Designing the Future’s Past

The Cage Console

These panels from “The Cage” use 50’s/60’s aircraft buttons.

The biggest challenge in designing the world of Axanar is designing with TOS in mind.  In the timeline, TOS comes 21 years after the events of Axanar.  The first season of TOS takes place in 2266, while Axanar takes place in 2245, the year of the launch of the Enterprise.  But TOS is an almost 50 year old vision of the future.  And it is a vision of the future built within a very strict 1960’s TV budget that frankly, looks VERY dated at times, while overall holding up rather well.  But it is still a 50 year old show and our vision of the future has changed radically in that time.

So you can’t simply go backwards from TOS 21 years or else you look like the Flash Gordon movie serial starring Buster Crabb!  Enterprise did the right thing, they moved FORWARD from our current time frame.  What would early warp flight look like knowing what we know now.

There are a whole group of fans who think you have to be slavish to the limitations of TOS and its 1960’s vision of the future (which used 1950’s tech in many cases).  They think this is “canon” and so we have to look OLDER than TOS.

TOS Console 1

Well, we just disagree.  No film maker is going to make a TOS era Star Trek today and use 50 year old cheap buttons, switches and toggles.  Because NO ONE thinks that is the way our future will look and most viewers won’t accept that as anything but cheesy.  Sure, TOS purists love it, and it is nostalgic to see those 60’s sets, but that is a tiny minority.  And for you people, there are Star Trek fan films, who do a wonderful job of slavishly re-creating the look of that time, most notably Star Trek: New Voyages, which has the most accurate sets out there. (There are actually 3 TOS bridge sets in the USA, New York, Georgia and Oklahoma).

TOS Console Catspaw

The famous jelly bean style buttons made in an ice cube tray.

TOS Console FridaysChild

A variety of antiquated buttons

Now on the other hand, we can’t go all Minority Report on the interfaces, as that is too different from TOS. We want to show a universe that at least looks similar. One where a viewer can draw a line between two periods. I happen to think that the USS Kelvin actually did a fair job of this as their bridge LOOKED like it was a Star Trek bridge.  Now JJ didn’t carry that over to other things.  His Enterprise is hideous and his Klingon Bird of Prey makes no sense.  But for the USS Kelvin, (which was 2233) and the Kobayashi Maru simulator that it shared components with, you could see a Star Trek lineage.  There were cues from both Enterprise 72 years earlier, and TOS.  Round bridge, big captains chair etc.  It wasn’t SO out of line with Enterprise and TOS.

Kelvin Bridge

USS Kelvin, Star Trek 2009

Now the USS Ares bridge will be VERY close to a TOS bridge because we are building a TOS bridge basically, and then finishing it with different consoles, monitors and stations in the command well (and a different Captain’s chair!).  That way we stay close to TOS but don’t look like bad 50’s Sci Fi.  I think Star Trek fans will love it.


So how do these differences show up?  How do we take a modern look at classic Star Trek?  Well, let’s take a look at our consoles.  While the bridge will be basically the same, every monitor and panel will be different.

TOS Communications panel (courtesy TOSgraphics.com):

Comm Station

USS Ares concept art for communications panel:


The idea is we can swap the panels out to make a TOS bridge if we want as well.  And yes, 2001 is a major design influence because of its timelessness.  That is a movie, that 50 years later, still looks like a possible future.

So don’t tell me we need to look older than TOS.  That is simply not going to happen.  But what we will do is, as we did in Prelude to Axanar, evolve the universe and show you how you make Star Trek look cool again.



  • BL says:

    I wont complain if you do a mix of TOS and 2001 🙂

  • Marcel says:

    Just keep in mind: Enterprise (ENT) definitely IS canon and they thought forward as well. I don’t think that much changed within those 21 years, but your consoles look like something LCARs could evolve out.

    • Dino says:

      The panels have sort of an Undiscovered Country / Excelsior feel to them – in a good way. Agreed, you can see an evolution to “LCARS”.

  • James Lytle says:

    This is perfect. Personally I think that’s where the fan shows are falling short, bringing the best things of TOS to modern fans who look at the jelly beans and go nahhhhhh and turn away.

    Can’t wait.

  • James says:

    I was just thinking, how funny would it be to show a single touch screen interface and a bridge officer comments while using it “i hate these things” 😉

  • Things are really starting to come together! All I can say is, old fans will be happy, and new fans will be intrigued. It’s going to be that good.

  • Ken says:

    Happy with your approach. I look at the tablets in next gen and even the computer screens in ST Enterprise and they look outdated now! I would hate for the controls of the Ares to look 50 years behind what SpaceX’s Dragon V2 has!

  • Brenda says:

    I watched TOS in the 60s first run of the show and loved it and the ship and I love what I’ve seen of this ship. The concept of the consoles should be up dated, from the 60s it needs to be to be taken seriously.

  • Mike G says:

    I think that you are approaching it in the proper fashion—my god–you cannot have an advanced star ship a few hundred years in the future, look like it was built before our only current earth space craft, the ISS. If you see the places that they are doing studies beyond the ship, you see modern computers, monitors and such—-they also did a very good job when they created the sets for the NX-01 for Enterprise. You need to just take that a step further.

