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What makes a starship design "good"? 
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For both producers and consumers of starships, how do you decide if a design is "good"? What criteria do you consider and how do you rank these criteria? I have my own criteria for when I design my own ships, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.


19 Jan 2009 20:41
Are we talking about Star Trek here, or in general? If it's ST were talking about, I suppose I judge designs based on their relation to the core canon stuff we've seen so far. I personally exclude a few things like the NX, and to be honest I'm no fan of the Galaxy design either, though I can't really ignore it - the Intrepid 'fixed' for me that design, except the stupid folding wings - I just pretend it's engines stay flat all the time. :)

More specifically I try and judge if a design makes sense given its stated capabilities, purpose and the time period it's supposed to exist in. For example, the SFM and FRS material all tends to make a logical sense given the era and role of the ships. Of course in those 2 specific cases, it's easier to get a feel for when a design work because I'm judging it as part of a wider whole - it all fits together with itself.

Just using your stuff as an example: the Gagarin design, one of my favourite SFM designs, takes clear stylistic cues from the Moskva but shows a clear difference in size and shapes which work with the write up on it, it's slightly younger than the Moskva, and incorporates some minor advances in design, like the much flatter saucer, also, it's a science ship (IIRC), rather than a front-line explorer, it doesn't need the massive bulk and redundancy of its bigger brother.

With individual designs, it's harder to assess them in this way, unless we're just comparing them with the canon material. Say if the New Orleans (love that ugly little ship) was a fan design, it's actually significantly different to the Galaxy, but shows again, related shapes and design elements (mostly cause it was actually a kitbash of the Ent-D model kit).

Of course, outside of ST altogether, I still think most of that applies. Whatever the setting, a ship design should make logical sense, and then stylisitc sense. If it's going to be pretty to me, that means it should be as sleek and elegant as possible. The X-wing or Millenium Falcon from SW are clear examples of how to fail in that regard (IMO). I'm more of a fan of the minimalist style of Jefferies' work, and the art-deco influenced TMP stuff (not sure how responsible Probert was for that, didn't someone else as the deco stuff?)

That was meant to be a short post. :roll:


19 Jan 2009 22:08
Seek100 wrote:
Are we talking about Star Trek here, or in general?


Star Trek!

Here's are my criteria. The order might change from project to project.

Coolness – The ship should grab and hold your attention. Even cargo ships can be attractive and interesting.

Originality – I try to come up with novel, interesting designs, but doing so is getting harder and harder. One of the reasons I design mostly TOS and pre-TOS ships is that fewer fans design ships for these eras. I try to avoid kitbashes and never do “TOS versions” of later ships.

Easily recognized shape – Fabio Passaro once told me that a good ship is one a child can draw. Professional Trek designers have mentioned similar things, such as a ship should be quickly “readable,” meaning that you can easily tell the front from the back, friend from foe, function, and mission, even if you see the ship for only a second or two. This is a big concern when designing for TV and movies, but we can follow this rule too. There’s also the squint test, in which you see if you can recognize the shape of the ship with your eyes thrown of focus. Surface details and markings are much less important. A ship should also look good from more than one angle. You’ll occasionally see top views of ships which sit in a pleasing, balanced way within a rectangle. But sometimes this balance is achieved by having long, swoopy appendages or eye-catching shapes or details that pretty much disappear on other views. These ships are flat, graphic designs, like logos or symbols. For this reason I sketch in three-quarters view.

Validity –Since starships are machines, form must follow function. There must be a good reason for every shape and structure on a starship, and every necessary function (power production, warp field generation, weapons, crew space, life support, sensors and deflectors) must be represented. These components must work together to allow the ship to perform its role in a believable manner. The role and the ship must also make sense in the society and the fleet that produced it, considering resources, money, perceived strategic need, fashion, etc. Sometimes ships are built for the wrong reasons and are failures. These are often fun to design.

Continuity – I'm concerned only with continuity with onscreen ships from TOS forward, chronologically, and with my previous designs. I ignore Enterprise. I make no attempt to maintain continuity with designs from other fans. Sorry, guys!


19 Jan 2009 22:52
C'mon, guys! Doesn't anyone else want to talk about their design process? I'd like to hear how you guys work.


23 Jan 2009 20:41
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Well, I'm afraid to talk about mine. I posted some of it here:

topic132.html

and it got even fewer comments than it did the first time I posted it on the other FRS forum. :o Maybe it was just too much talk and too little explanation upfront about what it all meant. To put it plainly, I worked from an understanding of the overall defensive requirements of an alliance spread over the volume of space described in the Star Trek Maps. What kind of fleet organizations would be needed? What ships would form the parts of those organizations, and what kind would operate independently?

Then I developed an idea of the evolution of warp drive based on an understanding of how it might function. Two things informed my understanding -- from a design standpoint, it was Jefferies' ringship Enterprise, and from a functional standpoint it was Jesco von Puttkamer's explanation of warp drive. As I researched what kind of engineering might be able to do what Puttkamer described, I came up with the combination of singularities used for hypergravity to bend space toward the ship, and antigravitational negative energy to keep the collapsing space from closing in the ship. This meant singularities at the front and back, and a loop or loops of negative energy in the middle. For a ship or a nacelle it would mean domes to contain the singularities at the front and back, and rings for negative energy induction in the middle.

http://www.daviddarling.info/encycloped ... _ring.html

My evolution of starships thus proceeds from a ship with a big ring -- Jefferies' XCV-330 -- to one with two nacelles that each have many rings -- NCC-1701. XCV-330 doesn't have singularities fore and aft because it doesn't create a space warp. It is more of a diametric drive or "Bondi negative gravitational mass propulsion system" such as was described by Robert Forward in 1988. It uses negative energy to go slower than the speed of light.

