Don’t get me wrong: I actually like some aspects of the new old U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701 that briefly appeared in the season finale of Star Trek: Discovery. (For convenience, I’ll be calling it the “Disco-prise” since “Second-prise” is just plain silly!)
Now, the J.J. Abrams version of the U.S.S. Enterprise from the 2009 reboot Star Trek movie, that one I hated. I think it is a visual travesty, and we shall not speak of it further.
But the Disco-prise, it’s mostly okay with me. I don’t even mind those strange “tail fins” that seem to have been added to the back of the nacelles for no apparent reason (you all realize that there’s no air resistance in space, right?) I sorta like the design…but I definitely don’t love it.
On the other hand, the original U.S.S. Enterprise, designed by WALTER MATT JEFFERIES in 1965 (and altered slightly in 1966 when the Star Trek TV series was picked up for broadcast)…now THAT ship I LOVE. There is not an angle of that magnificent space vessel that I can’t look at for hours or draw from memory. In my opinion, that iconic starship is perfect, a profoundly elegant work of art! (I feel the same way about the refit U.S.S. Enterprise first seen in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979.)
So why don’t I love the new Disco-prise? It’s not a bad design, but for some reason I couldn’t put my finger on, it just didn’t seem like the work of art that the original was. And about three weeks ago, I finally discovered the reason…
“The Golden Ratio?” I asked, having never heard the term before.
“Yeah,” said Bill, matter-0f-factly, “You know…Phi? 1.61803. Tell me you know this! And you call yourself a Trekkie???”
“I know Pi,” I said sheepishly. “3.14159.”
“Oh, Jon, I thought you took math classes at Cornell! How can you not know this??”
“I switched to Psychology in my sophomore year, dude, cut me some slack! So what does Phi have to do with Star Trek?” I asked.
“Only everything!” he replied. “Once I tell you what I’m about to tell you, you will NEVER look at the U.S.S. Enterprise the same way again!”
Okay, if you haven’t figured it out yet, Bill’s a bit of a math geek in the way that most of the rest of us aren’t—so I’ll spare you from the long explanation of what the Golden Ratio is. However, I do recommend that you watch the following video if you can handle just a wee bit of math (and fun math, not the boring kind!)…
Or maybe you’d prefer a Disney cartoon with Donald Duck…
If you didn’t watch the videos, the short summary is that there’s this number Phi (Φ) that, like its cousin Pi (π), is an irrational number that forms a never-ending decimal:
Φ = (1 + √5) /2 = 1.61803398874989484820…
Now, whether or not this “Golden Ratio” of 1 : 1.61803 is evidence of some kind of intelligent design or it’s just some cosmic coincidence, there have been studies that have shown that human beings react most positively to designs and imagery that include adjacent elements with a ratio approaching 1 : 1.618. Painters from the Renaissance (like DaVinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael) to French impressionists like Seurat all the way to Salvador Dali used the Golden Ratio quite often, as have architects and designers.
And guess who else used it? Matt Jeffries, when he designed the U.S.S. Enterprise, put Golden Ratio elements all over that starship…and I’ll show them to you shortly. Granted, Jeffries, who died in 2003, never spoke in interviews about whether he purposefully employed the Golden Ratio (and I’m not even sure he was ever asked), but there are just so darn many, I can’t believe it’s just a coincidence!
My math buddy Bill began by sending me this article that shows a number of the Golden Ratios present in nearly all orthogonal views of the Enterprise…and that started to blow my mind. But then he told me to play around in Photoshop and see how many more I could find…and that’s when my mind EXPLODED (and so will yours)!
Are you ready to jump down the rabbit hole?
First, credit where it’s due: I used some nicely rendered CGI image from this fellow’s Deviant Art page, and I promised I’d include a link.
Also, Bill recommended that I illustrate the Golden Ratio by first drawing for all of you this “golden rectangle” where the ratio of the length to width is 1 : 1.618.
