Having fun with an iconic Sci-Fi Design: An alternate USS Enterprise – Part 4

USS Enterprise thumbnailWith the release of the Star Trek: Into Darkness in just a couple of months I thought I would post the updates made to my alternate USS Enterprise. I’ve also been working on my lighting techniques in Cinema 4D to make this collection of computer generated polygons look like a physical object and a gallery at the end of the article showcases my best renders.

I’ve made some big changes to the Enterprise because I couldn’t wrap my head around two of the design elements. These two areas were the engine supports and the open/flared area around the front that looks like it would collect all sorts of space “garbage” for lack of a better term. I also made alterations to the saucer near the neck and straightened the engine supports. The curved supports are my main annoyance of both the official 2009 design of the Enterprise and my alternate design. In fact the new design of USS Enterprise might be my favourite if it weren’t for those idiotic supports. Maybe after all the carnage the ship goes through in the movie they’ll be fixed (though I doubt it)*.

I decided to do some before and after renders to show the big changes I’ve made to the design.

Figure 1

Comparison between my 3D meshes of an alternate USS Enterprise
Updated alternative design of the USS Enterprise – lower view.
  1. I’ve removed a lot of the details from the bottom of the hull. My reasoning? They served little purpose I and could not think of any function they could perform.
  2. I added numbers to these cargo hatches, as well as lights underneath them.
  3. I changed the lights under the engine spoiler* from spotlights to a fluorescent style.

You can also see how I’ve changed the engine supports. These changes will be featured in other images.

Figure 2

Comparison between my 3D meshes of an alternate USS Enterprise
Updated alternative design of the USS Enterprise – engine close up.
  1. The connection between the engines and the supports seemed too delicate in my original model. Even though this shouldn’t matter in space it looked like the engines could be snapped off at the slightest turn or acceleration. The support now flares out so the area that is attached to the engine is far larger, strengthening the connection. Other changes are the new platform that holds the engine and the angle where the support joins the engine. More on that feature later.
  2. I added a cowl, similar to the 2009 Enterprise, even though I’m not a big fan of it aesthetically. However I think it makes the connection between the engine and support feel stronger and tougher, so I see why the filmmakers incorporated used this feature. After I added the cowl I realized I had to change the angle of the lower engine section. The acute angle looked okay without the cowling, but new cowling ruined the flow of the design. I also added some small light features, both to the front engine overhang and the connecting platform. A final adjustment was bringing out the engine bulb and giving it a pointer, less spherical, shape.
  3. Another angle of the engine spoiler lights and how they were altered.

Figure 3

Comparison between my 3D meshes of an alternate USS Enterprise
Updated alternative design of the USS Enterprise – back view.
  1. As mentioned in Figure 2 the insets of the new engine supports were altered. For instance the black inset was moved from the rear of the support to the front.
  2. The biggest change of all: straightening the engine support. If we pretend this ship is real it seems like an unnecessary maintenance headache to replace curved panels and sections when everything could be aligned on a straight line. The new support maintains the same thickness the entire length while the old version gradually got thinner.
  3. In my original mesh the supports connected to the engine from directly underneath. However on other versions of the Enterprise the supports join the engines along the side. I felt this method seemed stronger and more stable so I altered the engine supports to match the other incarnations of the ship. Then engines were also lowered slightly.

Figure 4

Comparison between my 3D meshes of an alternate USS Enterprise
Updated alternative design of the USS Enterprise – side view.
  1. The black inset is now at the front of the support.
  2. Another major alteration to the model. If you look closely at the original image you can see this section is separated from the main hull. This was from the concept art I based my model on but I could not think of any logical reason for the ship to have this feature. It seems likely that all sorts of space “junk” would collect between the main hull and separate area. I cut the mesh following a curved line then extended the reformed edge into the hull.
  3. The light source that illuminates the side registry was changed so that it comes from the side pod rather then the engine support. This is similar to the 2009 Enterprise.
  4. Another major alteration. In the concept art I based the original 3D model on these area of the hull was black with copper highlights. I had matched this pretty successfully but while it looked great in the concept art I felt the mesh needed more detailing to stand out. I replaced the black colour with blues, greens, and greys, added a bunch of lights, and put insets into the hull for more dimension and texture.

Overall I think these changes have made my alternate version of the alternate USS Enterprise look better then before.  What has most improved is I’ve gotten the lighting to make the ship look more realistic. I looked at screen caps from the 2009 movie to get an idea of how they made the ship look so good and tried to emulate them*.  While my alternate design couldn’t hold a flame to the outstanding work done by ILM I think following their lighting design helped my version pop visually more then before. Here are some of my favourite renders.


*The carnage comes from a preview aired during the Super Bowl, I have no knowledge of what happens to the Enterprise in the new movie, but I suspect the ship is repaired by the end.

*By spoiler I mean they type you see on a sports car, not the type that describes the plot of a movie.

*Even though I think the 2009 Enterprise is a flawed design the actual work that went into making the CGI look good on camera is outstanding. It doesn’t have that “rubbery” look that seems to affect a lot of CGI work.

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