Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Intrepid-class USS Voyager

Several studio models of the Intrepid-class, specifically for the USS Voyager, were designed and used on Star Trek: Voyager, having also appeared as another class vessel, the USS Bellerophon, in one episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Starting out as a traditional physical studio model, advances in visual effects (VFX) techniques caused that model to be supplemented and eventually replaced with a digital counterpart, halfway through the production of Voyager. Nevertheless, coming up with the visual style and design of the class, slated to be the "hero" vessel of the new television series, proved to be a long, arduous and drawn out process.


Concept art for the opening credits of Star Trek: Voyager

The earliest concepts for Star Trek: Voyager came in September 1993, during the last season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the second season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Star Trek producers had already begun to plan for a new series set on a smaller starship than the Enterprise-D, but instead of waiting for more clarification, Rick Sternbach immediately started making sketches of this unnamed vessel.

Sternbach's early sketches had Voyager as a streamlined, dart-like primary hull, with a flattened, elongated engineering hull, sporting swept-back runabout-like warp pylons. Later on, it was decided that Voyager would be able to land on a planetary surface, requiring deployable landing gear and other arrangements of resting-on-hull components to be sketched out. Variations filled more paper as the proportions of different parts changed, pieces were added and subtracted, and hull contours, both gently curved and angular, were explored in perspective. Even in the rough sketches, a lot of design ideas got worked out, concerning placement of familiar items like impulse engines and phasers. Not surprisingly, this exercise was repeated in greater detail with each new approved version of the hull. Preliminary hull cross-sections were drawn in blue pencil, to check different internal deck heights, total number of decks, and possibly overall ship length.

During April and May of 1994, the first real sense of the new starship emerged. The slightly angular dart front was smoothed off and nestled into the engineering sections, still assuming a separation capability, and sweeping pylons ended in a set of long warp nacelles. Doors on the nacelles could open, exposing the warp coils for some new kind of energy jump. Impulse thrusters were buried underneath, as in the runabout, and a large triangular wedge sat atop the ship, possibly acting as a scout craft or long-range sensor array. In this design, all of the familiar Starfleet parts were added, in type and location, much the way they eventually were. A few cut-and-paste variations were assembled, along with a sleeker version that left out the long-range sensor pod and combined a few shape ideas from the runabout and the Excelsior-class. Here, a few more details crept in, notably the large forward sensor cut-out, and a stepped engineering hull that supported a ring of large cargo bays and impulse engines. This particular variant received additional approval from the producers and proceeded to the initial blueprint and study model stages. Sternbach scaled up a top plan view sketch of the ship to a length of forty-eight inches – the presumed size of the motion-control model, at the time. From the top view, Sternbach derived bottom, side, fore, and aft views. The side elevation (and resulting cross-section) showed fourteen decks, and that the ship was about a thousand feet long (the same size as the upgraded Enterprise from Star Trek: The Motion Picture). This would make it about 303 meters.

Close-up view of the primary hull, showing escape pod hatches, sensor panels, a phaser strip and crew quarter windows

There seemed to be no insurmountable problems from the design standpoint in giving it all the proper fictional starship systems, or of building and filming the miniature. The set designs could be matched in shape and color. This version of Voyager looked fast, with a hint of solid engine hardware showing on the outside. Just as Sternbach was about to produce a final set of model-maker's blueprints, the producers asked if he could make Voyager a bit more blended, more curvy; just as a physical model of the USS Voyager had been completed, the producers called for softening the hull contours. Sternbach also still worked on the nacelle placement, mounting them on pylons like on the Enterprise-D, or down-turned like on a runabout, and horizontal pylons that evolved into wings.

Following the Starfleet standard, Rick Sternbach reserved spaces for the bridge on Deck 1 and a variety of place-holder windows on the hull, which would be built into standing sets. Since Voyager would be smaller, structures like windows would be proportionately larger and more visible, requiring more model details matching the stage sets. The large windows that appear on the upper side of the Voyager model were designed by Sternbach to accommodate the living quarters of the starship's senior officers, the five windows located underneath the officers' mess on the fore-side of the ship being allocated to the captain's quarters.