    You can be sure that if Gene Roddenberry and his production people in the late 1960s, had gotten a much bigger budget for making the control sets when they did the original Trek, you can be sure that they would have made the sets much more advanced. As it was, they did one helluva job in making things as believable as possible considering that they had like about the equal of about a thousand bucks to make the sets for TOS.

    Look at what they did when they made the first few Trek major motion pictures. They wound up using actual computer readouts in those productions, from I recall seeing in one report done on the movies at the time.

  • Jerry says:

    I’m also happy with your approach. I just want the bridge to look like it might be real. If the story is great, the bridge to me will be a bit of icing and that’s the way it should be.

  • Lee Benjamin says:

    Fantastic article! Hater’s gonna hate, but I still believe you and Axanar are on the one true path to new Star Trek. 🙂

  • Rich N says:

    The vision of Star Trek is to show a possible future, so kudos for making every effort to keep it plausible. I remember part of the draw when TOS first came out was its forward-leaning technology (at that time). People aren’t going to get excited about a future they can’t believe in.

  • Kenneth Wagner says:

    A good argument I heard made to a person complaining about the different tech looks between TOS and ST:ENT was this: Star Fleet found out as you go deeper into space, things can go horribly wrong. Ship system failures, combat or natural disaster may render critical areas depressurized requiring the use of space suits to enter and access those systems. Ever try to use a touch screen wearing thick gloves? Thus the “dumbing down” to buttons and toggles by the TOS timeframe.” Just a thought to pacify the rabid purists. Great work and I’m looking forward to the release!

  • Tim says:

    I think you have the right idea, I believe when re-visiting an old show you have to ask what the original designers would have come up with given today’s aesthetics and budget. I think your idea will work along those lines.

  • Christian Gomez says:

    Will the bridge of the USS Ares have two turbo lifts/doors or just one like the TOS Enterprise bridge? Which ever you choose I am sure will look great, the thought of two turbo lifts/doors in a more or less TOS-style bridge does sound very appealing aesthetically! 🙂 Looking forward to the voyages of the Starship Ares. Thanks


  • Hi Alec!

    Excellent article and explanation of your approach, including photo references…! =)

    I consider myself a “TOS Purist”, and I approve 100%! Your love and knowledge of Star Trek really shows!

    Your (re)configurable bridge KICKS @$$!! =D (…would love to see Cage or Mirror dressings!) <3

    Are your panels supposed to be touch-screens? hopefully it will not be all "flat"? …would still like to see some tactile 3D interface w/ safety interlocks, etc…

    …and i actually kinda like those goose-neck lamps from the Cage bridge =P

  • John Willis says:

    Don’t you think SkeuMorphism has a place in the future? I mean Voyager had all those Buster Crabb rocket controls for the warp drive.. how about some Fine Corinthian Leather on the Captain’s seat?

  • Duane says:

    Love the 2001 influence. Dying to know what other sets you are building. I’ve seen a concept image for a corridor but I don’t think I’ve seen anything else.

  • Jonas Klose says:

    You’re doing great, guys. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I don’t know when and I’ve seen TOS, TNG, VOY, DSN and ENT. It’s the right decision to go more like ENT style and to replace things that don’t make sense anymore with things that do.

    My design input, if you do read it, would be that you should have another look at the Excelsior bridge from Star Trek 6.

    That’s the best-looking bridge in this era that’s still cannon.

  • Lawrence Fisher says:

    I always have an explanation ready for those who complain about the low tech bridge in TOS:

    Earlier starships were unable to provide adequate shielding in the bridge to support sensitive electronics, so the bridge on the TOS enterprise was forced to use descrete switches and a 48V old style Avionics Bus

    The higher voltage and descrete switches allowed the system to handle the Elector Magnetic Pulse (EMP) transients when going into and out of warp drive.

    Newer vessels got the benefit of improved EM shielding, thus allowing for the use of lower voltage integrated circuits (and isolinear chips).

  • Brad Erickson says:

    This is the correct philosophy here. You can make the nod to TOS and Enterprise but, make it as we would make it today. I’m sure if Roddenberry had the resources, he would have used the best he could get. Will not miss the goose-neck displays. Stay on your path.

  • John Willis says:

    It’s been said ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) was the natural progresion of what the “Beatles” [would have] become had they stayed together. In the same way TOS was the natural progression of “Forbidden Planet” for the day.. toned down a bit for television and made more cerbreal by the “off screen” action and symphonic music.. was there ever a Star Trek Series that “failed” when it included Horns in the orchestra composition? Going [‘Back to the Future’] with Axanar is a wonderful Step in the right direction.. its the evolution of Trek from its beginnings.. taking the nod and extending it in a more natural direction.. a progression back to the realistic and futuristic that we somehow Lost in the 70’s and 80’s and Zoned out from in the 90’s and 00’s. Its a wonderful return to the “True Path” for future history..