The Klingon battle cruiser was designed for “The Enterprise Incident” by Matt Jefferies and updated for the silver screen
Jefferies told Herb and Yvonne Fern Solow for Star Trek Sketchbook (1997) that he designed the Klingon ship at home. “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 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 what was called the D7 was given to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. “I’m assuming it’s still there,” Jefferies said, “along with the Enterprise.”
The Star Trek: The Motion Picture upgrade, called the K’t’inga, was built by Magicam and measured six feet in length. More detail was added to the surface, so 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, My Star Trek Scrapbook has the full interview), “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.
The model was updated again for Star Trek VI, when William George and Mark Moore of ILM added epaulets to the top of the hull.
“It was one of the few models we could alter to look new for this show,” George told Cinefantastique 22, #5.
After we did some research into military costuming, we came up with the concept that when these ships return victorious from battle, the Klingons build some sort of epaulet onto their wings. We added these golden etched brass epaulets, based on some of the helmet designs we’d seen. It looks very regular and contrasts nicely with the Enterprise when they’re seen flying together. The Enterprise is smooth, monochromatic and cool while the Klingon ship is adorned, ostentatious and warm.
When Douglas Trumbull took over special effects on The Motion Picture, Probert was asked to contribute to the design of the Klingon cruiser’s bridge.
“Doug wanted something like the interior of a Japanese submarine,” Probert 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 had to 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 the rest of the Star Trek franchise.
These storyboards were published shortly before the release of The Motion Picture, when relatively little was known about the plot. They depict the opening sequence.
Initially the scene would have featured V’Ger bursting from the blackness of space, attacking the Klingons without any apparent provocation. Later it was decided the Klingons were to be the aggressors, attacking V’Ger as it moved through Klingon territory on its way to Earth.
A new model of the D7, called the IKS Gr’oth, was built by Greg Jein in 1996 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 features an amalgam of detail from both The Original Series model and the K’t’inga. It bore a pale green coloration, in line with future Klingon vessels.
Yet another model of the Gr’oth, this time built digitally, was created for the 2006 remastered version of numerous original Star Trek episodes. Mike Okuda explained to Ex Astris Scientia that the ship came 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.
Sources for this story include: David Houston, “Andy Probert Talks About the Lost Designs of Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” Starlog 32 (March 1980) 27-33, 63; Ron Magid, “ILM’s Effects Final Frontier,” Cinefantastique 22, #5 (April 1992) 49-50; Bernd Schneider, “The Everlasting Klingon Battlecruiser,” Ex Astris Scientia; and Herbert F. and Yvonne Fern Solow, Star Trek Sketchbook (1997)