Matt Jefferies, the designer of the original Enterprise bridge, was intimately involved in recreating the set for what would become Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
In the summer of 1977, Jefferies was working as a technical advisor on the planned television series Star Trek: Phase II. He revisited Pato Guzman’s very first proposal for the Enterprise bridge, which he had rejected more than a decade earlier as impractical to built. The idea was to put the crew around the single table — an idea Andrew Probert would explore another decade later, when he was responsible for designing the bridge on The Next Generation.
Jefferies and Art Director Joe Jennings decided against such a radical overhaul, however. It was Mike Minor’s more modest proposal that was accepted for Phase II. It clearly marked an evolutionary step between the original Star Trek and what would become The Motion Picture.
When it was decided in late 1977 that Star Trek would after all continue as a motion picture, Harold Michelson was brought in by Director Robert Wise as production designer, replacing Jennings as head of the art department. He didn’t like the fact that almost all the bridge stations were facing the wall.
“Every section looks too much like every other,” he told Starlog magazine for its January 1980 edition. “To make the set more interesting to the camera, we turned Chekov’s station 90 degrees from the wall,” which put him in line with the viewscreen. “Chekov’s cubicle does a lot toward breaking up the scenes — and there are lots of them — shot on the bridge.”
Another change Michelson made was to the chairs, from the simple pedestal swivel seats reminiscent of The Original Series to girdle clad, multifaceted, ergonomic seats with automatic, switch operated, bracing devises.
Busy, but not too busy
Lee Cole was already working on the sets when Michelson joined the production. She had been working with Minor and Jennings on the bridge consoles. She later told Star Trek: The Magazine (December 2001) that one of the things the art department did was give the new version of the bridge fully animated screens.
When I was designing the bridge, they were just going to do static things with backlit negatives and a few little mechanical devices that moved. I said, “You know, I just don’t think that’s going to do it. I think we’re going to have to project some things here.”
Cole put 23 screens on the bridge and film was projected onto them from behind. At the time, she had no idea how much work she was making for herself.
About a week or so before filming, when we were walking the sets, they said, “Well, Lee, we can’t wait to see what you’re going to put on those screens.” I had no idea I was going to do that!
Gene Roddenberry didn’t want the consoles to look too busy, though. Cole remembered him saying, “I want it really plain to try to be futuristic. Cut out all this detail and simplify things.”
“We did that,” she told Star Trek: The Magazine (September 2002), “but it got a little too plain, I think.”
For Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, many of her original plans made it back onto the set as director Nicholas Meyer’s thinking ran opposite to Roddenberry’s. He didn’t have the budget to construct a new set but, “The least I thought we could do was revamp the bridge and make it twinkle.”
Meyer also had the bridge painted in darker colors, giving the set a more dramatic look. This was reverted back to a bright color scheme in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
Sources for this story include: David Houston, “Production Designer Harold Michelson, Visualizing the New Star Trek,” Starlog 30 (January 1980) 42-46; Star Trek: The Magazine 2, #8 (December 2001); and Star Trek: The Magazine 3, #5 (September 2002)