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Excelsior-class USS Enterprise-B

Star Trek III: The Search for Spock was one of the few Star Trek productions that introduced a multitude of new space faring designs at once, six in this case, including the Excelsior-class. Built for that movie, the studio model for the Excelsior-class USS Excelsior and the subsequent variant models, have been in used in five of the Star Trek films and all three of the television shows set in the 24th century, making the Excelsior-class the most frequently seen "guest-star" Federation starship in the Star Trek franchise. Apart from the "hero" models, the various Excelsior-class models (or stock footage thereof), appeared in both the series premieres of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and the series finales of Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager.

Design process

Early design concepts of the Excelsior-class

For The Search for Spock an unique approach to designing was adopted, not seen before or after in the Star Trek franchise. Instead of the traditional way of thinking out a design, devising a design, coming up with detailed drawings to be approved of by effects supervisors and building models from blueprints, this time visual artists David Carson and Nilo Rodis of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) produced their pre-visualization artwork and handed it over to model makers Steve Gawley, Bill George and their team to be translated into study models, in essence inviting them to use their own imagination to finish up on the design. Very much a collaborative effort, Carson later remembered,"We'd churn out quite a few sketches. Then the ones that were most promising we might polish up a little in color for presentation. It wasn't uncommon for me to do a drawing that would inspire Nilo, who would then turn it into his own drawing that would be much more impressive! He would often inspire me." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 8, p. 48) Once turned over to the model makers the resulting study models were presented to producer Harve Bennett and/or director Leonard Nimoy for appraisal or as supervising model maker Gawley put it,"You had all these models sitting on a table so that the director could really get a feel for what we were talking about. It just made everything easier to understand, and insured that everybody was on the same page. It also made it easier to give cost estimates." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 8, p. 20) Director of Photography Kenneth Ralston elaborated further, "From the beginning, once Nilo Rodis, one of the visual effects art directors, had done a sketch and they got an idea of what direction to go, the model people all built prototypes. The space dock had four or five small prototypes. The Bird of Prey, I think, had only two because we all knew this one design would work and we were selling that one. The Merchant Man and the Grissom also had several designs. When Leonard and Harve and Ralph Winter came to meetings we presented them with three dimensional models. It really is a lot better doing it that way because they can physically see how different angles would work." (American Cinematographer, August/September 1984, p. 62)

In the specific case of the Excelsior Rodis recalled, "The "Excelsior" had to be brilliant, and it had to steal thunder from the Enterprise.", to which Carson added, "We kicked around a few different ways to go with the "Excelsior", but when Nilo did the drawing that led to the eventual design that was it, because it was very well received. It seemed to me to be a believable extension-a kind of next generation design." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, pp. 66-67)

Study models

Excelsior Class 4-engine original concept designs by Nilo Rodis bis.jpg USS Excelsior study model by Nilo Rodis as USS Alka-Selsior.jpg Excelsior Class 4-engine original concept designs by Nilo Rodis.jpg
Four-engine study model variant
USS Alka-Selsior study model
Another four-engined study model, pivoting engines variant
Excelsior 4x at Qualor II-2.jpg USS Alka-Selsior.jpg Excelsior 4x at Qualor II-1.jpg Surplus Depot Z15 Surplus Depot Z15 Surplus Depot Z15

The Rodis/Carson sketches, once approved, were sent down to ILM's model shop of Bill George who commented, "The art department had done a number of sketches. All of them were very different and very futuristic. They still had the basic theme of the dish and the engines, but they did not look like the "Enterprise" at all. I was given the job of building prototypes of those sketches. Leonard Nimoy was going to come up and look at them and hopefully choose one." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, p. 67)

Some of the study models based upon Rodis' designs found their way into canon however. A two-engine model, flippantly labeled USS Alka-Selsior (NCC-1404), found its way into the debris-field of Surplus Depot Z15 in the The Next Generation episode "Unification II". Two four-engine variants, one of which had pivoting warp nacelles (the feature not canonically encountered until the advent of the USS Voyager in the form of its variable geometry pylon configuration), were also present in the scene. These models therefore became canon albeit without class designations or names.

Nilo's designs were all thin and long and George finished up upon the study models in good time. With time to spare Carson proposed that George come up with his own ideas. He did, and later explained, "When you're designing something you want to come up with a take on it that will drive the design. At the time I was really into Japanese design, so I thought, "OK, what would the "Enterprise" look like if the Japanese designed it?" That was the basis of what I came up with for the "Excelsior"". (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, p. 70)

Bill George's study models

Upon this premise, George built a couple of study models which had a deeper profile and a more rounded secondary hull section (one of which had a nacelle type later applied to the Oberth-class). A bit to George's surprise, Nimoy chose one of his refinements as the template for the final studio model. George: "What's funny is I think that's what Leonard responded to. When laid out all these things on the table, he pointed to the study model that I had done and said "That one." And I think it was just because it was so much more familiar. It was quite a surprise when I found out that was the one he wanted. There were a couple of the other study models that I really liked, and I certainly hadn't trying to figure out which one he was going to choose." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, p. 70)

Design patent image

The mere fact that Nimoy chose one of George's models warranted him his status as one of the co-designers of the Excelsior-class, though he was not acknowledged as such on design patent No. D288945, issued to Paramount Pictures by the US Patent and Trademark Office for the USS Excelsior on 24 March 1987 (there described as "The ornamental design for a toy spaceship"). Andrew Probert's earlier patents for the starships in The Motion Picture, attributed to him in those cases, were cited as past references, as was the USS Reliant. The patent application was tendered by the studio on 29 November 1984 and was valid for fourteen years when issued.

