TNG’s Visual Effects: Behind the Scenes of “The Child”

In recent weeks, we've brought you an exclusive look at an early workprint copy of "The Child", with additional scenes, missing music, and several unfinished visual effects shots. The deleted scenes are certainly an exciting aspect of the original workprints, but we're also fascinated by the insight they offer into the Star Trek: The Next Generation production process. We're taking a deeper look at the missing visual effects with an exclusive before-and-after video comparison, along with a scene-by-scene breakdown which details the technical processes used to complete each VFX scene!

We have used four separate versions of "The Child" in this presentation: the "1st Cut" workprint, dated October 6, 1988; a second workprint - dated October 24, 1988 - which is virtually identical to the final broadcast version of the episode; the 2002 DVD release of Season Two; and the second season Blu-ray set which CBS released in December 2012.

1988 Workprint 2012 Blu-ray

TEASER, SCENE 1A: A great look at the original 35mm plate photography, filmed on Stage 9 at Paramount Studios. Here you can see the interior north wall of Stage 9, with unused studio lights and other equipment stored behind the exterior shuttlebay door. Because no actors or objects pass in front of this area, no bluescreen was necessary to film this scene.

In both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the completed shot, the shuttle miniature - which was filmed separately at Image G - has been composited onto the plate along with its various lighting passes and shadow elements, along with the blue containment field. If you look closely, you can still barely make out a reflection from an equipment case in the yellow stripe area of the shuttlebay floor.

TEASER, SCENE 4: The semi-transparent CG animation of the containment unit used in the original 1988 standard-definition broadcast was replaced by new, high-definition CG animation with different lighting, and was composited into the scene at full opacity, eliminating the transparent look of the original.

Although it is hard to see here, the new animation includes a corrected LCARS display which better matches the full size prop seen later in the cargo bay set. As in the original broadcast, the CG effect is accompanied by a blue ring representing the holoprojector along with a simulated reflection on the surface of the table.

ACT ONE, SCENE 27: While Workprint 1 just shows the blank on-set photography, a simple still image of an embryo was put in place on Workprint 2 for use as a placeholder for the post-production work. The LCARS graphic designed for the Blu-ray matches very closely to the original 1988 version, including using the original footage of the embryo, significantly desaturated.

The 2012 compositor, however, still seems to have had trouble correcting for the perspective and part of the graphic very slightly intrudes onto the wall on the right side of the display.

ACT THREE, SCENE 51: The blank screen of the cream-colored sickbay office monitor has an LCARS graphic composited on top of it. The 1988 version has some noticeable signal aliasing or chroma noise on the text. Also known as color crosstalk or rainbow effects, they are caused by poor separation between the luma and chroma components of a composite (analog) video signal.

The 2012 version, in addition to being digital and high definition, is very faithful except for the change of color from a grayish green to purple. Diana Muldaur is careful not to let her finger pass over the display area, to avoid adding an unneeded complication to the compositing process.

ACT THREE, SCENE 52: The three-dimensional shapes are faithfully recreated with higher resolution CGI and a more feathered and integrated look, which replaces the hard, aliased edges of the 1988 original animation. A volumetric glow of light has also been added to the holographic base.

ACT THREE, SCENE 56: The new console CG animation of the containment modules beaming-in is composited over the shot. Note the mismatched black level in the original broadcast composite -- the darker black level of the animation doesn't match very well with the lighter footage. This is corrected in the 2012 version.

ACT THREE, SCENE 65: Wil Wheaton and Whoopi Goldberg perform in front of bluescreen on the Ten Forward set, which will become the first ever "POV" shot of a ship jumping into warp speed. Watch the ceiling above the windows as an interactive, on-set lighting effect is timed to match the warp effect. In the final shot, these harsh shadows are removed for a more natural look.

This warp effect was accomplished using various types of streak photography, similar to what was used on Star Trek: The Motion Picture to create radial, rainbow-like streaks of stars during that film's signature warp sequences.

ACT FIVE, SCENE 87: This is the standard transporter beam-out effect, which is made up of two plates: one with actor Seymour Cassel in place, and another of the empty set behind him. The two images are then cross-dissolved using a split-screen effect to keep LeVar Burton in the shot as the effect occurs in several layers.

An overall "shower" of streaks is wiped down over the actor, which then dissolves to a more confined version. A semi-transparent hold-out matte is created by an artist in the shape of the actor. This matte "holds-out" the background to allow the familiar shimmering points of light of the transporter effect to be seen just inside the body. Another dissolve and wipe reveals the final residual chest cavity layer which, in turn, is slowly dissolved away.

div_spacer

Stay tuned to TrekCore as we have several more workprint analyses to come, including a special look at the use of widescreen photography on The Next Generation! What do you think about the use of visual effects in "The Child"? Let us know in the comments below!

Order Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4 Blu-ray today!



Order TNG - "Redemption" Feature Blu-Ray today!

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrew.dentremont Andrew d’Entremont

    Great article. Thanks!

  • experimation

    Excellent breakdown. I’m always fascinated by visual fx before and afters…this one did not disappoint!

