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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 02 March 2018 at 11:54pm | IP Logged | 1 post reply

So, a subject which has recently come up in the forum a few times is the increasingly “designy” and “guts on the outside” look of STAR TREK technology across its various iterations. 

Of course, sci-fi tended toward visions of a sleek future of flying saucers and silver jumpsuits...at least, it did until the one-two-three punch of 2001, STAR WARS, and ALIEN, films whose production design gave us the “used future” and “guts on the outside” aesthetic. An aesthetic which has since domineered science fiction TV and films for decades. 

It now seems that More Detailed= Futuristic in the minds of modern audiences and genre fans. Lots of blinking lights and whirligigs. My pet theory is that this comes down to relatability. People are used to seeing modern-day technology like the Space Shuttle and jet liners and whatnot, which have lots of dials, buttons, and blinky lights. It seems that people have forgotten that the march of technological progress inevitably means smaller, sleeker, and simpler, as with the gradual shift from early Apple PCs to the iPhone.

Anyway, the simple design aesthetic of the original STAR TREK was a deliberate creative choice. Modern audiences so easily scoff and laugh at the show’s rubber monsters and plywood sets, but the actual designs of the ships and technology were not just about budgetary considerations. Matt Jefferies—who had a background in aviation—deliberately designed the Enterprise’s exterior to be smooth-skinned because he rightly assumed that, in the future, all of the guts of a spaceship would be on the INSIDE (and accessible in a shirtsleeve environment), since making spacewalks for the purpose of repairs would be both dangerous and time-consuming.

Of course, beginning with (post-STAR WARS, it should be noted) STAR TREK- THE MOTION PICTURE, the look of TREK’s technology took a turn toward being superdetailed, and more about form over function, rather than form following function. That being said, at least some of the developments implemented for TNG do make sense as an evolution of TOS (such as the commbadges and the cozier, albeit less militaristic, ship interiors). 

The Abrams films went full-on “form over function”, with no real logic, believability, or consistent sense of scale provided for the Abramsprise. Jefferies’ utilitarian-yet-elegant, multi-purpose phaser pistol gave way to Abrams’ chrome phaser with (apparently) only “stun” and “kill” settings, with a horizontally-spinning emitter barrel that lights up either blue or red to indicate the setting. And would probably be more likely to suffer from jamming or mechanical failure.

Now, with STD, we have active retconning of what the original Enterprise “really” looked like via a hideous redesign. Still better than the Abramsprise, but not that mich better. The general aesthetic of STD also goes all-out with the blink lights and clunky detailing. Seeing this retroactively applied to the Enterprise is...painful, to say the least.



It should also be noted that all prior recreations of the TOS ship and sets (in TNG, DS9, and ENTERPRISE) pretty much treated the original designs as both canonical and sacrosanct. Somewhere in the last few years, however, that has changed. Matt Jefferies’ sleek and simple designs are now apparently too “dated” to work within a 2010s-era TV show, even with the advantages provided by modern materials and cinematography techniques.

So, I ask: Just how dated is TOS, anyway? Is the design aesthetic of the original series really that obsolete and laughable? Which elements legitimately no longer work? Which do? Certainly, the show was ahead of its time in both predicting and inspiring things like floppy discs and cell phones, but which elements legitimately no longer work? Why are the super-detailed, super-blinky-winky styles of the Abrams films and STD so easily acceptable to modern audiences, and yet TOS’ sleek and simple designs deemed “too basic”, “too cheesy” or “too simple”?

Does the basic aesthetic and design philosophy of TOS still work? If you were remaking/rebooting the show for modern times, and with modern technology and filmmaking techniques, which elements would you keep and/or throw away? I’m talking about things like replacing the physical control buttons with touchscreens, adding visible weapon ports to ship exteriors, etc.



P.S. I recently had a debate on sci-fi design aesthetics with a friend who’s in her mid-20s, and found myself having to defend my position regarding the TOS Enterprise being the greatest spaceship design of all time. She just didn’t get it. I think I died a little inside.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 8:50am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

That STD (ahem) Enterprise is definitely an improvement over the Jar Jar version, but still too busy. And, RIP TOS.

Ironically, I think the addition of all these bells and whistles to TREK Tech is what will appear dated in years to come. Some scoff at the simplicity of TOS sets and props, but, as noted, they are really much more "futuristic" than what has come since. TOS succeeded in predicting the Future because it didn't make a conscious effort to do so. The practicality of filming was a greater concern.

Those who've been around here for a while know a get annoyed when people scoff at the hairstyles and fashions on TOS. Miniskirts? Really? Well, as I have mentioned before, fashion is nothing if not cyclical, and my grandmother wore "miniskirts" in the 1920s. As to the hair -- I've felt for decades now that those elaborate mounds on the heads of the female characters where Roddenberry's attempt to look "futuristic". I got a sense that there was some device that could pile up Janice Rand's hair in a few seconds or minutes, something many a modern woman would envy.

