The Motion Picture storyboard

Designing the Klingon Battle Cruiser

Star Trek: The Motion Picture called for three Klingon battle cruisers which had previously appeared in the original Star Trek episode “The Enterprise Incident,” designed by Matt Jefferies.

“I designed the Klingon ship at home,” Jefferies told Herbert F. and Yvonne Fern Solow for Star Trek Sketchbook (1997), “there was just too much going on at the studio from morning till night.”

Since the Klingons were the enemy, I had to design a ship that would be instantly recognizable as an enemy ship, especially for a flash cut. There had to be no way it could be mistaken for our guys. It had to look threatening, even vicious. So I modeled it on a manta ray, both shape and color and that’s why it looks as it does in the original series.

The ship’s design was perfected by a twenty-fourth sketch dated November 20, 1967. It was then sent to American Model Toy Corporation, “and they returned a master tooling model which we used in the show.” The original model for the D7 was given to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “I’m assuming it’s still there,” says Jefferies, “along with the Enterprise,” of which the Smithsonian maintains a model on display.

A Robert T. McCall drawing for The Motion Picture
A Robert T. McCall drawing for The Motion Picture

In 1996, a new model of the D7, IKS Gr’oth, was built by Greg Jein for the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations.” While referenced, but not seen, in the original version of the episode, the model featured an amalgam of detail from both the original series model and theK’t’inga seen in The Motion Picture. The newer model bore a pale green coloration, in line with future Klingon vessels.

Matt Jefferies shows the Klingon battle cruiser model
Matt Jefferies shows the Klingon battle cruiser model

Yet another model of the Gr’oth, this time built entirely digitally, was created for the 2006 remastered version of numerous original episodes. In regard to this model, during those appearances, Michael Okuda noted that, “the Klingon ship was basically in two forms. In early episodes, when it was very small on the screen, it was the original version of the ship, which had essentially no surface detail. In ‘The Enterprise Incident,’ ‘Elaan of Troyius,’ and ‘Day of the Dove,’ the ship was reworked somewhat to add surface texture. And, of course, in ‘The Enterprise Incident’ we added the Romulan bird markings.”

Photograph of The Motion Picture model courtesy of John Eaves
Photograph of The Motion Picture model courtesy of John Eaves

The model of the upgraded motion-picture version, which would be called the K’t’inga, was built by Magicam and measured six feet in length. The most significant change in design was its more detailed surface, so that it looked more credible on the silver screen. “We attempted to stay as close to the TV series version as possible,” Andrew Probert recalled in an interview with Starlog 32 (March 1980), “but after running some camera tests we discovered that an additional level of detail was needed for widescreen photography.”

We painted it a darker color. I’ve always liked the idea of a black spaceship — which would have been impractical for this movie; so we came up with a dark military green. I had an idea that was carried out beautifully by Ron Gress. Ron painted a giant Klingon symbol on the underbelly of the ship. It was a revision of the old Klingon symbol.

Andrew Probert's Klingon bridge design
Andrew Probert’s Klingon bridge design

When Douglas Trumbull took over supervision of the special effects for The Motion Picture, Probert was asked to contribute to the design of the vessel’s bridge. “Doug wanted something like the interior of a Japanese submarine,” he recalled; “he wanted a bridge suspended between big shock-absorbing supports, with mechanically operating stations for the crewmen.” As Trumbull put it, the interior of the battle cruiser should look like “an enemy submarine in World War II that’s been out at sea for too long.”

Probert’s conceptualization of what lurked beneath the battle cruiser’s oddly shaped bridge helped set the Klingon style for all the Star Trek productions to follow.

The following storyboards were published shortly before the release of The Motion Picture when still relatively little was known about the film’s storyline. They depict the opening sequence.

Initially the scene would have featured the V’Ger probe bursting from the blackness of space, attacking the Klingon battle cruisers without any apparent provocation. Later it was decided the Klingons were to be the agressors, attacking V’Ger as it moved through Klingon territory toward Earth.

One thought on “Designing the Klingon Battle Cruiser

  1. Fascinating article. Lots of great background information.
    I thought I should let you know that the photo of the forward bridge section titled ‘Photograph of The Motion Picture model courtesy of John Eaves’ is actually a photo of the model modified as Qu’onos I for Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country. There were many changes made to the model at that time; notably large amounts of photo etched brass trimming and Gold paint detail. Obvious in the photo is the modified Bridge dome (Rust Red, and wider with a more flat top) and the photo etch surrounding the Photorp tube at the front. The whole model was given a different colour scheme as well, incorporating shades of red, brown and gold trim detail.

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