Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Academy Award winner Joseph "Joe" J. Lombardi (24 June 192418 December 1997; age 73) was a special effects (SFX) artist who, over an interval of three decades, worked on two Star Trek live-action productions, one credited and one uncredited.

When "The Cage", the very first Star Trek production, was picked up by NBC as the pilot for a new television series, effects staffers Joe Lombardi as subcontractor along with tenured Desilu Studios colleague Jack Briggs were assigned by their supervisor, Jim Paisley – the studio's production manager – to serve the new production as such in early autumn of 1964. (Star Trek Memories, 1994, p. 88) Coined a "genius gadgeteer and electrician and jack-of-all-trades" by Creator/Executive Producer Gene Roddenberry in his 25 August memo, Lombardi was made responsible for all the on-set SFX, such as pyrotechnics, lighting and the electronics, those of the USS Enterprise bridge set in particular, whereas Briggs as property master was made responsible for dressing the sets. Starting in late autumn, Lombardi had his part of the sets construction completed in time for the scheduled filming, slated to start on 30 November 1964. (The Making of Star Trek, pp. 87, 102 & 106; These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, pp. 36-37, 56-58) It was Lombardi who came up with the cost-saving idea to fill up ice cube trays with colored resin which, backlit, served as the hundreds of push buttons featured all over the Enterprise sets, again the bridge in particular, as well as the turbolift progress indicating lighting. [1]

Neither Lombardi nor Briggs were assigned to Star Trek afterwards – instead being assigned to other productions on the Desilu lot – be it for the second pilot episode or the regular series, when the series went into full production and where Lombardi's position was filled by Bob Overbeck for the second pilot episode, and Jim Rugg for the regular series, respectively. But as the turbolift progress lighting – achieved by cutting slits in a roll of canvas and spooling it between two barrels – was only introduced in the second pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", this was indicative that Lombard has on at least one occasion lent a hand to his successors on the show, albeit uncredited. Though The Cage had not been aired originally, both Lombardi and Briggs got their official credit two years later, when the pilot was repurposed for the first season two-part regular series episode "The Menagerie, Part I" and "The Menagerie, Part II", credited for the latter.

Almost to the day thirty years later, in September 1994, Lombardi in a sense came full circle when he was subcontracted for the reshoot of the finale of Star Trek Generations. Unsatisfied with the original demise of Captain James T. Kirk at the the conclusion of the film, a newly imagined death scene was conceived after principal photography had already wrapped months earlier in June. For the new scene, again shot in the Valley of Fire, Nevada, Lombardi was commissioned to construct and collapse the catwalk on which Kirk met his demise. Before the shooting Lombardi approached Kirk performer William Shatner with a request to sign the study maquette Lombardi had constructed previously to determine the placement of the explosive charges on the catwalk. Shatner did not know Lombardi, as he had not been involved in The Cage, and was taken aback at first, but was won over when Lombardi, after introducing himself and known for his dry sense of humor (and incidentally appealing to Shatner's own sense of humor), retorted, "Hey, I brought you into to the world, now I'm taking you out." [2] For this contribution, neither Lombardi nor "Full Scale Effects" – his own personal company under which he habitually marketed his services – were ever credited.

While Shatner did not know Lombardi personally, he did know of him, as he had already mentioned him a couple of times in his autobiography Star Trek Memories, published the year previously, the first (reference) author to do so in some detail when it came to Star Trek, actually identifying him by name – when discounting the one official credit – and tying him to his handiwork (including the first-time publication of the picture featured above of Lombardi at work on the bridge set), as Lombardi had previously only been referenced to once as "the special effects man" in the 1968 reference book The Making of Star Trek (p. 106) without disclosure of his name.


