I thought this would be a great opportunity to delve into the visual effects that go into making Voyage Trekkers since Episode 7 of Season 2, while it doesn’t have the most visual effects of any of our episodes (muahahaha, that’s our Season Finale!!), it does have the most diverse range of crafts and techniques in it, which made it both fun but extremely challenging.
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We didn’t HAVE to make a physical model for the freighter … but we WANTED to! It was a personal goal of mine to go old school for this shot, plus an added bonus that we had the grand master, David Stipes, was our Visual Effects Supervisor and shooting models was his wheelhouse on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager just to name a few. Model maker Mark Worley was kind enough to donate his time and create the model, and the talented students of the Art Institute of Phoenix, where David teaches, helped shoot it.
If there’s one thing I want to convey in this blog is that communication is key. As a director you’re going to have to really communicate to all the people involved on what the shot is and how it’s supposed to look like. Storyboards and concept art are key for this communication. The more you can give your artists the happier everyone is going to be.
Storyboards of the sequence, by David Stipes.
Mark’s model lit by the students of the Art Institute of Phoenix
Me and David. Yes this is the dorkiest picture we took that day.
Final shot of the model freighter and the CGI Remarkable, with added CG engine glow.
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CGI is not easy. It’s tough, very tough. But we were lucky to find another talented volunteer, this time with the amazing S.E. O’Brien of Sigil FX. Actually everyone on the series is a volunteer … ha ha, and not only does the director not get paid but he LOSES money! 🙂
Again with the importance of communication, animatics (which are crude versions of the final shot) are key in determining the motion and animation of the final shot. That’s when you want to change things, when it’s an animatic, and before you go and render out the real thing, and for an 8 second shot that could take nine hours.
Early version of the transit pod. We felt like it needed to be more “retro.”
S.E. O’Brien’s animatic of the transit pod as it leaves the ship.
Final shot, by Sigil FX.
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Compositing is about combining different elements together, such as green screen’d actor and a background. Now a bit of back story, this green screen shot was filmed in a panic. It was literally one of the hardest days of filming in my life. Not because of any one person, or anything scandalous, but just because of the sheer volume of technical hurdles and the amount of shots we had to get on the day. It was just crushing. We almost forgot this shot and we had to grab it quickly before we relit the entire set. Notice how there’s a C-stand intersecting with Adam’s arm? That meant whenever he moved his arm had to be rotoscoped (frame by frame animation that follows the outline of the actor’s arm to remove whatever it comes in contact with). This was David Stipes’ shot and the poor guy spent six hours rotoscoping Adam’s appendages. Sorry, David, my bad.
Before. A compositor’s nightmare.
This shot also combines a digital matte painting from Ryan Quackenbush, animated graphics from S.E. O’Brien, and the model by Mark, and then I went in and added digital panels to the consoles. I think this was the single shot that pretty much everyone was involved in!
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Speaking of matte paintings, we had a great digital matte painter, Ryan Quackenbush, on the project. He did the shuttle bay shot and door from Episode 1, and from Episode 7 the view screen, landing pad, and colony lobby. For the landing platform shot, I created crude concept art to not only convey the shot to Ryan, but to also figure out what I actually wanted to see in the first place.
My mock up for the perspective and angle of the shot.
Then my concept art to convey my idea of the shot, as I traced over the photo above in photoshop.
Ryan’s color sketch, to convey the tones and lighting of the shot.
After several sketches we came up with the idea that the base was built into the mountain.
Final shot, with added lighting effects, blurring, moving dust, and the CGI shuttle.
One of the things you always want to do with matte paintings is try to add as much life to it as possible to make it feel real. We added blur and lighting to give it dimension, moving dust elements and a lens flare to make the environment look alive. Sound effects always helps, of course, as does a cool landing shuttle!
You’ll notice in the following shot, with Sunstrike in the lobby of the colony base, he interacts with the environment as he passes over the sun, blocking a lens flare. All visual effects are illusions and often you find that you’re trying to draw the audience’s eye with movement (lighting, lens flares, dust, actors, etc.) so that they don’t scrutinize the shot and see how the trick is pulled off.
Ryan Quackenbush’s interior matte painting.
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The Little Things
While the adage “the best effects are the ones that no one notices” isn’t really true in sci-fi, there are a number of VFX shots in the episode that you really wouldn’t notice if I didn’t point them out. The make up for Jayda’s hands ended up looking really uneven so I had to rotoscope them blue for every damn close up he had.
I rotoscoped Jayda’s uneven make up. You can see, the hand on the right has already been fixed.
Pick up shoots: recreating the bridge. Craig Curtis as INFO and Nathan Stipes, the production designer, dressing him.
And the shots of Chief and INFO were all done months later as a pick up shoot and inserted into the episode. We pulled three flats out of storage and recreated a little corner of the bridge again.
So as you see a lot of different crafts and techniques went into making the effects Episode 7, an episode that in the end only clocks in at 7 minutes long. But because we knew this was going to be tricky episode, a lot of the work and conversations started 6 to 12 months ago.
But like I said, as tricky as this one was … this episode ain’t got nothing on the Season Finale! 🙂