Designing the “Porsche” of Starships: A Sovereign Enterprise

Enterprise-E concept art
Enterprise-E concept art by John Eaves

Before Star Trek: First Contact even had a title, Herman Zimmerman, the franchise’s veteran production designer, knew his team would have to develop a new Enterprise. The “D”, after all, had crashed in Star Trek Generations.

Zimmerman turned to John Eaves, who had joined Star Trek during production of its fifth motion picture, The Final Frontier, and was then working for Deep Space Nine. Eaves got started in the summer of 1995.

John Eaves
John Eaves works on designs for Star Trek: Insurrection (Star Trek: Action!)

“I wanted a sleek, very fast ship with favorite elements from the starships that had gone before,” he told Star Trek: The Magazine in 2003 — “especially Bill George’s Excelsior.”

Everyone knows the basic shape: the saucer section, the body, the two nacelles. They’ve been arranged so many times in so many beautiful ways, I thought: “Well, how will I approach this?” I decided to start with a really sleek design. While all of the Enterprises were beautiful, none of hem had a really streamlined, warp-speed look. We have the “Cadillacs” of starships; I wanted to make a Porsche. So I gave the saucer an oval shape and designed it so that it was longer than it was wide. I really liked the older, longer nacelles, and returned to that in order to give the ship balance. I put a lot of ships down on paper — probably 25 or thirty sketches — until I came up with an outline I liked.

Eaves paid a visit to Rick Sternbach around that time, who had just designed the Starship Voyager for the new television show.

It was really funny to see how similar the two ships were, in the rough sketches. We thought, “Wow, this is a nice direction to go — the new Federation design, from Voyager to the Enterprise-E.”

Zimmerman and Rick Berman, Star Trek‘s executive producer, picked their favorites from Eaves’ various sketches and the process continued from there.

Something new, something old

One thing that distinguishes the Enterprise-E from its predecessor is the absence of a “neck” connecting the body to the saucer. Eaves decided this made the ship look faster.

At 2248 feet (685 meters), the “E” is longer — but it is actually smaller ship when it comes down to girth and mass.

Another design element had little to do with structure or logic and everything to do with nostalgia:

I remembered that the original Enterprise had these two little triangles on the forward end of the saucer. So when I was laying out the bottom of the E’s saucer, I put those two little triangles up at the forward end of mine. I have no clue what they’re for; they’re just a neat shape and I wanted to include something from the old ship as a “thank you” to Matt Jefferies. I also wanted to give fans of The Original Series something they could spot and say: “Ah, there’s something carried from the past into the present.”

Another familiar feature: the control tower on top of the shuttlebay.

I remembered that on the original Star Trek series, they had these observation windows inside the shuttlebay, so that you could look at the shuttles from another deck. I decided the deck on the “E” could also serve this double purpose — that once you’re inside the shuttlebay, the roof concaves up so that you can have windows looking inside and outside the ship as well.

Saucer separation

Eaves took the trouble to work out exactly how the saucer might separate, even though this wasn’t mentioned in the script:

I just knew that the saucer separation was a part of it. I figured that was something that always had to happen, and I wanted to make sure it had been worked out beforehand.

Without the saucer, the engineering hull looked like a dart: “very fast but also aggressive.”

The saucer separation was never seen on screen, but Eaves created an artwork of what it would look like for the 2015 Ships of the Line calendar.

Escape pods

Something the script did call for: escape pods. First Contact would show pods being ejected into space for the first time.

On most Federation starships so far, the hatches had been rounded squares. On the “E”, they became beveled triangles.

I worked on several escape pod sketches and came up with a nod shape that reflected the triangular hatches.

Alex Jeager, Industrial Light and Magic’s art director for the movie, had been working on the escape pods as well. When Eaves took a look at Jeager’s drawings, “I pushed my sketches aside. I liked the beauty and simplicity of Alex’ creations and how he utilized the top of the pod as a heat shield for planetary reentry.

Ironically, our designs were extremely similar. Alex is an incredibly talented artist; I wish I could have worked more closely with him. He came up with some wonderful designs, including all of the starships for the Borg battle scene.

Final steps

Once the new ship’s shape was complete and approved, Eaves drew plan views of the ship: top, side, front and back.

At one point, Zimmerman suggested lowering the nacelles, à la Voyager. This was eventually abandoned.

The final drawings were sent to Sternbach, who made the blueprints ILM’s model makers. Using the 2248-feet length of the ship, Sternbach scaled the vessel down to determine the number of decks: 24. Eaves prepared detail drawings of important areas, like the deflector dish and the bridge module.

Eaves knew the team who would be making the model. They were all masters of their craft, who had worked on Star Trek ships before, including the Excelsior.

I didn’t want to give them too much information; I’d rather they have their chance to be creative as well. So I wanted the sketch to be just an idea. They took it from there to put the things that they knew so well in to the model. John Goodson and I would talk almost every day and we cleared up all sorts of details as they built the model.

Enterprise-E model
Enterprise-E model under construction (Ed Miarecki)


Star Trek: Insurrection and Nemesis both required modifications. In the former, the Enterprise ejects its warp core to escape the Son’a. The latter saw the addition of torpedo launchers above the two shuttlebays. Eaves provided the concepts for both.

Text adapted from “Designing the Enterprise-E,” Star Trek: The Magazine 3, #11 (March 2003)

1 comment

  1. “I remembered that the original Enterprise had these two little triangles on the forward end of the saucer,” said Eaves.
    The “little’ triangles on the saucer were to of it’s landing gear. The third was it’s neck section. In the event of a saucer separation, it could land on a planet.
    That is what they were for.

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