TNG’s Visual Effects: You Asked For Widescreen…

Fans have been floored by the beautiful restoration of Star Trek: The Next Generation - and the fantastic clarity the new 2K scans of the original 35mm photography reveals. The show's remastering has resulted in a wealth of information being made public about how TNG was originally filmed. A number of readers have asked about some very specific shots in episodes when the picture quality seems to drop on rare occasions, typically on moving shots with visual effects.

child_ws_thumb
Preview images of "The Child" generated some concern from fans relating to
the softer image quality seen in pre-release screencaps.

The answer to this is - not surprisingly - the particular way some of these visual effects shots were originally photographed and completed in post production. Putting visual effects into a live-action plate is hard enough when it's stationary, or "locked off," but when the director needs the camera to move in order to reveal something to the audience at a particular moment - or to follow a character's movement on screen - the level of difficulty increases dramatically.

Visual Effects Supervisor Rob Legato was presented with exactly this kind of difficult live-action shot early on in Season One with the episode "Code of Honor". In the episode, Tasha Yar had to be seen entering the holodeck, crossing the room from right to left and grabbing an aikido uniform that materializes on the wall in front of her. While it could have been filmed in a single, static wide master the details would have been hard to see, especially on the old cathode ray tube television sets viewers were watching the show on in 1987.

Back in the late 1980's, before the advent of tracking software that could automatically analyze a series of moving images and derive x, y or z-depth spatial information from them in order to composite an element or place a 3D object in the scene, filmmakers had to use expensive, large and quite loud motion control camera systems that could perfectly execute the same camera movement again and again via computer for each element needed in the final composite. This is, in fact, exactly how the miniatures for TNG were filmed, on a motion control stage with motion control camera rigs.

For whatever reason - most likely lack of money and/or time - the "Code of Honor" shot could not be easily filmed this way. Legato's solution was simple and sort of genius: film the shot in widescreen!

widescreen_breakdown_thumb
The widescreen footage was adjusted in post-production to fit standard television screens.

In 1987, widescreen movies filmed with anamorphic "scope" lenses in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio (most of the Star Trek films have been shot in this format) were customarily transferred to video in a process called Pan & Scan. Because televisions back then were made in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the only way to fill the screen without distorting the image was to reposition the frame shot by shot and to "pan and scan" from side to side if two or more important objects or actors happened to be on either end of the same widescreen composition.

By filming with this process in mind, Legato knew he could capture the beginning and ending points of the intended camera move in two static, "locked off" plates -- one with the actors and the aikido uniform on the wall and one clean plate without actors or uniform. And because the camera would never actually move, the split-screen and animated matte/dissolve that would reveal the uniform on the wall would be much easier to achieve. And so it was.

battle_ws_thumb
The cloudy dream sequences in "The Battle" are made even hazier.

The success of this shot led to further opportunities for Legato to use the process on other Season One episodes like "The Last Outpost" and "The Battle", as well as the Season Two episodes "The Child" and "Samaritan Snare" -- all using various types of effects and levels of complexity. The process would continue to be used for several more seasons.

The only drawback is that anamorphic "scope" lenses are not the most ideal optics to shoot visual effects with due to the greater number of glass elements in them making them "slow" (needing more light), their tendency to flare, to produce a cylindrical distortion at wide focal lengths, and for out-of-focus objects to be blurred more vertically than horizontally (due to the cylindrically-shaped lens element which squeezes the image onto the film). This is why spherical prime lenses are preferred for VFX work.

snare_ws_thumb
This sequence from "Samaritan Snare" shows just the slightest amount
of "fish-eye" lens curvature near the edges of the frame.

Because of these issues and the need to dramatically zoom into the widescreen image (which needs to be either compressed vertically or stretched horizontally by a factor of 2) in order to perform the TV Pan & Scan within the 2.39:1 frame, it unfortunately makes the footage appear soft and grainy. In addition, the simulated camera move the process uses adds a good deal of motion blur which serves to make these types of shots even softer.

Even so, it was a fairly clever solution at the time. Rob Legato would later switch to motion control rigs when the camera moves were more elaborate or the money allowed it, such as in the Deep Space Nine pilot "Emissary", but he would again employ this widescreen process for his DS9 episode "If Wishes Were Horses".

wishes_ws_thumb
Two Daxes, one frame: a return to pan-and-scan in "If Wishes Were Horses".

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Stay tuned to TrekCore as we bring you more in our continuing series looking back at the production of visual effects on The Next Generation. What do you think about the use of widescreen production footage on TNG, and its effect on Blu-ray picture quality? Let us know in the comments below!

Order TNG - "The Best of Both Worlds" Feature Blu-Ray today!


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  • archer9234

    Great article. I really wanted to see the full frame of these shots.

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

      Legato may have used motion control for other shots in the episode (not sure), but this particular shot seems to be filmed in widescreen. I can give you three circumstantial observations that point toward this conclusion:

      1.) The pan appears to be nodal (no parallax, looking specifically at the hand rails in the turbolift). Breaking out the motion control rig for a straightforward nodal pan seems a bit excessive but not completely out of the realm of possibility, I admit.

      2.) When the real Dax passes behind Bashir and Dax #2, you can see a hand drawn articulated matte around the two characters in the foreground — they’ve been rotoscoped. Dax #2′s ponytail is a dead giveaway… it looks smooth one frame and then full of fine detail once Dax has passed by. If they had shot this motion control, it probably would have made more sense to film Bashir and Dax #2 in front of bluescreen.

