April 2009
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Starship Polaris

Back around 2005, a fellow I know named Dennis Bailey was working on a Star Trek fan film project called Starship Exeter: The Tressaurian Intersection. His experience on that project inspired him to start thinking about an independant film production of his own, one based on the beloved sci-fi adventure films and literature of his youth. Together with a like-minded sci-fi fan and talented artist named D.J. Nielsen, he began developing a story idea, originally called Starship Defiance, that eventually became known simply as Polaris.  

Set centuries in the future, Polaris tells the story of an interstellar starship lost in uncharted space. To get home again Captain Sam Fredericks, Valerie Young and the crew of the star cruiser Polaris must defeat an implacable enemy and solve the mystery of an impossible planet. Their discoveries will change humanity forever – if they survive.  

- From the StarshipPolaris.com Website  

Dennis and D.J. have made great progress. Casting has begun with three of the lead actors already in place. Sets have been designed and they are finalizing stage space and preparing for construction, with principle photography scheduled to begin in December of this year. However, there is one particular and rather significant detail that has yet to be finalized: The external design of Polaris itself.  

D.J. originally based the ship on some classic rocket and flying saucer concepts from as far back as the 1950s, combining his nostalgic reverence with a high degree of technical knowledge to produce a design rooted as much in function as it was in form. He had everything figured out, from the core deck arrangement to the theoretical details of the FTL propulsion system. Everything, that is, except the final arrangement of the parts and pieces and most of the finishing details. He and Dennis decided they needed an outside perspective, which is where I entered the picture.  

I already knew D.J. and had done some 3D modeling work on another venerable ship design of his called the Kiaga (an ongoing project of mine that will be the subject of a later post here on VektorVisual). D.J. contacted me late last year and asked if I would be interested in contributing some ideas for the Polaris, which I most definitely was. Dennis, an accomplished 3D modeller in his own right, had already built some preliminary versions of it, which I used as a jumping-off point for my own design. I took the basic intersecting-saucer-and-cylinder arrangement and started exploring various additions like engines and sensor arrays:  

Starship Polaris - Basic Configuration

Starship Polaris - Basic Configuration


Everyone liked the AWACS-style sensor pods but the engines were less popular. Even though Polaris had been partly inspired by the design aesthetics of the original Star Trek from the ’60s, Dennis wanted to avoid any visual cues overtly reminiscent of the Enterprise, so I went back to the digital drawing board and came up with a somewhat more integrated design for the main engines:  

A different style of engine housings

Main Engine Studies


In addition to the engines themselves, this sketch introduced a couple of key features. One was the hinged cowlings over the engine ports that could swing outward. Why? I’m not really sure, but I thought some moving parts might add a little extra dynamism to the ship on-screen. The other was the mounting arrangement of the engines that allowed the outer ring of the saucer to remain unbroken except where it intersected the main body. In the back of my mind, I was trying to rationalize that saucer shape with some actual function beyond just looking like a flying saucer. One possibility was a compact particle accellerator loop, or maybe a toroidal field coil of some kind. Again, I’m not sure exactly what the function would be but there were all kinds of exotic technologies like gravity control and FTL propulsion that it might be a part of.  

Around this time, I got caught up in a number of real-life distractions and my work on the Polaris got shelved for a couple of months. What finally drove me back to it was a kind of epiphany I had whilst driving to work one morning. I don’t remember exactly what triggered this particular combination of synapse firings but I got to wondering what would happen if I turned the saucer on its edge. As soon as I got home that night, I fired up the graphics tablet and cranked this out in about 20 minutes:  

90 Degrees of Difference

90 Degrees of Difference


This was a pretty radical departure and I sent it off to Dennis and D.J. not having any idea how they would react to it. I wasn’t totally sure what I thought of it myself. Ultimately, I think it got everyone thinking a bit further outside the box than we had been initially and I was asked to explore the vertical orientation further. D.J. also wondered if we might be able to introduce some of what he called “nautical elements,” all of which led to the next and most recent iteration of the design:  

All I ask is a tall ship...

All I ask is a tall ship...


Here you can see that I have either swerved into something refreshingly unique or gone completely off the rails; I think the jury is still out on that one. The engines have been reduced from four to two, enlarged, and relocated to where the “AWACS” sensor modules used to be. I’ve added a pair of “sails” to the top edge of the vertical saucer, actually heat dissipators, gravimetric baffles or something suitably technobabble-ish. I also tried to incorporate something suggestive of a rudder and fantail but I have to say I’m really not all that satisfied with how it came out. In the side view, it looks all too much like Dex’s ray pistol from Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Still, I think there’s a lot of promise in this concept and Dennis and D.J. are sticking with me so far.  

I will continue to post updates on the Polaris as time goes on so make sure to check back regularly to see what’s new. I also encourage you to check out the StarshipPolaris.com Website for all the detailed info on the Polaris film project, background info, casting and production news, etc. I’m very honored and excited to be a part of it.

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