Thursday, September 4, 2014

Issue #11, U.S.S. Reliant, and Issue #12, U.S.S. Thunderchild

You know what?  Let's just go.

I could use this space to make excuses about so many missed updates...  but frankly I'd rather just get back into it.  So let's do that.

Issue #11, U.S.S. Reliant

As usual, the magazine opens with a recap of the ship's capabilities and history, focusing in this case on the Reliant's involvement in the plot of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  The Profile feature goes into a little bit of detail regarding Miranda variants, some of which lack the "roll bar" weapon pod seen on the Reliant; while the Classic Scene feature is a two-page recap of the climactic engagement in Wrath, the Battle of the Mutara Nebula.

The Profile also features a curious lapse, wherein one of Benjamin Sisko's postings prior to Deep Space 9 is misidentified as the U.S.S. Bozeman, NCC-31911.  In fact, that ship was the U.S.S. Saratoga, the second Miranda-class ship of that name; the Bozeman, as it appeared in the TNG episode "Cause and Effect" (5x18), is a Soyuz-class vessel of registry NCC-1941.

There is an inset box on page 11, containing (what I consider) a pretty juicy tidbit:
There have been two Miranda-class vessels named the U.S.S. Saratoga.  The first was the U.S.S. Saratoga NCC-1887 that encountered the whale probe in 2286.  The second was the U.S.S. Saratoga NCC-31911 that was destroyed by the Borg in 2367.
Since we don't start to see five-digit Starfleet registries until the TNG era, this implies that the Miranda class was a very long-lived design, with Starfleet continuing to build ships of this class well into the 24th century.

Designing the Ship goes into the thought processes and design tropes behind the Reliant, including the twin necessities that it be both immediately distinguishable from the Enterprise and immediately identifiable as coming from the same culture and technology base.

Surprisingly, it turns out that the Reliant's design is at least partly the result of serendipity: when producer Harve Bennett approved the drawings for the Reliant design, he had been looking at them upside down, and had signed off on them in this state.  By the time the error was discovered, Bennett was already out of the country and out of reach; so the warp nacelles were moved from above the saucer, where the drawing had them, to below, the position that had been approved.  The "roll bar" superstructure was created to counterbalance the nacelles.

The more Starfleet ships I see without the underslung secondary hull, the sillier the whole thing seems to me.  The Miranda class is one of my favorite Starfleet designs, precisely because it does away with the superfluous secondary hull and packs all the necessary bits into the primary saucer.  (Why the primary hull needs to be saucer-shaped is a separate issue altogether...)

The Reliant and the Thunderchild (see below) were the first models to arrive damaged.  In the Reliant's case, the roll bar, including the cylindrical phaser emitter, had come loose from the starboard pylon.  Fortunately, the judicious application of a little superglue set things to rights, and now you wouldn't even know it had ever been damaged.

Apart from that, the model is gorgeous.  Both the casting and the paint are beautifully detailed, with even the tiny text "U.S.S. Reliant" on the dorsal surface of the saucer and "NCC-1864" on each nacelle clearly legible.

The stand continues to be an issue, however.  Its grip on the rear of the model is quite loose, and while not as prone to falling out as the Romulan Warbird, a degree of care is still needed when moving the model.

Issue #12, U.S.S. Thunderchild

The Akira-class U.S.S. Thunderchild is the first model in this collection whose design is completely new to me.  Although appearing in at least two episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the film Star Trek: First Contact, I must confess I either overlooked it or have simply forgotten about it over the intervening years.

The Profile feature starts with the Akira class' origin as a response to the Cardassian Wars and the threat of the Borg, then goes into its capabilities as a sort of combination carrier-gunship.  Key design features include "catamaran-style" twin hulls; the weapon pod mounted between the twin hulls, boasting a total of thirteen torpedo tubes - seven forward, including two quantum torpedo launchers, and six aft; the bridge, protected by being hunkered down between the twin hulls; and the fly-through shuttlebay running fore-to-aft through the saucer.

Designing the Ship includes a number of very cool illustrations by visual arts director Alex Jaeger, the designer of the Akira class.  The text lays out the class' origin in Paramount's directive that the opening sequence of First Contact, the Battle of Sector 001, include never-before-seen Starfleet ship designs.  Jaeger's only guidelines were that the ships had to conform to the existing Star Trek design aesthetic, and that their silhouettes should be readily distinguishable from the new Enterprise-E.

