Like all Star Trek shows, Star Trek: The Next Generation relied upon special effects to create everything from the phaser beams to nebulas. Now, with CGI, most of the special effects needed are created without having to use every day, ordinary things, but when TNG was getting started, the visual effects had to be created a little more…well…creatively. The beam outs of the transporter room, the firing of a phaser, and the zoom motion of warp speed required the visual effects department to come up with ways to make them appear realistic on the screen. Dan Curry, who was the visual effects producer and supervisor, was a master at making the smallest of things work in the biggest of ways. And one of the things he used a lot on almost every episode of Star Trek: TNG was a pom-pom.
Curry found a Mylar cheerleader’s pom-pom in a fabric store and immediately knew its random reflected light could be useful, especially for energy patterns. The decorative ball was used to create the force field protecting the Enterprise, (the sparkles from the pom-pom were wrapped around a virtual lozenge shape), the phaser hit points on spaceships during battle, and even an animated phaser beam.
In “The Neutral Zone,” which was the season one finale of TNG, Curry used the pom-pom composited onto a star field to create a nebula. It also popped up again as a small energy creature. And the pom-pom didn’t just stay on the Enterprise as it was also used to create the image of Deep Space Nine which was essentially a pom-pom wrapped around a transparent virtual sphere.
To Curry, creating virtual effects changed the way he viewed the world, and he was always looking for things that could change to become something different.
"“You’re always thinking, ‘what could I use that for and what else could it be?'”"
If the pom-poms aren’t enough to impress you, he used glitter swizzled around inside a beaker to create the sparkles for the transporter and the food replicators! What an imagination Dan Curry has, and he used that imagination to make science fiction come alive.