Friday, September 7, 2018

Not Quite Dead.....Yet.....

With apologies to both Phil Collins and Monty Python for the title.  Nearly three years since my last post, blame it on a mixture of Real Life (TM)  and other calamaties.

When we were last here, we were talking about Starship Challenger, part of what was meant to be the Star Trek Anthology series. I'd done a fair amount of work to get the Challenger and the Orion ship ready for the first Challenger episode. A teaser act had been put together to show the fate of the USS Ajax and to introduce the character of Captain Colt. Unfortunately, the teaser is not available online, but I do have some stills to show.

Here we have the poor old Ajax facing off against the Orion ship, with a Gorn cruiser trying to make a hasty retreat from the battle.

The Ajax is not in good shape - modeling and texture fun to create some battle damage. Those things floating around - lifeboats. Although we did not see lifeboats in the TOS era, a design was seen in the 'Debt of Honour' graphic novel which is what I based my model on.

The fun part came with allowing Colt to escape the doomed Ajax after putting it on a collision course with the Orion ship. Initially, there was an idea to have a Captain's Chair lifeboat which would mechanically surround the centre chair and allow it to be jetissoned from the bridge. This proved a little tricky to get to work with the live action segments, so instead it was decided to eject the whole bridge module. This option had been outlined in the fan based publication 'USS Enterprise Officer's Manual' by Geoffrey Mandel back in the 80's.

The teaser was edited together, and the production was looking forward to getting on with the main part of the first episode....... then came the Axanar lawsuit. Followers of Star Trek fan films will probably already know more than they want about the Axanar fiasco but for those who don't, a brief recap. Axanar was meant to be the holy grail of Star Trek fan films, with professionals on both sides of the camera and behind the scenes. A faux documentary short, 'Prelude to Axanar' - look it up on Youtube - had been released and well received by the fans. On the back of this, the producer of Axanar had been able to raise nearly $US 1.5 million to do the film proper through crowdfunding. Then things started to get a bit murky - as part of the fundraising, Axanar was selling Axanar branded model kits and coffee, with a view to branching out into tabletop gaming and books. They also rented out a warehouse in LA with a view to fitting it out as a studio, which could also be used for productions beyond Axanar. This raised red flags with CBS/Paramount - money was being raised on the back of Star Trek intellectual property without any form of official licensing. After tolerating Star Trek fan films for a number of years, CBS/Paramount decided to drop the legal hammer and take Axanar to court.

I won't go in to all the ins and outs of the case - that is for more learned legal people to mull over. Suffice to say, just before the case was due in court, Axanar settled out of court. A set of guidelines was issued by CBS/Paramount which would govern fan films from then on. Fan films could still be made, but restrictions were in place. Challenger could have gone forward under the new guidelines, but unfortunately there was no access to the Phase II sets in Ticonderoga that the live action was meant to be filmed on - James Cawley had secured a license from CBS/Paramount to turn the sets into an officially licensed set tour, one of the conditions of which was no further fan films to be made there...

So not only had Starship Ajax sunk into production hell, now Challenger was cancelled too.... A number of years work was rendered mute, although I did have a nice collection of models to show for it....

The Star Trek Anthology crew took a break to regroup. Rather than trying to play by the new guidelines, they elected to try and create their own universe to play in, the worlds of The Outer Rim. One of the original anthology stories was reworked, morphing into Sweepers- a tale of the crew of the planetary survey vessel, the Audrey.

The initial approach to the Audrey was a Winnebago/VW Camper Van in space. However, when the sets for the live action shoot where built, it was clear that a different approach was needed to reconcile the set and the exterior.

The Audrey also marked a move into new territory for me on two fronts. It marks the first time that I have used Substance Painter to texture a model. The approach to procedural dirt and grime based off the models geometry allows me to produce more detailed texture maps far easier than previously, and I feel that I have only just scratched the surface of what Painter can do. Secondly, I have switched to using the third party renderer, Redshift with Cinema 4D. This renderer utilises the power of the graphics card GPU to speed up rendering, giving better quality results in a markedly reduced time compared to Cinema's built in Physical renderer.

And here is the trailer for Sweepers.

Hop on over to Youtube to embiggen. There is also a fair amount of work in that trailer beyond just the Audrey. The set was filmed with greenscreen windows which unfortunately had to be roto'ed out rather than just keyed due to a large amount of greenscreen spill on the window frames and the reflective panel surfaces - luckily someone else had done a fair amount of that work before I got the footage saving me some time and headaches. The anomoly/portal is entirely done in After Effects and the lightning generator also got a fair work out.

Unfortunately, due to Real Life (TM) conflicting with release deadlines for Sweepers, I have had to step away from the project and have handed on the Audrey to another modeler/animator to get the footage done for the episode.

Unable to fully let go of Star Trek, I have been helping out with 'Yorktown: A Time To Heal' - a fan film that was originally filmed in the 1980's and starring TOS's Mr Sulu himself, George Takei. The film was never finished, but the original film has been digitised and an effort made to complete live action filming and finish the effects work.

I have been completeing a few green screen shots.

The Klingon fighter cockpit was modeled by someone else, but re-textured and lit by yours truly. A model of the Klingon fighter had been done by another artist, but there was some question as to whether that model would be available to the production - so I set about building a replacement.

Even managed to get the tick of approval from its designer, Mr Andrew Probert himself. However, once again, I am doomed to just adding a model to my collection - the original model became available and my version was nixed....

At this point in time, I am still helping out with some minor bits and pieces for Yorktown, will keep everyone posted as to when it finally comes out. In the meantime, I have some time to brush up on my Substance Painter and Redshift skills and get my head around some of the new features in both Modo and Cinema 4D.  I may even has some time to do some personal projects... Wish me luck!

1 comment:

  1. Ah, the foolishness that was Axanar. Those guys really ruined it for everyone. James Cawley's sets are masterpieces, so using them as a tour is a great idea. However, not being able to use them again in fan films is a massive blow to the community. The trailer for Star Trek: Equinox was done on those sets, though the guy in charge of that had a not so good relationship with Cawley too, (it seemed he didn't get a along with a lot of people) so doing the whole film there was a question even before it went belly up. Damn shame about Challenger, though. It seems like you had a dedicated team ready to go. I like what the Star Trek Anthology team is doing, though. That Sweepers thing looks pretty cool. I like your designs, but that's no surprise. I've always liked your work. That also looks like some cool stuff you were doing for Yorktown. I like your Klingon fighter model a lot. :)