"The mysterious four-nacelled ship appears to have been another Excelsior study model built by Bill George for Star Trek III. I think there might have been a photo of it in one of the "art-of" books. We had at least three or four of those Bill George models kicking around. One of them is still hanging in the DS9 graphics department", Michael Okuda later recalled in regard to the The Next Generation's graveyard scene in the two-part episode "The Best of Both Worlds". [1] However, none of the Excelsior study models have ever been identified as being in the on-screen scene. Yet, as the "Unification" depot scenes were mostly composited from shots previously made for the former episode, it is feasible the models were filmed, but that the footage was originally not used.

The fixed four-nacelled variant study model, constructed out of sheet and vacuum-formed plastic and measuring 21 inches, ended up in Okuda's personal collection, and eventually appeared as Lot 45 in the Propworx' STAR TREK auction of 4 June 2011. Damaged from years of storage and missing its two ventral nacelles, it was estimated at US$1,000-$2,000, selling for US$1,400 ($1,722 with buyer's premium) to American collector Anthony Sforza. [2]

The original physical model

Early publicity photo of the studio model

The 7.5-foot long studio model was built at ILM's model shop under the supervision of Steve Gawley. Building upon the experience they had garnered from the construction of the the USS Reliant model in the previous outing, they made sure that the model made for easy handling and assembling by constructing it out of lightweight vacuformed pieces with easy access to the inside of the model. In its original finish, the model went on to make additional appearances in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (albeit there as stock footage from Star Trek IV). (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, p. 70)

Star Trek: The Next Generation

USS Excelsior studio model maintenanced by Steve Gawley.jpg Ron B. Moore inspecting the Excelsior class studio model.jpg
Gawley checking the Hood "under the hood"...
...and his handiwork checked by VFX Coordinator Ronald B. Moore
USS Hood filmed for Encounter at Farpoint at ILM, side profile.jpg
USS Hood on stage at ILM in side profile...
USS Hood filmed for Encounter at Farpoint at ILM.jpg USS Hood.jpg
...and in front profile... eventually executed on-screen

In 1987 the model was again at ILM, as the company was contracted to compile a library of stock footage for The Next Generation's pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint". Due to his earlier acquaintance with the model, Gawley was appointed to give the model a once-over and prepare her for her reuse. (The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 2, p. 40) As the script called for the appearance of the USS Hood (the first ever appearance of an Excelsior-class vessel other than the Excelsior herself), Gawley relabeled the model as the "USS Hood NCC-2541". [3]

Originally only contracted to build the two differently sized Galaxy-class studio models, ILM was able to secure an additional commission to do visual effects photography for the pilot as well, which, among others, comprised shooting a library of motion control footage of the Excelsior-class model. An internal memo of the series' Associate Producer Peter Lauritson, dated 1 April 1987, and an upgraded one from 12 May 1987, specified some of the costs incurred producing this footage:

"All "Enterprise" and "Hood" Photography (headed as "Motion Control Photography (40 Shots)": US$63,000 ($67,095 including tax, slightly adjusted upwards from the US$62,200 of the April 1st memo)" [4]

Since no dorsal saucer views were ever used in the series, the registry number was never seen and apparently forgotten about, as the Hood was later endowed with a much higher number for her appearances in Deep Space Nine. That the Hood was actually labeled "NCC-2541", was confirmed when a behind-the-scenes picture showed up on several websites on the internet in the 1990s. [5]

Excelsior port of Galaxy.jpg
USS Repulse NCC-254"1" alongside the Enterprise-D
Erik Nash preparing the Excelsior-class model at Image G.jpg D'Alison.jpg
Erik Nash prepares the model at Image G for its appearance in "The Child", with the one-time only use of the ¾ forward dorsal side view, the likely reason for the USS Repulse relabeling

Nevertheless, a new profile view, neither featured in the pilot episode nor the remainder of the first season of the new series, turned up in the second season opening episode "The Child" as the USS Repulse (NCC-2544). However, it took until 2012 for the remastered version of the episode until the registry number "NCC-2541" became discernible, though only just barely (and therefore overlooked by the digital artists at CBS Digital), on the aft of the warp nacelles, thereby providing the on-screen confirmation that the model originally was indeed relabeled "NCC-2541" in 1987.

