the UCLA Center for Oral History Research re-contacted Curry to extend an invitation to participate in another interview session documenting the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the film and television industry. The final session thus focuses primarily on the personal, professional, and industry-wide effects of the pandemic.
Length:
6.25 hrs.
Language:
English
Copyright:
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Audio:
Early memories of parents’ work in public service--Paternal loss of family to flu epidemic--Extended family--Curry and brother encouraged to pursue education--Archery and The Hunting Grounds--Archery competitions with Matthew Yuricich--First job at Fischer’s Bakery--Small businesses and the neighborhood--Brother’s injury in neighborhood rivalry---Mobster Carmine Persico pays medical expenses—Middlebury College--Early film influences--Making eight millimeter films with brother--Eye for film production details--Power of the title sequence--Blacklisting of Dalton Trumbo--Difference between the shape of movies and television--Arts education—Lacrosse--Culture shock at Middlebury--Teachers at Middlebury--Dr. Littlefield’s advice--Making sixteen millimeter films at Middlebury--Friends lost in Vietnam War--Community development work with the Peace Corps--Learning new languages--Working with people in Thailand--Experiences working with elephants--Trek through Nepal--Directing a Thai television show--Freelance design work in Thailand--Marries wife in Thailand--Moves back to New York--Biomedical illustration work--Teaching fine arts--Housesitting in Cape Cod--Setting up Dan Curry Gallery--Meeting Kurt Vonnegut--Faculty at the community college--Students at the community college--The importance of developing your own perspective and expression as an artist--The effects of encouraging art students--Generosity to children at Pang Roi and its eventual effects--Charles Gallop and a job offer from Humboldt State University--Friendship with Robert Clark--Work with Clark in Laos--Theater thesis project at Humboldt State--Influence of characters from thesis project on Star Trek Enterprise--Meeting Marcia Lucas---Introductions to Dennis Muren, Alan Maley, and Mike Pangrazio--Introduction to Peter Anderson at Universal Studios--Designing alien architecture and doing matte painting at Universal--Meeting David Stripe--Robert Clark and Enzo Ferrari.
Interest as a child in exotic locales seen in films--Choosing a Peace Corps program--Peace Corps training in Hawaii--Living and working in the villages in Thailand--Martial arts and hunting-- Personal growth in response to living with Thai people—The electrification of rural Thailand--Thai television--Theater and opera experiences in Thailand--Evading capture by the Pathet Lao—The Vietnam War from the Thai perspective--Witnesses human trafficking—Meets future wife--Works for the Thai Ministry of Education--Architectural design projects--Production design work for King’s Royal Charity Ball--Meets King Bhumibol--Befriends the governor of Khon Kaen province--Ferrying the river in Bangkok—Lives in Thonburi near Bangkok--Gambling and the Golden Cloud casino in Laos--Opium culture in Laos--Spiritual cleansing power of Nepalese mountains--Learning the importance of humility and interconnectedness-- Exiting the mountains in Kabul--Visiting the Hunza Valley.
Visual effects as illusion creation--Design process from script inspiration to budget negotiation--Creative benefits of working on Star Trek--Egalitarian relationships between creative departments on Star Trek--Make-up artist Mike Westmore--Production designers Herman Zimmerman and Richard James--Imagining the Bat’leth--Rick Berman’s input on the Bat’leth--Dennis “Dennis Danger” Madalone accepts the Bat’leth for stunts--Stuntman Tommy Moraga becomes Bat’leth master--Bat’leth is accepted by the Korean Martial Arts Association as a modern weapon of value--Designing the Mek’leth with Michael Dorn for Deep Space Nine--Evolution of Klingon culture through Curry and Dorn’s involvement--Designing Mok’bara martial arts with Michael Dorn--Star Trek’s cultural impact as utopian vision-- Gene Roddenberry’s Prime Directive--Uniqueness of Star Trek’s work culture--Influence of showrunner’s and captain’s personality on each series set--Patrick Stewart’s sense of humor--Avery Brook’s social awareness--Kate Mulgrew’s professionalism--Ira Behr’s sense of playfulness--Scott Bakula’s down-to-earthness--Underlying core themes of each series--Herman Zimmerman’s designs of the Enterprise and Deep Space Nine ships--Design of Quark’s Bar--Design influences of NX-01 ship--Star Trek family reunion at 2018 Academy of Television Arts and Sciences honor--Process of determining where special effects serve the storyline--Learning from unsuccessful effects experiments--Producing the Deep Space Nine title sequence--Deep Space Nine model designs by Tony Meininger--Spacemen designs by John Knoll of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM)--Music composed by Dennis McCarthy--Producing the Voyager title sequence--Storyboarding with Erik Tiemens and David Stripes--Bringing old school methods to The Gifted and to Chuck--Darwinian approach to creature design--Designing life on Xindi with Michael Westmore, Bob Blackman, and John Teska--Designing The Aquatics with David Morton and Eric Hans--Favorite series episodes--Creating pyrotechnic effects with Dick Brownfield, Thaine Morris, and Marvin Rush.
The symbiotic relationship between science and science fiction--A brief history of science fiction writing and theater--Science fiction films influence technological advances--Advances in science influence artistic expression in science fiction--Digital film and increasing reliance on satellite technology--Working with NASA--The Overview Institute--The Overview Effect and the meaninglessness of borders--The first image of Earth taken from space--Collective consciousness as an entity--Meeting Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong while in the Peace Corps--Impact of conversations with astronauts on creative thinking--Mission of the Overview Institute--Ethical choice to stay with Star Trek--Work on Star Trek as a series of special effects experiments--Ron Moore and Good Enough Is the Enemy of Excellence--Team working environment of Star Trek--Lived experiences as artistic reference--On being a maker of worlds--Working with Ronald B. Moore--Star Trek production as a working civilization--Variation of topics at different speaking engagement venues--Developing a basis for artistic decisions--Work on The Chronicles of Elijah Sincere--Work on Chuck--Cast of Chuck: Zachary Levi, Scott Bakula, Linda Hamilton--Summary of post-Star Trek projects--Becoming a Visual Effects Society fellow--Designing the Visual Effects Society award statue--Summary of awards won--Meeting Cyndi Lauper--Co-authoring a book with Ben Robinson--Use of paintings for book cover--Speaking on a Comic Con panel about visual effects--Book offer from Risa Kessler--Writing process with Robinson--Recent artistic projects--Exploration of the human face--Interest in found object sculpture--Designing the Mobius Flux guitar with Brandon MacDougall--Interest in personal writing--Plans to focus on personal life.
First news of COVID-19--Experiences with food practices in East Asia--Early feeling that the virus would only be an epidemic--Household events as COVID-19 entered the United States--Son’s stay-at-home experience--Changing habits under COVID-19-Possible contamination at the post office--Experiencing strange cardiac symptoms--Testing positive for COVID-19--Hospital stay--Release to quarantine at home--Artistic exploration while painting during quarantine--Not knowing source of virus contact--Permanent medical effects after recovery--Belief that Tai Chi and healthy diet aided recovery--Sense that science will advance as a result of COVID-19--The need for humans to band together as a species to overcome the pandemic--The Overview Institute--COVID-19 and space exploration--Designing a virtual film stage--Writing project in production development--Celestia, a creative project with son and Alex Rueda--A growing interest in television due to the pandemic--Potential production solutions under social distancing--History of creative solutions in filming--Painting during the pandemic--Experimenting with Photoshop--Disappointment in the political politicization of COVID-19--Maintaining positivity.