Cathy Foil is a creator of note. Among her many talents, she was the first to introduce fully sculpted foot in SL and put it in a high heel; she is the creator of the MayaStar mesh rigging plug-in for Maya, and she is, alongside the AvaStar folk, one of the prime movers in the Bento project. She is also a huge fan of The Original Series of Star TrekTM.
How big a fan, you ask? Well, let me put it to you this way: in 2008, before the birth of mesh in Second Life, she start started building an avatar-sized, scale replica of the Enterprise itself. Almost two regions in length, with interiors from the Bridge to Engineering, it was a huge undertaking – albeit unfinished.
Part of the ship is currently once again rezzed in-world, although unfortunately in a location that is not open for public access. However, given July is being used to mark the 50th anniversary of Star TrekTM with the release of the 3rd film instalment from the “Abramaverse”, I took the opportunity to join Cathy on a tour of the original starship Enterprise NCC-1701.
“You best be in Mouselook when we beam up to her,” Cathy informed me as we arrived at two innocent-looking transporter disks lying in the sand. Following her instructions I stood on a pad, brought up the menu and slipped into Mouselook before alt-clicking my destination: Mr. Kylie’s Transporter Room 6. For a second, nothing happened; then a familiar hum filling the air, the beach before me started to sparkle, my universe flickered for a second, then the sparkling and noise faded and the transporter room emerged out of the glow.
Never have I felt quite so “on” the Enterprise as I did at that moment; stepping off the pad, I expected to see Mr. Kylie himself behind the transporter station and then hear that magical high-pitched hiss of the doors as Kirk and Spock arrived.
“The entire project took about eighteen months to get this far,” Cathy said as I admired the transporter, the control console and monitoring station, all beautifully re-created in prims and sculpts. “Most of the ship is rendered as sculpts with prim walls and floors,” Cathy said, leading me to the door which did give that squeaky hiss of opening at we approached. “That way we could reduce the prim count and make things manageable.” Sculpts they may be, but sculpts designed with care: no waiting for things to pop into existence in my view at all during the tour.
The corridors outside were equally marvels: the familiar bold colours born of 1960s colour television programming, the intercoms at junctions, the gaudy doors (behind which, and depending upon which deck you’re on, sit crew quarters, officers quarters, the sickbay, briefing rooms, offices, and main engineering), doors hissing in greeting or departure as you enter / leave. At the end of many of the corridors sit the familiar triangle archway of a turbolift station.
“These are all a single sculpt,” Cathy told me, as we walked to one of the arches, triggering an automatic call for a turbolift. “It includes the walls that connect the archway to the sides of the corridor so everything blends.” The car arrived and we stepped in. Touching the familiar handles gave a choice of destination. We headed for the Bridge.
“Most of the ship, including the textures, I made,” Cathy said in answer to my question as another spine-tingling sound – that of a turbolift in operation – filled the air. “Lora Chadbourne also contributed the shuttlecraft bay and some of the consoles like the monitoring console in the transporter room, another builder produced the interiors of the warp nacelles.”
The detail is extraordinary. The bridge stations are all painstakingly reproduced, the centre seat has the expected wood trim, Spock’s science station has the familiar scanner. Elements within the bridge are interactive. Touch the helm console, and up come a range of options – go to warp, fire phasers or photon torpedoes, accelerate to warp 8, etc., while the viewscreen offers a range of images, including that of the destroyed USS Constellation, as seen in the episode The Doomsday Machine and the Romulan Warbird from Balance of Terror. And all around are the familiar background noises.
This level of detail and interaction is present throughout the ship – as are the ambient sounds. Back in the transporter room for example, you can toggle switches and operate the famous transporter activation sliders, while in Engineering, you can examine the ship’s dilithium crystals in their rack. A clever “stacked” use of textures gives an excellent a 3D effect in grilles and grates.
Drop into the briefing room, and you can flick individual rocker switches, call up images on the tri-screen, or use the intercom to call someone elsewhere in the ship. Down the corridor at the ship’s medical facilities you can work out to “Bones” McCoy’s satisfaction or pop into his lab where he has one of the parasites from Operation: Annihilate! under observation – although the little bugger is not averse to getting loose! Against the back wall of the lab sits the decompression chamber from Space Seed nearby. With working food replicators in the mess hall (fortunately tribble-free) and all the ambient sounds from the original, this is s ship that is really alive.