Even so, the dorsal side of the saucer on the other hand, had been marked "USS Repulse NCC-2544" – though the other markings appear to have remained unchanged – but this had not been discernible in the episode. [6] However, there was one new shot of the model featured in the episode, that was never seen again afterwards; the ¾ forward dorsal side view, seen through the force field of shuttlebay 3 of the USS Enterprise-D, and for which the relabeling was conceivably done, though only the aft of the ship could be seen ultimately. [7]. As ILM had from the pilot episode onward no longer been involved with the production of The Next Generation, this implied that this particular shot was actually filmed in 1988 at Image G – as indeed confirmed in Cinefantastique magazine (issue Vol. 19 #3, 1989, p. 33) – , the effects company which had taken over from ILM, with the relabeling done by Mike Okuda's art department. It therefore constituted the only footage shot by Image G of the model for the remainder of the series.

The stock footage library, to which the profile shot was added, was extensively re-used throughout the entire run of the series.


1991 changes and final USS Lakota appearance

In 1991, the model was refurbished and partly modified for its appearance in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, yet again at ILM's model shop. The bridge module was replaced with a smaller one, the large impulse deflector crystal was covered by a panel with two smaller ones and the rounded, what is on the MSD designated as "aft crew lounge", was replaced with a more angular one. As for the bridge, Bill George rationalized, "We changed the bridge on the Excelsior model because on this show, the bridge is actually very small – it's the Enterprise bridge re-dressed. The Excelsior was originally built for Star Trek III, where it had a cavernous bridge, and the model had a big bubble on top which I felt was always out of scale. We replaced it with a smaller bridge area which helped the overall scale of the model." (American Cinematographer, January 1992, pp. 58-59) Part of the refurbishment was the replacement of the Hood/Repulse decals with the new call sign for the USS Excelsior, NCC-2000.

A year later, the model was filmed in its original configuration one last time at Image G again, for its appearance as the USS Melbourne in Deep Space Nine's pilot episode, "Emissary". The shot of the two Excelsior-class vessels shown at the end of the series' 1995 fourth season premiere, "The Way of the Warrior", was either composited from previously unused stock footage filmed for "Emissary", or from newly shot footage of AMT model kit stand-ins, as the filming model itself had already been converted into the USS Enterprise-B by that time.


Eaves' redesign sketches

For the production of Star Trek Generations, the "producers [...] felt that the Excelsior had been seen too many times in previous films; they wanted a brand-new design for the Enterprise-B. This presented a challenge how to maintain continuity and Trek "historical accuracy" while giving the audience a "new" ship. Mike Okuda felt the challenge could be met." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, p. 4) Okuda has clarified, in some more detail, that, "(...) there were not any sketches done for an all-new Enterprise-B. We had said for years that the Excelsior sculpture in the TNG Observation Lounge represented the Enterprise-B, and I felt that some fans would have felt let down if we had failed to follow through with that idea. That's why I enlisted the talented John Eaves, who fortunately jumped right on board to help out. Fortunately, our producers saw the value in this approach, both from a fan-expectation viewpoint, as well as the sheer financial practicality. Don't underestimate the value of financial practicality. If we can't do these things on budget, eventually the studio (and its investors) will figure out that they can't make a profit, and they'll stop investing in new productions. They already take a huge financial risk on every new production, and the only reason they're willing and able to do so is if there's a reasonable chance that they'll make a profit." [8](X)

The modifications designed for the Enterprise-B were created by John Eaves, with the assistance of Okuda. According to Eaves: "[Mike] pointed out that we needed to design an area that protruded from the ship, so that the energy ribbon could whip out a section while leaving most of the ship intact." As a result, Eaves, who originally imaged the damage higher up near the neck of the ship, subsequently re-positioned the damage on the section of decks that extended out from the hull, which he had designed surrounding the deflector dish tapering gently on the bottom and flaring out dramatically on the top. Eaves elaborated that "(...)the addition of the decks gave the B's belly section a look similar to that of a PBY Catalina (a flying boat of the 1940s)." Ultimately their modifications produced added girth to the design, which increased its overall size, while still retaining the original Excelsior design. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, p. 4) The Catalina also served as inspiration for Eaves in adding the two additional impulse engines, one on either side of the existing impulse engines, "To seek out inspiration the PBY Catalina came to mind with it's built in boat like belly detail which made for the perfect reference to be translate[d] into the Starship's new hull lines. As for the big wing top props the same is seen on the top of the saucer with twin impulse engines located on the back of the dish." [9]

Once the new design was approved by Production Designer Herman Zimmerman and Executive Producer Rick Berman, the new sketches were sent to Visual Effects Supervisor Bill George, who passed them on to ILM's model shop for conversion of the the existing Excelsior model into the Enterprise-B under supervision of Lead Modeler John Goodson. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, p. 8)

To execute the design changes, the top of the saucer and bottom of the secondary hull were completely replaced. The new top of the saucer had the same bridge and nearly the same impulse crystals, but lacked the fins. The two boxes (labeled as impulse engines in the MSD) covered the aft pair of RCS thrusters and the windows next to them and also extended to the underside of the saucer. The Catalina inspired changes to the secondary hull were integrated into the hull design (molded from translucent fiberglass resin). The nacelles were "capped" and two dorsal fins were added to the top, one on the front cowl and one on the aft cowl. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 4-12)

Hull section studio model

For the scene where the damage caused by the Nexus is shown up close, a enlarged section of the redesigned forward secondary hull section was needed, both in order as not to damage the studio model as well as to show more detail. "This model was built for an extreme close up shot of the ship's hull, revealing the dramatic extent of the damage, telling the audience that Kirk had no chance of survival.", Okuda later elaborated. (Christie's Auction Catalog, Part One, 2006, p. 66) The model, measuring 94×54×33 inches (as large as the studio model itself) was constructed out of wood, acrylic, glass fiber/resin, and etched brass construction (for the exposed decks). The model showed up in the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction as Lot 106 with an estimated sale price of US$1,500-$2,000; it sold on 5 October 2006 for US$4,500 ($5,400 with premium).