Prototype model

The Voyager study model

The "Voyager Prototype Model" was a 48 inch long, 1:240 scale study model, designed and built by Rick Sternbach out of foam core and Bondo during the pre-production of Star Trek: Voyager. [1] This was a mock-up only; it was not built as a filming miniature. Featuring many details that eventually made it into the producers' final choice for the design of the Intrepid-class USS Voyager, this prototype featured sharper, more angular shapes, and long, down-swept warp nacelles mounted on pylons designed similarly to those on the Danube-class runabout. This was very similar to the kitbashed filming model that was labeled USS Elkins, leading to those two models to be sometimes confused. This design came very close of actually becoming the definitive one for Voyager. As Sternbach remembers, "I was ready to produce a final set of model makers's blueprints when a request came down from the producers – they had been perusing the study model for a while – which asked if I could please make Voyager a bit more blended, a bit curvier, like a Lexus. I looked at the latest sketch and pondered a bit. Sure, I thought. Why not." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 19, p. 25). Sternbach himself later expressed a mild preference for this design over the definitive one, "(...) only once did I ever get far enough to really flesh out (and get excited about) a design that was never used, and that was the early maquette-stage Voyager I built as a foam core and Bondo study model." [2](X)

Though Sternbach had not got around to draw up the final construction blueprints for the design, he did do a preliminary 5 piece set of non-final blueprints for a slightly different earlier design variation. Those were part of a 200-piece graphics lot that was sold as Lot 265, estimated at US$1,000-$1,500, on 6 October 2006 in the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction, with a winning bid of US$5,500 ($6,600 including buyer's premium), whereas the five pen and ink originals were later sold as Lot 365 on 8 August 2010 in the Propworx "The official STAR TREK prop and costume auction", estimated at US$400-$500, for US$360 (including buyer's premium).

No longer in the possession of either Sternbach or Paramount Television, the study model itself, wound up in the possession of a private collector who, until recently, was trying to sell it through eBay. [3] Years later, Sternbach related on his Facebook account in 2014, "I may have mentioned this before, but this particular mockup escaped our custody, I assume about the time the art department was shutting down in 2001, but I can report that it is now in safe hands (not mine) and will be restored and a few dings repaired. A few other foamcore mockups I built, like a very early Type 6 TNG shuttle and the alien shuttle Nenebek, also went this way or that, but c'est la vie." A larger, more professionally built and detailed model was constructed by Gregory Jein a short time later for convention purposes. That model has, among others, appeared in the Boss Film Studios' model shop expo '97 in Los Angeles. (Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 23, October 1997, p. 47)

The prototype design was referenced by the Last Unicorn Games' role-playing game books as a Bradbury-class ship, although this bears no regard for the producers' and creator's intentions. Voyager's registry number on original plans was NCC-73264, but this was changed before the study model was built.

Physical studio model

The physical model, orthographic views

Starting on 16 June 1994, Sternbach needed about a month to re-design the model along the "curvier" lines requested before it was approved. The physical studio model, essentially a collaborative design effort by Sternbach, Michael Okuda, and Richard James (of which the latter had to match the interior sets with the outer appearance of the ship), was eventually built, after Sternbach produced detailed blueprints in August 1994, at Tony Meininger's Brazil-Fabrication & Design. Constructed out of vacuum-formed plastic and cast resin with internal neon lighting, it measured 61×24×10 inches, and was commonly referred to by the production staffers as the "five foot model". [4](X) After eleventh-hour detailing, entailing the application of the ships graphics and decals, Meininger delivered the model to Image G (where staffers Andrew Millstein and Tim Stell were eagerly awaiting to start motion control photography on the model) for shooting on 19 October 1994, though modifications and detailing, including a late decision to have the warp engines being able to pivot, continued until mid-December. Slated to be the visual effects producer for the series, meant that Visual Effects Producer Dan Curry was the effects staffer primarily responsible for photographing the model. Having already kept a close eye on the design stage of the model, he continued to do so during its construction. He wanted to make sure that surface details were designed with well-placed mounts in mind, in order to allow for maximum creativity in designing and filming motion control sequences through good camera angles, which might otherwise not be available for him. (A Vision of the Future - Star Trek: Voyager, pp. 217, 295, 325)

The model was also outfitted with tiny still photographs of interior settings, positioned behind the windows, echoing what had been done fifteen years earlier with the eight-foot refit-Enterprise studio model. (Cinefantastique, Vol 27 #4/5, p. 46) Curry has stated in this respect, "The Voyager hero model was a five-foot miniature. And one of the things we did with that, is inside the larger windows, we'd gone around the sets and took slides of various sets and then bent them into little arcs like miniature cycloramas inside the windows. So when tighter shots of the ship fly by, you'd get a sense of perspective shift as the ship move by, which would help the verisimilitude, as rather having white-lit windows."