Jaeger explains that his inspirations for the Akira design included the roll bar on the Miranda class, which comes through as the Akira's weapon pod; and the aggressive stance of the Klingon Bird-of-Prey, visible in the Akira's hunchbacked profile.

Unlike previous issues, there is no feature regarding the physical shooting model...  because there is no such model.  Instead, there is a short, one-page article on the creation of the CG models used for the Akira class' appearances in First Contact, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

As I mentioned above, the Thunderchild and the Reliant were the first models in this collection to reach me in a damaged state.  In the Thunderchild's case, the port nacelle was loose on its pylon, and waggled freely.  As with the Reliant, however, a little superglue put a stop to that.

I quite like the Akira design.  It's recognizably Starfleet, while still bringing something new to the table.  As with the Reliant, the level of detail is all that could be hoped for at this scale and price point.  The Thunderchild's stand, however, works much better; despite the arms being shorter, the edgeward taper of the saucer and the upward angle at which the model is held mean that it sits snugly in the top of the display pylon.  The darker gray is lovely, and contrasts nicely with the blue warp nacelle "windows" and red Bussard collectors.

In the next post: Issue #13, Jem'Hadar Battlecruiser, and Issue #14, Cardassian Galor-class.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Issue #7, K't'inga-class battlecruiser, through Issue #10, Borg Sphere

Holy schedule slip, Batman!

Wow, so I've missed two scheduled updates.  January and February are the busy season at my job, so I'll just chalk it up to a frenetic work schedule.  Yeah.  Anyway, since I'm making up for lost time, this will be two-and-a-half posts in one, taking us from Issue #7 through Issue #10 and including the first special issue, Deep Space Nine.  Allons-y!

Issue #7, K't'inga-class battlecruiser


As with previous issues, the magazine opens with some in-universe information about the ship.  There's a two-page spread about the "master systems display," that features some neat artwork.  The really interesting parts, though, are still the "Designing the Ship" and "Filming the Ship" features.

"Designing..." talks about how the original model started out as a D7-class, intended for use in the Star Trek: Phase II series that never materialized.  When the project was changed to a feature film, what would become Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the model had to be extensively modified with additional texture and surface details in order to look convincing on the big screen.  There's also some early concept art showing the ship with a spherical forward hull; I'm kind of glad they didn't go in that direction.  "Designing..." also has a little bit about the design of the bridge set, including special effects supervisor Douglas Trumbull's direction that it should like "an enemy submarine in World War II that's been out at sea too long."

"Filming..." is only a single page this time, focusing on the scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where three K't'inga-class ships encounter V'Ger.  There are quite a few interesting details, such as the sole model being redressed and reshot to look like three different ships, and the use of a laser and a Tesla coil to create the "digitization" effect as V'Ger destroys the Klingon ships.

Continuing Eaglemoss' excellent track record, the model is lovely.  Highly detailed, with a slight metallic sheen, it looks very nice sitting on my desk.  The stand is also a step up from the last shipment, particularly the Romulan Warbird's.  The "fingers" are long enough to keep the model secure, but unfortunately it does not fit as snugly into the base as I would like.  Oh, well.

Issue #8, U.S.S. Excelsior NCC-2000

 I really, really like the design of the Excelsior.  It's very sleek, with a clear Art Deco inspiration, and I think it's the best-looking Starfleet ship.

"Designing the Ship" in this issue is very interesting, showing several study models that were constructed to explore different directions the design might take.  They all have the basic primary-secondary-nacelles structure of other Starfleet designs, but otherwise are radically different from the Enterprise.  I always find this kind of behind-the-scenes insight fascinating, showing the thought process and the evolution of a production design.

"Filming the Ship" talks mainly about the construction of the 7'6" studio model for Star Trek III, and its subsequent modification to play other ships of the same class in later films and series, including the Hood, the Melbourne, the Enterprise-B, and the Lakota.

As with the Issue#1 Enterprise model, the Excelsior's saucer section is very slightly off kilter relative to the secondary hull.  Apart from that, however, the model is gorgeous, with lots of surface detail and a great paint job.  The stand is also well-designed, clipping onto the saucer and holding the model pretty securely.  On a side note, I really need to look into getting a proper camera.  It took me several tries to get that last perspective shot clearly on my phone.

Special Issue #1, Deep Space Nine

 I was a big fan of the series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, so I'm very glad to see that Eaglemoss chose that station as the subject of their first special issue.  I find trilateral symmetry very pleasing, and overall I just think it's a really neat design.

