To make a science fiction movie believable, in addition to building sets, special effects have to be imagined and then created.
As reported by CGSociety, two companies handled the approximately nine hundred and fifty visual effects shots for Star Trek XI, with eight hundred of the shots coming from Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and the rest coming from Digital Domain (DD,) all of which were completed in six months.
Russell Earl, ILM co-visual effects supervisor explained how to fulfill Director J.J. Abrams need for reality-based effects. “We tried to develop different, what we called neighborhoods in space,” he said. “We didn’t just want a black void of space with stars. There are different beats in the film, so we have distinct areas.”
Models were not used for the ships; which ranged from shuttlecraft, to the 2,357 foot long Enterprise, to the five mile long Narada. The team studied real life vessels, such as cruise ships, for reference. “When you really look at something like a cruise ship or a Naval vessel you see just how much imperfection there is,” said Earl. “We spent a lot of time trying to bring that same imperfection into the perfect CG world. A lot of times you build a ship and dirty it down and that instantly makes it feel more real, but the Enterprise was supposed to be a new ship. We tried to build it in modules with final LOD (Level Of Detail), built some elements for hero shots, and tricked it out for when you see it up close.”
In addition to designing ships, the jump sequence and the Vulcan planet implosion had to be created, one of which took two hundred and fifty shots. “It was some of the first stuff in and the last stuff out,” said Compositing Supervisor Eddie Pasquarello. “I spent my day constantly dealing with all the compositing issues as well as well as keeping sequences on track, making sure that we are doing things in a linear fashion, everything from the compositing to the roto paint. It’s a little like whack-a-mole. Things keep popping up and you hammer on them all day long.”
A tool named “Fracture” was built by ILM to break apart the planet. It was altered to handle the ship destruction as well. “We realized that procedure looked very rock-like which worked great for the planet and the landscapes, but didn’t work for the space ships, so we came up with a different technique,” said Michael DiComo, ILM digital production supervisor. “It was still part of Fracture but used a different pattern to break it up, a rectilinear pattern to look more like panels. Again it was user controls combined with procedural controls so you get the best of both worlds. You could pick the size the panels were, and how thick they were.”
Digital Domain (DD) handled parts of the movie such as the sequence where Scotty is whooshed through the liquid-filled pipes in Engineering. “We called it the habit trail [but] no animals were harmed,” said Darren Poe, DD’s digital fx supervisor.
DD also handled character work such as the robot policeman who chased young Kirk early on in the film, as well as face details of Keenser, Scotty’s little alien friend.
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