Then he suggested that I start my descent down the rabbit hole as simply as possible by putting just a single one of these rectangles over the dorsal (neck) of the USS Enterprise because that’s kind of the central point of the starship…
With me so far? Well, here’s the first mind-explosion. Bill told me to take that rectangle and move it around to see how many elements of the Enterprise were exactly the same height as the dorsal (neck). Look what I found…
The height of the dorsal (neck) is the same as the height of the front of the warp nacelle AND the navigational deflector dish AND the rear of the secondary hull! It’s also the distance from the top of the bridge to the lower edge of the saucer AND from the higher edge of the saucer to the bottom of the photon torpedo launch dome.
Now, in case you’re wondering, no, that has nothing to do with the Golden Ratio. It’s just really, REALLY cool. However, this next part is totally about the Golden Ratio, and to discuss it, Bill told me to show you this…
This time, the “golden rectangles” are touching. Why is that important? Because when two adjacent (next to each other) elements of an image have the proportion of 1 : 1.618 (like the pictures of the pretty things at the top of this page), they look pleasant and beautiful to the human eye…even if it’s just on a subconscious level.
And so, let’s go back to the Enterprise and use the touching rectangles this time…
How about that! The ratio of the height of the dorsal (neck) to the height of the widest part of the secondary hull is 1 : 1.618! It’s also interesting that the ratio of the height of the dorsal to the width of the dorsal is also 1 : 1.1618.
And if you’re beginning to think that I’m going to start finding that Golden Ratio of 1 : 1.618 pretty much everywhere on this starship, well…YOU’RE RIGHT!!!
Ready for the next one?
The ratio of the height/diameter of the cylindrical nacelle to the height of the nacelle’s support pylon is that Golden Ratio again! Also, notice that the distance from the front edge of the pylon to the front edge of the nacelle (where the red dome hits the gray part) is about the same length as the height of the pylon.
Still think it’s just a coincidence? Then check out this next one…
There’s another Golden Ration BELOW the support pylon…as the thinnest part of the secondary hull in the rear is just about 1 : 1.618 as long as the height of the pylon. Also note that the front edge of the pylon is the exact same distance from the back edge of the secondary hull (where the curved hangar doors start) as it was from front edge of the gray part of the nacelle in the previous picture.
Oh, one more cool one that I noticed…
- the bottom of the dorsal
- the height of the widest part of the secondary hull
- the height of the pylons
- and all the other measurements I just showed you.
Same yellow box, folks! And just for fun, as you can see above, I rotated the rectangle and discovered that the back edge of the intercooler is just about the Golden Ratio away from the back of the entire nacelle.
Does your brain hurt yet? Yeah, probably. So let’s switch to a different angle. Are there more Golden Ratios on the top view? You bet your astrometrics there are!
Let’s start with the simplest stuff…
I drew one of those golden rectangles over the widest part of the secondary hull. Notice that this central box (with the dimensions 1 : 1618) not only is as wide as the secondary hull but also goes from the base of the dorsal on the right to the rear edge of the impulse engines on the left.
Then I rotated this rectangle 90 degrees to give us that Golden Ratio on either side. And guess what! To the left, the length of that raised stripy thing on the saucer between the two impulse vents (what is that stripy thing called anyway?) is just as long as the secondary hull is wide. To the right, the rectangle with the Golden Ratio starts at the base of the dorsal and ends smack dab dead center of the support pylons.
But wait, there’s more! Let’s move those rectangles around a little to see what else matches up…
Moving left to right, we see that the distance from the back of the bridge to the bottom of the letters of the ship name on the primary hull is the same of the length from the front of the bridge to the back of the “half-egg” of decks 2 and 3. But it’s also the distance from the cooling radiators (those black things just behind the red domes) to the closest point of the circular edge of the saucer to the nacelles. And of course, as we showed earlier, the diameter of those nacelles have a 1 : 1.1618 ratio to the diameter of the widest part of the secondary hull.
And look at the back of the secondary hull. That same-sized rectangle fits from the top back edge of the hangar deck to the front edges of the two nacelles…AND it fits snugly just at the base of the two pylons.
Wanna see something else cool? Take a look at the distance between the secondary hull and the nacelles…
Yep! Mind the “gap” because it’s that same Golden Ratio to the width of the secondary hull and the same as the width of the nacelles themselves.
