Redesigning the Enterprise Bridge for the Silver Screen

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 second Star Trek television series, 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 a single table — an idea Andrew Probert would explore another decade later, when he designed The Next Generation bridge.

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 Series 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 hired 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. “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 devices.

Busy, but not too busy

Lee Cole was already working on the set when Michelson joined the production. She had been working with Minor and Jennings on the bridge consoles. She later told Star Trek: The Magazine 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, “but it got a little too plain, I think.”

Darker colors

For Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, many of Cole’s original plans made it back as Director Nicholas Meyer’s thinking ran opposite to Roddenberry’s. He didn’t have the budget to construct a new set but recalled, “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.


The animated film screens caused problems in production. To do another take of a scene, the film(s) would have to start over and play all the way through again, and the take would then have to be picked up at the point in the film where they left off. By the time The Wrath of Khan was made, the films were transferred to video, and the film screens converted to video screens, making retakes easier and simpler. Instead of playing the films from the beginning, the crew would just need to rewind the video back to the point where they left off and pick up from there.

Adam Bomb 1701 (Dec 6, 2012)

Also, the film projectors for the bridge displays made a lot of noise, requiring the dialogue to be looped at a later point in time.

Adam Bomb 1701 (Nov 13, 2013)

Matt Jeffries’ full name was Walter M. Jeffries. Sometimes he gets confused with automotive designer Dean Jeffries. According to the Reeves-Stevens book about Phase II, Jeffries was on loan from the TV series Little House On The Prairie. Series producer Michael Landon had no problem with him working on Trek, but when one interfered with the other, Jeffries would have to make a choice as to which series he would stay with.

Adam Bomb 1701 (Jul 21, 2014)

What did the Phase II corridors look like before the movie transformation? Anyone know?

Steve (Jan 3, 2013)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture. But they must have been similar to the TMP look.

They were dreadful from the behind-the-scene photos that Richard Taylor shared with me. I have one of the photos up from those shots, in part of an interview I did with him recently, where he talks about how bad the Phase II sets were.

lestatdelc (Apr 18, 2017)

Dreadful? Looks like a re-creation/update of the original corridor, and the photo you posted shows it unfinished and unpainted.

DJ1706 (May 17, 2017)

If you’re talking about the article at the link, you’re distorting the gist idea the article.

chuckunit (Aug 15, 2021)

Not looking to thread-jack, but I interviewed Richard Taylor, the lead designer with Robert Abel and Associates, who were the original effects team on TMP. He actually handsome design inout on the bridge sets (since they were involved in doing the practical lighting gag of the energy probe, and did the wormhole effect scene before Robert Abel and Associates was fired for the project).

It was actually his suggestion and perseverance to get Roddenberry to accept the seat restraining devices being built into the seats. There were also a ton of suggestions from touch screen interfaces to a single wrap-around screen/wall that Taylor proposed of the bridge, which were rejected by Roddenberry.

There is a lot of good stuff in the six-part interview, which begins here.

lestatdelc (Apr 18, 2017)

I wasn’t born when TMP or even TWOK came out, but I can honestly say I loved both bridge concepts with the exception of the chairs. The chairs were terrible, but I guess expected from the Aqua Net era of big fluffy things.

K ONE (Jan 8, 2019)

I wonder if there is any information on the design work undertaken by Frank Israel? I seem to recall reading some years ago that he contributed to (among other things) the design of the TMP bridge, but I cannot find that source now and I may be incorrect.

Geoff (Mar 17, 2019)

There are a number of errors on this page.

1. The Jefferies concept art on blue appears to be from Roddenberry’s Starship proposal, as the spherical side compartment matches the external feature on on the side of the nose of that ring ship (seen in the rec deck illustrations of vessels called Enterprise).

2. The photo captioned “Star Trek: The Motion Picture floor plan” is the TWOK floor plan (note where Spock’s station has been moved).

3. The photo captioned “Bridge set during production of Phase II”… um, there was no production of Phase II; the series was snuffed several weeks before shooting was to commence. Only tests were shot. Furthermore, that’s Robert Abel on the set, who was hired for TMP, so it’s TMP pre-production, regardless of whether or not the announcement had been made.

Maurice Molyneaux (Mar 23, 2019)

Hi, Maurice, thank you for your comments!

1. I’m not sure you’re right. The Hollywood Auction site where I found the sketch and Memory Alpha both claim it was a Phase II design by Jefferies, based on Pato Guzman’s. Another website claims it was a design for The Original Series, but I don’t think that’s right.

2. You’re right here. Good catch! I’ll change the caption.

3. I don’t know the date this photo was taken, but judging from the uniforms and the console I’d say it must have been from when they were still officially making Phase II, not TMP. (You may know, the decision to make a motion picture was made several months before the production was officially changed. This photo could be from that period — but in that case, the people building that set were officially working on Star Trek: Phase II.)

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