As a child, Andrew Probert enjoyed drawing the world of the future, featuring rockets, ships, and spacecraft of all sorts. At one point, his stepfather told him that he needed to “start drawing something practical because you’ll never make money drawing spaceships.” 

We’re all lucky that Probert ignored that “sage” advice. 

If he hadn’t, then the world would have never seen the beautiful re-imagining of the Enterprise-A and organically influenced Enterprise-D, among others. Probert’s designs would influence decades of design in Star Trek and other franchises beyond. 

Growing up, Probert loved all the science fiction shows that were available. Still, one show that was science, yet not fiction, was his favorite. In the 1950s, Disney’s Man in Space was an inspiration, hosted by scientist Werner von Brown, explaining what was possible with rockets and a possible trip to the moon. While in the 1960s, Probert was an enormous fan of Star Trek. These two shows had an huge impact on Probert.

A selfie with the Enterprise. Probert was part of a team picked to restore the original Enterprise from the 1960s. Courtesy of Andrew Probert
A selfie with the Enterprise. Probert was part of a team picked to restore the original Enterprise from the 1960s. Courtesy of Andrew Probert

Even before he started as a professional, Probert’s drawings had a realistic quality to them. His spaceships looked like something that could actually be built and operate. He decided to enroll at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. During his time as a student, he had an epiphany, in 1977 when Star Wars debuted. 

When Probert researched the ships’ design art in Star Wars, he learned that they were created by the legendary designer Ralph McQuarrie, and then did something that is simply impossible today.

“I got out the Los Angeles phone book and looked him up,” said Probert. McQuarrie answered, and Probert said that he wanted to interview McQuarrie for the school newspaper. McQuarrie agreed. 

After Probert’s article on McQuarrie ran, McQuarrie recommended that Probert do design work on a new television movie called “Star World.” It turns out that “Star World” would be known to audiences as Battlestar Galactica. Probert designed the iconic chrome Cylons, which he based on ancient Greek warriors. 

“I was a Trekker from day one,” said Probert. George Lucas asked McQuarrie to work on “Star Wars II,” so McQuarrie passed along Probert’s name, as a replacement candidate. 

The Cylon’s final look changed, when translating Probert’s design into a wearable costume, causing a lawsuit between the owners of the Cylon and Darth Vader, as the former’s face mask looked too similar to Vader’s.

Probert finished the Battlestar Galactica pilot episode and went back to school. Soon after, McQuarrie contacted Probert to see if he wanted to work on a new film — Star Trek: The Motion Picture, on which he was working.  Probert leaped at the chance.

“I was a Trekker from day one,” said Probert. George Lucas asked McQuarrie to work on “Star Wars II,” so McQuarrie passed along Probert’s name, as a replacement candidate. 

Probert went to work for Robert Abel and Associates as a designer for The Motion Picture. His job was to do concept sketches for all the humanoid spacecraft in the film. 

“I sort of jumped in at the top,” Probert said with a laugh. From that job, Probert created the look of the interior of the Klingon battlecruiser, the Vulcan long-range shuttle, the orbital drydock, the shuttle pods, the “space office complex and, with the FX Art Director, Richard Taylor, the Enterprise.” 

The designs that Probert created for TMP in 1978 are still in use today by Paramount and CBS All Access Trek productions. The “space office complex,” which eventually was succeeded by the “Spacedock,” was featured in the famous Star Trek III scene “Stealing the Enterprise,” which can be seen in the poster art for the latest Trek show — Lower Decks

If you ask him, he’ll say that his favorite ship design that he ever created was the Vulcan long-range shuttle (which is supposed to be a Vulcan / Federation coproduction). Probert designed the ship to be small but noting that it had to have the large nacelles to get Spock from Vulcan to rendezvous with the Enterprise. Probert designed the nacelles to come off the shuttle, so the pod could separate and dock with the Enterprise. 