The Enterprise-B model was returned to Image G for use in the Deep Space Nine fourth season episode, "Paradise Lost", as the USS Lakota. "We had to take off all the detailing, the numbers and names, and make new ones. Mike Okuda was instrumental in cutting us new decals and actually showing us how to get the old ones off without destroying the paint job. We did a lot of hand rubbing with water.", effects supervisor Glenn Neufeld later recalled. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 302)) It marked the third time the large model was at Image G, but it was also the last time the model was used as a production asset.

The refit Excelsior-class studio model at auction

The Enterprise-B/Lakota model (measuring 92×12×32 inches), still wearing its Lakota markings, was listed as Lot 998 in the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction with an estimated sale price of US$3,000-$5,000; it sold on 7 October 2006 for US$110,000 ($132,000 with premium). [10](X) The model was added to the collection of, an European organization that is dedicated to preserve science fiction production assets for public display purposes, such as in museums.

The Jein model

The Excelsior in "Flashback" with glowing warp nacelles

When an original configuration of the Excelsior was needed for the Voyager season three homage episode, "Flashback", it was discovered that the original model could not be returned to its original configuration without causing irreversible damage to it. A new one was therefore built by Greg Jein at a smaller scale for expedience sake, with minor differences – even though it was supposedly the same ship as seen earlier. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 386)) For example, "Flashback" features the only appearances of the USS Excelsior's warp nacelles glowing, although the episode also incorporated footage from Star Trek VI in which the nacelle sides did not glow. Affectionately referred to as the "Jein model" among production staffers themselves after its builder, the model was built at approximately half-scale of the original model, which made it much easier to handle at Image G – in the process partially explaining why a refit-Excelsior class vessel was no longer seen afterwards – , and continued to be reused until a CGI Excelsior was built for later seasons of DS9 and Voyager.

Fredrickson posing with his namesake starship

The Jein model has been relabeled and dressed with battle damage once for the Deep Space Nine sixth season opening episode, "A Time to Stand", as Okuda later confirmed, "The "USS Fredrickson" was indeed a re-use of the small Excelsior model that Greg Jein built for "Flashback" (VGR). It was done for a DS9 episode." [11](X) In this guise the model, named for Scenic Artist Anthony Fredrickson, was featured in the TNG Season 2 DVD-special feature, "Inside the Star Trek Archives" (incidentally presented by Fredrickson's wife, Penny Juday, who was unable to suppress a chuckle when she discerned the name of her husband on the model), where it was revealed that the pennants, bearing the original name, on the sides of the model were not replaced. Five episodes later, in "Behind the Lines", the model, or rather stock footage thereof, was used for a last time.

A commercial limited edition of twelve, without internal lighting, built from the same molds utilized for the Jein studio model, was later sold in 1997 at US$7,500 apiece, with a certificate of authenticity signed by Jein, at the Viacom Store in Chicago. [12](X)

The filming model, unlike its bigger sister, has been retained by CBS Consumer Products, and has been, relabeled back to USS Excelsior, featured in tour displays such as Star Trek World Tour, Star Trek: The Adventure, and Star Trek The Exhibition as late as 2012. [13](X) [14] In 2016, the model continued its career as a display piece when it resurfaced as part of the Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds exhibition, being on display at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop) from 21 May 2016 to 28 May 2018 [15], continuing to do so when the exhibit went on to become a touring exhibition. [16] However the model appeared to have been let go by CBS by then; not having been featured in any of post-2012 Star Trek auctions, the model was apparently acquired in an off-the-books deal by noted Star Trek studio model collector Adam Schneider, according to the accompanying display plaque, [17] [18] and who had lent out his new acquisition to the exhibit.

Other physical models

Eaves' resin study model of the Enterprise-B

For the refit-Excelsior-class design, a study model was built by designer John Eaves. Having been one of his first design assignments for a starship, Eaves, in his early stages as a production illustrator for Star Trek, preferred to have a physical model at hand to get a feel of the three dimensionality of his designs, especially where the motion picture starships were concerned. As, obviously, no commercial models were available to this end at the time, Eaves had to build one for himself. This however, was no impediment as Eaves was an accomplished studio model builder himself, having started out his career as such. The study model of the Enterprise-B he built for himself for Generations, was amongst the very first ones he constructed. A fairly large model, measuring 34 inches in length, it later turned up as Lot 195 in the Profiles in History's The Ultimate Sci-Fi Auction of 26 April 2003, estimated at US$6,000-$8,000. Constructed out of resin, Eaves' construction material of choice, the model was represented as having been, "(...)featured in the opening scenes of Star Trek: Generations.", implying it was screen-used, though it never was.