Intrepid-class studio model shuttlebay close-up.jpg Intrepid-class studio model shuttlebay closed by Dan Curry.jpg
Meininger's interior shuttlebay deck...
..closed by Curry
Intrepid class USS Voyager landing sequence concept.jpg Intrepid-class studio model decals applied by Mike Okuda.jpg
Okuda working on the model
The 37's effects filming.jpg
The studio model filmed with landing gear for "The 37's"
Voyager landing mechanism.jpg
Landing sequence concept
Deployment of the landing gear in CGI

Not only that, the model was also equipped with an aft shuttlebay, which could be featured open and closed, again much like its Motion Picture predecessor was. Curry continued, "Now on the Voyager one thing we didn't have on the Enterprise [note: the E-D that is], was a removable shuttlebay door. And inside Tony Meininger built a wonderful miniature set, so that for certain shots we can actually fly around and get a look inside, so we know there is a shuttlebay. So, we'll able do to shots where the door is there, the door is out. Then we'd have to put an animated white to show the door opening like any roll-top garage, which indeed it is." (VOY Season 1 DVD-special feature, "Red Alert: Visual Effects Season One")

The eleventh-hour application of the ships graphics and decals, was done by Mike Okuda and Doug Drexler of the art department, although the latter had formally no business doing so, as he remembered,

"Although I did work on both shows, I was "officially" on DS9, so when it came time to graphic the Voyager, Mike was forbidden to use crossover crew. There was no good reason for this that we could perceive. One thing about Mike Okuda, is that all he cares about is doing the best job possible in the time available. When it came time to launch the Voyager, Mike wanted me with him, damn the decree. So in the dead of night, and under cover of darkness, Mike and I packed our gear, our graphic tape, and out custom INT's, and headed into the San Fernando Valley, for Brazil Fabrications. To say that I was excited, was an understatement, and if I told you that I was not playing the Enterprise launch music from TMP in my head the entire time, I would be a big fat liar. "Tony Meininger’s crew did a spectacular job under enormous time constraints. The variable pitch wing of the Voyager was a decision made by the producers, after the ship was mostly finished, and required a massive retrofit of the brand new model. Naturally, there was no additional time given to Tony to get it done. So here it was, zero hour, no time left, and Mike and I are working feverishly, and gleefully to the finish. "We'd tow her out with our bare hands if we had to..." At one point, Mike and I had to lift the gorgeous model off of its stand, and turn it over, in order to work on the bottom. You feel like you are taking your life in your hands. One slip, and your career is over. As the last phaser demarcation was rubbed down, a voice came from the open garage door of Brazil. "Good evening, gentlemen!" My heart froze. It was Voyager producer Wendy Neuss! BUSTED! My heart was in my throat as Wendy surveyed our work. She did not make eye contact with me, and spoke only to Okuda. She seemed quite pleased, and Mike thanked her for coming out in the middle of the night to view the finished project. As Wendy headed for the door, she turned, looked at me, and said, "...and thank YOU, whoever you are," and gave me a wink. With that, she disappeared into the cool California night. Without a word, I looked at Mike wide eyed. "It's ok," he smiled, "she's one of us"." [5](X)

As the Intrepid-class was capable of making landfall, the model could also be outfitted with a landing gear (also designed by Sternbach). Though the deployment of the gear was done as a CGI effect, "(...) we had little stand-in feet we could put on that [the five-foot model] too.", effects supervisor Curry said as he explained the landing sequence for the episode "The 37's" (VOY Season 2 DVD-special feature, "Red Alert – Visual Effects Season 2"). It was the first and last time the model was photographed in the landing configuration as subsequent landings were entirely realized as CGI. [6] The landing gear did not hold up in close-up shots so a part of the landing gear was recreated as a larger scale physical model in May 1995.

The studio model at auction

The model enjoyed an uneventful career, but was all but replaced from VOY Season 4 onward by its digital counterpart due to the advances in the CGI technique. All the motion control footage of the physical model, was provided by Star Trek's long time vendor of these services, Image G.

