Star Trek: Discovery’ USS Enterprise Design Change Clarified As Creative Decision, Not A Legal One

Last week, veteran Trek designer John Eaves shared some notes on Facebook about the process of designing the USS Enterprise, as seen the in season one finale of Star Trek: Discovery, and how it differed from the concept art seen in the 2019 Star Trek: Ships of The Line Calendar. We reported on Eaves’ description of those differences, however chose not to cover additional comments he made that were outside the bounds of being strictly design notes.

In these comments from Eaves’ now-deleted Facebook post, it was implied that there were legal issues surrounding the use of the classic USS Enterprise design which dictated the changes seen in Star Trek: Discovery. These comments were picked up by some fans and a few  press outlets, creating a bit of a controversy. However, the implication that there was some kind of legal requirement to change the USS Enterprise design didn’t seem to fit with what is known about CBS ownership of the Star Trek TV franchise.

The final design of the USS Enterprise in Star Trek: Discovery

Today CBS provided TrekMovie with the following statement to clarify the design decisions:

CBS TV Studios does, in fact, have the right to use the U.S.S. Enterprise ship design from the past TV series, and are not legally required to make changes. The changes in the ship design were creative ones, made to utilize 2018’s VFX technology.

The art that was used in the 2019 calendar is ‘concept art,’ which was completed long before the VFX process is completed.

Consider this concept art

Enterprise redesign fits with Discovery’s visual update inside prime canon

This clarification fits with comments made by production designer Tamara Deverell and visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman at the recent WonderCon Discovery panel, where they talked about how the USS Enterprise was changed to match the aesthetic of the show, and fit with the USS Discovery in terms of size.



Tamara Deverell: For the Enterprise, we based it initially off of The Original Series. We were really drawing a lot of our materials from that. And then we particularly went to more of the Star Trek movies, which is a little bit fatter, a little bit bigger. Overall, I think we expanded the length of it to be within the world of our Discovery, which is bigger, so we did cheat it as a larger ship.

Jason Zimmerman: It starts with them giving us designs to work with and then there is a lot of back and forth between VFX and [Tamra’s] department to make sure that we get everything right. There were a lot of conversations and more emails than I could remember about how the design would evolve and sort of match our universe, and that is how we sort of arrived where we are now.

USS Enterprise was updated to fit with the look, and the size, of the USS Discovery

The producers of Star Trek: Discovery have been consistently clear in saying the show lives firmly inside the canon universe of Star Trek’s prime timeline, set a decade prior to The Original Series. However, this adherence to canon is focused on the story. With regards to the visuals, Discovery has clearly made changes throughout it’s run. Speaking to TrekMovie at the Hollywood premiere, co-creator and executive producer Alex Kurtzman discussed their design approach, saying:

Alex Kurtzman: Obviously [Discovery] looks more modern than The Original Series, because we are in a modern world now and if we made the show look that way people would not feel that it was worth the money. That being said, every prop and costume design is filtered through what existed at the time. And do we create the new version of it or do we augment the original design in very subtle ways or do we just leave it alone? And when I say every prop and design choice I mean every prop and design choice. So, I think you will see a lot of tips of the hat to devices to The Original Series and the timeline. But, obviously we wanted to create a more modern experience and that necessitated certain adjustments.

The changes to the USS Enterprise are no different than other updates we have seen throughout the series from holographic projections, new uniforms, props and yes, even Klingons.

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