"Designing the Station" incorporates some very interesting early concept art, including an oil-derrick-like model that was ultimately rejected, and several iterations of the circular plan that eventually made it onto the screen.  Gyroscopes and atoms, with their circling electrons, are cited as inspirations.  There's also a little bit about producer Rick Berman's insistence that the design not be derivative of other Star Trek series, and also that it be instantly recognizable while also not being mistaken for anything else.

This model doesn't come with a stand, but I don't really mind as it stands up quite well on its own.  At roughly six inches in diameter, it matches well with the length of the ship models, but its circular design and height make it quite a bit larger.  It's well made, well painted, and beautifully detailed, and I think makes a great addition to the collection.

Issue #9, U.S.S. Defiant NX-74205

 The Defiant represented a sharp departure, both in-universe for Starfleet, and for Star Trek.  In a property that had always been about peaceful exploration, Starfleet's first purpose-built warship signaled a definite change in direction.

Again, "Designing the Ship" has lots of good stuff.  There are several very interesting pieces of concept art, showing the Defiant's evolution from beefed-up runabout to a sleeker design that had originally been meant for a Maquis fighter.  Modeller Tony Meininger also drew inspiration from sports cars, based on visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel's admonition that, "it has to look fast."  Illustrator Jim Martin cites the Defiant as his favorite thing to draw for the show.

"Filming the Ship" is a one-page article with an accompanying page of photos, and is pretty dry in this issue.  It reiterates some of the information from "Designing..." and talks mainly about the various iterations of both the physical and, later on, CG models of the Defiant.

There is also a small inset about the Defiant's cloaking device and the Romulan officer who was supposed to oversee its operation, one Subcommander T'Rul.  She was killed off in either her first or second episode and never replaced, and I've always thought that represented a missed opportunity for the show.

While the model is very well constructed overall, I have to mention that the nose is a separate piece from the hull, and its attachment is a little wobbly.  Still, the model did slide off my desk and hit the floor with no visible damage suffered, so I guess it's all right.  Apart from that, the level of detail and the quality of the paintwork continue to be more than satisfactory.

Issue #10, Borg Sphere

 While the Borg unquestionably suffered quite a bit of villain decay, they remain conceptually my favorite Star Trek antagonists.  I'm not fond of their strawman brand of transhumanism, but they do represent a very different flavor of antagonism from the Klingons, Romulans, and other human-like aliens.  The Borg make the Star Trek universe feel bigger, and stranger, and in my mind that's almost always a good thing.

Issue #10 departs from the normal format by including an interesting, and horrifying, piece on the process of assimilation.  Limbs are sliced off, and eyes and other organs removed and replaced with prosthetics, all while the victim is conscious and aware.  I don't think the horror of this was emphasized nearly enough in any of the Borg appearances in the series or movies.  It would have gone a long way toward maintaining the Borg's credibility as a threat.

"Designing the Ship" is very brief, about a third of a page of text with accompanying images.  It talks about how the irregular, patchwork surface of the ship is meant to suggest that newly assimilated technologies are constantly being added to it, and how one of the main design directives was that the ship had to be distinct from the Death Star.

Taking the place of the "Filming the Ship" article is "Designing the Borg Queen."  I'm going to be honest, here: I don't care at all for the Queen, conceptually.  I think she's a major component of the Borg villain decay; putting a face on what had been a faceless, impersonal entity actually makes it considerably less threatening, in my opinion.

Having said that, the article about the design process is quite interesting, discussing both the development of the actual character design as well as her entrance in Star Trek: First Contact.  Jonathan Frakes, who directed, considered her assembly the "signature visual effect" for the film.

I'm of two minds about the model, frankly.  While the production quality remains high, the lack of a defined fore and aft (or, for that matter, a defined top and bottom) mean that the Sphere just isn't as visually interesting as the other models so far.  My reaction to this one is a solid, "Meh."

In the next post: Issue #11, U.S.S. Reliant, and Issue #12, U.S.S. Thunderchild.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Issue #5, Romulan Warbird, and Issue #6, U.S.S. Voyager

"Engage cloaking device."

I'm super stoked this month, because this shipment includes what might very well be my favorite ship in all of Star Trek: the Romulan D'deridex-class Warbird.  Oh, and the U.S.S. Voyager, but we'll get to that later.  For now, arm disruptors!

Issue #5, Romulan Warbird

As I indicated above, the TNG-era Warbird is at or near the top of my list when talking about Star Trek starships.  Beautiful yet functional, elegant yet menacing, when this emerald raptor appeared on the screen, you knew shit was about to get real.