The studio model made only one public appearance before being sold off at auction in 2006, when it was featured in Los Angeles at the California ScienCenter on 19 February 2004 for a release party, that also served to honor the efforts of NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and others in the exploration of space, on the occasion of the first Voyager DVD release. (VOY Season 3 DVD-special features, disc 7)

The physical model, known as Lot 357 and estimated at US$10,000-$15,000 was sold on 6 October 2006 in the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction, with a winning bid of US$110,000 ($132,000 including buyer's premium). The winner of the lot, Adrian Hancock from Leicester, England, was interviewed in The History Channel's documentary Star Trek: Beyond the Final Frontier. [7](X)

Other physical models

Joseph Carey's ship-in-a-bottle model

For "Parallax", effects staffer Joe Bauer had to construct a low budget scale model of the landing bay out of cardboard and miscellaneous kit parts since Amblin Imaging that was to compose the approach scene as a CGI shot, could not deliver on time and on budget. (Cinefantastique, Vol 27 #4/5, p. 83)

A commercially available model that wound up on screen was the small Christmas ornament of the USS Voyager released by Hallmark in 1996, repainted as a ship-in-a-bottle model in Joe Carey's quarters in "Friendship One".

Another commercially available product, Revell-Monogram's model kit No. 3604, was also slated to make an on-screen appearance, along with other models of varying starship classes, as one of the golden models in the display cases in the observation lounge of the USS Enterprise-E in Star Trek Nemesis. John Eaves built the model, filled it with resin, had it electro-gold-plated at ArtCraft Plating, but failed to deliver the model in time for shooting and it was subsequently never used. Eaves retained the model, "I got the other ships done in about a week and took them to the stage and he had already filled the cases twice with doubles of the original 6. It was too much work to take out and replace the dups with the new so they didn't make it on the big screen, but they did wind up at my house again.", Eaves recalled. [8]

Discussing a set-up, using a large test model

Foam core camera test models of various sizes, one of which was featured in the VOY Season 2 DVD-special feature, "Red Alert – Visual Effects Season 2", were in use as stand-ins, as long as the physical studio model was perceived as needed. Some of these have been sold in the July 2008 and January 2009 It's A Wrap! sale and auctions. One, measuring 14×5.75×3 inches, sold as Lot 8337 for US$305,00, a second larger one, measuring 62×23×11 inches, as Lot 8122 for US$599,00, and a smaller third one, measuring 6.75×17.75×3.25 inches, as Lot 10185 for US$157,65, respectively.

A small scale model of Voyager was also constructed at a later stage, most likely another modified Revell-Monogram model kit, for personal use as a study model for Sternbach. It was never used for filming (nor was any other physical model ever used as stand-in for the studio model for that matter), and was later auctioned off as Lot 225 in Profiles in History's Hollywood Auction 24 on 31 March 2006, estimated at US$1,000-$1,500.

Derivative ship class studio models

While no use of commercial models was made to functions as stand-ins for the filming models of the Intrepid-class itself, liberal use was made of the Revell model kits to construct at least two derivative ship-class kitbash models for the Deep Space Nine episodes, "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", and "A Time to Stand". For the latter a shot was required of a retreating flotilla of Starfleet vessels. To beef out the scene, the production staff built several new ships, "kitbashing" them out of parts from commercially available AMT/Ertl, and Revell-Monogram Star Trek model kits. Members of the production team who pitched in to build the models for the episodes were, amongst others, Gary Hutzel, Judy Elkins, Adam Buckner and Anthony Fredrickson.

The Yeager-type model

USS Yeager DS9.jpg Yeager type at christies.jpg
A Yeager-type vessel, and the model thereof at auction on the right

The Yeager-type studio model was a kitbash, created by Gary Hutzel from the primary hull and nacelles of Revell-Monogram USS Voyager model kit (No. 3604), attached to the rear hull of a Maquis raider model kit (No. 3605), although the parts differ from their original scale in relation to each other. The overall measurements of the design were 20"×15". [9](X)

As for the use of "kitbashes" Michael Okuda later commented, "One thing I like about this ship is that it has a distinctly different profile than most other Federation ships. You can see that it's different, even when it's very small on the screen, which is how it's intended to be seen. Otherwise it wouldn't be worth the effort. I love the fact that the DS9 VFX folks put in the extra effort to hint that there was more to Starfleet than the four or five big models that Paramount owned." [10](X) Okuda's notion about Starfleet having more ship classes was later expanded upon in the later episode Deep Space Nine episode, "A Time to Stand", where more kitbashed models were used, though ironically the Yeager was not employed there. It was however the most frequently seen kitbash model as (stock) footage of the model was featured in establishing shots of Deep Space 9 station and its environs throughout Deep Space Nine's seasons 5 through 7.

