the scimitar, day one (the conception)

Star trek Nemesis, Well it was in the year of 2001, and Enterprise had just started up and at almost the same time Nemesis was in the works.  The incredible writer John Logan had been penning the story and was working very hard on the drafts for the script.  We got to read a teaser early on and it was a very cool read!!  John was always a Star trek fan, and he was really putting it all out for his tale of Reman and Romulan conflict.  Just in the first few pages, we were thrilled to see the list of great new ships that were going to have to be drawn and the Scimitar was one wicked sounding machine.  John wrote that it was a massive vessel (unlike anything we had ever seen before) which would take on the form of a viscous spider when it was poised for attack.  Almost every script we ever got on Star Trek had the description of a new ship as (unlike anything we ever saw before) but the window of approval that designs had to squeeze through was very tight and would not allow you to travel too far outside of it’s very rigid boundaries.  We all laughed when we read this especially word for word from an outsider.  Anyway, the Scimitar was a huge challenge in just the mass and what it’s function was to be…it was going to have a lot of mechanics, and coming from a physical model shop background, my thoughts were mechanical hinge points as opposed to a CGer’s point of view, which would be more in line with liquid hinge points and morphing.  The ship was definitely a challenge, and being that the description called for something new, the first pass came from another one of my Sci Fi art heroes, Mr. John Berkey.  John was one incredible artist who had a passion for fantastic space ships modeled after everything imaginable and in part to predatorial fish.  The read opened the door to maybe pay homage to John’s style but was rejected after only one sketch being to ambiguous and not defined enough.  You could almost see that this one was headed towards the classic Bird of Prey design which had ingrained itself as the shape of a star trek bad guy, and the closer you get to that shape, the better your chances for approval and making everyone happy!!! HAAAA!  So heading down that path, a few shapes emerged and one in particular that went a little too far into the realm of being too bird like…I liked the lines but remembered the evil hawk shaped ship from “Galaxina”, and after watching the movie again, it was just too similar.  A few more passes emerged and finally wound up with…you guessed it…a Bird Of Prey looking vessel which is so unlike anything we had ever seen before!!! HAAAA-HAAAAR!  Know the mission was to make the shape as different as possible in terms of details and mechanics.  So stay tuned ’til tomorrow when we will get to see some of the spider sketches by the awesome concept illustrator David Negron JR.  So until then, be good and don’t take any wooden nickels!

segmented plum-bob version

segmented plum-bob version

the batarang version with spider leg extensions for the thallaron weapon

the batarang version with spider leg extensions for the thalaron weapon

an Homage to the great John Berkey

an homage to the great John Berkey

starting to migrate south

starting to migrate south

a bit to much like the ship from Galaxina!

a bit too much like the ship from Galaxina!

OK, OK it's another (yet very different) Bird of prey ship

OK, OK it's another (yet very different) Bird of prey ship

once that shape was approved the mechanics of spidering out the look started to come around,, more tomorrow!

once that shape was approved the mechanics of spidering out the look started to come around,, more tomorrow!

inspiration by John berkey

inspiration by John berkey

would have been a great look for the Scimitar!

would have been a great look for the Scimitar!

Some screenshots, all in compact, unextended state:

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (3)

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (5)

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (7)

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (8)

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (21)

Reman warbird Scimitar, Star Trek Nemesis (28)

30 Responses to “the scimitar, day one (the conception)”

  1. 1 Buckaroohawk
    July 14, 2009 at 9:05 am

    “Nemesis” may have been the death-knell for the TNG movies, but I am still captivated by the SFX from the film. They looked very different from any other Trek movie, with the ships having much more velocity and maneuverability than past films.

    I also liked the design of the Scimitar and I’m looking forward to seeing more of its evolution here.

  2. 2 Freak
    July 14, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Not the best of films the story may have been bit of a let down but the visuals has to be one of the best of trek.
    I still can’t get over that you guys known that this was it for TNG while the film was still in production.

    I love the new Romulan BOP is a sweet looking ship. yet stays very close to the version we first got to see in the last episode of season 1. Would have been nice to have the Romulans show up a bit more than they did in TNG.

    the Scimitar is a great looking ship and when those “Spider” arms extened was not expecting that and was blown away by it.
    Would have been cool to see the weapon go off, but it would have been the end of the crew of Ent. (could have been another way to end the TNG films. they faild in there mission, and some other starfleet ship saved the day, off screen.)

  3. 3 evil_genius_180
    July 14, 2009 at 9:54 am

    I like Nemesis, it’s a good flick. It’s not the best ST film by far but it’s also not the worst, IMO. It’s kinda in the middle of the pack. The effects are da bomb.

    As far as the ship, I was always disappointed a bit with the Uber Warbird. But, I see that you had no choice at all but to make it bird-ish, even though this was supposed to be coming from a race that wasn’t the Romulans. I would like to have seen it go more in the direction of some of your earlier designs but that’s all in the past now. 😉 I’ll say this, even though it’s cliche to have a bird-shaped Romulan vessel, you did a great job designing a ship that looks very menacing on screen.

