A Little Recreation

I took a break from modeling the Workbee to begin roughing out the 3D modeling of the Recreation Deck on the Enterprise-refit from Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP). This was one of the more visually interesting sets built for the film, but also the most problematic one for us rivet-counting Treknolgists.

The set was designed by the late Oscar-nominated production designer Harold Michelson, whose credits range from Spartacus, to Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, to the Oscar-winning The Graduate, to Robert Wise’s West Side Story. His positive experience working with Wise on West Side Story is what lead him to be hired by Wise to be the art director for TMP.

Michelson and his wife were considered legends within the film industry. He began work as an illustrator and storyboard artist for Columbia Pictures in the early 1940s and went on to work on numerous films from the 1940s through the 1990s. His wife Lillian Michelson was for decades a much sought-after film scholar and research librarian, whose research library was a destination for many renowned directors. From Francis Ford Coppola (whose Zoetrope Studios housed her research library for nearly a decade) to Mel Brooks and Danny Devito she was an un-sung hero for them.

There is a wonderful documentary from Adama Films about their life which has been shown on Turner Classic Movies entitled Harold and Lilian: A Hollywood Love Story. It is definitely worth checking out.

So while Michelson’s visual sensibility in design were wonderful and really without question, he insisted that the massive set for Recreation Deck he designed for TMP fit into the starboard rear section of the main saucer of the Enterprise. He wanted it there so there so the deck windows would be facing aft and allow a panoramic view of the dry dock the Enterprise was moored in at the beginning of the film.

Harold Michelson proposing the re-location of the recreation deck to the saucer rim. (Image: Courtesy Richard Winn Taylor)
Art director Harold Michelson proposing the re-location of the recreation deck to the saucer rim. (Image: Courtesy Richard Winn Taylor)

Needless to say, and much to the consternation of others on the film’s production such as production and concept artist Andrew Probert, as designed and built it simply would not fit within the space where it was located within the saucer’s rim. This is not simply because the height of the set was too tall (which it was) but also because it didn’t account for the saucers curved undercut, which take almost half the saucers vertical space at about the mid-point of the saucer radius.

Probert tried repeatedly to get the recreation deck placed somewhere else within the ship. It was originally envisioned as being where the arboretum/botanitcal garden ended up in the secondary hull. Once Michelson insisted that there needed to be aft-facing windows to show the dry dock, Probert suggested locations such as just beneath the Officer’s/VIP lounge.

Production sketches by Andrew Probert, dated June 20, 1978, of proposed locations for situating the Recreation Room in the upper saucer. The final location was moved to the aft/starboard rim of the main saucer.
Production sketches by Andrew Probert, dated June 20, 1978, of proposed locations for situating the Recreation Room in the upper saucer. The final location was moved to the aft/starboard rim of the main saucer. (Image: Courtesy Probert Design)

He also came up with an alternative design which would have worked within the available space within the saucer where Michelson insisted the rec. deck to appear.

Concept sketch of a proposed Rec. Deck configuration in the main saucer rim by Andrew Probert, June 18, 1978. (Image: Courtesy Probert Design)

But these were rejected as Michelson insisted that nobody is going to notice or care whether or not it would actually work (i.e. fit with were it was placed within the ship).

Oh how he didn’t get us Trek fanatics. (wry grin)

At any rate, I started modeling the design as it appeared in the film. Referencing Lora Johnson‘s “Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise” as an initial starting point, I began with with the “light cube table” gaming pit. Working from both screen captures from the film, as well as the aforementioned layout, I began by making the seating within the gaming conversation pit where the light cube game table is located.

Decker and Ilia-probe on the recreation deck of the Enterprise, in a scene form Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (Image: Courtesy Paramount Pictures)
Decker and Ilia-probe on the recreation deck of the Enterprise, in a scene from Star Trek: The Motion Picture. (Image: Courtesy Paramount Pictures)

In working out the dimensions, I also dove into cross-checking it with average dimensions for height, seat depth, etc. used in furniture design to make sure the derived dimensions were ergonomically viable. I modeled the pit furniture as well as the step dimensions for the small set of stairs leading down into the pit in this manor. I also referenced the Officer’s Lounge filming miniature and set blueprints worked up by Probert and drawn by Leslie Ekker.

I then went on to build the rest of the main platform, the “light shuffleboard game” inset in the center of the floor, and all the furniture on the main platform.

Next up was building out the side-wall buttresses. I also assigned basic colors to the furniture (for a future painting guide reference) and made some minor tweaks to the furniture placement to more accurately reflect their positioning in the Ilia/Decker scene in TMP. The color selection was done by repeated comparison to various screen captures from the blu-ray release of the theatrical cut of TMP.

After I am done with the modeling phase, I will be working up a comprehensive set of mechanical drawings for the furniture and the various rec. deck components with a complete color breakdown. This will include Pantone color matching, and using the EasyRGB website to color match the RGB color values to actual commercial paint equivalents. This will aid in working up a precise painting guide for use when making the actual model parts.