The magazine has several interesting passages regarding Romulan society and culture, a subject only briefly and infrequently touched on in The Next Generation and subsequent films; particularly the prominence of Romulan women, an element described as "both alien and radical" in 1968.

"Designing the Ship," in this issue, is particularly intriguing because it suggests something we haven't really seen in Star Trek: a vertically-oriented ship design.  Designer Andrew Probert wanted to position the warp nacelles above and below the primary hull, rather than to the sides, but this was deemed too radical a departure by the producers.  Probert rotated the "wings" ninety degrees, reshaped the nose a little, and the iconic D'deridex-class was born.

The model is gorgeous: sharp details, lovely paintwork, and a heavy, solid feeling in the hand make this one a winner.   Unfortunately, I have to knock points off for the stand.  It doesn't grip the model the way the Klingon Bird-of-Prey's stand does, nor does it support the model from underneath the way the Enterprise refit and the Enterprise-D stands do.  The Warbird is extremely prone to slipping out of the stand at the slightest provocation; don't display this in an area with lots of vibration, or you'll be putting the Warbird back on its stand every time you turn around.

Here, I'm experimenting with the photography, trying to get a more dynamic perspective shot.  I'm not really happy with it, though I do have some ideas for improvement.  The background, if you're interested, is a view from Apollo 11, showing Earth rising beyond Luna's limb.

Issue #6, U.S.S. Voyager

I'm going to be honest, I was never as big a fan of Voyager as I was, say, Deep Space Nine.  I'm not really sure why, but the show just never really grabbed me.  Fortunately, it didn't have anything to do with the ship.

One interesting tidbit in the magazine is the answer to a question I've had ever since Voyager's first episode: what the hell is that indentation in the upper saucer section?!  You know the one, the thing that looks like a launch tube.  Well, it turns out that's supposed to be an auxiliary deflector dish.  It doesn't look it to me, but OK.

"Designing the Ship" is very interesting in this issue, because it shows the numerous different versions of the ship that existed on paper (and, occasionally, as CG models) at various points.  Several of these are radically different from what was eventually approved, and a few are, frankly, fugly.  It's easy to see that the elongated primary hull is carried through from the very earliest design sketches.  The article also mentions that the variable-geometry nacelle pylons are the result of a requirement from the producers that some part of the ship be articulated.  Another possible fulfillment of this, that never made it into the final design, would have been panels that swung out from the sides of the nacelles themselves.

One element of the Voyager's design that I particularly like is the fact that the primary hull is joined directly to the secondary hull, without the ungainly neck of the Constitution and Galaxy classes, among others.

Also of interest is the laughably named AeroShuttle.  Like the Captain's Yacht aboard the Enterprise-D, this is an auxiliary craft hinted at in the ship's design but never seen on screen.  Related to the Danube-class runabout, the addition of wings supposedly made the AeroShuttle more suited to atmospheric operations.  Let's not mention the fact that the "wings" aren't shaped right to be airfoils, or that there isn't a single visible lifting surface anywhere on the craft.  Sorry, my aviation-enthusiast snobbery is showing.

Like the Romulan Warbird, the model itself is lovely.  The less monochromatic hull allows the details to stand out a little better.  As with the other five models to date, the paint is impeccable, and overall the ship looks fantastic on its stand.

The stand, for its part, suffers from the same flaw as the Warbird's: it doesn't grip or snap onto the model at all.  The end result isn't quite as bad as the Warbird stand, due to the attachment points being squared off rather than tapering, but it still warrants caution when moving and displaying the model.

More experimentation.  Again, I'm not thrilled with the result; it could be worse, but there is also lots of room to improve.  Fortunately, I do have some ideas on that score.  Hopefully I'll find time to work on them, and will be able to show off a little bit in the next post.

Next post: Issue #7, K't'inga-class battlecruiser, and Issue #8, U.S.S. Excelsior

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Issue #1, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D, and Issue #2, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (refit)

 Problem solved!

Issues 1 and 2 have arrived, along with the first of my subscriber extras (more on that later).  So, without further ado...

Issue #1, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701-D

Much like issues 3 and 4, the magazine kicks off with a ship profile, written from an in-universe perspective, which goes into the design and history of the ship.  This offers several interesting tidbits; for instance, the Enterprise D's 42 decks covered 3.5 million square meters, and offered 110 square meters of living space per person.  There were three different sickbays (presumably the series only showed one to reduce production costs) and over a hundred research labs for various disciplines.

