Star Trek Beyond : inside the VFX of the Enterprise

G-Creative Productions provides advanced-media solutions for feature film and commercial productions. In addition to the WIRED piece above (focused on Atomic Fiction’s work), we spoke directly to G-Creative Production founder Gladys Tong who headed up the design and screen playback team. G-Creative Productions produce compelling imagery with targeted technology on some of the largest Visual effects tentpole films such as Batman vs. Superman, Godzilla, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, and many more.

fxg: for on set playback, how big is the task on Star Trek, – how complex can your work get for a large set like the bridge of the Enterprise – in terms of playback?

When you say big I immediately think of numbers of monitors. Some of our sets in previous films have been big in that sense – up to 100 monitors in one set all requiring playback live for shooting. However when I think of the Enterprise, I think big in another sense. There were probably about 35 monitors total in the Enterprise, so not our biggest set, but the Enterprise was big for me and my team. It is so iconic and having been around for 50 years, I would say the Enterprise was very big. Our playback had to perform live for the days we were shooting without failing. On top of it all, the set was being shaken during the shoot! 


fxg: We understand the designers work in layered Illustrator files and then they are animated by someone like Atomic Fiction?

No, actually we design and animate pretty much everything. In post, we even provide temp comps where we track, roto, and comp our shots to provide the graphics in context. This is extremely useful for creative approvals and for look development it helps move the shot closer to final as it is being evaluated with all the elements together. For Trek, we designed everything pretty much that required a graphical look including all the holograms you see. Then we animated in 2D and 3D depending on the the shot and provided the animation as separate layers and if required even rendered them to camera as separate passes. In Star Trek Beyond, we worked closely with the other vfx vendors so it was a wonderful collaborative work flow. 

fxg: And you also have completed sequences that your team run as live on set playback?

Yes, for Trek and many of our other film projects we provided live on-set playback during principal photography as well as post production graphics. In fact, we feel very privileged to be one of the few departments on the production who get to be part of the film project from the early pre-production phase all the way to post production. In fact we just delivered our graphics for Trek a few weeks ago before its final release this week.


fxg: There are so many screens, are all the screens live screens or are some backlit stills?

For Trek and most other film sets we work on, most of the displays are real screens. However, there are some backlit stills used. I would estimate that less than 3% of the displays are backlit stills. In some of the shots in Trek we were even asked in post to add animation to some of these stills. 

fxg: I notice in some shots there are graphics for the actors but the final shot has different graphics… so I assume you like to not have blank screens or green screen holes on a show like trek?

There are so many graphics and sets in Trek that I have to think of a specific situation… in most sets during shooting, we provide live graphics whenever possible. This is true for most films today. The narrative is continually evolving oftentimes even into post. When we are shooting a set we have to provide specific graphics even if we aren’t completely sure what that is! This is a really interesting part of my job since it requires anticipation and guess work. I often joke about having a crystal ball.

The purpose of doing this is to serve the creative process which includes providing visual context that can help in the performance of the actors as well as for interactive lighting in a set. This was true in the Enterprise.

fxg: how large is your team?

For Trek we had a team of 10.


Note: fxguide will have a longer piece on Star Trek’s other effects coming up.

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