Next I modeled the two free-standing raised platforms, one of which Kirk stood on when he gave the address to the crew as they watched the recording of the V’ger attack on Klingon ships and then the attack Epsilon IX. I also re-sized the larger triangular “coffee table” that is towards the outboard area of the main platform. I used the dimensions derived from the same furniture piece that was used for the previously mentioned Officer’s Lounge filming miniature and set blueprints.

Next up, I started building the side walls in the six buttress alcoves as well as the vertical tube terrariums/plant displays which are at the outboard end of the side-wall buttresses. This involved recreating the directional signage and graphics designed by Lee Cole, a designer on the movie and creator of the graphic symbology on the sets used on the movie. These graphics appear in each of the six side wall alcoves.

Once I finish the alcove detailing, I will be building the view screen back wall with display alcove and the turboshaft tubes. Then finally the fore and aft balconies and their support framing.

Now you may ask why I am modeling this interior section of the Enterprise?

The short answer is so I can 3D print the interior as piece for my Polar Lights (PL) 1:350 scale Enterprise-refit model kit.

Once all that is modeled, I will be doing a distortion/conversion to get it to be in the correct proportions for a forced perspective 3D model. This will then give me the file to make it a usable 3D printed forced perspective window insert on my PL build.

To do this I will be using the same basic method used in traditional stagecraft to build three dimensional forced perspective backdrop scenery for the theatre. Here’s an example of how to go about working out the precise angles that then allows proper foreshortening of linear depth, so it works our correctly with the sloped floor and ceiling:

Example of working out the geometry used in creating forced perspective set backdrops for the theatre. (Image: Courtesy Architecture and Perspective in the Illusory Spaces of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena)
Example of working out the geometry used in creating forced perspective set backdrops for the theatre. (Image: Courtesy Architecture and Perspective in the Illusory Spaces of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena)

This will allow me to correctly get the proportions in height, width (and critically) depth, to make a physical forced perspective three dimensional window box illusion work properly.

The trick is to get a grid where the depth reduces as it goes back. This should allow me to have four side-wall buttress sections on each side of the rec. deck like there was on the actual TMP set. All the attempts I have seen to date to build this in model for reduce the number of side-wall sections to three in order to make it “fit” depth wise.

That’s where the proper mathematical foreshortening of depth will make the one nearest the back (i.e. where the large wall view screen is) much “thinner” depth wise than the one nearest to saucer rim windows.

The trickiest part will be to get hyper-accurate measurement to maximize the interior vertical space where the saucer undercut is. This will determine how shallow of an angle I can get away with vertically, which then determine how much I have to foreshorten the depth. That in turn drives all the other scaling to create the forced perspective.

Below is a preliminary drawing of the primary hull’s cross-section profile, where you can see the “hump” which undercuts the bottom of the saucer.

Preliminary study of the Enterprise-refit primary hull cross-section profile. (Image: Third Wave Design)
Preliminary study of the Enterprise-refit primary hull cross-section profile. (Image: Third Wave Design)

Back of the envelope guesstimating is I can reduce the depth to about 3/5th of what the “actual” depth would be if we could ignore the undercut “hump” and sell the illusion of an interior space that matches what was seen in the film.

At least that’s the theory (and plan).

7 thoughts on “A Little Recreation

  1. Excellent! This space has got to be the single most frustrating area within the refit, for me anyway. The first time I watched TMP I’d assumed the Rec Dec was located directly aft/below A/B decks, probably because of the 2 turbo lift shafts running up/down the wall next to the view screen…things just seemed to fit. I’d also assumed that the officer’s lounge was the space located along the saucer rim (the square windows made sense to my 7 year old mind). It wasn’t until many years later that I realize these weren’t the case. I’ve accepted the fact that both these spaces are opposed to where I’d initially imagined. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading/seeing your end solution/print. Thanks as always!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The sad thing is, you can’t even really see anything out of the rec. deck windows in the film. They painted a huge backdrop showing the starboard engine nacelle and pylon, the dry dock, etc. but your really can’t see much of it at all in the finished film. Your idea that it was directly below where the Officer Lounge is makes a lot more sense. The twin turboshafts makes eminent sense. Having it there and much more central to the saucer core would also solve all the fit issues as well since there would be ample vertical room to accommodate the set as built.

      I wish that they hadn’t run out of time and budget and had built the back wall of the full-size Officers Lounge set as originally intended (and as built and filmed in minute for the Vulcan shuttle arrival sequence).

      I had posted before how that would have looked so much cooler and more visually interesting on what appeared in either the theatrical release or the Directors Edition version of the film.

      https://third-wave-design.com/2017/10/14/lounging-around-the-set/

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  2. Absolutely beautiful work in progress so interesting and involved- yours will be the first and only accurate /350 scale reproduction I’ve seen ! Can’t wait to see the result and maybe get my hands on one also 🙏🏽🖖🏼

    Like

  3. Pingback: Hangin’ on the Intercom… | Third Wave Design

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