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 9:57am | IP Logged | 3 post reply

It’s the pointless slits in the STD version’s nacelle pylons that really stick out, for me. The proportions are much closer than the Abramsprise (aside from the shortened dorsal pylon, angled nacelle pylons, and split impulse engines), but it’s still covered with pointless and illogical detailing.

I’ll stand by the TMP redesign, despite it being the first step down the “designy” slope, since it was carefully thought-out (all of that exterior detailing at least has a design purpose—phaser banks, reaction-control thrusters, etc.), and was still reasonably smooth-skinned. The Abramsprise and STDprise are over-detailed, Frankenstein-ish mish-mashes of Jefferies’ original design with aesthetics and detailing from later iterations.

Also, I’m often amused by how often people decry TOS’ use of miniskirts for the female uniforms as “sexist”, when, in reality, their use was suggested by Grace Lee Whitney (and supported by Nichelle Nichols). Remember, all female crew wore slacks in the pilot episodes!
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Ron Goad
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 11:30am | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Most of what is done in modern "Trek" (properly pronounced as "Drek") will become rapidly dated as the years roll on.

The old 60's show has a sense of charm (as well as a bit of camp) in it that tends to help it hold it's own against newer productions.

Many fans have noted that in some ways, Next Generation is feeling more dated that TOS does. Part of this is the overly 'politically correct' feel of many of the episodes. Some are still quite good though.

It's really not that hard to take Matt Jefferies clean and simple approach and -slightly- update it without loosing the essence of it. It's just that most production designers and "artists" are driven to push things to match their own view of what it should look like at the expense of original intent and practical design.

Even with current US Navy technology, if you step into the CIC of a warship, it looks very business-like - practical. There are no unneeded flashy lights and definitely nothing distracting like lens flare (TM) and surprisingly - no shaky cam (TM) effects either!
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John Byrne
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 11:54am | IP Logged | 5 post reply

Camp?
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Bill Collins
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 12:30pm | IP Logged | 6 post reply

Ron, in these Politically Correct times Next Gen is
current! Also the touchscreen technology used in Next
Gen is everywhere!
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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 7:42pm | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Calling something "dated" is just the new guard's way of legitimizing their own designs in favor of the originals.

We used to pretend the designs seen in TMP and subsequent movies were a true representation of what the interior of the Enterprise "looked like".   Then we were shown that the TOS era did actually look like their TV screen depictions.  The current trend has flopped back towards some new design (Abrams) being what things really looked like.   The pendulum will swing back when it suits whoever has creative control, perhaps out of a sense of nostalgia or fidelity to the source material.

There's a happy medium where both sets of requirements are met -- you can have things look like they make sense to people in 2018 yet still evoke the essence of what made Jeffries' designs so great.  DISCOVERY's designers really missed an opportunity to fuse the two styles in a way that makes the design changes seem organic and believable.

The solid bold colours are the hardest to reconcile with the later designs.   Hard, but not impossible.  Ironically, "The Cage" is probably easier viewing to a modern audience while the rest of TOS was more exciting to watch on the new-fangled colour TVs back in the day.

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Shane Matlock
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Posted: 03 March 2018 at 8:20pm | IP Logged | 8 post reply

To me Star Trek: TOS seems as timeless as The Twilight Zone. I think both have aged rather well, even if they look like a product of their respective times technology limits.

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Rob Ocelot
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Posted: 04 March 2018 at 11:54am | IP Logged | 9 post reply

Does anyone here actually like the 'flatscreens in a submarine' look of ENTERPRISE?   

The TOS designs have a 60's-but-not-60's look and feel to them -- it's a projection of future and it's brightness and boldness evokes optimism.  The ENT designs feel like someone took a late 90's office and jammed it into a tin can -- a place you don't want to visit often because it reminds you of work!
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 04 March 2018 at 12:01pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

We may never know what does and doesn't work on TOS, as a lot of that technology seems available now, or in the near future. Communicators, tricorders, library computers, shuttle craft... all real.

Transporters are a lovely idea, and a great conceit on the show... but all the finagling done with them makes them seem a little too fantastic. Duplicates, alternate dimensions, and the possibilities that they didn't examine (e.g., having everyone transport once a week to keep a copy of their latest physical states so that they could be "transported" into a healthy body if they got really sick or really hurt) and other wild possible functions.

I believe that warp drive is possible. I believe that at some point we'll have photon torpedoes. I'm not so sure about stun settings on phasers, but I have no doubt that there will be hand held energy projectors.