The studio model was offered in the 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection auction as Lot 495 with an estimated sales price of US$4,000 to $6,000, where it ultimately sold for US$8,500 ($10,200 with premium). It has the distinction of being the only kitbashed model offered in that auction, or any other for that matter.

The Elkins-type model

Judy Elkins holdig her namesake vessel.jpg Raging Queen, Elkins and two Klingon warships.jpg
Elkins with her namesake vessel as featured in the far top background on the right

The episode "A Time to Stand" featured the earlier mentioned USS Elkins (NCC-74121), albeit barely discernible. Built by its namesake, Judy Elkins, this Elkins-type vessel was kitbashed from the saucer section of a Revell-Monogram USS Voyager model, the body of an F-14 fighter jet model, warp pylons from an AMT/Ertl runabout model, and warp nacelles from an AMT/Ertl USS Reliant model. [11](X) The episode marks its only appearance. The Elkins-type was probably inspired by the the above-mentioned Voyager prototype study model of Rick Sternbach. As mentioned, many have confused the Elkins with Voyager prototype due to their similar designs.

CGI models

At the time of inception of the Voyager series, however, computer generated imagery (CGI) was becoming more affordable and the decision, prompted on by Visual Effects Supervisor David Stipes, was made to have also a digital model constructed for the intricate title sequence, slated to serve alongside its physical counterpart.

CGI main production model

Wire model for Star Trek-Voyager.jpg
USS Voyager in Nekrit Expanse.jpg
Amblin's wire-frame model under construction, resulting in the shot in "Unity" on the right

Santa Barbara Studios (SBS), the effects company responsible for creating the sequence, originally used their own low-resolution CGI model while mapping out the sequence. Upon completion, their preliminary model was replaced with a more detailed and finished model built at Amblin Imaging by John Gross, Grant Bouchet, D.H. Jones [12], and Bruce Hall, who remembered, "Wow, it been a long time since I have seen renders of that...takes me back to my Amblin days and the sweat that went into building it with David Stipes sitting over my shoulder pointing everything out that was wrong with it." [13](X) Amblin had the physical studio model scanned and digitized at Cyberscan which built a detailed CGI wire-frame model. That model was then turned over to Amblin for rendering and animation, using high resolution pictures taken from the physical model for mapping. In the end their model consisted of over 300,000 polygons, one of the most complicated models of that time. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, pp. 72-75, 79-81)

The method of mapping flat-lit photographs over a wire-frame model had a slight drawback as 2D imagery manipulated in 3D space resulted in slight distortions as Sternbach later observed, "From what I understand, the five foot filming miniature was photographed to produce the surface texture maps, the CG model was built by Santa Barbara Studios [sic.], and the projection of the maps onto the CG polygons didn't match exactly. (...) The shield grid lines and phaser strips, as well as the SIF field reinforcement strips, should be absolutely horizontal as they were in the [physical] model [rem: when seen from the side]. Tony Meininger and his Brazil Fabrication crew set up the hull perfectly straight on a flat surface and "walked" a scriber around to get the deck levels/grid lines. My guess is that the model photography introduced some kind of distortion; maybe it wasn't shot from a long enough distance away." [14](X)

Amblin's CGI model showing its missing texture in the title sequence

Still, CGI at this point was not yet perfect, as Gross explained:

"There are six shots in the opening title sequence, three of them had the CG ship that we built; the other three have the practical model. The three that had the CG ship were the one where it goes by the sun, the one where it goes through the smoky, particle stuff, and the last one, where it jumps to warp.(...)We always use beta software [rem: meant is a new version of Lightwave which at the time was available on two different computer systems], which means there tend to be some bugs. As we were modeling Voyager, some of it was being done in the Amiga version; some was being done on the SGI version. If you transferred the model between the different systems, the textures – effectively the paint on the ship – would get lost. That happens in the final shot where the belly tips up toward us and Voyager goes to warp. "It's something you don't really pick out unless you know it's there, but if you look at the bottom of the ship there are these three darker patches that aren't supposed to be there – it's where there are some ports and hull plating. That made it into the title sequence. Nobody said anything, and we never mentioned it!" (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 3, p. 112)

This made Voyager the second Star Trek series where CGI was used from its very inception to the end of its run (Deep Space Nine already had CGI elements in its title sequence and there were also the morphing effects of Odo as well as the Bajoran wormhole, done as CGI effects). Viewers could distinguish between the CGI and physical models by observing the windows at the utmost aft under the landing bay. The CGI model had the windows lighted whereas the physical model had not since there was no room in that area of the model to install electrical wiring. As time progressed, CGI became more and more cost effective and the special effects more ambitious to a point when the physical studio model was rarely used any more in the latter seasons.