Unlike the Constitution-class or Miranda-class, it has yet to be fully confirmed if commercially-available Excelsior-class models were used as stand-ins for filming models in any of the Star Trek productions. Still, it seemed very likely that one or more of them have, as behind-the-scenes photos taken at Image G have appeared on John Eaves' blog, revealing at least one AMT model kit (no. 6630) in use. It can be discerned that a mounting rod is attached to the model's dorsal side, having enticed Mike Okuda, when examining the pictures, to comment, "The plugged-in motion control mounting rod on the ship and the apple box suggests to me that the photos may have been taken at "G," rather than at one of the warehouses, although the floor in the photos does not match the filming stage at G." [19](X) It, or others, were therefore likely used as a deep background elements in the Deep Space Nine fifth season finale, "Call to Arms", or even conceivably as early in the fourth season premiere, "The Way of the Warrior" as already indicated above. The former was the penultimate episode in which new footage of the Excelsior-class ships was shot using physical models, also featuring the Jein model for foreground shots, as confirmed by the show's visual effects supervisor, David Stipes, "2 Excelsior-class (non-refit); Yes, (the 3 foot model created for Voyager/Sulu episode)". As a result of one of several kitbash sessions for the series, another AMT model kit was apparently slated for use, being labeled as the USS Excel (NCC-2020). Polaroid images of this model, made available in 2013 by Dan Curry, showcased it alongside two Miranda-class derivatives, the USS Trieste and the USS Antares, of which only the latter, the USS Antares, made a confirmed on-screen appearance.

Display models

USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B golden display model.jpg USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B golden AMT display model.jpg
A gold casting made from Playmates' USS Enterprise-B...
...and one made from an AMT model kit
Excelsior class model, Paradise lost.jpg Starfleet headquarters studio model with mounted Micro Machines models.jpg
An Excelsior-class model in Admiral Leyton's office
Starfleet Headquarters model, the Excelsior-class vessel mounted on the far right

Consumer products were utilized to represent the Excelsior-class as golden display models seen in the display cabinet in the observation lounge of the USS Enterprise-E in Star Trek: First Contact. John Eaves purchased a 1994 Playmates toy model (no. 6172, coming in at 19 inches and the only refit-Excelsior-class model commercially available at the time), apparently discounting his own personal study model as being too large, filled it up with resin, made castings from it, and had the castings gold-plated at ArtCraft Plating. [20] For Star Trek: Insurrection, Eaves repeated this procedure, this time using three newly-available AMT model kits (No. 8761), though they were not used in the film due to a late script change. However, these eventually did appear in Star Trek Nemesis. [21] Eaves and the studio initially retained most of the models but almost all were sold at auctions at a later time. One was sold as Lot 16 with an estimate of US$800-$1,200 in the Propworx STAR TREK auction III on 24 March 2012 for US$550 ($677 including buyers premium); one was sold as part of a complete set of six in the Profiles in History's Hollywood Auction 44 on 15 May 2011 as Lot 1550 for US$11,000 (for the whole set); one sold as part of a complete set of six in Profiles' The Star Trek Auction on 12 December 2001 as Lot 288 to Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen for his aforementioned Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle, [22] [23] estimated at US$10,000-$12,000, again for the whole set, and another one has reportedly been sold in an online Sotheby's auction in October 2000. [24](X)

A silver refit-Excelsior model was seen in Admiral Leyton's office at Starfleet Headquarters on the Presidio in Deep Space Nine's fourth season episode, "Paradise Lost". This probably was a painted AMT model kit No. 8761.

Another commercial product was used as one of the four models mounted in front of the sail-shaped top half facade of the Starfleet Headquarters on the Presidio, appearing in "Paradise Lost" and its companion episode, "Homefront". The top half of the facade was itself a maquette and the starship models were Galoob Micro Machines (most likely taken from the pewter-painted Star Trek Television Series I Box Set and Star Trek the Movies Collectors Edition sets). (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 13, p. 112) The Excelsior-class vessel was mounted on the far right.

Derivative ship class studio models

While the use of commercial models as stand-ins for the filming models of the Excelsior-class itself has yet to be ascertained, what is certain however, is that for the Deep Space Nine episode, "A Time to Stand", liberal use was made of AMT model kits to create the derivative kitbash class models of the Curry-type, Raging Queen, the unseen USS Hutzel, and, most prominently, the Centaur-type. [25] They were part of an opening shot of a retreating flotilla of Starfleet vessels, deemed necessary by the visual effects supervisors. To beef out the scene, the production staff built several new ships, kit-bashing them out of parts from several commercially available AMT or Revell-Monogram Star Trek model kits. Due to the tight time scheduling of a television production, several production staffers had to pitch in to provide the fleet on time for filming, and which included, among others, Gary Hutzel, Judy Elkins, Adam Buckner, the above-mentioned Anthony Fredrickson, and Dan Curry. While most were used and some were not, the majority of them, including the ones mentioned below, received entries in the 1998 reference book, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual, being kitbashes notwithstanding.

