Remember that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation when the crew was having trouble sleeping, and they were getting weirded out by certain things? Well, it turns out it was a little weirder than we thought. In Schisms, the 5th episode of the sixth season of the series, aliens were abducting crew members and transporting them through a rift off the ship to perform experiments. Commander Riker was one of those unlucky subjects, and when Dr. Crusher examined, she discovered a small misalignment of the bones in his arm which indicated that it had been severed and then reattached.
When this episode was being filmed, it was still in 1992 before CG came along. But the arm still needed to be scanned in a way that it could show up on the viewscreen, and everyone could see what the aliens had done. According to Dan Curry, the visual effects director, the only option was to build several models of Jonathan Frakes’ arm and combine them all, a task which would have been both time-consuming and expensive. Well, that would have been the only option if a medical researcher at a university hadn’t come to the rescue.
According to Star Trek: The Artistry of Dan Curry, the researcher took a cadaver’s arm and shaved it layer by layer, using a microtome, which is a cutting tool that can produce extremely thin slices of material. One of the researcher’s grad students took pictures of the layers which produced the desired effect needed to showcase Commander Riker’s arm onscreen. It’s going to be hard not to think about that the next time you’re on a rewatch of that episode, isn’t it? Well, I know it is for me.