Orthographic views of the revised CGI model

After the season two, Foundation Imaging, brought in by Visual Effects Supervisor Mitch Suskin, took over the CGI work for Voyager and part of its work was remapping, as well as repairing the shortcomings of the Amblin Voyager model, done by Robert Bonchune. [15](X) Actually, the model had already been turned over to Foundation previously, during the run of the second season after Amblin had closed its doors early in the season. In order to prove their mettle before being contracted by the franchise, they had received Amblin's CGI Voyager database in order to generate establishing shots for the producers to evaluate. (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 16, p. 35) Bonchune, an Original Series fan, considered himself a purist and felt the need to have the CGI model approximate the physical model as close as humanly (and technically) possible, "I spent five solid years working on Star Trek: Voyager, even contributing to the practical miniatures for the pilot before moving on to the CG realm – and I felt they were truly unacceptable, and that they didn't reflect the quality of lighting and textures of the model I used in the show. (...) I was working for Foundation Imaging when I was finally assigned to Voyager full time, and that's when I had the chance to examine the existing Voyager CG model we had to use every week. I really wanted to give the CG model a major facelift so being new to the show, I asked Mojo – who was my Supervisor at Foundation Imaging on Voyager – and Mitch Suskin who was his Mojo's supervisor from Paramount – if, even on my own time, I could implement some changes to more accurately match the filming model as I felt we could not use it as it existed at the time. (This was all new to me back then and little did I know what the future held!) Using both good, clear shots of the physical model, and looking at the maps that Amblin had created, I set about pinpointing the areas that needed most work... and I'm not sure how it happened, but those ship image maps were tinted purple!" [16] Bonchune, stirred up by the color discrepancies, elaborated on his work:

"As the show progressed, the need to get closer and closer to the ship meant that we were going to have to add more detail to the Voyager. This would help it to hold up to closer scrutiny by the camera. One of the things I noticed was that under certain lighting conditions the ship had a slight reddish brown hue. I went in and had a look at the maps. They were a basic neutral grey with a slight tint towards red. Now, on TV, the ship looks neutral gray, but the practical miniature is actually Duck Egg Blue [Note: more accurately called "robin's egg blue" by Doug Drexler; [17](X) Duck egg blue tends to have slightly greener hue overtones]. We decided to change the maps to reflect this in an effort to match the practical more closely at close range. "Another thing I noticed was that, when seen close, the deflector dish's light on the practical miniature faded out towards the edges. I mapped the dish to reflect this look. At his point, I just kept going. I re-mapped the bussards and the warp nacelles' warp glow area."(Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, Issue 32, 1998, p. 54)

In regard to the deflector dish and warp nacelles, he has later in 2013 added in some more detail,

"There was one thing I remember changing - one horrid thing that truly did NOT work on the CG Voyager at the time – that was the blue glow behind the deflector dish. It was originally just one luminous surface and one solid color with glow, whereas the physical model had variations in the brightness as angles changed because it was lit through frosted clear resin and had a single light source. I tried my best to reproduce that look using fade maps and other texturing procedures to duplicate the variations, so it wouldn't stand out as being obviously different.

"Later, with Lightwave's newer materials/texture features, I could REALLY get it identical – but for the time, it was a lot closer, and most people couldn't tell if what they were looking at was the physical or CG model. A few years later, Lightwave acquired even more surface types – such as translucent surfaces – and I was actually able to truly imitate the real-world look by creating a "frosted glass" material and putting real lighting behind the panels.

"I redid the warp nacelles in the same fashion, and was finally able to add the proper dimensional copper striping that went across the blue nacelle surface. This was really only visible when the warp drive was off, but it was a pleasure to be able to match it to the physical filming miniature exactly."

