Long before sci-fi shows created their visuals with computer-generated images, sfx crews filmed detailed models against a plain. Wide-angle close-up lenses, softly glowing internal lights, and slow camera motion give the impression of great size.
The large 11-foot model of the original Star Trek’s U.S.S. Enterprise is on display in the gift shop at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. I was thrilled as a kid to make pilgrimages to see it in the mid 1970s, when it hung high overhead in the main display area, near a walkway where you could see it from about eye level, within sight of Lindbergh’s Spirt of St. Louis and many other famous historical craft.
A smaller 3-foot model, which was made first, and which was used in all the flybys in the iconic opening credit sequence of Star Trek, went missing over 40 years ago, but seems to have recently turned up in an ebay listing.
The model was made by prop-maker Richard Datin Jr under the direction of Star Trek series creator Gene Roddenberry in the preproduction phase of the series before it even had a full series order. It preceded an 11-foot model that was used for most of the shots in the series. However, the 3-footer was used for the opening credits sequence and all but one of the shots of the Enterprise in the series’ pilot, because the 11-foot version was not ready in time for shooting. It was also used sporadically in other shots in later episodes, including one where it actually acted as a model of the Enterprise sitting on a table.
Historians, like model-maker David Shaw, who wrote a detailed history of the lost 3-foot model, believe that for at least a time, the model sat on Roddenberry’s desk and was his property. They believe Roddenberry loaned it to people working on the production of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, but it was never returned. There is even a record of Roddenberry writing to contacts at the production house inquiring to get it back to no avail.
In the listing, the seller included more than a dozen images of a wooden model on a stand. The model appeared aged and seemed to have water damage and other imperfections.
The listing went down quickly, and Roddenberry’s son is trying to track it down. —ArsTechnica