A small, what the auction description had called "concept", model (measuring 14.34×7×3 inches) has also shown up at the wave of Star Trek auctions during 2006-2008, selling as Lot 7265 in the It's A Wrap! sale and auction (IAW) for US$511.99 on 4 March 2008. Clearly an unfinished AMT model kit, No.8761, of the refit-Excelsior-class version in a slightly differing configuration, it is far more likely to have been either a camera test model or an unfinished kitbash model for one of the Deep Space Nine episodes. Also sold off on IAW was an Excelsior-class starship schematic lot, drawn by J. Moll in 1992.

The Curry type

USS Curry studio model with its creator Dan Curry.jpg USS Curry.jpg Raging Queen, Elkins and two Klingon warships.jpg
Curry posing with his creation...
...and as it was featured in "A Time to Stand"
Raging Queen as featured in the left background

The USS Curry (NCC-42254) was built by, and named after, Visual Effects Supervisor Dan Curry. The kitbash model was constructed from the saucer section and engineering hull from the AMT/Ertl USS Excelsior model kit, no. 6630, and the warp nacelles and pylons from the USS Reliant model kit, no. 8766. Curry noted on his build, "We had to do a fleet of damaged ships. We got together (Gary Hutzel, and other people from Image G) and we kitbashed Star Trek models in ways that they were never meant to be put together. Just for fun each person who built a ship named it after him or her self. The USS Curry is not supposed to be a specific class, just a model I threw together." [26] In 2013 Curry took pictures of his model for representation on the Flare Sci-Fi Forums, affording a close-up look at his hitherto elusive build. In private correspondence with the forum poster, Curry revealed that he used runabout decals of AMT kit No. 6741, not Reliant or Excelsior decals, used the top half of the shuttle that came with the AMT Enterprise-A kit, No. 6693 or 8617, in order to cover up the hole where the Excelsior warp pylon assembly went, and attached the bottom half of the shuttle to the back underside of the secondary hull where the tractor beam emitter went. The emitter was now positioned under the shuttlebay in front of the ship. [27] After use in the episode, Curry retained ownership of the model. [28] [29]

Though similar in design, the likewise kitbashed studio model of the USS Raging Queen (NCC-42284) differed slightly from the USS Curry on details, as could be discerned on behind-the-scenes photos of the Raging Queen model. [30] The saucer section was slightly more positioned forward, additional warp nacelle supporting struts were added and most noticeably, the warp nacelles were mounted perpendicularly on the model as opposed to the Curry model. Unlike the USS Curry, the USS Raging Queen was only seen as a deep background element in the scene. As with the USS Curry, the Raging Queen was a one-time use only model and slated to be discarded, but was saved from the dumpster by Visual Effects Supervisor Gary Hutzel, who took the model into his care. [31]

The USS Hutzel

The USS Hutzel was built, as the name already suggested, by Gary Hutzel. [32](X) This three-engined variant kitbash model was almost entirely composed of the Excelsior AMT model kit components, but lacked a secondary hull, its three engines attached to the saucer, the lower one attached to it by two model kit Constitution-class warp engine pylons. A rather ungainly contraption, the model was in an advanced state of preparation for filming, as it had received a full paint job and was already endowed with an internal lighting rig, as behind-the-scenes photos of the model showed. [33] In the end however, the model was not featured in the episode and has made no other on-screen appearances. Nevertheless, the design of the USS Hutzel did receive an entry in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual. This model too was retained by its builder. [34]

The Centaur type

The USS Centaur, aka USS Buckner model, as built by Adam Buckner

Among the kit-bashes for "A Time to Stand", was the Centaur-type USS Buckner, which was referred to as the USS Centaur (NCC-42043) in a later scene of the episode, although a photo of the model, taken by its builder, still shows the original name, but the same registry number. The model was not present in the opening flotilla scene, but was featured more prominently later on in the episode. The Buckner was constructed from parts of the Reliant (no. 8766) and Excelsior (no. 6630) AMT/Ertl model kits. It was built by Adam Buckner, who still owns the model. [35](X) Buckner commented on his build, "The USS Buckner was a ship I built while at Paramount working on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine for a little boy who wanted a Star Trek ship. Gary Hutzel saw the ship and asked if it could be featured in one of his upcoming episodes. I let Gary use the ship. He added the green fluorescent tape for windows and the pink fluorescent paint for engines. As this ship would now be a shooting model, I produced a second model which I sent on to the boy as promised." Buckner further added,