The ratio of the distance between the nacelle pylons to their length? You guessed it! 1 : 1.618. Also note the rectangle over the hangar bay area. The ratio of that back portion of the secondary hull (length : width) is the same Golden Ratio.
Okay, nearly done…just three more. (BTW, my friend Bill only sent me a few of these. Then he told me to look for others because I’d find them everywhere—and he was right! Eventually, it became an exciting game to find more and more golden ratios.)
Here’s one I didn’t expect to find. I just drew one of those golden rectangles around the nacelles, and look what happened! Golden Ratio of length to width…
So let’s take a look at the the length (diameter) of the primary saucer section…and then the length of the portion of the secondary hull that’s visible from the top view…
Golden Ratio…check! (We’re not really surprised, right?) Okay, last one…
I’ll save you from having to see me do the same with the front view, but trust me, the Golden Ratio is there, too.
Okay, so how about the Disco-prise? Unlike the original, whose design can be directly traced primarily to the efforts of one person, the ST: Discovery Enterprise was based on concept art provided by John Eaves and Scott Schneider and then refined and assembled by a group of VFX artists from Pixomondo under the direction of production designers, producers, executive producers, and lord knows who else! In other words, lots of chefs in the digital kitchen…
Now, thanks to an Eaglemoss poster that was on display a few weeks ago at a Trek convention in Germany, we now have a studio-approved top and side view of the Disco-prise. And that allows us to see if this new design utilizes that perceptually pleasing Golden Ratio.
First, I’ll draw that same golden rectangle over the dorsal (neck), as I did in the first imagine of the TOS Enterprise, and see if there are any places where that same height appears elsewhere…
Hmmm, it’s kinda hit and miss. The only nearly exact match is the height of the main navigational deflector dish. The heights on the primary hull aren’t really aligning exactly to clean horizontal elements like they did with TOS. And the closest match on the nacelles is far, far at the very back (and it’s possible that part of the image was a little distorted, as this was photographed from a canvas poster).
Okay, let’s look for some golden ratios shall we?
Nah, that doesn’t work. I’d hoped it might hit the top edge of the saucer, but it misses completely. What about the pylons and nacelles and the back of the secondary hull?
That’s a little better. There’s a couple of Golden Ratios there at the back. But to save you a really long blog of “no, that’s not it either,” I looked all around the side view, and what I’ve just shown you is as close as things get to the Golden Ratio. Everything else misses badly.
So what about the top view? Once again, I started the same way I did with the TOS Enterprise by putting a golden rectangle around the widest part of the secondary hull and then seeing if there were any Golden Ratios to either side. There weren’t…
If you look at the next image, you’ll see that I did notice that the rectangle in the above image is the same length as that curved black racing stripe along the side edges of the saucer, as well as the same length as the intercoolers on the rear of the nacelles, and the same width as the warp nacelle as seen from the top view. It’s also the same length as the distance from the front of the bridge to the back of the “egg” of deck two…although that’s not the case going the other way.
But unlike TOS, there’s no Golden Ratio adjacent to any of those elements. I’ve also shown how the ratio of the nacelle width to the pylon is completely off…
With the TOS Enterprise, it was almost impossible NOT to find that Golden Ratio. It was almost as though every time I drew a golden rectangle and turned it 90 degrees, there was another perfect alignment!
Now, does this “prove” (mathematically) that the original NCC-1701 Enterprise is somehow more elegant and beautiful that the redesigned Disco-prise? No, and that wasn’t my goal with this blog. If you like the new design better, more warp power to ya! That’s fine with me.
Instead, I was simply trying to figure out why the new design was missing the mark with me personally. When I learned about the Golden Ratio and how artists like DaVinci and Michelangelo and Dali would purposefully incorporate it into their designs, I examined the original Enterprise and found it everywhere. Matt Jefferies was a genius! Then I looked at the redesigned starship and found it almost nowhere.
Does this explain my different reactions to the two designs? Perhaps. But I can only speak for me.
Which one do YOU prefer?