    I love the newer Warbirds you designed for that movie (one was called the Valdore, or something like that.) Will you eventually be doing a post on those?

  4. 4 DeanneM
    July 14, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Yea!! Finally, the Scimitar! This has got to be my favorite alien ship. My big poster with the thalaron wings deployed is awesome, but I gotta love even more the very sinister and cool BoP look with them closed! I was so very knocked out of my chair when you told me you designed this humongous “beauty”!!!

    It would seem you would rather have had the Berkey inspired design, John, which is very cool indeed, but I’m glad we got what we did! Kinda like my favorite Enterprise not being what Doug would have designed, given his choice…well, I’m happy once in a while for TPTB. 🙂

    As for the movie itself, I must agree that it didn’t seem very captivating overall, but the story is a good one and a lot of fun stuff happens for the crew. This final send off has the fun wedding scene and quips (some involve the Betazoid tradition 😉 ), Picard enjoying his new toy, the Argo, our one chance to see Janeway on the big screen…lots of things not to be missed! It could have been a bit more visually interesting, since we saw a lot of Shinzon in the dark. But that would have taken some creative muscle, since Remans are sensitive to light. I give the movie 4 stars overall, I mean, E-E ramming Scimitar? C’mon! But this post gets 5 stars from me!! 🙂

  5. July 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Brilliant stuff all around. It’s great to see how this ship took shape! 😀

  6. July 14, 2009 at 10:59 am

    John Berkey was amazing, and to this day I love seeing his work. In fact I’ve had a notion of doing a series of scratchbuilds depicting some of my favorite pieces – including that amazing hydrofoil you’ve shown on this entry. Very cool to see you reference his stuff. And how fun would be to see some of his paintings come to life as a movie?

  7. July 14, 2009 at 11:07 am

    I have to admit: the Scimitar is not (one of) my favorite alien vessel(s). It has some very cool features though: aggressive look, lots of details, very unique effects of illumination, interesting opening sequence for the wings. But after all, it lacks some kind of, hmm, “dangerous elegance” – perhaps the script/producers prohibited this aspect, but I can only express my feelings 😉

  8. July 14, 2009 at 11:23 am

    Inspiring work, as always, John. As a HUGE Berkey fan for over 30 years, and a digital artist for almost 20, I always shuddered at the idea of having to build a CG Berkey ship. I love his work (and still kick myself for not buying an original work of his when I had the chance), but his style relies so much on implied detail that it’s often hard to pick solid details out of his designs.

    Of course, he never designed his ships as concepts that would one day be built. It would be an interesting experiment if he had. It would have been great to have at least one film that was in the true Berkey style, much the way Blade Runner was Syd Mead’s signature work.

    • 9 Buckaroohawk
      July 14, 2009 at 8:35 pm

      I agree. Berkey’s work completely defies expression in 3D, either as physical models or CGI. His paintings are extremely impressionistic (could sci-fi impressionism be it’s own artistic genre?) and I doubt that anyone could do justice to his designs three dimensionally. It’s not just about the shapes of the ships, it’s about the level of implied detail and how the ships seem to somehow merge naturally with their surroundings.

      I would love to see someone take up the challenge and try, however. Even if they only came close, it would be quite a sight, I’m sure.

  9. July 14, 2009 at 11:35 am

    I liked the John Berkey inspired design before I scrolled back up to read the background info. It’s got a nice fishy look to it, like a big shark that’s gonna gobble up the little Enterprise. The one below that might make a good fighter ship, with the curvy front surface being the cockpit. I quite like the final design, but it does look reminiscent of a few other Trek ships, particularly the Jem’Hadar warship and the Negh’Var (because of the talon-like weapons hanging from the underside and on the wings). Not exactly “like nothing we’ve seen before”.

    With regards to the movie, it had some fantastic set pieces and special effects shots (the ramming and the front of the bridge being blown off are my favourites), but it really lacked something when it came to the crew. TNG was all about a family, but in Nemesis only Picard and Data really got a look in, with most of the others just left as spectators. All of the movies were like that to an extent, but I think it was worse in Nemesis. How many lines did poor old Bev get?

  10. 11 Ste
    July 14, 2009 at 11:38 am

    Fantastic seeing the ship come to live. Although I can’t see the bird of prey in it. Looks really like a Jem’Hadar battle cruiser

  11. July 14, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I like the way you can just dash off a quick scaling drawing of the E-E, freehand!

  12. 13 Melak
    July 14, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    The scimitar was one mean ship, but I was also thrilled that the Romulans finally got some new ships too!

    Any Chance that you might have something on those sleek new warbirds too? 😀

  13. July 14, 2009 at 1:34 pm

    Neat-o stuff, John. I, too, am a John Berkey fan and often look at his stuff for inspiration. He had a dynamic, one-of-a-kind style that is difficult to translate into physical shapes. But I love trying!