  • Gilbetron

    Beautiful work, TrekCore. This site really is a Trekkie nirvana. Keep it coming. :)

    • http://www.randomtuesday.com/ Aatrek

      Stay tuned. ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bjoernar-Dohm/1595715086 Bjoernar Dohm

    An earlier article mentioned that the two vfx teams used subtly different transporter effects. Does anyone know what difference there was?

    • http://www.facebook.com/justin.olson.3388 Justin Olson

      I have to admit, it’s really hard to tell. Either Dan Curry’s hold-out matte for the sparkles on the actors is more skeletal in form… or the final chest-cavity sparkles are revealed with a feathered circle wipe rather than merely dissolved in. I’ve tried looking at alternating episodes and this seems to be the only two possible differences unless I’m still missing it. :)

      • archer9234

        I think you’re right. I only really saw the amount of body sparkles and fade time differing.

    • ShaunKL

      The transporter effect itself changed significantly between seasons 1 and 2. It’ll interesting to see CBS-D’s take on the latter version, especially since the season 2 version seems so low-res. It’s interesting to look at CBS-D’s initial transporter effects that were used in the teaser set. They’re very awkward as they obviously hadn’t nailed all the effects quite yet.

  • Aride

    What is the font was used for LCARS and office monitor?

    • http://www.facebook.com/justin.olson.3388 Justin Olson

      Normally I would say Helvetica Ultra Compressed, but the bar in the “A” is much lower. You can find approximate matches on Google just by searching for “LCARS font.”

      • Aride

        Thanks for your answer. I think it looks rather “Nova Light Ultra SSi Thin Ultra Condensed” but I`m not sure!?

  • Simon

    “Because no actors or objects pass in front of this area, no bluescreen was necessary to film this scene”

    Not entirely accurate. Bluescreens are used to generate mattes, and since the shot is static it was easier for the production team to “cut out” the area of the open shuttlebay rather than spend time setting up and lighting a bluescreen. It doesn’t matter if objects or people are in front of it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/justin.olson.3388 Justin Olson

      Bluescreens are typically used for generating traveling mattes (mattes that change over time).

    • archer9234

      Well it does matter, if people cross. You don’t want to be manually rotoscoping them. But yeah. It’s done to save time. It’s why some view screen bridge shots have the white screen setup. No ones gonna be in front of it. Probably saves 40 mins in setting up the blue cloth and stage back lights.

  • archer9234

    I’m glad those over-sized lounge screens where changed. They’re such a nightmare to figure out where to place the animation. The guys probably didn’t want to over compensate for the angle. Cause it look too weird. But putting it flat here makes it off too. There was really no better way they could of done it.

  • TrekboyJohn

    They are making this series absolutely breathtaking. It has always been ahead of its’ time – speaking technologically – but with the advent of blu-ray, they are really blowing out the stops with a photon torpedo!

  • Dr. Cheis

    I wish we could have DVD vs Blu-Ray effect comparison videos for each episode, even without the workprints.

    • archer9234

      You can just look in the DVD screen cap section.

      • Dr. Cheis

        Yeah but that’s a lot of work for each effect, and only as a still image. T_T

  • http://www.facebook.com/james.rye.1441 James Rye

    Nice breakdown, I really enjoyed this article :)

  • Zarm R’keeg

    Awesome! I’m a classic effects junkie- this is brilliant stuff. Any chance you’ll ever tackle the ‘holy grail’ (with it’s own lost book, no less!) of Star Trek: The Motion Picture? Anyhow, TNG episode VFX features = absolute win.

  • david_roberts_xgw

    This explains why the video monitors on TNG were so crisp and flat — they weren’t video monitors. Voyager seemed like a step back with all those CRTs everywhere. TNG did a great job at making them look beyond current tech for the period.

    One question I’ve been wanting to ask someone. To me, while the Blu-Ray is obviously more detailed, the colors often look almost washed out compared to the originals. Is there a reason for this? Were they artificially increased in the originals? When I say originals, I mean the original broadcast or DVDs, not the masters.

    Great site, thanks.

    • http://www.facebook.com/justin.olson.3388 Justin Olson

      While they did the best they could at the time with the equipment they had, the color seen in the DVDs (which use the old ’87-’94 NTSC video masters) shouldn’t be viewed as having the most correct color balance. There is a reason NTSC is sometimes derisively referred to as “Never Twice the Same Color.”

      One of the great things about CBS returning to the original 35mm camera negative, is that the directors of photography shot with color charts (at least in the early camera tests before the pilot was filmed) and 18% gray cards during the regular filming of the episodes. By shooting a gray card at the head of the film roll (a middle gray reference), this lets the colorist know what is neutral and what, relative to that, is colored.

      The DP’s will usually write something like “time to gray card” on the camera report. They also usually leave other info like what kind of overall color tone they shot for or what color gels they used on the lights. If you watch the ENERGIZED! featurette on the Season One Blu-ray set, I believe the film scanner or colorist shows us a camera report from a specific episode and noting what the instructions were for color timing.