As for the Enterprise design... I like the smoother appearance, and I'm entirely willing to believe that designers and engineers will always choose a simpler build rather than a more complicated one wherever possible. It doesn't matter quite so much on vacuum-only ships (as opposed to planetary landing/launch and atmospheric vehicles), but still... the easier the design, the easier to maintain and update - or so I feel.

But colored food cubes? Come on, now! That's just crazy! And how much celery can you CARRY on a Galaxy class starship? ;)
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John Byrne
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Posted: 04 March 2018 at 12:37pm | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Does anyone here actually like the 'flatscreens in a submarine' look of ENTERPRISE?   

•••

I would have LOVED that, if the NX-01 had really looked like a submarine!!

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 04 March 2018 at 10:45pm | IP Logged | 12 post reply

"Twinkle, twinkle, little ship
Gosh, we hope they'll think we're hip
Up above Jefferies so high
Stick a finger in his eye"



Edited by Brian Hague on 04 March 2018 at 10:47pm
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 04 March 2018 at 11:23pm | IP Logged | 13 post reply

I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, Brian.


I will say that I feel a certain sense of relief in no longer being interested in the modern iterations of so many properties and characters that I love. It feels as if I’ve lived too long, and am now being forced to watch them all go down in flames. Burned to death by people with no respect and no sense of history. 

And I’m not just whining about the lack of 1960s-style sets and props in a show of the 2010s. That is so often what boosters of these hip new versions seem to think— “You can’t do those cheesy old sets on a modern show! It’d be laughable!” No, the rot goes far deeper than that.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 6:01am | IP Logged | 14 post reply

As I've said many times, updating the TOS sets would be easy, if modern production designers didn't keep overthinking it. A bit of a step backward might be a key. Return to the muted, militaristic colors of Pike's ship. Bring back the multiple screens in the overhead display. Introduce those 3D floating instrument panels Hollywood seems to love these days.

Most of all, remember that it does not take hundreds of switches and buttons to drive this boat. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet (and could be even fewer), yet how many combination can be created?

(134 million, give or take.)

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Ted Downum
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 8:53am | IP Logged | 15 post reply

I'm with JB: I think an update of the original Trek look would be remarkably easy. Touchscreen panels on the bridge, a little more detail (a little more) on the displays, and maybe a few tiny tweaks to the exterior of the Enterprise: a few reaction-control thrusters, a couple of docking ports. And that's it. You'd still have a look that's A) beautifully designed, and B) plausibly the world of the not-too-terribly-distant future.

To answer Greg's question from the thread title: I think TOS has aged remarkably well--amazingly well, in fact, if you compare it with its contemporaries. Sure, somebody could quibble with the hairstyles or the color schemes in Trek as being dated, too sixties, or whatever...but look at Lost in Space, or mid-sixties Doctor Who (forgive me, spirit of Patrick Troughton--and the comparison is perhaps unfair, as DW was being produced rapidly and on the cheap). Look at shows from the seventies. Space: 1999 and the original Battlestar Galactica had plenty of gifted designers involved, and yet they look profoundly dated now. TOS still looks like its own functioning and internally consistent future world, perhaps a shade less futuristic now than it did five decades ago--but that's due, in part, to the fact that it was so intelligently forward-looking, and pocket communicators and desktop computers are now part of our everyday lives.

 


Edited by Ted Downum on 05 March 2018 at 9:19am
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Ted Downum
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 9:06am | IP Logged | 16 post reply

Greg: : ..at least, it did until the one-two-three punch of 2001, STAR WARS, and ALIEN, films whose production design gave us the “used future” and “guts on the outside” aesthetic.

*****

Greg, forgive me if it's not you personally making this argument, but I am surprised to see 2001 included with Star Wars and Alien there. Where do you see the overlap? I've always thought that the aesthetic of Star Wars, in particular, was (at least in part) a reaction to the almost sterile cleanliness of Kubrick's spacecraft, especially the interiors...and as far as "guts on the outside," I would say Kubrick gets a pass for extrapolating present-day space technology into a (relatively, for him) near future.

Now, if you wanted to say that "used future" began with Douglas Trumbull's Silent Running in 1972...


Edited by Ted Downum on 05 March 2018 at 9:07am
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 11:16am | IP Logged | 17 post reply

No, 2001 didn’t have the “used future” look, but the Discovery had a ton of surface detailing and greeblies. 
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 11:57am | IP Logged | 18 post reply

No, 2001 didn’t have the “used future” look, but the Discovery had a ton of surface detailing and greeblies.

••

The Discovery didn't have a "used future" look for a very simple reason: it was new. A new ship with a new mission. Movies that followed, like SILENT RUNNING, STAR WARS and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA had older tech. Compare a star destroter to the Discovery. Then look at the Falcon. And the rebel ships were supposed to be even older and junkier.