  14. 15 Matt Boardman
    July 14, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    Hoo wow! The Scimitar was one mean ship! Love the progression of the design. Sadly, I am not familiar with John Berkey’s work, but after seeing these couple of pictures, it looks very interesting!! Thanks for introducing me to another artist, John! 🙂

  15. 16 Richard Knapp
    July 14, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Absolutely fantastic – especially the homage to John Berkey. The Scimitar is one evil looking ship. Beautiful work! Definitely looking forward to Part 2 in the development of the Scimitar. I’m with Melak, it sure would be sweet to see your design progression leading to the Valdore class. 😉

    Thanks John, much appreciated!

  16. 17 Kevin H. Martin
    July 14, 2009 at 5:02 pm

    Berkey’s work seriously inspired STAR WARS … Lucas bought a piece of Berkey art that really informs the whole last act of SW, where a spaceplane is attacking a big metal planet, and I mean, it is Xwings vs deathstar!

    And I think ILM guys have admitted the medical frigate at the end of EMPIRE is kind of a riff on Berkey. There’s even a ship in CONEHEADS that reminds me of a Berkey.

    I corresponded with his son, who makes apparatus for filming products in commercials, and he was kind enough to send me a signed copy of PAINTED SPACE, Berkey’s first and best book. It would have been great if somebody had let him do a kind of Ralph McQuarrie for a space project, I’d love to see those ships come to life, though building and photographing them would be difficult.

    • July 14, 2009 at 10:36 pm

      It’s definitely the early Death Star design (the original one first modeled by Colin Cantwell), but the ship is not so X-wing-ish. I believe this is the image:

      While poking around a Berkey image search, I found this model that someone made of one of his book cover ships. Not very close, but an interesting attempt:


      • 19 Kevin H. Martin
        July 16, 2009 at 9:28 am

        Yeah, that’s why I describe it as a spaceplane, like a generic fighter. If you extrapolate from the Berkey with the notion ‘hot rod in space’ then it is easy to see how you wind up with Cantwell’s X and the subsequent ILM ship, though.

        The attempt at physical Berkey is a nice try, but there are scale issues. I’d think you have to go very large (like medical frigate or bigger) to get the scale, especiallyon the boat-hull kinds of pieces that aren’t festooned with detail.

  17. July 14, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    I think that “a bit too much like the ship from Galaxina” was the best pass. If I had been in the place of the producers I would have preferred an overall more rounded and somehow insidious design instead of something spiky and obviously menacing.

  18. 22 Adam
    July 14, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Wow no matter how bad a movie or episode is, your designs are always top notch ! The scimtar is awesome but I think some of the middle concepts would do just as good. Too bad movies are very quick on good shots of the actual models in a “quiet” state (not battle).
    I think Nemesis would be better if launched as a completely offspin series (maybe 10 episodes or so) because that way it would be possible to look into characters and their background stories …

  19. 23 AdmNaismith
    July 14, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    Indeed, the back-story of ALL the characters and situations in Nemesis cried out for a lot more deveopment than they could get in a 2-hr movie. And honestly, where was Sela?

  20. July 14, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I REALLY hated this ship (not the design) but it seemed WAY WAY over powered for the Trek universe, I mean it had hundreds of torpedo’s, phasers and god knows what else..just didn’t fit into the universe I mean it seemed to go outside the bounds of what was possible..I mean imagine nowadays a carrier with 200 missile launchers and such..its just ridiculous;) I just didn’t like the movie at all:(

  21. 25 Syd Hughes
    July 14, 2009 at 11:16 pm

    Berkey! That’s the guy! I remember seeing that style on so many of my old sci-fi novels (Gateway comes immediately to mind).

    Not only do you make Trek come more alive with the concept and behind-the-scenes looks, but you just managed to flesh out a little bit more of my early teens for me! Thank you!

  22. July 15, 2009 at 6:36 am

    I like beautiful blogs!

  23. July 15, 2009 at 9:39 am

    THe sweet stuff!

    Thanks John!


  24. 28 Paul of NC
    July 15, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    During the process of designing/approving these designs, had there been a suggestion to change the enemy from the Romulans to the Klingons? This definitely would have been a cool evolution to the Bird of Prey design in its lineage and would have been a good homage to the original. Was this the only ship of its class or do you think the Klingons might have gotten their hands on a couple of these? Could you imagine these going against the “Narada”?

  25. 29 Kevin H. Martin
    July 16, 2009 at 9:24 am

    I think the cover of GATEWAY was actually Boris imitating Berkey … Is GATEWAY the first of the heechee series?

    • July 16, 2009 at 10:55 am

      Gateway was the first of the Hee-chee series. And I’m kinda shocked to learn that the cover was Boris and not Berkey. Boy, he really aped Berkey’s style for the ships, though the planet bg is pure Boris. Kinda sad because all these years I thought it was Berkey and I often pointed to it as one of the early examples of his work that influenced me. Oh, well. I just hope it doesn’t turn out that McCall didn’t actually do the 2001 poster!

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July 2009

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