The CGI model in its full glory

Further upgrades Bonchune performed on the model were,

  • Addition of the red brackets around the three docking ports on the saucer that are on the miniature, but were never included on the CG model
  • Addition of more texture detail to certain surfaces, and complete redo of the sensor panels with all the nurnies (in terms of color, panel lines, and weathering), being too dark previously
  • Addition of edges to the corners of all the surfaces within the deflector dish (and other panels across the ship), being just impossibly-perfect square edges rather than including at least one slim 45 degree bevel for added realism
  • Replacement of light flares that represented the navigation and running lights with actual "glass" fixtures, eliminating little fuzzy "pom-poms"
  • Addition of docking port door paneling details and lighting panels that encircle the doors; cast a very dim light highlighting the doors for realism
  • Updating and lightening all the surfaces that were painted too dark, as compared to the filming miniature.

After Bonchune was done with all the modifications, a copy of the improved CGI model was, upon approval by Dan Curry and Mitch Suskin, turned over to Digital Muse (the later Eden FX and successor of Amblin), in order to have both companies working from the same source, which greatly added to production efficiency. [18]

While the CGI model was in use during the last four seasons of Voyager, three versions of the model were in use, as Bonchune has divulged,

"Throughout the run of the show, we used three separate CG versions of Voyager. We had a very low-resolution, low-polygon "stand-in" model for use in quickly and easily blocking out shots; we usually did this for all the ships we built, since the modelers sometimes needed more than a week to complete a final model – but we couldn't wait that long to begin doing animatics or blocking out the ships' motions. On some occasions – totally by accident – the Voyager stand-in was left in the final version of the show for some some distant shots... and nobody caught it! It was mapped with the orthographic images of our "normal" CG model, so from very far away you just couldn't tell – but it was considerably less heavy in polygons, by a factor of 100! "For almost all the regular CG shots we created, the Voyager I "refitted" was used, but for those close-up, paint-scraping shots where the camera was maybe a few meters above from the hull – like the opening sequence in "Good Shepherd" – we had a special up-rezzed Voyager. At first, we built just the section we needed to hold up to the camera's increased scrutiny, but after a few seasons of having to do many of these types of shots on nearly every part of the ship, we ended up with a much heavier high-resolution model that we could use for any occasions that called for it."

Voyager escape pod hatch.jpg ExplosiveDecompressionVoyager.jpg Species 8472 on Voyager hull.jpg
"Up-rezzed" part of the CGI model in "Good Shepherd"
Up-rezzed saucer rim detail for "Scorpion, Part II"
...further up-rezzed for "Prey"

As to the limited usage of the high resolution version, much of the extreme close-ups of which being painstakingly worked upon by Kuramura, Bonchune additionally stated, "You may wonder why we didn't just use that high-resolution model all the time, but the memory allocation and processor speeds on the rendering computers were much smaller and slower compared to today's options, and we were trying to economize on memory usage all the time. The less we used, the more other things we could do – like adding two or three more ships in the shot, or rendering a planet with a high-resolution map. Then the model would render faster, so it was always a bit of win-win when optimizing each scene and model." [19]

Yet, Bonchune has also pointed out that not all extreme close-ups required work on the entire CGI model initially, "There were also a lot of episode specific details added to the ship. Most of these were done for both parts of "Scorpion" and "Year of Hell". These included close ups of different parts of the ship, like the cargo doors on the main hull (where Species 8472 was crawling) or different window sections (close up of the bridge area for "Year of Hell" or Tuvok's quarters in "The Gift". These were all beautifully executed by Koji Kuramura and Trevor Peirce. In this way, CG modeling is very similar to practical film modeling. You don't built the whole ship for close-ups, you built only the sections you need. For both mediums, you save time and money." (Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 32, September 1998, p. 54) As Bonchune has stated, all these "up-rezzed" detail parts were at a later point integrated into the high resolution complete model.

USS Bellerophon; the one time only appearance of another Intrepid-class vessel

Bonchune went on clarifying that fellow CGI artists at Foundation kept on refining the model throughout the remainder of the series as the need arose for specific episodes, especially for extreme close-ups. Adam Lebowitz, Koji Kuramura, Trevor Peirce, Doug Drexler, and Lee Stringer [20] all worked at one time or another on the model. [21] It was Foundation's CGI model, turned over to Digital Muse for otherwise unaltered use – save for its registry number – , that made the sole class sister appearance as the aforementioned USS Bellerophon in Deep Space Nine's season seven episode "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion (pp. 661-662))

Digital USS Voyager "Once More Unto the Breach"

