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Oct252012

Design

Our main goal was a style similar to DC Comics' many animated offerings, from Batman to Justice League to direct-to-DVD films like New Frontier. With that style as a base, it was time to design uniforms and ships, which play a big part in establishing any Star Trek adventure. This section provides a glimpse into the design process for these components, with sample concept artwork along the way:

 

UNIFORMS

A key aspect of Final Frontier was the more militaristic state of Starfleet, which Chase and his crew were going to rebel against and eventually change for the better. We wanted our uniforms to convey this. However, these early designs show that we were initially thinking too grim and militaristic:

Tthese uniforms are way too dark and Battlestar Galactica-esque. In addition, while they'd probably look pretty cool in live action, they would reduce our characters to black blobs in animation. With the animated format in mind, we decided to keep some black but add in a lot more color. We also had to keep things as simple as possible without too many excess design details that would hamper animation efforts. These sketches by our initial artist, Norman Bandler, illustrate a few variations on the direction we went next:

The similarities to both the original TOS shirts and the later uniforms of the Next Generation era made them seem like a logical evolution, and we especially liked the combination of uniform shirt, black pants, and a belt for the more swashbuckling look as seen in the third sketch. Plus, the simple design would animate well. With these core ideas, we went to renowned comic book artist (and writer) Jeff Parker, who had experience in designing for animation, and asked him to simplify the design and do some turnarounds. Our final design is illustrated below (although we would eventually lose the piping around the colored sections). Although these designs are uncolored, we decided to return to the color scheme used in the Original Series, with gold representing command as opposed to the red of Next Generation:

 

ENTERPRISE

Without a doubt, the most difficult design of Final Frontier was that of its most important character: the Enterprise herself. Getting three Star Trek fans to agree on exactly what a new Enterprise should look like is difficult enough on its own, but when you also need to keep in mind that the ship is being designed for animation, it only made things more difficult. This Enterprise was going to be a smaller ship of the line, as opposed to the Federation flagships of series past and, like the uniforms, had to convey a slightly more intimidating demeanor. In the early design phases, we consulted with friend and longtime Trek designer Mike Okuda for his input on a future Enterprise as well. Below are some concept sketches originally made to help us at least figure out a direction to pursue:

From these and other initial sketches we narrowed things down to two competing designs that both occupied the cover of our pitch packet at one time or another. They are lovingly referred to as The Claw and Hammerhead. Which is which is fairly obvious:

Both had their merits, but we eventually decided The Claw was simply too aggressive. While we did want to convey Starfleet's focus on intimidation, The Claw took this a little too far, and the actual claw shape made little design sense. The Hammerhead was the design that started us in the eventual direction we would follow. The switch from a saucer to a more squared off top stuck with us. However, the curvy lines and styling of the body were a little too detailed for animation and strayed a little too far from ships we had seen before. After further arguments and napkin drawings, the shape of the Enterprise was starting to take a more final form:

The Enterprise design hovered here for a while as we focused on other things, realizing that agreeing on anything final was going to take way too long. There were a few side designs explored that are viewable in the Ships section of the Gallery, but we always came back to this one in some form or another. Later, as we were designing some storyboards for a possible teaser reel, artist Brice Parker drew this design based loosely on the hammerhead approach:

This is as close as we got to a final Enterprise design, and we ended up creating multiple 3D models of different variations that you can see in the Gallery. It's definitley more militaristic, with harder lines and a more imposing tone than any Enterprise seen in the series before. The jarring nature was intentional, designed to throw people off and make them realize this was a different Starfleet. In the end, the final product would likely have been a more graceful version of the hammerhead plan.