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Exotic_matter

I assumed it would be a step on the path towards developing warp drive, kind of like the internal combustion engine was a step on the path towards creating a heavier than air craft.

Historically, I design the ships to fit on a progression between the Jefferies ringship and NCC-1701, and functionally I design them to fit into the Starfleet I've described. Finally, I'm influenced by Jefferies' own design influences, retrofuturist design, things that others have done that feel "right" when measured against these criteria, and my own idea of how other technologies and society generally might evolve. All of this is used to create designs expressive of a timeline of events.

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24 Jan 2009 01:07
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Thanks for replying, Aridas. But rather than an explanation of the hows and whys of your specific ship lineage (which I've found, at least for my work, most people seem kind of bored by; their eyes glaze over when I discuss too much inside baseball), I was interested in people's design processes and principles. I'd like to know how people go about designing ships and how they decide if any ship, either one they've designed or one designed by others, is a good ship design. For example, do people do thumbnails on a sketch pad? Do they design directly with orthographic views in their vector program? What is the relative importance of visual appeal, overall shape, surface details, adherence or allusions to canon or noncanon works, originality, and nuts and bolts function? How do people indicate era or level of technological advancement?


24 Jan 2009 02:30
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Quote:
For example, do people do thumbnails on a sketch pad?


I usually start with pencil sketches, both orthographic and perspective. I might sketch out concepts and begin combining aspects I like, and then stylize, all the time working in orthographic mode. Or I might begin with shapes I like and start with perspective sketches, and only go to orthographics once I have the shapes down.

Quote:
Do they design directly with orthographic views in their vector program?


If I have a concept down in my mind, I might go straight to Illustrator, but I believe anything done on the computer should be preceded by something done on paper. Usually if I shortcut that process, I end up with a mediocre product.

Quote:
What is the relative importance of visual appeal, overall shape, surface details, adherence or allusions to canon or noncanon works, originality, and nuts and bolts function?


1. nuts and bolts function
2. overall shape
3. visual appeal
4. adherence or allusions to canon or noncanon works (usually to my own or Todd's work, or to Jefferies or Probert)
5. originality
6. surface details

Quote:
How do people indicate era or level of technological advancement?


See my previous post above.

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"...here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." -Thomas Jefferson, 1820


24 Jan 2009 02:58
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Quote:
For example, do people do thumbnails on a sketch pad?


With my own stuff I start with pen and paper, and hammer out basics ideas, and shapes. Most of my Trek designs are not based on existing ideas, but rather my take on where the "treknology" might go.


Quote:
Do they design directly with orthographic views in their vector program?


Sometimes. I did that with my Wolf Class design - vector designs both on paper, and via PC. Once i knew a little about creating stuff in 3D I created a "study model" so I could see the ship in 3D. It lead to a lot of changes - as some things look good on paper, but once in 3D they look very different.


Quote:
What is the relative importance of visual appeal, overall shape, surface details, adherence or allusions to canon or noncanon works, originality, and nuts and bolts function?


I think you have to balance all those elements to be honest. I like creating vessels that have a true form (ie the deck structure fits without issue), but I have no issues with trying to create something that looks good. Balance is the key in the design, and you don't have to sacrifice form to style IMOO, or vice versa.


Quote:
How do people indicate era or level of technological advancement?


By using design elements of the era the ship belongs to, or using said elements and making changes to them. Hell, if i need to I say when the ship is from.

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24 Jan 2009 18:28
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Hi, gentlemen!

You don't know how pleased I am that the FRS has been reborn.

I thought that, for sure, the last time was the end.

I'm glad to be here too, and I'm ready to learn and have fun!

Good starship design, huh? Can 'o' worms!

Needs to be original in some measurable sense. I think we all decry the excessive use of the barely-re-arranged parts that we've seen for the past 40 years. The best in starship design makes you look at something and say "oooooh, I never thought of it that way. I appreciate it".

Notice I didn't say "I like it". I can appreciate the effort put into a design without it resonating with me. If it resonates and makes me grin stupidly, that's a great starship design!

The assembled talent on this site have done that enough! :)

But not really enough, so don't stop.


25 Feb 2009 18:18
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I hate to say "I know it when I see it", but there's a lot of that to it. It has to feel solid, plausible.

There's a ship over on SFM based on one of Doug Drexler's unused designs (http://www.scifi-meshes.com/forums/3d-w ... thing.html). I'm really enjoying it just for the freshness it has. I haven't made up my mind how "functional" it is though. But it's not a saucer, so that gives it points right there. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Vektor's Grandeur. It's the Rolls Royce of TNG permutations (I think).

When I was unpacking a few weeks ago I came across my copy of Starship Design. Looking at the k'teremny class I thought about how I'd always wished Todd and aridas had done more non-Fed ships.

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25 Feb 2009 18:33
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