A final refinement was performed long after its use as a television production asset, by Lebowitz and Stringer at Threshold Digital Research Labs for the film portion of the 2004 Borg Invasion 4D-ride at the Star Trek: The Experience-attraction, as the model was intended to make a dramatic entry in one last, official live-action performance, and therefore needing an even higher resolution upgrade. [22](X) As former Foundation Visual Effects Supervisor, Lebowitz, now serving in a similar function at Threshold 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. But the most noticeable exceptions were those of the Borg cube and USS Voyager, as both took center stage in the film. Since Voyager was slated to make its dramatic large screen entry in the film, the digital model had to be rerendered at Threshold at a far larger resolution than had been necessary for the small television screens, a task Lebowitz and Stringer (now also formerly of Foundation) themselves performed, as they already had intimate working experience with the model for Voyager, as afore indicated by Bonchune.

CGI main model variations

Kuramura's damaged CGI Voyager

Sternbach's Voyager damage design

The versatility of the CGI model also meant that alterations beyond mere refining could be performed on the model. One of the more drastic alterations was the ever increasing level of damage sustained by the Voyager in the season four two-part episode "Year of Hell". Rick Sternbach designed the damage done to the Voyager in a series of sketches in August 1997. Sternbach knew this would be a challenge for whomever Foundation charged the modeling with, as he annotated on one of the sketches, "Have fun matching interior + exterior shots!" The CGI modeler in question, made responsible for showcasing the extensive damage, Koji Kuramura, took on the challenge and made the fullest of it, and then some. His supervisor, Lebowitz recalled, "I'm most proud when we've done something that allows them to tell a story they would not be able to do otherwise. Here, the dramatic point of the show was to visualize Voyager becoming more and more dilapidated over this year of hell. They would never have taken the Voyager miniature that was built and cost God knows how much and trashed it; they might have put a little bit of paint on it, and that would have been that." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 51) He has added, "Model maker Koji Kuramura went absolutely nuts busting up the Voyager for "The Year Of Hell", a fun two-part episode in which Voyager and her crew go though a year of… um… hell." [23] Foundation's executive Ron Thornton too has expressed his pride in Kuramura's work, "Fred Kuramura worked for several weeks building the different versions of Voyager that go [to various stages of destruction]. There were about four different stages of Voyager, in varying levels of disrepair. That took quite a lot of time, but it's one of those things that you never really see, and getting the chance to destroy Voyager at the end was very cool!" (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 16, p. 38) Two of Sternbach's damage design sketches, were sold as Lot 396 in Propworx's The Official Star Trek Prop and Costume Auction of 8 August 2010 for US$240 (including buyer's premium), having been estimated at US$200-$300.

Other noticeable alterations concerned the outfitting of the Voyager with Borg enhancements, featured in the season four episodes "Scorpion, Part II" and "The Gift", as well as with ablative armor in the series finale "Endgame". [24](X) Design and construction of this last configuration has been the work of Pierre Drolet. [25]

The (high-resolution) CGI model went on to make several appearances in and onto licensed Star Trek publications, most notably in the Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendar series and its book derivatives.

CGI backup model

Viewpoint staffers digitizing the studio model

As a precaution and back-up, Stipes and his visual effects colleague Ronald B. Moore decided to have SBS also construct a full-fledged CGI model at the same time Amblin was constructing theirs. Using different software, SBS's own in-house developed Dynamation versus Amblin's LightWave 3D, meant that the two models were not interchangeable. The same methodology was used as with the Amblin model, with their scanning and digitizing done at Viewpoint DataLabs International, Inc., for which the physical studio model was shipped out to their Orem, Utah, facility. Nevertheless, it was the "Amblin" model that was solely used in the subsequent episodes of the first two seasons of Voyager. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, pp. 72-75, 79-81) Mitch Suskin elaborated further, "The model we're using now was built at Digital Muse [sic: what he meant was Muse's immediate predecessor Amblin], a computer graphic model that has been enhanced over the months. We keep adding little odds and ends to the Light Wave model Dan Curry has been very helpful in guiding us and the animators into the nuances of lighting for Voyager and for STAR TREK, making the ship look as much like the real thing so that you can't really tell the difference anymore. We've started rendering at higher resolutions, to have a lot more detail. That's enhanced things a lot." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 29, No. 6/7, p. 104)

The experience garnered by SBS proved useful though, when it came to digitizing the Enterprise-E for the later motion picture, Star Trek: Insurrection.


Related topics

Further reading

External links

Community content is available under CC-BY-NC unless otherwise noted.