John Eaves remembers the late Trek model maker Greg Jein

Gregory Jein and John Eaves

John Eaves

Gregory Jein and John Eaves at work on a model.

John Eaves, a respected, veteran concept artist and designer whose credits include decades of Star Trek series and features, is mourning the loss of his friend and mentor Gregory Jein, he told Heavy in an exclusive interview. Gein was an Oscar- and Emmy-nominated model maker, artist, and landscape miniature creator whose numerous credits are reported by the Internet Movie Databaseincluded several 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, acc Memory AlphaHe has served as 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 to Eaves on June 29, 2022, a day after news of Gein’s death was publicly shared by his friends and associates.

Jein died on May 22, 2022 at the age of 76

John Eaves and Gregory Jein

John EavesJohn Eaves and Gregory Jein on a Star Trek set together.

How familiar were you with Jein’s early work on films like Flesh Gordon, Close Encounters and Buckaroo Bonzai?

Eaves: I met Greg Jein through Starlog magazine. Starlog came out around 1976 and was fairly heavily involved in “Star Trek” in the beginning, sprinkled with a lot of pre-“Star Wars” bits. Somewhere in those issues there was an article about John Carpenter’s Dark Star that featured artwork by Ron Cobb and some miniature work by Greg Jein. After the big explosion of Star Wars, Starlog started making special editions and one of them contained all the models for a movie called Flesh Gordon, definitely not to be confused with Flash Gordon! Greg and a slew of future VFX GOATs got a foot in the door with this adult parody, and Greg’s models were amazing. I combed through these images and examined the smallest details. Thanks to Starlog and later Cinefex going deeper into the FX world, articles about Greg have been a constant. Issue #2 had a feature called “Greg Jein, The Miniature Giant” and I read that one piece all the time. The next big thing about Greg came in 1984 with the release of Buckaroo Banzai and once again my fandom of Greg and his work had a heyday with all the images of his miniature work.

how did you meet him

Eaves: I met Greg in the summer of 1984 when I was desperately trying to break into the VFX world. I grew up in Arizona and while visiting our state film commission, I came across a film directory. And in the list of services was the phone number for Greg’s shop. I ran home and called him and he kindly invited me to visit. Within days I was on my way to his shop and I spent about an hour there talking while he casts parts from a mold. It was a day I will never forget.

What do you think were his most important specific contributions to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, his other Trek films, TNG, DS9, and VOY, but TNG in particular?

Eaves: Greg’s contributions to Star Trek are not only legendary, they also stand out on screen. When I watched “TMP” on opening day, the scene that struck me the most was when the Enterprise lies deep inside V’ger, surrounded by orbs of light and a huge triangular architecture. I remember thinking it was as beautiful as the mother ship from Close Encounters. Ironically, when I read the Cinefex magazine article about “TMP” I realized that of course it was Greg’s work. I started working with Greg when he came over to help out on a project we were working on at an effects company called Apogee. We formed a great friendship on this project and shortly after he invited me to come over to his house to work on Star Trek V. Once there, he had modeled the first episodes of “TNG,” which he helped create at ILM. At any point during the “Trek V” modeling work, the phone rang and a slew of new “TNG” models were added to the list. The days were long and great. We started at 7:00 in the morning and ended at 10:00 in the evening. When “DS9” and “Voyager” were launched, Greg was a major model maker for both, not only creating miniatures but also contributing artwork and design. There was nothing he couldn’t do.

What kind of boss and mentor was he?

Eaves: Well, Greg never came across as a boss, more like a fellow crew member. His duties as boss were more like phoning the studio, but back at the store he would hand out tasks and off we went. He always worked for us when his duties as boss were over. He really gave us all a sense of freedom to build what had to be built ourselves. He hired you for your skills and really let you go with them. He also hired you because of your attitude, how funny you were, and how well you worked for others. There were tense times due to deadlines, but that never mattered because he made every situation a good one. His knowledge about the model was passed on immeasurably. If you had a problem he could solve it and what was very unique was his rough style. The criteria was if it works, that’s all it has to do.

What have you learned from him personally and professionally?

Eaves: On a professional and personal level, what I’ve learned from Greg is that we’re all happy fans of the movies who got into model making. Greg was the biggest fan and he shared everything with us. He took us to all Comic-Cons and a variety of comic and specialty stores throughout LA and Little Tokyo to find cool collectibles. Greg introduced us to fried milk in Chinatown, Hawaiian cuisine, sushi and dim sum. He was more of a friend than an employer and that’s what Greg was to all of us, a friend.

He was also reportedly very good at encouraging emerging artists. Who else in the Trek universe studied under his wing?

Eaves: Greg was the one who gave everyone a chance! If he saw talent in you, he would take you further, no matter what level of beginner you were. We all learned from Greg and from each other, and he nurtured your talents by giving you assignments that gave you opportunities to grow and learn more. Without ever saying a word, he would take you where he thought you could do your best! Working for Greg on any project eventually became a “Star Trek” project. On many occasions, he took on emergency jobs for Trek models for free. We were all paid but he would bite the bullet for helping his friends in times of need and also because he lived to make the models. We all worked late into the night to get these jobs done and it was always a good time.

Jein and Eaves have worked together on numerous Star Trek projects

Gregory Jein and John Eaves

John EavesGregory Jein and John Eaves teamed up to work on a “Trek” model.

Have you ever been able to see his private collection of memorabilia and props, and if so, what “Trek” items impressed you the most? What was he most proud of?

Eaves: Greg had a huge collection of just about everything. He had many 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 something from the original Star Trek.

What was your last conversation or meeting with him – and when?

Eaves: For the most part, Greg retired a few years ago for health reasons. We kept in touch and often had dinner. (More recently) Covid got in the way of many gatherings but we spoke on the phone often. Last month I called him to ask if he would like dinner and I got his old voice device which he has had for over 30 years. Unfortunately, an hour later I received a call back from his family telling me that he had passed away two days earlier. We all knew his time would come, but I wish I had never received that call. I would never have made it to the cinema if it wasn’t for Apogee’s Greg and Grant McCune. Greg gave me a chance and I cannot find enough words to describe the gratitude behind his very kind gesture. His death definitely left a huge hole in my heart.

Finally, what do you think his legacy is. To borrow a line from Deep Space Nine, what does Greg Jein leave behind?

Eaves: For many he leaves behind decades of historical film memorabilia, but for all of us who knew him he left a bond and friendship filled with wonderful memories. His influence on films and models is known around the world and he has encouraged countless people to follow in his dreams and footsteps. What is Greg leaving behind? A fandom world without measure. Good luck Greg – and give Sid the cat some love from all of us. John Eaves remembers the late Trek model maker Greg Jein

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