The Discovery was a break from spaceships we had seen before, but it wasn't "used" yet.

(In case I'm not being clear, I am agreeing with Greg.}

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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 12:16pm | IP Logged | 19 post reply

Exactly. 2001 presented us a clean and new look for the Discovery, but also introduced the “guts on the outside” look.

STAR WARS gave us rusty, dirty, and patched-together space-hot rods and fighter jets, and piled on a metric ton of greeblies.


It should also be noted that the Enterprise herself had a weathered exterior (which helped convey a sense of history), but the actual design itself was sleek and simplistic. The Discovery was the inverse of that—new and clean, but also covered in clunky detailing.
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Ted Downum
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 1:28pm | IP Logged | 20 post reply

The Discovery was the inverse of that—new and clean, but also covered in clunky detailing.

*****

I get what you're saying. I would argue that "clunky" is a large stretch when you're talking about the Discovery, but I suppose the definition of "clunky" is subjective. 

And, again, keep in mind that Kubrick and company were extrapolating contemporary space technology into the future. I think that's easier to see in designs like the Orion spaceplane and the moon bus than it is with the Discovery, but you can see it. The surface details on 2001's spaceships were there because real spacecraft, then and now, have surface details. (I will happily grant that a fair amount of artistic liberty was taken with the Discovery, in particular...to cite one example, Kubrick omitted the thermal radiators that Clarke described in the novel, because he thought they would seem like wings.)

No question that 2001 was influential on the designs that came afterward, just maybe not in precisely the way you're suggesting. "Surface detailing and greeblies" don't equate to the used-future aesthetic, nor do they necessarily mean that something is gratuitously over-designed.

Not that you have to look far from 2001 for a superb example of both: the Leonov from 2010, as imagined by the great Syd Mead. A memorable and visually arresting spacecraft, but the exterior is an enormous slab of inexplicably dark and corroded-looking surface details, and the interior is a funhouse nightmare of blinking lights, viewscreens, and buttons. Contrast the Discovery with the Leonov, two ships that are supposed to exist in the same fictional universe just nine years apart, and you see the two ends of the very trend you're complaining about: a design with some fundamental/in-universe logic vs. something that's Cool for its Own Sake.

[editud fur speling]


Edited by Ted Downum on 05 March 2018 at 1:34pm
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 5:31pm | IP Logged | 21 post reply

Mind you, when I say "clunky" that's my shorthand for "busy"/"superdetailed", as opposed to the sleek-skinned Enterprise and all of those other smooth saucers and ships of vintage/pre-2001 sci-fi.

And I also didn't mean to give the impression that I was grouping greeblies together with the "used future". Two different aesthetics, although the latter tends to include a lot of the former!

2001 is by no means "used future". It is, as you note, a projection of where things might go. The ships in that film are most definitely not overdesigned, although the greeblies and other detailing which were added for realism/scale most certainly marked the beginning of the shift away from the smooth-skinned spaceships of past sci-fi.

Still one of the best production-designed movies I've ever seen, too!
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 7:31pm | IP Logged | 22 post reply

Not that you have to look far from 2001 for a superb example of both: the Leonov from 2010, as imagined by the great Syd Mead. A memorable and visually arresting spacecraft, but the exterior is an enormous slab of inexplicably dark and corroded-looking surface details, and the interior is a funhouse nightmare of blinking lights, viewscreens, and buttons. Contrast the Discovery with the Leonov, two ships that are supposed to exist in the same fictional universe just nine years apart, and you see the two ends of the very trend you're complaining about: a design with some fundamental/in-universe logic vs. something that's Cool for its Own Sake.
++++++++++++

Of course, 2010 was released after the likes of ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER, so the effect of those films would surely bleed over into it. I haven't seen 2010 in many years, though, so I don't recall a major visual difference when compared to 2001.

Also, one of BLADE RUNNER'S key designers was...Syd Mead!

Edited by Greg Kirkman on 05 March 2018 at 7:32pm
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John Byrne
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 8:36pm | IP Logged | 23 post reply

Ted, not sure under what conditions you saw 2010, but your description in no way matches the almost baroque surface details of the Leonov!
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Greg Kirkman
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Posted: 05 March 2018 at 11:15pm | IP Logged | 24 post reply

This thread reminds me of a video I saw, some years ago. Impressive rotoscope work, but is this fanmade redesign really an improvement? I think not.

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John Byrne
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Posted: 06 March 2018 at 6:49am | IP Logged | 25 post reply

Yes, that's an impressive piece of work, but I don't think it really qualifies as an attempt to do it better. Just showing that could be done at all seems to have been the point.
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