 

THE DRAGONFLY

As mentioned above, the crew of the Enterprise relies on smaller, more agile vessels to explore the dangerous Omega distortions that have ravaged subspace. These ships are quick and maneuverable, able to travel in bursts of low warp when needed. Designing the Dragonfly was a far easier process than the Enterprise herself. Our initial description was simply "It's called a Dragonfly because it looks like one." Artist Brice Parker took that description and produced these first concept sketches:

This design fit very well with what we had in mind. The ship looks like its moving fast even while it's sitting still, and the four miniature warp nacelles help it navigate the twisting and dangerous energy corridors of an Omega distortion. The sketch was moved over to Sketchup to see additional angles and for possible use in a teaser reel:

The colors and textures here help show what the ship would look like in animation, and the hard lines of the model would be softened in the final product. The inside of the ship is visible, with four cockpit seats and room for four red shirts in the back area. More angles of the Dragonfly are visible in the Gallery.


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Reader Comments (7)

Wow I'm really impressed with the visual style here. It's very cool and modern, yet clearly takes inspiration from all Trek series, old and new. The characters look fantastic when drawn in the clean, straight edged comic style.
I'm not so certain about the ships however. The blockyness and squareness of the ships seems very radical compared to Starfleet ships we've seen before, which have always been very very curvy. It's a massive turnaround for Starfleet if they start designing ships like this!

May 17, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterongoingworlds

The ships would have been a lot less blocky in final design. They would probably have maintained the general shape, but the edges would have been a lot less harsh.

Part of our approach was to design a ship that really looked different than past Trek ships, as an illustration of how much Starfleet had changed. A few years into the series, as Chase and crew were more and more successful at turning things around to get back to the old way, you would have seen some newer ships that started to better recall the old, more graceful designs.

Thanks for the comment!

May 17, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug

WOW! I love what this all looks like! However, I am at somewhat of a loss. Maybe I've missed something on the site, or maybe I haven't. Do you guys actually intend to make a series or a miniseries? If you did, I know one hardcore Trekker who'd watch it! (That's me by the way. Other people would watch it, I'm just saying, I would too.)

June 10, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterjonas

Hi Jonas, thanks for commenting. We don't intend to make an actual series, unless we suddenly inherit a great deal of money. All of the contacts we had at Startrek.com are now gone, and I doubt CBS would be open to a whole new Trek world so soon after the film. We will likely continue to tell the story in script form once the storyboards for the pilot are finished. Stay tuned for more info on that.

June 11, 2010 | Registered CommenterDoug

Hey, I don't mean to be a drag, and I get you guys are designing a new Star Trek, but I doubt you would attract die-hard Trekkies with that ship design.

I suggest using the design of the Enterprise 1701-J from ST: ENT that way it still looks like the past enterprises, it looks more military style, looks more futuristic, and would still give us that same Star Trek feeling.

I hope you guys read this and agree that it would probably be better, specially since in ST: ENT (which is considered cannon) they already designed an official Enterprise-J of the 26th century era.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJulian

Sorry, but Star Trek Enterprise was grim at best. The hammerhead design is much more radical. By the way, in the podcast, you guys mentioned that you planned out the entire series and who the real villains were. Any chance of this detailed backstory being part of the site? And the USS Excalibur idea from the original show?

March 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Hey, sorry, missed this comment. We're still planning on more scripts (which we're working on now, I swear), so we won't be giving away the villains on this one just yet. As for Excalibur, it was much more mired in Trek lore than FF is. Doing a show in the TOS era would have meant we were beholden to a future that has already been established, and we didn't want to have to look at every storyline and worry about making sure it doesn't interfere with that future.

This is a problem that two of us were very familiar with after working on Enterprise; that show was held back by the fact that it was a prequel to a gigantic, sweeping franchise with a shitload of established lore. They started to get a little more comfortable with it in season four, but before then it was sometimes awkward. Going into the future lets us use this amazing lore as backstory and tell whatever stories we want. It's much more fun to write.

Anyway, I haven't looked at the Excalibur script in years, but I'll dig it up and see how it reads. I doubt we'd ever publish it, for a variety of fun behind-the-scenes reasons. Not the least of which is that it's not as good as Final Frontier.

March 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug

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