The landing- or shuttlebay occupies Deck 16 and 17 in the aft section of the refit Enterprise‘s engineering hull. Underneath the landing bay, illustrator Andrew Probert facilitated a hangar, located on Deck 18. An elevating section leads into a cargo storage facility, which, three decks high, spans Decks 17, 18 and 19 and almost the entire width of the engineering hull. Escape pods are mounted into the sides of the hull and a port side airlock provides access into the cargo bay, as shown in Star Trek: The Motion Picture when Kirk boards the vessel this way.
“Thoughts on the new Enterprise cargo decks [had] already [been] visualized by Star Trek veteran Mike Minor,” writes Probert at his website.
The thinking, then at Paramount under production designer Harold Michelson, was that the cargo bay would be a space thirty feet high that had two walls with twelve holes containing cargo pods.
Michelson had wanted to “open up” one end of the area “so we would be able to look out toward Earth” even if there wasn’t a corresponding opening or window on the Enterprise model and it would arguably have made little sense to provide for it. The designers “gave the excuse that there wasn’t any large opening on the ship where you could get that view,” Michelson said in a February 1980 interview with Fantastic Films magazine. “It’s been done before and it wasn’t like I was saying something revolutionary but they always shot the idea down.”
He blamed Robert Abel and company, who were initially responsible for the film’s visual efforts, of “working from the model backward” and lamented, “They followed that model religiously and would not allow for any changes.”
An impression that was produced by Mike Minor, without the huge window, reveals additional cargo pods simply stacked or lined up on the deck, leaving a huge open and unused space above. Also, the walkways along the sides looked rather old fashioned.
The cargo bay scene would be part live action and part matte painting. Matte paintings are begun by filming a plate; a shot of live action scene in which elements, too expensive to build, are needed. What Andrew Probert was required to do, was get a frame of plate film and have it printed at a predetermined size. “Part of this frame,” said Probert, “required for the live action element would be cut out and pasted to a piece of illustration board.” The remaining blank board, intended to be the matte, would then be painted around that piece, blending the two together.
Following a discussion with special effects director Donald Trumbull about how the cargo pods would get in and out of the cargo deck, Andrew Probert produced an elevation sketch of the Enterprise engineering section. He presented the sketch to Trumbull as a solution to that problem and Trumbull approved.
The next step was for Probert to get some plate footage, and start his matte renderings. “A matte rendering is simply a painting that illustrates what the final scene might look like,” according to Probert.
Once that image is approved by the director and producers, it is sent to the Matte Department so that a ‘matte painter’ can paint the actual ‘working’ matte.
What Probert proposed was that the landing bay and cargo bay be connected, allowing the easy passage of cargo trains. “The landing bay doors remain open but atmospheric integrity is maintained with a force field.”
The idea is that shuttles would normally take off from and land in the landing bay. They then could be lowered (E-1 or E-2) to the Hanger Bay level (which you see lighted in red), or lowered another level to shuttle maintenance. A multi-paneled two story door, between the elevators and cargo bay, has been opened to the sides allowing the transfer of cargo.
From a lower angle, one can see the secondary rollaway decks protruding somewhat from the sides of the bay. “In their current retracted position, they serve as a walkway at that level,” explained Probert.
The idea here was that, once the main deck was filled with freestanding pods, the second deck could slide together, doubling the available deck space. Not an ideal solution, but one that worked with the plate footage that had already been shot.
The cargo bay set was built under the supervision of production designer Harold Michelson by recycling parts of an older set that had been under construction for Star Trek: Phase II. “In the original script there was a Japanese admiral,” Michelson told Star Trek: The Magazine in 2001. “The guy who was on before me, Joe Jennings, was a very good art director. He designed a place for the admiral. I don’t know exactly what he was going to do with them, but he’d built these section they’d ended up storing. I can’t stand to waste, so I used them in the cargo hold.”