This was such a good design idea, that Probert points out, it was used in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones on a ship piloted by Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

The Vulcan long-range shuttle from The Motion Picture is Probert's favorite vehicle that he designed. Courtesy of Paramount
The Vulcan long-range shuttle from The Motion Picture is Probert’s favorite vehicle that he designed. Courtesy of Paramount

The biggest job, though, was recreating the Enterprise for film. The crew planned to use a version of the Enterprise prepared for the aborted Star Trek: Phase II television series. Still, Probert says that film effects Art Director Richard Taylor made it clear that the Phase II model was too small. 

The nacelles for the new Enterprise were designed by Taylor, who wanted Probert to incorporate their Art Deco theme over the rest of the ship’s exterior. Consequently, their Enterprise-Refit is still considered by many to be the most beloved Star Trek ship design ever created. 

Probert’s mantra of realism took a hit when the special effects team on The Motion Picture was replaced by Doug Trumbull after Paramount realized that with Robert Abel’s effects team was not producing what the film needed, within the short time allowed. Trumbull took charge and added self illuminating lights to the Enterprise, where there were none before, looking great in the finished product.

Probert remembers those times well, especially getting to know Star Trek’s creator — Gene Roddenberry. Probert worked closely on the design of various pieces, with Roddenberry, whose idea of the little Travel Pod looking like one of the office units, on the Space Office Complex ultimately didn’t make it into the film. 

“I want that to look like one of the units from the Space Office Complex,” said Roddenberry, according to Probert, “like it was part of the station… and it will break away from the station, as kind of a surprise to the audience.”  Ultimately, when the design changed, that didn’t happen.

Probert and Taylor's Enterprise, as seen in The Motion Picture. Courtesy of Paramount
Probert and Taylor’s Enterprise, as seen in The Motion Picture. Courtesy of Paramount

He said that working with Roddenberry was something of a dream come true.

“I respected him beyond anyone else,” said Probert. “I was gob-smacked [to be working with Roddenberry].”

Even while Probert was in “awe” of him, the experience with Roddenberry was terrific, but one that he thought he’d not ever get to do again once The Motion Picture production finished.

At this point, Probert needed to decide whether he wanted to be a designer for films or for industrial applications, as his classes at Art Center College of Design prepared him for, and he had many conversations with his wife on this fork in his career road.  

“After Star Trek, I applied for work as a Designer at the highly respected design company: Frog Design, near San Francisco”, said Probert. The people at Frog asked him what he had designed, and, when he told them “the spaceships in Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, they said he hadn’t designed anything “real,” telling him to call back after he had. That helped make the decision easy.

“I respected him beyond anyone else,” said Probert. “I was gob-smacked [to be working with Roddenberry].”

After Trek, Probert’s time was full of incredible projects. He worked on the television series AirWolf, which was about an advanced and mysterious helicopter. Probert took a standard Bell 222 chopper and gave it a futuristic look like no other. 

Probert worked on Back to the Future, contributing to the DeLorean time machine design; he provided storyboards for Steven Spielberg on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and designed an advanced motorcycle for another series called StreetHawk, which could alter its looks and features, depending on the terrain or adversary. He also spent some time working on TRON as well. He even worked for The Jackson Five, designing marketing materials for their comeback “Victory Tour” in 1984. 

Then, in 1986, his involvement with Star Trek reached a new level when he became the fifth person hired on Paramount’s new series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. His mission was to provide concept designs for the new Enterprise bridge. What he created was a stunning and futuristic upgrade to the standard bridge (as seen in The Original Series and the films). 

His bridge design included a divided helm and navigation station, so the new captain of the ship (who would be Patrick Stewart) would not have to walk around a long console to reach the view screen. 

Andrew Probert's masterpiece — The U.S.S. Enterprise-D. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount
Andrew Probert’s masterpiece — The U.S.S. Enterprise-D. Courtesy of CBS / Paramount

“Gene’s edict at the time was that he wanted the bridge to be much larger than what we’d seen before,” said Probert. “And that the viewscreen was to dominate the whole front of the bridge.”  Later, it was decided to reduce that viewscreen, due to green-screen limitations.

He included many other innovations, including the reclined seats (where Data and Geordi would sit) and also suggested a side alcove/break area that could be used by the bridge crew, should they get stuck on the bridge for an extended time. 

