On September 8, 1973, exactly seven years after the debut of Star Trek, Star Trek: The Animated Series premiered on NBC. Produced by the famous Filmation studios which was founded in the early 1960s by Lou Scheimer, Norm Prescott and Hal Sutherland, TAS would run for 22 episodes. For the time, it had what was probably the largest budget of any animated series at about $75,000.00 per episode. Costs were high because the series had almost the entire TOS cast reprising their roles. Money was saved in the animation. Where 25 minutes of Disney animation could use seventeen thousand drawings a typical episode of TAS would use only five to seven thousand. The series endures, not so much for its animation, but for its wonderful stories. Many of the writers of TOS returned to work with Gene Roddenberry. Most notably, D.C. (Dorothy) Fontana who wrote what is arguably the best TAS episode, “Yesteryear.”
In “Yesteryear,” Spock must travel back in time to save the life of his younger self. This episode establishes a couple of important aspects of Vulcan culture. First, the Kahs-wan or maturity ritual in which Vulcan children spend several days in the desert learning to survive on their own. Next, the fact that a large area of Vulcan desert is known as the “Forge.” In addition, this episode features our first view of a Vulcan city, Spock’s hometown of Shikahr.
Later, when TOS was being remastered, the artists decided to include a view of the city in “Amok Time” (look to the top right corner of the frame).
In the TOS episode “Journey to Babel” we learn that, as a child, Spock had a pet sehlat. In “Yesteryear” we get our first glimpse of the animal. Here is the sehlat, I-Chaya (on the left) battling a le-matya in the Forge.
In the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “The Forge” we would see a CG version of a sehlat that borrowed much of it’s design from I-Chaya.
Though the animation could be rough, much of the stylized design and art for TAS is quite striking. Art Director, Don Christensen, led a team of 38 artists and 36 animators. Christensen had begun has career at Disney drawing for films like Pinocchio and Dumbo. In addition to TAS, Christensen would go on to become art director for Superman, Batman and The Brady Kids. Apparently, much of the credit for an animated Star Trek series goes to Christensen. He brought the idea to Gene Roddenberry shortly after TOS was cancelled in 1969.
Another artist we have to thank for TAS is Emmy winner Bob Kline. His animation career really began with TAS. He served as a layout artist and designer on the series. He would go on to work on such famous animated series as My Little Pony, The Gummi Bears, Darkwing Duck and Gargoyles. Kline is still working in animation today.
“Yesteryear” was nominated for an Emmy for outstanding childrens’ series. Unfortunately, that episode didn’t win but the following year, the TAS episode “How Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth” did win the Emmy. It was Star Trek‘s first.
Though TAS has it’s faults, the writing was strong. The dialogue was sophisticated and, for the most part, the writers made no attempt to dumb down the stories for younger viewers. In TAS we got our first view of a Holodeck, the first utterance of the immortal phrase “Beam me up Scotty!”, Spock’s mother got a last name (Grayson) and the “T.” in James T. Kirk was revealed to be Tiberius. In terms of Vulcan design, TAS helped establish the long-discussed appearance of a sehlat and gave us our first view of a Vulcan city. We owe much to this unofficial “fourth season” of Star Trek.
All 22 episodes of Star Trek: TAS are available on DVD. All of the animated screencaps seen here are from the episode “Yesteryear.” For more information, see the book, The Art of Star Trek by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.