When it came time to design a new Starship Enterprise, history did not repeat itself. Whereas Matt Jefferies had produced hundreds of sketches to come up with the design of the original Enterprise, Andrew Probert had a basic formula in mind before he was even hired by Star Trek: The Next Generation.
After working on The Motion Picture in 1978, and before the new television series was announced, Probert had painted a future starship strictly for his own enjoyment. After his job interview for The Next Generation in 1986, he went home and started making more drawings. “I was so pumped up that I started right in, sketching my little heart out.”
Knowing that the second series would be set about a century after the first, Probert felt the new Enterprise should be faster and probably sleeker. “At least it should be more elegant.”
Filling in details
When Probert was hired as a senior illustrator, it was originally to design the Enterprise-D’s bridge and other sets. It was by happenstance that the task of designing the new ship fell to him. Probert brought that painting of a future starship with him to the Paramount lot. One day, Story Editor David Gerrold walked in, saw the design and took it to Gene Roddenberry, who approved it on the spot.
All that remained was filling in the details.
“The saucer had, since its inception, been the main section,” Probert explained, “so I made it larger in proportion to the secondary or engineering hull.”
In previous designs the warp nacelles were always to the rear but above the saucer rim, which visually seemed to give them equal importance and physically placed them above the ship’s center of mass. Both of these seemed to be negative points, which I hoped to remedy by lowering them to a position between the two hull sections. This would place them closer to the ship’s center of mass.
Also the struts holding the saucer and warp engines were slanted in opposite directions; the saucer is going forward, engines going back. That wasn’t bad, but it created a slight visual conflict, so I slanted them all forward to unify their direction and give the overall design a feeling of aggressive forward movement, like a lunging cat. The view from the front of the old ship produced a variety of shapes. I took my design theme from the saucer and started sketching every component as a compressed oval.
Probert’s final design had relatively short nacelles to suggest that warp technology had become more powerful. Roddenberry didn’t like it. “He was so used to those huge warp engines from The Original Series that this seemed underpowered to him.”
My whole intent on this ship was to unify all of those shapes; I wanted to give it a forward lunge for the saucer and a forward lunge for the engines, but Gene still wanted the engines to extend out the back as well.
Roddenberry’s only other change was to put the bridge back on top of the saucer. Given the size of the new ship, this only created a small bump.
On the underside of the saucer, Probert put a captain’s yacht. Although the Enterprise-D’s was never seen on screen, it became a staple of Starfleet ships. Rick Sternbach included a captain’s yacht in his design of Voyager and the Enterprise-E’s captain’s yacht was revealed in Star Trek: Insurrection.
Two filming miniatures were built for the first season by Industrial Light and Magic: a large six-foot model and a smaller, less detailed two-foot model. Both were capable of saucer separation.
Greg Jein built a new, four-foot miniature for the third season. The main difference was that its forward-facing windows corresponded with the new Ten Forward set. Probert — who by then had left the show — had conceived of the saucer rim as only one deck in height.
Jein’s model largely replaced the other two, but stock footage from the first two seasons continued to be used. The six-footer was refurbished for Star Trek: Generations, when a computer-generated version and a special twelve-foot-wide saucer (for the crash scene) were also created.
Text adapted from Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995) and “Designing the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D,” Star Trek: The Magazine 1, 16 (August 2000)