While working on the inside of the Enterprise, Probert also sketched a few ideas for what he thought a starship built 85 years after his Enterprise-A might look like. Writer David Gerrold, who was working with Roddenberry to launch the new series, grabbed the sketch from Probert’s desk and showed it to the producers — who loved it.

He based his designs on an organic aesthetic, which gave the Enterprise-D a rounded look. Many fans think this is “aerodynamic,” but there is no air in space for a ship to cut through. Probert designed the Enterprise-D to take advantage of the strength of organic shapes, hence the curves from the saucer to the engineering hull, from the pylons into the nacelles.  

The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, with Probert in 1987. Courtesy of Andrew Probert
The creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, with Probert in 1987. Courtesy of Andrew Probert

Like many of his designs before, Probert’s Enterprise-D was not just something to battle in space or look good on screen (though it did). Probert considered the practicalities of starship design, including docking rings in strategic places, life boats, and more. Probert says that his Enterprise-D was supposed to be exactly 2,000 feet in length, but someone overrode him.

“When I presented my final line drawing and side elevation of the ship, for Gene’s final approval, before it goes to ILM (Industrial Light and Magic), he looked at it,” said Probert. “He said, ‘Can you make these engines a little longer?’”

Probert agreed, saying that he pulled the engines back “just enough” to please Roddenberry, making it now 2,180 feet long instead of the even 2,000 he wanted. 

Because of his new flagship, Probert eventually designed every major ship that appeared in the first season of The Next Generation, including those of the Ferengi and Romulans. 

If you’ve seen Star Trek: Generations, Probert wants to apologize to you. He feels personally responsible for the destruction of the Enterprise-D.

“I forgot to add the damn landing pads,” said Probert. “I put all kinds of other stuff down there — ginormous cargo doors, the captain’s yacht, and other things.”

Probert (far right) and the team of Trek experts charged with restoring the 1960s Enterprise TV model in 2004. He was joined by Rick Sternbach, Adam Schneider, Dr. Margaret A. Weitekamp, Gary Kerr, Denise and Mike Okuda, John Goodson, and John Van Citters. Photo courtesy of Andrew Probert
Probert (far right) and the team of Trek experts charged with restoring the 1960s Enterprise TV model in 2014. He was joined by Rick Sternbach, Adam Schneider, Dr. Margaret A. Weitekamp, Gary Kerr, Denise and Mike Okuda, John Goodson, and John Van Citters. Photo courtesy of Andrew Probert

He said that if he added the landing pads for the saucer section like he intended to do back in 1986, the Enterprise-D would, hopefully not, have crashed. 

Probert’s designs laid the groundwork for the triumphant return for Star Trek to television, becoming the “Trek” to a new group of fans — Generation X. The styles he created are still in use to the day, while sometimes modified. You can see a slightly different version of his Spacedock design in Star Trek (2009), and the U.S.S. Cerritos in Lower Decks is clearly based on Probert’s Enterprise-D.

After The Next Generation, Probert worked for Disney, as a show designer for Walt Disney Imagineering, and pioneered the use of CGI 3D visualizations for design projects and display. Years later, he became involved in video games, designing for both Trek-related titles and other products.

When he thought he had moved beyond Star Trek, he was drafted into service one more time. Probert was asked to join a group of Trek experts brought into the Smithsonian to oversee the renovation of The Original SeriesEnterprise, created by the late Matt Jeffries. Probert joined Michael and Denise Okuda and the team to help formulate the best way of insuring a way the original prop ship could be restored and put back on display in 2004. 

Star Trek — both the franchise and fans — owe Probert a debt for his clean and beautiful vision of what a future could look like. 

Probert is now semi-retired but continues taking jobs on occasion. He recently consulted on a few designs for the Trek pastiche, The Orville, and has been involved in a number of still-in-production projects.

While others might consider slowing down or taking on a new hobby — Probert, is an accomplished painter as well — doesn’t see that happening. Working on new concepts and forming someone’s ideas into practical and believable looks is something he looks forward to. 

Star Trek — both the franchise and fans — owe Probert a debt for his clean and beautiful vision of what a future could look like. 

Probert shrugs off praise like that. For him, the work on Star Trek and the other franchises is just what he does.

“I just love creating new things”, said Probert.