Close-up detail of the studio model

"When I designed the ship, I intended the scale to be based on the Reliant/Miranda bridge and roll-bar. The use of the Excelsior saucer and nacelle parts were convenient as the real world scale of the dish was smaller than the Reliant/Miranda/Constitution/Enterprise dish. It did, however, lead to an unfortunate mis-calculation of scale by the art department when they visited the motion control stage unescorted, and upon seeing the model, made the assumption that the scale should be based on these parts. A further confusion was made when in the making of several art department assets, specifically some books, they "corrected" a number of details without consulting VFX. The most notable "correction" was the bridge to match the dish. "The detail on this ship was enhanced when I knew it was going to be shot. I added additional greebles to the hull. The intent was to give the ship both a sense of scale (smaller rather than larger, so more greebles rather than a smooth hull) and to give it a sense of a ship that had been customized for its role as a deep intruder with additional detail for engine speed, sensitive long range scanning and increased stealth. This explains the bits on the rear of the dish and the tank treads littered around the dish's edge. And yes, the shuttle bay is a shuttle bay. There was no room for it in the rear." [36]

When it was decided to give the model a more prominent role in the episode, Adam Buckner added the hull "greebles" to suggest a smaller scale of the vessel, thereby blurring the impression of an Excelsior-class sized saucer. [37](X) As for the use of the fluorescent tape on the model Buckner explained, "The Paint and Tape were for work under UV lights (read "glow in the dark when struck with strong UV radiation"). We used UV for the matte process and some of the window and engine passes. By mixing the paint and selecting the appropriate tape color, the material would glow in a chosen color range, allowing the separation of windows, engines and mattes to different layers by selecting the desired color during transfer from 35mm film to digital, or in the compositing process." [38](X)

Being a fan, as well as a production staff favorite, a somewhat redesigned CGI model of the USS Centaur was commissioned by Adam "Mojo" Lebowitz and built by Ed Giddings for representation in the planned, but ultimately canceled, 2000 Unseen Frontier reference book project. [39] Lebowitz himself was responsible for the rendering of the model. [40] While its originally intended Unseen Frontier appearance came to naught, orthographic and beauty views of this model were nevertheless later published in Star Trek Fact Files, no. 298, 2002 (reprinted later that year in Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 6), and most notably in the Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection, issue 52, 2015. Until that moment in time, it had been the only one of the Deep Space Nine kitbashes ever to be endowed with a CGI counterpart, though most of the others have followed suit afterwards for the Collection.

CGI models

While the physical models performed admirably in the job they were constructed for, advances in computer software meant that at a later stage of the Star Trek franchise CGI models of the class were constructed to take over their role in the productions.

ILM's CGI model

ILM's CGI wire-frame model under construction

ILM's CGI model in action

After discovering, during the production of Star Trek Generations, how well the CGI model of the Whorfin-class worked in combination with the likewise-conceived CGI Nexus effect, such as controlling the interactive light and being able to move the models freely within the phenomena, ILM's Visual Effects Supervisor John Knoll, after conferring with Co-Supervisor Alex Seiden and CGI Supervisor John Schlag, decided to digitize the Enterprise-B as well for its scenes within the Nexus. "All the shots of the Enterprise-B in the Ribbon were done with computer graphics. The decision allowed us to have particles streaming around the Enterprise as though they were deflected by the shields, and to do effects with tighter interaction than we could've gotten away with using motion control", Knoll explained. (American Cinematographer, April 1995, p. 85)

Computer Graphic Artist Stewart Lew constructed the CGI wire-frame model from flat-lit photographs taken from the physical studio model. Those photos were also used by Scott Frankel to map and texture Lew's model in ViewPaint, a software program (developed by ILM itself for the 1993 movie Jurassic Park, and not to be confused with the commercial ViewPoint software [41]), that allowed 3-D manipulation. (Cinefex, issue 61, p. 68) "To "render" the skin of the Enterprise-B, we actually took a bunch of flatly lit detail photographs of the ship with a real long lens from directly above and below, from both sides, and from front and back. Since the geometry of the CG Enterprise-B matched the the photographs of the motion-control model, it matched the motion-control model exactly when we laid the texture maps that were derived from those same photos over that geometry!", Knoll elaborated. (American Cinematographer, April 1995, p. 85) As construction on the physical model was still under way at that time, photography and texturing had to be regularly updated to keep pace with the changes. Lighting and rendering the model was entrusted to digital artist Ben Snow, who recalled, "When I got there I did a lot of training and I implemented half the RenderMan Companion (Steve Upstill's The RenderMan Companion) – which is good if you have an opportunity to do, and they put me on developing the CG version of the enterprise B in that film." [42] Having just been employed by ILM, Snow has added, "It was a dream come true. I was on the ILM stage talking with the visual effects supervisor [remark: John Knoll] about lighting the ship so I could match it." [43]

Digital Muse's CGI model

When in 1997, during the pre-production of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's season sixth , it became clear that events would lead up to the massive climactic battle in "Sacrifice of Angels", visual effects supervisors were aware that that battle was impossible to realize using traditional motion-control photography. "The problem is that motion control is about shooting one ship at a time, one pass at a time. There was just no way we could have done it. We just didn't have enough time or money.", David Stipes explained. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (p. 501)) In order to pull this off it was decided to complete the transition to CGI. Due to the scale of the project it was decided to divide the workload up between Digital Muse, who were to transform the Federation starships into CGI, and Foundation Imaging, who were responsible for the alien ships.