Joe Lombardi began his career in the motion picture industry in 1947, working at first for RKO Pictures as a tenured employee. In 1955, in the wake of the dismantling of the traditional "Hollywood Studio System" (see Desilu also in this regard), Lombardi decided to strike out on his own as an independent contractor to which end he founded his own personal Hollywood-based company, Full Scale Effects. Following in the footsteps of RKO colleague Linwood G. Dunn who had already done so with his Film Effects of Hollywood, Lombardi became one of the first Hollywood production professionals in any field to do so. [3]

His first new client, after RKO had gone out of business, was Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz's adjacent Desilu Studios (which acquired the real estate of the defunct RKO studio in 1957), and where he further honed his skilled as a SFX artist. [4] During his tenure at Desilu he worked, credited and uncredited, on television series such as Lassie, Angel, My Favorite Martian, Ball's own I Love Lucy, Rango, and the Star Trek pilot. Lombardi enjoyed a warm relationship with Ball, whom he personally flew around on wire multiple times on her show, and had been a frequent guest at the annual Desilu family Christmas parties. [5]

Ball sold her company in July 1967, and Lombardi, having served Ball's company for a decade, moved on to other clients. A selection of SFX credits he accumulated afterwards, predominantly for theatrical film productions, included The Godfather (1972), The Godfather: Part II (1974), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Mosquito Coast (1986), Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988, with Karin Hanson, Richard Snell, Martin Becker, and Joe Podnar), alongside a few, rare television productions of which the 1987 Vietnam War Story series was one.

Lombardi, along with son Paul, decided to branch out into film production for himself and to that end set up his own company "Riverwood Studios, Inc." in 1998. Finding Hollywood too expensive a proposition he set up shop in Senoia, Coweta County, Georgia for that state's tax incentives. Originally of a mind to produce films himself, he found out that his company from the outset became in high demand by other production companies for their productions – just as his former employer Desilu had been. Not only that, his SFX skills remained in high demand as well, causing his company to concurrently evolve into a specialized SFX company as well, alongside his own already established "Full Scale effects". (Newnan-Coweta Magazine, May/June 2006, p. 22) Credits the company accrued included Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), The Tomorrow Man and Andersonville (both 1996) and The Initiate (1998), whereas Lombardi and/or his original company themselves also continued to earn individual SFX credits for among others Flight of the Intruder (1991, working alongside Don Pennington, providing the explosions for his Vietnam landscape maquettes) and Clear and Present Danger (1996), aside from his uncredited ones, such as Generations.

Lombardi continued to work throughout his life and had just completed work on the 1998 film When Trumpets Fade, shot in Budapest, Hungary, when he contracted bronchial pneumonia. Inflight, on his way back to America, his condition took a turn for the worse and Lombardi had to be rushed into a London, UK, hospital, diagnosed with a serious viral infection of the sinuses, from which he did not recover, dying aged 73. His body repatriated for burial at the San Fernando Mission Cemetery, he was survived by his wife, three children, and four grandchildren. [6]

Only months before his death on 18 December 1997, Lombardi had been awarded an honorary life achievement Academy Award. His death accelerated the downward spiral the production company was in due to the severely increased competition from abroad in the mid-1990s, Canada in particular, only aggravated by the death of his wife Sheila a short time thereafter. These circumstances enticed son Paul to shut down the company for nearly two years, before Lombardi's grand-nephew Scott Tigchelaar, who had already been appointed earlier by Lombardi to alleviate the organizational workload, reinitialized it with the help of the state Georgia. (Newnan-Coweta Magazine, May/June 2006, pp. 22-23) Renamed "Raleigh Studios Atlanta" shortly thereafter, it was eventually sold to AMC Studios in July 2017, producer of the hit series The Walking Dead and its equally successful spin-off Fear the Walking Dead, both of which the studio was already involved in. [7] Lombardi's personal company "Full Scale Effects" also continued to exist under new ownership after his death, to wit son Paul, who had decided to focus all his energy and attention on his father's original company only. [8]

Further reading

  • "The Riverwood Dream", Alex McRae, Newnan-Coweta Magazine, May/June 2006, pp. 18-25

External links

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