Next is a feature called "Classic Scene," which also appears in issue 2, but not in 3 or 4.  In this case, the classic scene is the saucer separation maneuver.  According to Memory Alpha, this was intended to be a regular feature on Star Trek: The Next Generation, but was scaled back due to the cost of filming additional scenes of the two sections.  A sidebar mentions that the original Enterprise was also supposed to have this ability.

"Designing the Ship" and "Filming the Ship" continue to be the meat of the magazine, in my estimation.  "Designing..." relates an amusing anecdote about writer/producer David Gerrold essentially shanghaiing a preliminary sketch from concept artist Andrew Probert, taking it to a producers' meeting, and returning to tell a flabbergasted Probert that this sketch would be the new Enterprise.  Also of interest are several early design sketches showing different versions of the saucer and battle sections.

"Filming..." has a juicy tidbit regarding the difficulty in establishing the "correct" color of the Enterprise D.  As designed, she was meant to have a blue-green color, hearkening back to the VFX techniques of the original series.  This meant that newer bluescreen techniques wouldn't work, however, so the lighting was adjusted to make the ship grey.  Hence the difficulty: the model, and the ship shown on the screen, are two different colors.

As you can see in the above photos, Eaglemoss' Enterprise D model is the pearl grey from the screen.  As with the Bird-of-Prey and NX-01 models, the detailing is really impressive.  Some (phaser banks, escape pod hatches) are cast into the model, while others (windows, registry numbers) are painted on, but they're all outstanding.  There are even tiny, tiny navigation lights in the form of a pinprick of green paint on the starboard (right-hand side, facing forward) underside of the saucer section, and a matching red pinprick on the port side.  It's hard to imagine a model being more definitive than this without increasing the scale to an impractical size.

Issue #2, U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 (refit)

The ship profile in issue 2 deals mainly with the refit of the ship from the form seen in Star Trek: The Original Series to that seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.  A sidebar mentions that the refit Enterprise's main deflector only glowed blue when at warp, changing to a "golden" color at impulse.  I recall no such feature, and a quick Google image search shows the ship with a blue-glowing deflector in every shot.  Possibly this was a part of the script that never made it to screen.

The "Classic Scene" feature in this issue deals with the drydock scene in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  It's only two pages, and most of those are taken up with photographs, but it does mention that, while the scene only occupied two pages in the script, it took forty-five days(!) to film, and was the longest continuous FX shot in film history to that point.

"Designing the Ship" talks a little bit about original Enterprise designer Matt Jefferies' (after whom Jefferies tubes are named) initial work on an updated design for the proposed-but-never-shot TV series Star Trek: Phase II, before going on to Motion Picture art director Richard Taylor's hiring of concept artist Andrew Probert (that name sounds curiously familiar...).  The article talks a bit about Taylor's Art Deco influence, seen most clearly in the warp nacelles; Taylor describes the forward ends of the nacelles as "almost a 1940 Ford grille."  "Designing..." closes with a few paragraphs about some of the inside jokes incorporated into the model, including photos of Mickey Mouse, Probert, and others visible in some of the windows.

"Filming the Ship" has some good info about the model constructed of the new design.  At eight feet long and weighing 39kg (86 pounds), it was actually about a third the mass of the 125kg (275.5 pounds) model built for the original series.  The paint, a glossy lacquer, caused problems with light flare, limiting the kinds of shots that could be used.

 While the model in this issue obviously has far fewer greebles than the other three I've received, I really can't say that it's any less detailed.  It is, after all, screen-faithful, and the screen model was built before the advent of extensive greebling on scale models.  One detail in particular that I'm glad to see is the slight concavity of the saucer's underside.

This is the first model I've received whose construction is less than perfect: the saucer is not quite mounted straight on the neck.  It's only apparent if you're specifically looking for it, and I only noticed it when I mounted the model to the stand and saw that it didn't sit square in the middle of the brackets.  It's a minor and forgivable blemish.

Another detail I want to mention is the "windows" in the nacelles.  They're made of a translucent blue plastic that glows quite nicely when held up to the light.  The Enterprise D and NX-01 models also have this feature, but the windows are smaller and the effect doesn't photograph well.


Finally, this package also included my first subscriber gift, a binder in which to keep the magazines; and a "Series Guide," an advertising pamphlet selling the collection.  I am particularly looking forward to the Klingon K't'inga-class battlecruiser, the U.S.S. Excelsior, and the U.S.S. Reliant (I have a soft spot for the Miranda class).

I continue to be favorably impressed with Eaglemoss' work.  Next post: Issue #5, Romulan Warbird, and Issue #6, U.S.S. Voyager.