Truths about Greg Jein from the friends who knew him best


Greg Jein was a VFX model maker and special effects genuis who worked for Star Trek. 

Greg Jein was a VFX genius who, in 1986, along with a team at Industrial Light & Magic built the original six-foot model of the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D)  which was used for the pilot of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The skilled wizard passed away in May of this year, and his cremated remains will be aboard the Enterprise Memorial Space Flight which is tentatively scheduled for the first part of 2023.

Though we know about Jein’s technical abilities and talents, we didn’t know much about the man who loved his job and brought a lot of joy to Star Trek fans. So, with a little help, I was able to reach out to some of his friends and co-workers who gladly filled me in on what it was like to know Greg Jein.

We knew Greg Jein for his talent. Tell us a little more about him, what he was like when he wasn’t working.

Sharon Lee ( Greg Jein’s best friend): Greg Jein was the most gracious, kind, unflappable, and intensely loyal individual I’ve even known.  His personal demeanor was no different than his professional persona.  He was an innately intelligent, well-read, and immensely talented artisan.  Deeply humble.  Mischievous.  Unique.  Inscrutable.  Honorable.  Gracious.  In control.

Bill George (Visual Effects for Star Trek VI, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind): Greg was a collector and not just of Star Trek and movie memorabilia. He was into so many different things, from the military to toys to art. He could strike up a conversation with anybody and was well known and respected all over town. Greg collected as many friends and fans as collectable objects over the years. He was a passionate guy who really enjoyed the simple things.

Greg Jein
Greg Jein /

Lou Zutavern (Model maker for Elf and Charlie Wilson’s War): Greg was kind, funny, and giving.

John Eaves (Art Department Star Trek (2009) and Captain America): I was a fan of Greg’s from when I first saw his model work in Starlog Magazine for Close Encounters, Darkstar, and Flesh Gorgon, Cinefex followed an,d from the pictures they posted and reading his interviews, he had a passion for what he did and also seemed like he was fun and approachable.

I got his phone number from 411 and called him in the summer of 1984, and he invited me out to the shop for a visit. Eight hours later, I made the trek from Phoenix, Arizona to Marina Del Rey and found myself talking with one of my movie making heroes. Greg was all and more from what I was expecting. Passionate, professional, funny, and a fan of everything.

Years later, I started working with and found his interests had no limits so restaurants of every kind, aviation, and collecting everything became things we would do both during and after work. One of my favorites things about Greg is that he was a friend to everyone. Unless you took advantage of him, he would do just about anything for anyone. He made friends easily, and he always remembered your name.

Greg Jein
Greg Jein /

How did Greg Jein feel about being involved with Star Trek and having the opportunity to build the models that are so iconic today? 

Sharon Lee: It was a dream come true for him, as were all of us who worked on STAR TREK, THE MOTION PICTURE. The extraordinary talent pool attached to that project was surreal.  Greg hired crew members on that film who remained colleagues and friends for decades, which fulfilled Greg’s mentoring instincts.  He coveted scouting out and nurturing undiscovered talent for their first industry jobs.  And then proudly watched as they reached professional heights, I suspect even they couldn’t have imagined.

Bill George: Greg was a big fan of the original series when it was on the air. He was an O.G. fan who loved all the classic genre shows from the 1960s. I’m sure that love was a big part of the reason he ended up working in the industry, and he was very happy to be continuing the Star Trek legacy with the miniature work he created.

Lou Zutavern: The show we had the most fun on was the DEEP-SPACE 9 episode “Trials and Trimble-actions” We made the Enterprise, Klingon, and K7 Space Station for the original show.

John Eaves: Greg was a huge fan of Star Trek and a collector of the original series props long before he started working on the films and shows. Star Trek the Motion Picture was his big break into becoming a part of Trek for the 40+ years. He loved making models and props for the shows and in many cases he would make emergency models for the shows for free with the handshake deal he would get to keep the models after they were shot. Sadly, that didn’t happen all the time, but it never stopped him from making more. I would have to say there was never a bigger fan of Star Trek then Greg.

Greg Jein
Greg Jein /

How did his inclusion on the Enterprise Memorial Flight come about?

Sharon Lee: Celestis reached out to Greg’s family with the offer of sending Greg’s ashes up on the Enterprise Memorial Flight, who then called me to discuss.  We all agreed that it was an “Offer we couldn’t (& shouldn’t) refuse” as it honored him in a way we couldn’t have even imagined.

