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Star Trek Online

Dev Diary: DTNE, Part 2

By admin | Tue 21 Jun 2011 02:43:35 PM PDT

by Jeremy Mattson, Art Lead for Star Trek Online

Finding our Winner: An Artist’s Perspective

The response to this contest was amazing. We received a huge range of entries: some of them were great, some were not so great, and some were, um… penises… literally (you know who you are).

Let’s just talk about the great ones, though. During the judging process, part of me was wishing the contest was “Design a Great Starfleet Ship.” There were a lot of very nicely designed and rendered ships that fit that bill. Being an artist, I struggled with instinctively wanting to give the award to the best art presentation. However, this is a "Design the Next Enterprise" contest, and as Executive Producer Dan Stahl mentioned in his Dev Diary, we had some specific criteria that we felt needed to be met. The team takes its Trek seriously and we wanted to find the ship that really felt worthy of the Enterprise name.

After some intense deliberation, we narrowed it down to Adam Ihle’s design. It took a long time to come to that decision. The competition was fierce. We talked about it for weeks. A lot of discussion took place in front of the wall where the finalists’ drawings were displayed. The corkboard is in one of the main thoroughfares at Cryptic and people from all over the company would stop to admire the ships and voice their opinion as to who the winner should be. Even after we were pretty sure we had a winner with Adam Ihle's design, we still felt the need to do a rough 3D model of the ship to solidify our decision. The whole process has been a lot of fun.

Adam Ihle's Winning Entry

Bringing the Concept to Life

Once we had a winner, it was time to take the concept from page to screen. There were a few things we really liked about Adam’s design: it was big and majestic with design cues from the Galaxy and Sovereign that made it feel familiar, but that double neck was certainly the icing on the cake. It was the thing that really made a statement and set it apart evolution-wise. We were all a little scared of it, but at the same time very intrigued.

Normally at this stage of the process, with a piece of concept art and a rough 3D model, we'd jump right into building the ship. We'd pass it on to the ship team's capable hands and, in a few weeks and with some iteration, we'd have a shiny new ship in the game. However, we've got a new member to the STO art team. His name is Thomas Marrone and he loves him some Star Trek. He's a talented guy, has this infectious enthusiasm for all things Trek, and he really wanted to sink his teeth into the next Enterprise. Since we only had a front ¾ view of the ship we still had some extrapolation to do. We actually liked the fact that there was room left for us to get our hands dirty in the design. The biggest unanswered question was how that double-neck-to-saucer junction was going to work. Thomas said he had an idea, so we gave him our blessing and let him go about figuring things out.

Here's what Thomas had to say about the challenge of refining the concept:

We obviously wanted the design to remain Adam Ihle's, so it was important to find a way to elegantly emphasize and integrate his “dual neck” concept with the flow of the ship. My visual brainstorming started around the strongest and most controversial feature of Adam’s ship: the two necks. I wanted them to feel substantial and integrated into the “flow” of the ship and still make sure they remained a strong visual part of the design. I widened each neck to create a larger internal volume that flares out from stem to stern. The shape sweeps back from the saucer at a shallow angle, blending the primary and engineering hull into a swoop that adds a graceful curve but maintains the “height” of Adam’s original concept.
I also pulled some visual cues from the Sovereign to visually tie this Enterprise to her predecessor, although as we developed the concept we went back to making her a bit more unique. Still, I wanted to make sure there was an obvious kinship between this Enterprise and the ones that came before her. The whole experience of being able to contribute to the next Enterprise has been a dream come true for me as a lifelong and wholly devoted Star Trek fan.

Thomas Marrone's Paint-Over of the Enterprise F Clay Model

Car Talk

We really liked Thomas's refinement of the original concept and we felt that we were ready to start building. Adam Williams began to model the ship and we'd be at his desk daily, sometimes hourly, discussing the progress and making course corrections. Everybody was really getting into it, including Dan and Lead Designer Al Rivera who were both very passionate about this ship’s design. In discussions like these, it can be tough to explain in which direction you'd like the art to be moving. A big part of my job as Art Lead is to make sure that words and ideas get translated into game art. But sometimes words don't suffice and other points of reference become an invaluable tool. In this case, we found a common language and a lot of inspiration in cars. So we started talking cars. We knew that this ship should look massive, but not bulky or chunky like a Hummer. We wanted it to look fast but not overly aggressive like rally cars with all of their wings, vents and aerodynamic kits. Porsches, Jaguars and Aston Martins were great models for inspiration. Through these discussions we found our design mantra: “sleek, elegant and strong.” The ship was beginning to take shape, but we soon realized that the shape was a little too familiar for our tastes.

Here's what ship builder Adam Williams had to say about the many challenges he had to confront while making the Enterprise F:

I came into the process after some iterating had been done on the concept between Jeremy and Thomas. I jumped right in and started blocking out the general forms of the ship based on the concepts, as well as the motifs and designs we had discussed in previous meetings. After reaching my first milestone and getting all of the general forms figured out, we began iterating on the overall design on what seemed like a daily basis. It was during this period where we decided to really take the “sleek and elegant” concept to the next level and focus intensely on making sure that everything fit together in an organic and seamless way by sinking impulse engines, scoops and weapons sections into the skin of the vessel, as opposed to the more typical Cryptic style of faceting and layering I was accustomed to.
One of the major challenges we faced as we moved forward in the development process was finding the best way to make the new Enterprise be just that--new! There were several roadblocks during the modeling process. For example, at one point during production the ship began looking too much like the Sovereign from a top-down angle, and not necessarily a progressive step forward in the future of its design. Other roadblocks came up in areas that looked too blocky, flimsy, not “Trek enough” or too alien. However, through a month-long period of daily iteration, we were able to build a fantastic ship.
Moving forward, it was important that we keep the faceting to a minimum, lengthen the body lines, and soften the curves for that sculpted, designed look, all the while ensuring it maintained the look of the Federation’s flagship. However, I also had to keep in mind that there was a concept I needed to be very true to, more specifically the ¾ perspective and the profile provided by our winner. The meticulous blending of these concepts in 3D proved to be a challenging artistic and intellectual trial and I am incredibly pleased with the result.

Draft Render of Adam Williams' Enterprise F Model

This contest has been an amazing experience for me and the entire team. The gravity of designing the next Enterprise has solidified the team dynamics and allowed us to step outside of our traditional practices and focus on creating something that we're all very proud of. Being a part of the team designing and building the Enterprise F is one of the career moments that I know I'll look back on with fondness for years to come. We're all very pleased with the work we've done and we hope that you like it as much as we do.

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