To ensure accuracy, Cathy used a mix of the Franz Joseph blueprints from the ship, together with plans from the studio in laying out the interior spaces, although as she notes, she had to upscale things a little. “The whole ship is like 115% to scale, she said. “Had to be bigger than 100% because average male avatar in SL is like 7 feet tall, and then there is the camera position on top of that!”
As note above, the ship isn’t a completed model. Circumstance brought the project to a halt in 2009 when the two regions over which the Enterprise was located were let go, ending all Trek role-play there. When touring the ship, signs that it is still a work-in-progress can be found on the floors, some of which are textured with copies of the original Desilu Studio set plans from the show. Rather than detracting from the model, these add a further layer of authenticity and care in its construction.
Having passed through the crew quarters and shipboard facilities, Cathy offered to take me on a shuttlecraft flight around the ship, so we headed aft to the shuttle bay. Built by Lora Chadbourne, this is another marvel, encompassing the main launch bay with hanger spaces beneath, the launch control centre, observation decks and the VIP passenger lounge. A more recent addition here is a mesh model of the shuttlecraft Galileo from The Galileo 7, and made by PC101 Flow. Boarding it in preparation for out flight, I asked Cathy what prompted her to build a scale replica of the most famous starship in history.
“I’m old enough to remember The Original Series when it first aired.” she replied candidly. “I was like 4 and 5 years old, so some of my earliest memories are of watching all the TOS episode every day after school and growing up in the 70s. So it’s is my first love so to speak.”
The idea behind the model was to offer a location for Trek-related role-play in Second Life, having grown out of a much smaller Enterprise (125m long), with a bridge model occupying the middle of the primary hull. It saw service for a time in role-play, but a bigger space was really need, so Cathy started to use the two regions where that model was located to work on this model. Unfortunately, the regions where the model was place folded for non-tier issues.
“I’d really love to have it rezzed some place so people could visit it,” Cathy states. “I had hoped to make a Star TrekTM sim and have a group fee every month and use that to cover tier. When we were making the first TOS full size ship we had like 2000 group members.” Which, if such numbers could be maintained, could be enough to charge a very modest monthly fee and cover tier for, say, a full and homestead region – room enough to build the ship and have planetary surfaces to explore. “I don’t want to make money from it,” Cathy adds. “It was built for RP.”
Sadly, the Enterprise is rezzed over the region where Project Bento was first discussed, and access is thus restricted to NDA signatories whose names are on the access list – hence why there are no SLurls given here. “I wish the Lab would open it up so anyone who wanted to see the ship could,” Cathy says wistfully as we fly the shuttlecraft back towards the stern of the ship. As it is, having just the one region available to place the ship mean the Enterprise is slightly rudely cut in two: there isn’t room for the full length of her warp engines, so these have been truncated, and Cathy has instead put up a “wormhole” effect on one side of the region’s boundary, making it look as if the ship is emerging from it.
What made her unbox it here, I wondered? “Oh, it came out of a joke!” Cathy replied. “Flea [Bussy, another content creator invited into the early Bento discussions by the Lab] knew I had another starship model – the Defiant, a Miranda class ship from the original series. He said I should crash it into the island as a joke. So, on the last official meeting before Bento went public, I did!” In fact, those with a keen eye may see that the Enterprise bridge actually appears in The Drax Files World Makers segment on Bento, where Cathy discusses the project with images superimposed on the main view screen.
I wondered if she had considered updating the Enterprise to mesh. “I’ve thought of it, yes!” she laughed. “But it’s a matter of time. I have to focus on things. I have built a full size model of the Enterprise D in mesh – but that takes six regions to rez!”
Mesh or sculpts and prims, Cathy’s model of the USS Enterprise is a wonder to behold: a labour of love, rich in detail – much of which I’ve barely touched upon. It is literally breath-taking for any fan of Star Trek’s original outing, one I’d also like to see more people enjoy. In the meantime, I hope that the images I’ve posted here give some idea of its impressive beauty.
My thanks to Cathy for her time, and for taking me on a tour.