Friday, April 4, 2014

E is for "Excellent"!!!

The USS Enterprise, NCC-1701-E, was unveiled in the film Star Trek: First Contact, released in 1996. With the destruction of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations, a new ship was commissioned by Starfleet. She was designed to be a military vessel with a scientific mission attached, as Starfleet adjusted its shipbuilding priorities to meet the threat posed by the Borg (the cyborg race introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation and the main villain in the movie). She was a Sovereign-class starship, and launched in 2372 AD. Ronald D. Moore, the co-story and co-writer of the film, said that the "working assumption" was that Sovereign-class ships began to be built during TNG's final season and that this particular vessel probably had another name until the Enterprise-D was destroyed.

The Enterprise-E had a year's shake-down cruise before it was involved in the events of Star Trek: First Contact. Two years later, it was ordered to relocate the pacifist race known as the Ba'ku from their homeworld, and was heavily damaged during an encounter with the advanced Son'a while doing so (events related in the film Star Trek: Insurrection). According to the Star Trek: Voyager episodes "Pathfinder" and "Life Line", the Enterprise-E spent two years stationed near Earth, conducting a number of important missions in defense of the planet.

Veteran Star Trek production designer Herman Zimmerman designed the Enterprise-E. He was told only to come up with a very sleek design. Zimmerman worked with illustrator John Eaves to come up with the look, a ship intended to have far more firepower and have a military mission. Eaves reduced the height of the neck connecting the saucer to the engineering hull, and lengthened the nacelles. Eaves made 30 to 40 sketches before settling on a final design. Only minor changes were made after that.

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) manufactured a 10.5 foot long model. The paint scheme was alternating "tiles" of matte and gloss to give the hull texture. The windows were clear fiberglass, and tiny transparent photographs of the interior sets were placed behind them to give the interior a dimensional feel.

Cinematographer John Knoll used a 50 mm rather than 35 mm lens for shooting the Enterprise-E because it made the saucer section look elongated. The model was shot from above and below as much as possible, since side views made the ship appear flat. Extreme close-up shots of the model turned out poorly. For example, during the shot where the camera focuses on Picard, Worf, and Hawk walking on the main dish and then pulls way, way, waaaay back to show how small they are compared to the ship, the camera had to start out less an an eighth of an inch from the model. It looked fake so close up, so miniature painter Kim Smith spent several days adding surface detail. Then the camera crew had trouble achieving focus. To compensate, a wide-angle lens was used, and the f-stop set as high as it could go. (f-stop is the measurement of how big the camera's aperture is when it opens. Each stop is half the size of the one before it. f-25 is about as high as you can go, which is a teensy tiny opening. This lets in less light. It also means things in the foreground are crisp, while things in the background are out of focus. This exaggerates the sense of depth.)

Here's a view of the ship from below.

Star Trek: Insurrection was the first Star Trek film to use a CGI-generated Enterprise.

Santa Barbara Studios produced the Enterprise, although it's not clear if they scanned the existing model or created one from scratch. We do know that they scanned photographs of the model of the Enterprise-E used in First Contact in order to get texture added to the hull of the CGI ship.

Here's the Enterprise-E firing in First Contact.

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