A Low Poly Experiment
I finally got around to attacking an interesting procrastination. Typically, I tend to be utterly fascinated with what some might consider mundane. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture shared the deliciousness of the Enterprise’s cargo hold, I was hooked for life.
During the old VCR days, I used to study shots like the one above for… well, let’s just say, extensively long periods. After widescreen releases of TMP came out, I found myself trying to identify an odd little structure in the lower left corner of this establishing visual of Enterprise’s cargo hold. Though it appears rather inert just sitting there, it is clearly interacting with one of the many cargo pods that appear prominently in the shot. It’s a relatively thin horizontal platform with what look’s like a driver’s seat, and some narrow crane arms extending upward from a mound of machinery to the right of the seat. Given that the pod appears to be raised well above the deck, it gives the impression that the entire object might be suspended above floor level, but I couldn’t be certain in those days, even after examining DVD releases.
My first impression was that it was the 23rd century version of a forklift or pallet jack, but then I payed notice to these crew members casually strolling an entire pod down the runway with little to no aggravation. Hmm… Forklifts begin to seem a bit superfluous with such evidence.
Of course, it eventually occurred to me how Star Trek’s future had pretty much conquered that ‘gravity thing’.
Even TOS displayed this prowess.
So… With Trek’s end-run around gravity, and the cargo pods seeming to have their own built-in load lifters, I began to think a ‘forklift’, in any traditional sense, might be somewhat obsolete.
I eventually saw an earlier version of that same establishing shot, one of Andrew Probert’s amazing conceptual matte renderings. It can be seen on his web page Probert Designs. Appearing more detailed and interesting than the final shot used in the film, it’s richer in color and seems less sterile. With even more objects & features in place, including parked shuttlecraft, his painting indicates a greater functionality than the final shot manages to convey. One of those interesting features was that same ‘forklift’, only this time it is clearly hovering several feet in the air with a glowing underside illuminating the deck below, and there’s even a crew member (I think) piloting the device from a seated position. With my faith in the fork somewhat restored, I was able to imagine just how the device might function. Clearly not necessary as a full-force weight-bearing lifter, it is obviously conveying bulky freight of some kind and could still come in handy in a variety of ways, especially if height were an issue. On the sides of the hold the pods are stored at least 2 levels high and some concept art for the film shows the pods being stored 3 levels high (not to mention we are never shown the opposite wall of this cargo hold). I’m not sure how the lift’s crane functions exactly, whether the arms and grasping mechanisms have any movement or are simply extended to a set length. It does appear that the cargo pods themselves have a specific feature for interacting with this structure; On the set props and effects miniatures, It is a small circular indention on the label ends of the cargo pod. In the establishing shot above, the moving device’s arms are aligned with this feature’s location on an apparently raised container (though, it is interesting to note that none of the pods depicted in the matte painting portion of the shot actually seem to have this detail implied). In this same shot, the self-floating pod being manually hauled by crewmen shows this indention is actually glowing, distinguishing it from all the surrounding pods at rest (the ones that have it). Whether this has anything to do with the functionality of the pod’s own anti-grav component is a guess, but the lift crane’s connection to this feature makes for interesting speculation. I concluded that, despite not necessarily being meant for heavy lifting as a true forklift might, it could come in handy moving product at faster speeds than your average strolling crewman, and any cargo deck that stored their pods at successively higher levels would need something to aid in sliding containers into and out of those upper spaces.
As difficult as the structure is to make out in screen shots and matte renderings, I finally decided to make an attempt at a version for my current cargo bay project.
My first attempt at this is only meant to convey the basic shape and function that the forklift represents. I think I got the basics essentially correct, but I’ve yet to add any major details like hand controls or individual numbering and greebles. As for the features I had to improvise on, the forward grill section is complete artistic license, and I decided to make two different color versions purely for fun. Another deviation from the matte renders was the addition of the glowing rectangular insets along the platform’s outer edge. Though unnecessary to accuracy, I thought it would bring the design better in line with TMP design aesthetics since both on set props for the anti-grav devices depicted in the film had them. Still, I have another unaltered version of the platform in the model file serving as backup.
This forklift is an early low poly version of course, meant to be seen at discreet distances, but I thought it would be fun to play with the concept close up. Things looks rather tip worthy until you consider the cargo containers’ own self-floating capabilities.
Someday I might do a more detailed version, but I will need to come up with more filler features since it is difficult to make out the details of the on screen specimen.