“I can see it now. Whatever it is, it’s big. Two cylindrical projections on top, one below. Purpose undetermined.” – Captain Christopher, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” (TOS)
The U.S.S. Enterprise is instantly recognizable to fans of Star Trek, and that basic shape has become iconic in pop culture for being identified with the franchise; so iconic, in fact, that the original shooting model of the Enterprise has a home in the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum. A number of designs for the original USS Enterprise have appeared on television and film, with the latest showing up on Star Trek: Discovery’s first season finale, and the premiere episode of the second season.
The redesigned Enterprise generated a lot of buzz, and there was even a bit of controversy, which was later clarified by CBS, explaining that design changes made to the ship were made by the creative design and VFX teams to take advantage of the latest technology. We now have insights into the development of the concept art for the redesign, thanks to the collectors’ magazine included in the brand new Eaglemoss USS Enterprise model, which tells the firsthand story of how the designers took on the daunting task of redesigning the USS Enterprise for Star Trek: Discovery.
The word is given
By the end of Discovery’s first season, the show’s art department had been reduced to a small team of Production Designer Todd Cherniawsky, Concept Artist/Illustrator John Eaves, VFX Art Director William Budge, and VFX Artist Scott Schneider. The Trek veteran of the group, Eaves, had already designed the NCC-1701-B in Star Trek: Generations, and the NCC-1701-E for Star Trek: First Contact.
Eaves told Eaglemoss, “Before our Production Designer Todd Cherniawsky left, he gave us the Enterprise.” Eaves and the rest of the team had known that the Enterprise would be seen in Discovery’s season two, but the decision had been made to move her appearance forward to the season one finale.
The design process
The production team’s process was straightforward: Eaves would produce initial sketches, Schneider would turn them into 3D models, Eaves would work with Schneider to paint extra details onto the model, then Budge would work on the final level of texturing and detail. All three actually worked remotely, with Eaves and Budge only having communicated over the internet at the time of publication.
According to Schneider,
When we started developing it, we had no script. We just had an outline, aside from a few minor notes on the way. There was very little feedback so it was pretty much left to the three of us. This was our golden hour.
“There was an initial suggestion that the Enterprise would look very different from Matt Jefferies’ original version, and would have a design that was more in keeping with the other ships in the Discovery era, but this idea was soon abandoned,” recalls Eaves. The brief was simple: come up with Discovery‘s version of the original.
Making the 2256 Enterprise fit with the 2266 Enterprise
Eaves began the process by producing a series of ten sketches to illustrate how the classic ship could be altered. Eaves wanted to streamline the Enterprise to give it the sleek, Discovery look, yet keep the form as close to the original. As the team was aware that the Enterprise they were designing for Discovery—set in 2256—would be the same commanded by Captain James T. Kirk in The Original Series. They theorized ways their version could be refitted over the years to become the 2266 Enterprise. Their theory was that various components of the ship, such as the warp nacelles and impulse engines, would be swapped out over time, so the team set out to design primitive versions of them.
We were constantly trying to tie into both the past and future architecture of Starfleet ships. It was actually a fun part of the whole process. We tried to tie stuff into the NX-01 and stuff that would come in the future, like the Enterprise-B. So on the bottom of the impulse engines it has these little vent details that you’d see on the bottom of the B. We were trying to tie into the Discovery-era so we had a double-pronged antenna on the front [of the deflector dish] and a wedge on top of the lights [illuminating the ship’s registry].
During the team’s design process, Cherniawsky had moved on to another project and was replaced by Tamara Deverell. Like Cherniawsky, Deverell was keenly interested in making sure that the team respected the original. Schneider notes:
There are little things that we did along the way where we were adding details in to try and keep it as close to the original as possible. In the beginning, we had the ball on the back of the nacelles, like they did on the original version built for “The Cage.” Later on, we got into a meeting with Deverell and we discussed it and I said ‘Really, time-wise we should be doing this.’ So we put the grilles in there instead.
The team also added a number of details that are unlikely to be seen in the show, such as fleshing out what the markings on the bottom of the secondary hull meant. They added a warp core ejection hatch, and tailored the numbers on the secondary hull to honor the pioneers of Star Trek like Gene Roddenberry, Matt Jefferies, Andy Probert, and Doug Drexler. Hull codes were produced that included their birthdays, resulting in ‘GR0821’, ‘MJ0703’, ‘AP0946’, and ‘DD0353’.
They also added RCS thrusters, tractor beam emitters, and aft photon torpedo launchers and phaser banks (some of these features were first shown on the Enterprise’s sister ship, the USS Defiant in ENT “In Mirror, Darkly”). As phaser emitters and torpedo launchers were never shown on the underside of the saucer during The Original Series, two photon launchers were added just above the ventral sensor dome, as well as forward, starboard, and port phaser banks.
The team also tackled the issue of Jefferies’ Enterprise having a turboshaft directly behind the bridge on the centerline, while the bridge set placed the turbolift doors off to an angle. This discrepancy had led many fans to speculate that the bridge was positioned at an angle, rather than facing directly forward.
“A cool thing that Schneider did that you’ll never see,” says Eaves, “was to make the turbolift work. He came up with the idea that you get in the turbolift and it rotates in the tube, and then drops.”
Schneider adds, “You have an elevator shaft on the centerline and two standby elevators off to the side. So one would slide back and over and go down the tube and another one would come in. This is why you could get an elevator so quickly because there’s always at least two standing by and that explained why there is a center shaft.”
Resolving the Enterprise’s color and textures
After Schneider would render Eaves’ designs, Eaves would assist with coloring the hull. On some examples, Eaves experimented with an Aztec design that had been introduced with the refit Enterprise, and was being used on all Discovery-era Starfleet ships. He also produced versions with a simple metallic texture that reflected Jefferies’ vision of the ship’s hull being made from an advanced material that could be molded to cover vast parts of the hull, instead of relying on the smaller hull plating that produced the Aztec effect. In these designs, Eaves added elements to the saucer that matched the look of the Enterprise from “The Cage.”
The final version
The design process took the team six months (from April to October 2017); the group then handed their model over to the VFX team for them to create a higher-resolution model that would be used on-screen. Schneider recalls that he “sent the VFX team a mesh model, and they basically rebuilt it. They made some design changes.” Working in coordination with the show’s producers, the VFX team altered some of the proportions of the design. The most notable change made by the VFX team was to sweep the nacelle struts back, akin to the Star Trek: The Motion Picture refit.
Eaglemoss Discovery USS Enterprise available now
This article covers only certain aspects of the process of designing Discovery’s Enterprise. For the whole story, pick up the 8.5-inch model from the Eaglemoss store, where it’s currently on sale for $49.45. A full review of this product will be posted on TrekMovie.com soon.
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