Gary Hutzel, four-time Emmy winning visual effects artist whose work helped define much of the Next Generation era of Star Trek and later, the Battlestar Galactica reboot, died Thursday in Vancouver from an apparent heart attack. He was 60.
Hailing from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hutzel attended The Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, studying photography. His career in entertainment took off in 1987 when he joined the Star Trek: The Next Generation as a VFX Coordinator. He stayed with the show for its first five seasons, and went on to serve as VFX Supervisor during the entire run of TNG spinoff Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
During his tenure, he created some of the franchise’s most iconic effects, including the Borg Cube breakaway model used in the series-defining two part episode of Next Generation “The Best of Both Worlds.” He was also a critical part of the team that designed the USS Defiant, the starship featured on Deep Space Nine that also appeared in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact. He also played a crucial role in the episode “Trials and Tribble-ations,” which integrated footage from the original Star Trek episode “The Trouble with Tribbles” into Deep Space Nine.
Hutzel was notable during his time with Star Trek for being resistant to computer generated effects, explaining in a 1997 interview that he preferred “to photograph the ships, especially a beautiful ship like the Defiant.” He acknowledged that CGI was the future of effects work, but felt at the time that it wasn’t beneficial on projects with relatively low budgets like Deep Space Nine compared to film. As such he preferred using physical models whenever possible.
After Star Trek, Hutzel worked in both film and television, with credits that include Red Planet and the Spy Kids Franchise, and was eventually recruited by his former Star Trek colleague Ronald D. Moore to serve as miniature cinematographer and VFX Supervisor for Moore’s reboot of Battlestar Galactica. He remained with that series through its entire run, and also worked on the show’s prequel series, Caprica. Hutzel later served as VFX Supervisor on SyFy’s Defiance. At the time of his death he was working on Freeform’s supernatural drama Beyond.
Hutzel won four primetime Emmys – two for his work on Battlestar Galactica, one for Deep Space Nine, and one for Star Trek: The Next Generation – and he received 20 nominations total over his career. He is survived by his wife Cathy, his daughter Frances, and his sons William and Andrew.
Tributes from Hutzel’s peers poured out as the news became public.