The design of the drydock that first appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture originated in the aborted second Star Trek television series, Phase II. When the script for what was supposed to be the series’ pilot episode, “In Thy Image,” called for a drydock, illustrator Mike Minor came up with a design that closely resembled the final product. A model was created at Magicam in September 1977.
When Phase II turned into The Motion Picture, and due to the increased resolution demands of movie photography, Magicam’s model had to be discarded. Andrew Probert, who joined Star Trek as a concept designer for the first feature film, was tasked with redesigning the facility.
Probert told Starlog magazine 32 (March 1980) that his first concept was “to have the dry dock fit the shape of the Enterprise as snugly as possible. This would allow the dry dock to unfold and open — dramatically — to allow the ship to exit,” he said.
Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Wise felt the proposed configuration would resemble the shape of V’Ger too much, which appeared later in the movie. “They wanted a design that would not precisely fit the shape of the Enterprise,” according to Probert.
Given the variety in shapes and sizes among Starfleet vessels, “I thought it would be a good idea to have an all purpose dry dock that would change shape to conform to these other ships as well,” he said. “In one design, I utilized hinged modular sections.”
This was further simplified and eventually, “the design came back full circle and we ended up with a box shape again” — similar to Minor’s original idea.
Probert also suggested adding a system of moveable cranes on fixed tracks to the drydock which could encompass work on the Enterprise from any angle. “In zero-g, cranes as we know them on Earth, are not necessary,” he told Starlog. “Mine were designed as repositionable work and material platforms.” But special effects director Douglas Trumbull felt the cranes would be too small to be seen on screen.
Magicum also built the studio model for the redesigned drydock. At least one other, partial model was built for use in closeups of one side of the facility. This model was larger and considerably more detailed than the main miniature.
The drydock reappeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan but due to that movie’s limited budget, footage had to be recycled from The Motion Picture.
It also later appeared in Star Trek: Generations when Industrial Light & Magic heavily modified it for the scene in which the Enterprise-B is seen leaving drydock in a scene reminiscent of the one in The Motion Picture.