First Pilot Overview

The Starship Enterprise as seen in the first pilot episode.

The Starship Enterprise as seen in the first pilot episode.


While “The Cage”, the original STAR TREK pilot episode, was filmed in 1964, work began on the ambitious visual effects needed to tell the story. Matt Jefferies’ blueprints were used to create the 33″ study model of the U.S.S. Enterprise. After approval, the go-ahead was given to construct the 11-foot “hero” version. Richard C. Datin supervised construction of the Enterprise, which took place over several rushed weeks, with the final model being delivered on December 29, 1964.

However, due to the time-crunch in getting the visual effects completed, the smaller, 3-foot model was used for the bulk of visual effects shots in the pilot. The 11-footer ended up being used in only one shot–the classic opening  in which the camera zooms over the ship and dives into the bridge, beginning the story. It should also be noted that this version of the ship was suspended by a wire for filming, and was shot against black instead of bluescreen. This would be especially useful in terms of the optical compositing, since the connecting dorsal was painted a glossy blue color at this time, and would probably have created a “hole” in the matte if the model had been shot against a blue background.

This first incarnation of the Enterprise has been, perhaps, the most elusive to study in detail, since reference materials for that era are scarce, and the model itself appears in only one shot in the episode. However, the three-footer also provides useful information, since there are a great many details shared by both models.

It should be noted that the big model, while built static and without any internal lighting effects, was still incomplete on the port side, as it would remain later on. Also, the aft nacelle endcaps were smooth and featureless, since it was apparently deemed unnecessary to add detail for a shot in which detail would not be seen. However, the construction blueprints, the 33-inch model, and the Polar Lights kit feature rectangular plates on the endcaps.

A long-debated aspect of this version is the weathering. For many years, it was believed that the Enterprise was clean (and maybe even painted with a glossy finish) in both pilots. After all of my research, I can hopefully put this misconception to rest. The first pilot Enterprise was indeed weathered–rather extensively, as it happens. But this particular weathering pattern was mostly eliminated or altered for the later versions.

This first version of the ship is rather austere in appearance. Indeed, it seems  that when the model was first delivered, it was very, very plain–the only markings were the pennants and registries, and there was no weathering. Apparently, Gene Roddenberry insisted on more detail, and so a variety of technical markings were added to various areas. The “space weathering” was added to give the ship a sense of history, since Roddenberry envisioned it as being perhaps even several decades old at the time of the pilot.  The model also featured the enlarged bridge/sensor dish and spiked, opaque nacelle domes that are the most obvious hallmarks of the two pilot versions.

After the pilot was rejected by NBC, a second pilot was commissioned, and so came the opportunity to add more detail–and lighting effects–to the model. But we’ll get to that later!


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