Trivia

Hard

In Sci-Fi Set Design, “Greebling” Is the Process of Adding?

3D Texturing and Details
Grunge
RGB Lighting
Alien Lettering
The Enterprise 1701-D facing a cube-shaped Borg ship, a classic example of greebling.
Paramount Domestic Television/CBS Television Distribution

Answer: 3D Texturing and Details

When you think of sci-fi TV shows and film design, what’s something that unifies practically every ship across the multitude of universes? Stuff. Lots of stuff. Pipes, panels, ports, alcoves, bays, cabling, bolt heads, rivets, ducting, sprockets, valves, handles, footholds, you name it and the ships and the sets of our favorite sci-fi franchises are dripping with it.

“It”, broadly speaking, is greeble. Greeble is the fine detailing added to objects in sci-fi set design to create a more complex and visually interesting surface for the viewer to look at. While some sci-fi goes the route of portraying alien (and even human) ships and creations as smooth and ultra modern looking, the vast majority of sci-fi portrayals of ships and civilizations from Star Trek to Babylon 5 to Star Wars, and more, all portray the future as a place just bursting with textures thanks to the multitude of ducts, cables, and various bits and pieces required to keep futuristic technology running. The picture here shows a particularly jam-packed example of a heavily greebled ship: the Borg cube from the Star Trek universe.

The term “greeble” was coined by designers working on the special effects for Star Wars, and while that term caught on, other terms have been used to describe the same principle. Ron Thornton and the crew working on Babylon 5 called then “nurnies”. The team working on the set design for 2001: A Space Odyssey called them “wiggets”. Whatever you call them, though, they’re integral to the public perception of what constitutes sci-fi worlds and what we’ve all come to expect.

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