Lombardi's CGI model in action

Part of the process was the decision to greatly improve production efficiency by employing one software format only, LightWave 3D. This entailed turning over existing CGI models, done in other software formats, to Digital Muse for re-programming and re-rendering in LightWave, including the ILM models done for Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. The majority of them were converted, but for some reason the Enterprise-B was not one of them, either because it was overlooked or for technical reasons. The most likely explanation for the latter circumstance, was the incompatibility of ILM's own in-house developed software, in which the model was constructed, with the commercial LightWave software, as opposed to the CGI Enterprise-D model, featured in the same movie, which was constructed in the commercial ElectricImage 2.1 software, and that did get converted for it to soldier on.

Instead a new CGI model was built at Digital Muse, using the Jein model as reference, incorporating its characteristics, such as the glowing nacelle sides, and also serving as the additional explanation why the refit-Excelsior class was no longer seen. Built, rendered and lighted by CGI modeler David Lombardi [44] [45] the model already made its debut in the preceding Deep Space Nine episode "Favor the Bold", and continued to be used to represent the class for the remainder of both the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager series.

Other CGI models

Digital Muse's production CGI model did not meet everyone's approval, as Foundation's Supervisor Adam Lebowitz later explained, "A few years back, when I was working on a Star Trek book for Simon & Schuster, I hired Ed [Giddings] to help out with modeling chores. The CGI Excelsior model we had used on DS9 wasn't very detailed, so I asked Ed to create a new one. Armed with a ton of reference photos of the physical model, he went to work, sending me daily progress images, upon which I would scribble notes and make suggestions. After a few weeks, Ed put the finishing touches on what is easily the best CG model of the Excelsior to date, matching the studio model rivet by rivet." [46] Like Gidding's Centaur model this CGI model was also originally slated for appearance in the canceled Unseen Frontier book project, and likewise went on nevertheless to make several appearances in and onto licensed Star Trek print publications, the very first time in the Fact Files, no. 297, 2002 (reprinted later that year in Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 8, p. 34), the later Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendars, their book derivatives and, again, most notably in The Official Starships Collection, issue 8, 2013.

Still, Giddings' model made one, admittedly very fleeting on an auxiliary screen only, surprising appearance in an official live-action production, when it was featured in the opening scenes of the film portion in the 2004 Borg Invasion 4D-ride at the Star Trek: The Experience-attraction. As former Foundation Visual Effects Supervisor, Lebowitz, now serving in a similar function at Threshold Digital Research Labs for the film, had access to the digital database of previously used CGI live-action production starship models, and had several of these featured – mostly as scenic backdrops in the opening and closing scenes – in the film, and included that of Giddings.

First appearance of Gidding's refit-Excelsior-class Enterprise-B CGI model in USS Enterprise Owners' Workshop Manual
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pp. 82-83 spread
pp. 84-85 spread
The Official Starships Collection cover appearances of the Giddings models
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Issue 8
Issue 40
Issue 52
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Issue 116
Issue 152
Issue 158
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Issue 164
XL issue 8
XL issue 15

The same reasons as to why a CGI refit-Excelsior-class vessel never appeared again in any of the live-action productions after the use of ILM's version in Generations, also applied for its non-appearance in print publications such as the Ships of the Line calendars. The one time a CGI Enterprise-B was called for, the "Fleet Museum" centerfold in the 2005 outing, contributor Sean Scott had to make do with Gidding's model of the standard configuration, though he took care to obscure the ship as much as possible in his composition.

However, five years later, Digital Artist Robert Bonchune could not enjoy that luxury when he rendered the CGI models of the various Enterprises for representation in the reference book USS Enterprise Owners' Workshop Manual. Still, as one of the two initiators of the abandoned Unseen Frontier project, Bonchune was acquainted with the quality of Gidding's work, and, logically, commissioned him to finally bring a usable CGI version of the refit-configuration into the fold. [47] Gidding's refit-configuration model went on to make an even more prominent appearances in issues of the British Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection partwork publication.

Sharing the sentiment of by-now publication co-editor Lebowitz, Eaglemoss Collections project manager Ben Robinson used Gidding's models, virtually unmodified – as Eaglemoss' software package of choice happened to be LightWave 3D as well – not only for The Official Starships Collection, but also for the other Eaglemoss derivative print publications, with his CGI models also being used as templates for the display models that came with each issue of the partwork. Not only that, but as the Excelsior-class CGI model specialist, Giddings was also commissioned to construct digital versions of the Excelsior-based models used onscreen, which had no digital counterparts up until that point in time, which not only included the Curry type, but the Rodis-Jamero conceived study models, mentioned above, as well.


Related topics

Further reading

  • Star Trek: The Magazine
    • "Designing the USS Excelsior", Volume 3, Issue 9, January 2003, pp. 66-70
  • Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection,
    • issue 8, November 2013
    • issue 40, February 2015
    • issue 52, August 2015
    • issue 116, January 2018
    • issue 152, June 2019
    • issue 158, August 2019
    • issue 158, November 2019
    • issue XL08, August 2018
    • issue XL15, August 2019

External links