Enterprise-E concept art for Star Trek: Nemesis by John Eaves

Designing a Sovereign Enterprise

Enterprise-E concept art for Star Trek: Nemesis by John Eaves
Enterprise-E concept art for Star Trek: Nemesis by John Eaves

Shortly after John Eaves’ arrival at Deep Space Nine, talk of the new feature film started surfacing. It was to be called Resurrection — at least, until another film dealing with space aliens announced the same title. Production designer Herman Zimmerman already had the story treatments, and was determined to prepare as best as he could for the onslaught of work that was sure to follow. Regardless of how the story might evolve, or the title might change, he knew one thing was certain: his staff had a new Enterprise to design. And if they could tackel that one project and finish it before production on the film began, maybe there would be time for all the other design work the film required.

As early as August 1995, some six or seven months before the movie received the official go-ahead, John Eaves started doing rough sketches for the Enterprise-E. “I wanted a sleek, very fast ship with favourite elements from the starship that had gone before, especially Bill George’s Excelsior,” explained Eaves, who had had the opportunity to modify the Excelsior to turn it into the Enterprise-B on Star Trek: Generations.

Everyone knows the basic shape: the saucer section, the body, the two nacelles. They’ve been arranged so many times in so many beautiful ways, I thought: ‘Well, how will I approach this?’ I decided to start with a really sleek design. While all of the Enterprises were beautiful, none of hem had a really streamlined, warp speed look. We have the “Cadillacs” of starships; I wanted to make a Porsche. So I gave the saucer an oval shape and designed it so that it was longer than it was wide. I really liked the older, longer nacelles, and return to that, in order to give the ship balance. I put a lot of ships down on paper — probably twenty-five or thirty sketches — until I came up with an outline I liked.

Once that finally happened, Eaves started putting in details. About the same time, he paid a visit to artist Rick Sternbach, who had recently designed the Starship Voyager for the new television series. As Eaves had never seen the ship or show, he wanted to see Sternbach’s design, also to prepare himself for the process of getting the new starship approved.

It was really funny to see how similar the two ships were, in the rough sketches. We thought, ‘Wow, this is a nice direction to go — the new Federation design, from Voyager to the Enterprise-E.’ I finally asked Rick [Berman], ‘What does it take to get one of these ships approved? What are the steps? I know design has a lot to do with it but what other particulars do I need to know?’ Well, Rick reached into his desk, pulled out a huge file and threw it atop his desk. It was about two hundred drawings thick! ‘This,’ he said, ‘it what it took to get the Voyager approved.’ And he opened up the file and showed me sketch after beautiful sketch, each with subtle changes, so that I could see how the shape began, then evolved into the final product. On top of it all, he’d made a little booklet that included the breakdown: all the decks, what the ship could do, how it did what it did. He even had a scale chart comparing the Voyager‘s size to the sizes of the other Federation starships. Thanks to Rick’s help, I made myself a similar packet for the Enterprise-E.

John Eaves' designs for the modifications that were made to the Enterprise-E for Star Trek: Nemesis
John Eaves' designs for the modifications that were made to the Enterprise-E for Star Trek: Nemesis

While the shape still needed some refinement, the time finally came to show the Powers That Be some design possibilities. Herman Zimmerman went over John’s sketches, and sent those he liked best to executive producer Rick Berman for comment. Berman sent them back, saying, “I like this aspect, but not this one,” and Eaves went back to work. “I wanted to carry some of the Enterprise-D lined into the E–not with the saucer or body, but where the nacelles connected,” Eaves continued.

At this point, the nacelles were almost a third longer than in the finished product. But I had the struts holding the nacelles up; they branched off the body and returned forward, making a little horseshoe, the way the ‘D’ does. But instead of having them angled back, I had them angled forward.

One of the key elements of the Enterprise-E is its lack of a “neck” connecting the body to the saucer. Eaves chose to have the deflector disk cavity sweep far forward and merge with the saucer’s bottom, which would in turn scoop down into the body. Eliminating the neck and compacting the ship gave it a more structurally sound body and made it look faster. At 2248 feet long, the ‘E’ is much longer than its predecessor — but it is actually a much smaller ship when it comes down to girth and mass.

One design element, however, had little to do with structure or logic, and everything to do with nostalgia. “I remembered that the original Enterprise had these two little triangles on the forward end of the saucer,” said Eaves.

So when I was laying out the bottom of the E’s saucer, I put those two little triangles up at the forward end of mine. I have no clue what they’re for; they’re just a neat shape, and I wanted to include something from the old ship as a “thank you” to Matt Jefferies. I also wanted to give fans of the original series something they could spot and say: ‘Ah, there’s something carried from the past into the present.’

Eaves also added something new (notches at either side of the saucer dish) as well as design elements from the Enterprise-B (an extension of impulse engines).

