Gregory Jein, the acclaimed model maker and artist who worked on eight Star Trek properties and earned Oscar nominations for Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 1941, has died. He was 76.
Jein died May 22 in his Los Angeles home of cardiac arrest after a long history of health issues that included a battle with diabetes, a family spokeswoman told The Hollywood Reporter. His family elected to keep his death quiet until this week, she added.
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According to the website Memory Alpha, Jein began his association with Star Trek in 1977 by designing a Klingon battle cruiser for Star Trek: Phase II, which would have been the first live-action spinoff of NBC’s original Star Trek had it gone forward.
He collaborated with visual effects maestro Douglas Trumbull on Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), then followed with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) and Star Trek X: Nemesis (2002) and the Star Trek shows The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Much of his work was done through his company, Gregory Jein Inc., which he launched in 1979.
He shared Emmy nominations for the 1996 Deep Space Nine episode “Trials and Tribble-ations” and for the 2003 HBO miniseries Angels in America and received eight excellence in production design noms from the Art Directors Guild, the most recent for his contributions as a model maker to the live-action Mulan (2020).
The modest Jein shared visual effects Oscar noms with Trumbull, Roy Arbogast and brothers Matthew and Richard Yuricich on Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and with William A. Fraker and A.D. Flowers on 1941 (1979). He spent about two years on the latter, which he called one of his most rewarding jobs.
His résumé also included Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Interstellar (2014), plus One From the Heart (1981), The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (1984), The Hunt for Red October (1990), Judge Dredd (1995), The Scorpion King (2002), Fantastic Four (2005), Avatar (2009), Reel Steel (2011), John Carter (2012) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016).
He worked for ILM, Boss Film Corp., Walt Disney Imagineering and other production houses.
“We look to have fun and make everything the best we can on any project we work on,” he explained in a 2015 interview for StarTrek.com.
Courtesy of American Society of Cinematographers Collection, Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 31, 1945, Jein spent most of his life in the Crenshaw district and attended Audubon Junior High, Dorsey High School and Cal State Los Angeles. He was especially fond of telling stories from his childhood of stuffing fortune cookies fresh from the oven at the Famous Hong Kong Noodle Co.
He did special effects for the X-rated Flesh Gordon and John Carpenter’s Dark Star, both released in 1974, then worked on the NBC telefilm The UFO Incident and the Wonder Woman pilot for ABC the next year.
His work with Trumbull began with a three-month assignment at the Future General Corp. His major contribution as chief model maker to Close Encounters was the ethereal Mothership, a virtual city in the sky that rose above Devil’s Tower. (The model is now housed in the Smithsonian’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.)
On Facebook, longtime Star Trek graphic designer Michael Okuda said he was “deeply saddened” by Jein’s death.
“Greg had a wry sense of humor and was endlessly inventive,” the three-time Emmy nominee wrote. “He always seemed to find a way to provide us with spaceships, even when only a tiny budget was available. He genuinely loved Star Trek and was always generous with his expertise and his experience, giving many top modelers their start in the business. Greg had been ill for some time, but his passing is nevertheless a gut punch.”
Survivors include his cousins Eleanor, Cheryl, Jerry, Vivian, Laura and Janice and their families. A celebration of his life is being planned.
In the StarTrek.com interview, Jein called himself “a collector and an accumulator” of comic books, pulp magazines and movie/TV memorabilia and revealed that he once bought a script from the original Star Trek series before the episode even aired.
“I have a hard time throwing anything away,” he said.
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