Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Starship Ajax

A little heads up on a new project that I will be contributing to - 'Starship Ajax'. This is a new Trek fan production gearing up in Oklahoma City. The production crew have managed to aquire a full bridge set from the now 'on hold' 'Starship Exeter' - They have secured hanger/warehouse space and will be erecting a number of standing TOS sets which they aim to offer to other productions to use.

The USS Ajax, NCC-547 is shown in the original Frank Joseph 'Star Fleet Technical Manual' originally released in the 1970's and still available today.

It is classified as a Class I Destroyer or the Saladin class. It even gets a nod from official Trek canon, having been featured on bridge displays seen in the background in ST:TWOK.

What has attracted me to this project is a desire to re-create the look of the 60's style effects. Rather than the shiny new, photoreal effects of other productions, they want the work to look and feel as close to original Trek as possible. These limitation make for an interesting technical challenge - rather than building a full scale CG spaceship and placing it in a physically real space environment, the approach will be to build a ship in scale to the original TOS 11 foot Enterprise miniature and light and film it as if it is in a studio. May not be to everyones taste, but it does represent a chance to try something different.

My first task is to build the venerable Ajax herself.

Very much a work in progress at the moment, but she is starting to take shape nicely.

More to follow.

Classic Galactica Shuttle

This model is testament to how much things have changed in the last 10 or so years. I originally built a version of this back in the dim and distant years of the last century - 1999 to be exact. The original was based off some very fuzzy screen captures made by freeze framing the original Galactica pilot - 'Saga of a Star World' - on VHS. Remember that format - $20 per tape - each tape only containing 2 episodes - each tape at considerable risk of being eaten alive by your misbehaving VHS player, never to be played again. Now we grizzle if a season box set on DVD or even Blu-Ray is more than $60, and chewed tapes are replaced by DVD rot!

At the time, I was rather chuffed with this version - even released it out on to the net for other people to use - oh, those heady, young naive days of the early internets. Oddly enough, even now, a decade later it is still hanging around on a few websites, forlornly waiting for someone to download it.

Fast forward to about 2006. The 'net is now awash with reference material of the original shuttle model, there are photos by the bucketload and even a few decent garage kits making it onto the market. The model even makes a guest appearance in the pilot mini-series for RDM's re-imagined Galactica. I look at my old shuttle model and set myself the task of redoing it and upgrading it to get a closer representation of the original.

If wishes were horses...

2010 arrives. Now I have discovered the wonderful world of studio scale modelers. These obsessive compulsive types spend hours analysing the old kit bashed miniatures of the pre digital VFX age, drawing up lists and references of the various kit parts that were used by the likes of ILM and Apogee to decorate their construction. Now I not only have reference images of the original, I also have a list of the parts used and reference images for those individual parts! I finally set to work...

Thanks to the ever, nay exponentially, increasing availability of information via the 'net, I am now able to build a much more accurate version of the original with reasonable approximations of the sundry kit pieces that adorn its shell. Not to mention that computers are now powerful enough to handle all of that detailed polygonal data without keeling over and quietly expiring.

Now I just have to get around to texturing it...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Star Trek: Of Gods and Men

'Star Trek: Of Gods and Men' - or STOGAM to those who like there acronyms - was a large scale project that straddled a borderline between a fan film and an independent production. It boasted luminaries from all generations of the Trek franchise both in front of and behind the camera. It was the closest I felt I was ever going to get to working on a Trek 'feature' so I put my hand up to assist with the VFX workload.
It proved to be an international team - Roland Baron from Canada, Wil Jaspers over in Europe, Bill Thomas and Chris Dawson in the US and your truly here in Australia. We came to the table with a disparate mix of software - Blender, 3DS Max and Lightwave - and for reasons that escape me, other than perhaps blind optimism, I offered to be the translation guy taking models and animation from one package and converting them over so that the team could work as a cohesive whole.

The images above are Lightwave conversions of Roland's 3DS MAX 1701-M (see the film for the explanation of the M) and the Lightwave conversions of Wil's villainous 3DS MAX Conqueror. They are an attempt to produce final results as close as possible to Rob Bonchune's shot of the USS Defiant from 'Enterprise'. I was pretty chuffed with the results

Next up were some designs for a possible Federation fighter. We all pitched in various designs, myself included.

A decision to try and use an existing X-Wing cockpit set to film inserts for pilot shots put paid to my design, but I think Roland took the MAX conversion and had fun using them as cannon fodder in the background of the closing battle.
However, my nemesis on the project was lurking in the wings. Part of the plot hinged on using the Guardian of Forever. A full size prop was built out on location at Vasquez Rocks - famous as setting for many a bare chested shot of William Shatner in TOS - giving the actors something to interact with. The prop was not painted, the idea being that the Guardian would be 'fixed in post' to provide texture and lighting effects. Having had some experience in camera match moving on a previous project, I found myself tasked with the various Guardian shots. Unfortunately, there were no actual plans of the full size prop, and the footage had been shot without tracking markers to aid in producing a digital camera move. In the end, a full digital Guardian replacement was fashioned using behind the scenes photos of the prop, and the match moves, on the whole, came out better than I had hoped.

Original plate with the plain prop piece.

Digital replacement integrated in to plate.

Luckily the production had got permission from Harlan Ellison to use the Guardian in the story - so I can say that I got to work with the 'Guardian of Forever' and I won't be getting sued over it.
The epic final battle was an all hands on deck affair. I worked on a number of shots in where Bill was producing animation work in Blender which I would then bring over in to Lightwave and populate with conversions of Rob's and Wil's MAX models then light render and composite. 

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Welcome To The Cosmos Teaser

Teaser trailer for 'Welcome To The Cosmos' a project by Nick Hallam who directed 'Star Wars: Broken Allegiance'. The larger ship was modeled by Fabio Passaro, the smaller craft by Alain Rivard, the rest of the work is by Cameron Smith and myself.
The trailer garnered enough interest in the project for Nick to secure funding from Film Victoria to film a pilot episode - a full feature or possible short episode series is currently in discussion.