Also, I added a raised arrowhead shape on top of the saucer, which exaggerated the direction of the ship; on top of that, I put in a couple of other levels on the bridge and as you go toward the back of the saucer, you find the shuttlebay. To add to the ship’s function, I put a control tower atop this shuttlebay. I remembered that on the original Star Trek series, they had these observation windows inside the shuttlebay, so that you could look at the shuttles from another deck. I decided the deck on the ‘E’ could also serve this double purpose — that once you’re inside the shuttlebay, the roof concaves up so that you can have windows looking inside and outside the ship as well.

Eaves also took the trouble to work out exactly how the E’s saucer section would separate, even though this had never been mentioned in the script.

I just knew that the saucer separation was a part of it. I figured that was something that always had to happen, and I wanted to make sure it had been worked out beforehand. So it’s already been established where the separation line and the break lines would be.

I wanted the two parts of the ship to look very independent of each other and not as if they had to be together. I drew a version with the saucer off where it looks like kind of a giant retro dart. I wanted that part of the ship to look very fast but also aggressive.

One last design involving the Enterprise-E’s exterior had to do with the escape pods. On most starships, the hatches were somewhat rounded squares; for the new ship, they became beveled triangles. Star Trek: First Contact became the first film where the audience had the chance to see the pods ejected into space. “I worked on several escape pod sketches, and came up with a nod shape that reflected the triangular hatches,” explained Eaves. Alex Jeager, who served as ILM’s art director on First Contact, had also set to work designing the escape pods. When Evaes took a look at Jeager’s drawings, “I pushed my sketches aside. I liked the beauty and simplicity of Alex’ creations and how he utilized the top of the pod as a heat shield for planetary reentry.

Ironically, our designs were extremely similar. Alex is an incredibly talented artist; I wish I could have worked more closely with him. He came up with some wonderful designs, including all of the starships for the Borg battle scene.

For the surface textures, Eaves wanted to recreate the feeling of the refit Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Anything that has a raised surface would be an obstruction, so I wanted a smooth look. If you look at old boats or airplanes, the heavier the panelling, the slower they went. I always thought the ‘A’ was just beautiful. That’s kind of how the ‘E’ was done as well.

However, Eaves did add a major new structural element — the triangular shapes on the top and bottom of the saucer. “I was thinking about warp technology,” he explains. “I felt that at high speeds it would act sort of like a warp flow — that shape would enhance that.”

That’s something I would dedicate to Mike and Denise Okuda because they’d come along and say, ‘Have you heard about this technology?’ or something. And that’s kind of where that came from.

It’s also one of those old art school things. As an artist you’re determining where you want the viewer’s eye to go. I was trying to demonstrate speed, no matter where you look at the ship. Anything pointing forward would draw your eye and make the ship look fast. Even if it’s parked it looks fast.

Warp core ejection concept art by John Eaves
Warp core ejection concept art by John Eaves

After another pass, Berman was satisfied and declared that they had found their Enterprise. But he wanted to be sure that this was the absolute best way to go, so he asked Eaves to produce some alternative designs. Fortunately, Eaves says, in a way he had already done some work on an alternate version of the ‘E’.

In the early script there had been a ship called the Endeavour that used to play quite a big role. I was drawing that and the ‘E’ at the same time. They were kind of similar shapes, so it was almost a way of trying things out. I thought, ‘If I want to see this on the E, let me try it on the Endeavour sketches first.’ I’d mess around with the body, tapering it to the nacelles in one sweepy part, things like that. It was definitely an idea platform for me. So, at this point I just put Enterprise on all the Endeavour sketches because by that time Endeavour was gone and nobody had ever seen them!

John Eaves' designs for the modifications that were made to the Enterprise-E for Star Trek: Nemesis
John Eaves' designs for the modifications that were made to the Enterprise-E for Star Trek: Nemesis

The alternative designs convinced Berman that they had made the right decisions all along and the ‘E’ was approved.

Enterprise-E model under construction
Enterprise-E model under construction (Ed Miarecki)

Once the new Enterprise‘s shape was complete, Eaves drew plan views of the ship: top, side, front and back views. At one point, Herman Zimmerman suggested lowering the nacelles, à la Voyager. Some sketches were drawn but the idea was eventually dropped. Finally, the drawings were sent to Rick Sternbach, so that he could commence work on the blueprints for ILM model makers. Using the 2248-feet length of the ship, Sternbach scaled the vessel down to determine the number of decks: twenty-four. At the same time, Eaves prepared detail drawings of important areas like the deflector dish and the bridge module. Eaves knew the team working on the model at ILM. They were all masters of their craft, who had worked on Star Trek ships before, including the Excelsior.

I didn’t want to give them too much information; I’d rather they have their chance to be creative as well. So I wanted the sketch to be just an idea. They took it from there to put the things that they knew so well in to the model. John Goodson and I would talk almost every day, and we cleared up all sorts of details as they built the model.

From “Designing the Enterprise-E,” Star Trek: The Magazine 3, 11 (March 2003)

One thought on “Designing a Sovereign Enterprise

  1. “I remembered that the original Enterprise had these two little triangles on the forward end of the saucer,” said Eaves.
    The “little’ triangles on the saucer were to of it’s landing gear. The third was it’s neck section. In the event of a saucer separation, it could land on a planet.
    That is what they were for.

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