John Eaves: I am not sure how this came to be, but it is very exciting and it is something that makes his friends and family very very happy about.

How do you think he would feel about traveling to space with Gene Roddenberry and other Star Trek icons? Is this something the two of you ever talked about?

Sharon Lee:  We talked quite a bit about his final wishes ,but this option wasn’t on our radar.  The opportunity was offered after his passing.

He’d been given a gift certificate by dear friends for a flight in an open-air biplane, which was #1 on his bucket list.  We all hoped his health would improve enough to go on that flight, but sadly, he passed away before we had the chance.  To help fulfill Greg’s wish, we made arrangements for his ashes to be scattered from that biplane.  Soon after those plans were in place, we got the offer from Celestis.

As I mentioned, Greg was genuinely humble and let his work speak for him.  He never seemed outwardly comfortable with accolades.  His self-worth came from deep within, finding complete fulfillment in what he created.

I believe he would be slightly uncomfortable with the notoriety being showered on him since his death.  On the other, I KNOW he would be awestruck, humbled, and pleased to be honored this way.  Being included with so many ST Icons would deeply please him.

Shortly before his death, we’d talked about the enormity of Douglas Trumbull’s passing and how writing a tribute to Doug was one of the most difficult things Greg had ever had to do.  To be included on this flight with Doug’s ashes, as well as all the others, is a great honor to Greg and greatly appreciated by those of us who knew and loved him.

Greg Jein
Greg Jein /

John Eaves: Honestly I think he would have been ecstatic deep down in his heart, but publicly I am sure he would have taken a quiet and probably embarrassed point of view to the entire event. He was not a man of ego, status, or even a proud outlook on anything. His quiet and humble personality always kept him far away from any personal attention and his comfort zone was always being very happy to get hired and to work in the genre he loved.

To your knowledge, is there something Greg Jein wanted to design for Star Trek but didn’t get the opportunity to do so? 

John Eaves: Greg was a big fan of the original series and his dream came true on the episode called Trials and Tribbleations for Deep Space 9. For that show he was tasked with building a version of the original Enterprise, and he was giddy about that forever. As far as designing for Trek there has not been a lot of attention shared about Greg’s talents as an artist. He was quick and precise in all the art I saw him do for Trek, and his designs ebbed with a line of architecture that so carried on the series past yet translated into whatever era he drew for.

Many times he would give me his sketches, and together we would flesh them out for the producers of the shows to see, and from there he would build away. Looking back on if there was anything he wanted to design and didn’t get the chance never really happened. He loved it all without regrets.

Greg was not a computer guy nor did he want to be, so when the world of practical miniatures started to dwindle and get replaced with CGI models, Greg’s world shifted to making art department study models, and I remember watching him drift into a rather melancholy state of mind as all these changes took place. He never stopped, though Jobs were farther apart. He was not one to enjoy down time so anything that would keep him and his hands busy, he was happy.

Greg Jein
Greg Jein /

And finally, I know Greg was known for so much more than Star Trek, having been nominated twice for an Academy Award. Was there a particular area of his work of which he was most proud? 

Sharon Lee:  WOW.  This is a hard one.  Your question was something we hadn’t discussed.  Greg was never prideful/proud. Too humble for that.

Professionally, Greg had a drive for perfection in everything he created, no matter the project.  If I HAD to single out one film project, I believe he was most proud of his work on Steven Spielberg’s 1941… “some of the most incredible practical miniature work ever put on film.”  Those sets were enormous, and took over 2 years to create.

I’m guessing all the models in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS would also be on his list.

In general, I’d say Greg’s lifelong friendships, the talented artisans he hired and mentored for their first industry jobs (who went on to excel in their individual careers), pushing for and hiring the 1st female EFX technicians to be admitted into IATSE Local 44 and never compromising either his personal or professional integrity are what brought him the most satisfaction.

John Eaves: As I had mentioned earlier, he was very humble and spoke little of anything he was proud of, but you could easily find out what he was most proud of by how many pictures he would take of his work. The Hunt for Red October and a great deal of pix from Batteries Not Included and a lot of STAR TREK, THE NEXT GERNERALTION would fill volumes of photo albums. For a quiet man, his picture collection spoke volumes about what he didn’t.

It sounds like everyone would have been better off had they had a chance to get to know Greg Jein. I’m glad I had the opportunity to learn more about this amazing creator and man.

Next. Exclusive: Interview with CEO of Enterprise Memorial Space Flight. dark