      3.) The reconstructed widescreen image is exactly 2.39:1. That could be a coincidence, but I don’t think so. :)

  • Chris2027

    Yea, I still prefer full screen. :D

    • Frank169

      In this day and age that would be a 16:9 screen where the image fills the entire picture…;-)

      • Chris2027

        he he ha ha… :P

        Regardless, TNG was framed to be shown in a 4:3 aspect ratio, commonly referred to as full screen… it wasn’t framed for widescreen, even if the film was widescreen and only a few shows from what I can see were filmed in anamorphic widescreen to allow pan and scan…

  • Greg

    Fascinating article! I never knew they used this technique in TNG or DS9. Thanks for expanding my view of Trek!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allen-Williams/1389687638 Allen Williams

    I wish they would have restored the proper widescreen for these episodes. If those episodes were shot with widescreen in mind, then use it. Most of us would prefer it to fit our TVs especially if we don’t have to lose anything.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Allen-Williams/1389687638 Allen Williams

      never mind it wasn’t the whole episode. I should have watched the video first.

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

      It’s important to understand that only these specific shots were filmed in widescreen, with the intention of panning in post. The rest of the shots in these episodes were filmed with 4:3 in mind. :)

      • hypnotoad72

        *bingo*

    • Matt_Cardiff_UK

      I don’t think it would work based on everything we’ve been told over the past 6 months or so. TNG in widescreen won’t happen – can’t happen. But every now and again, we get a glimpse of the new widescreen CGI screenshots, and they’re in 16:9 ready for cropping and reinserting into the episode (like the Comic Con images – http://tng.trekcore.com/bluray/comiccon/images/fathom_entity.jpg)

      I’d like to see a lot more of these screenshots personally.

      • archer9234

        There’s a difference in those shots.

        1: they are all VFX exteriors.
        2: The ENT D 6 foot model during some of it’s EARLY, I repeat early season 1 shots where filmed in a WS format. They wanted that much extra detail filmed. So the extra information does exist. They used huge vista vision cameras that where meant for film quality effects. They used WS lenses. But that was it. Season 2 and on never used them again.
        3: Shots where the ship is on a small area can be re-framed to WS. Since all the information is contained in the frame. And new VFX like the planets can be moved around.

        But anything that moves in and out of of camera areas will be in the 1:33 field only.

        TNG isn’t WS safe in any regard. When they do show the WS version of TNG. All the interior sets will only gain an inch or so of extra info. Ala, Seinfeld. But will suffer from zooming up.

        • Tom

          VistaVision has a native aspect ratio of 1.5, and isn’t that wide. For effects shots in 2.39 motion pictures, it has to be cropped down rather severely.
          You can see this effect in Generations, where ILM reused some of their old VistaVision plates from Encounter at Farpoint (recomposited onto new backgrounds). These shots are noticeably cropped from the equivalent shots in the pilot episode. The saucer separation shot is quite claustrophic.

    • Bbock

      Usually they did this because the shot includes a sudden reveal. Like Julian realizing that the real Dax is observing him and his fantasy Dax.

    • hypnotoad72

      They were shot with 1.33:1 in mind, since all TVs of that time were 1.33:1. They were filmed in widescreen for the intent of cropping at 1.33:1. That is nowhere near the same thing as filming in 2.39:1 for the sake of framing everything in 2.39:1.

      Look at the framing of the composited shots. Especially “Samaritan Snare”. Too crowded and a lot of dramatic impact, brought by the pseudo camera movement put in by the P&S, would be gone. The show would look like televised theater. Very 1950s…

  • Dr. Cheis

    Well I guess this makes it impossible to do TNG In widescreen by digitally removing the “junk” from the margins. Shots like these would have to look strange with all the action at one side, then off to the other side as they intended to “pan.”

  • Frequent Guest

    I’m so glad that TNG-R wasn’t cropped/stretched/zoomed to make it widescreen. But I’m wondering:
    1.) Will we get DS9 remastered? Someone mentioned it was very CGI-heavy and that would make it a much heavier task than remastering TOS and TNG.
    2.) Will we get TAS on Blu-ray/iTunes Store and will the color/continuity errors be corrected?
    3.) Just out of curiosity, will TNG Season 2 be redone?
    4.) I’m a little nervous about TNG-R Season 4 being outsourced, but I’m absolutely reserving judgement until we see more. I have faith in FrontierTrek and that CBS Digital has learned from the Season 2 disaster and is working very closely with them to keep the quality consistent.
    5.) Will Boba Fett have his original voice or that New Zealander’s?

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

      Some quick answers for you (on the points that matter!):

      1. DS9 seems probable, but it hasn’t been announced at all yet. It used the same models-and-miniatures foundation that TNG used for effects for the first few years; it certainly used a lot of CG in the later years, but Voyager is the more CGI-heavy of the two spin-offs.

      2. TAS on Blu-ray is certainly a thing to hope for, but it seems like a low priority at the moment between the TNG remastered and Enterprise releases. Remember, it was the last show to make it to DVD.

      3. I would not hold your breath for a Season 2 reissue. There’s too much else to do, and not enough people (or budget) to take a step backwards.

      • Frequent Guest

        Thanks. Do you have a YouTube Channel that goes by the same name? If so, then it’s the best I’ve ever seen. I’ve been watching it all day long.

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

          Yeah, I have a lot of stuff up over there – you should check out TrekCore’s channel, though, too ;)

      • Matt_Cardiff_UK

        1. Want DS9 and Voyager in HD more than the air I’m breathing right now!

        2. I can wait – it’s been almost 50 years already…

        3. Shame – but understandable. I predict a fan produced version.

        • Chris2027

          If my CG skills were good enough, I’d redo the FX for Season 2, lol.

          Here’s my stab at “The Child:”
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKKK_oBBIWw

          • bgoo2

            … you should’ve done it in widescreen. I know how much you love TNG widescreen…

          • Chris2027

            haha, I’ve done a few things in widescreen, keyword “few.” It just doesn’t work with a show that wasn’t framed for widescreen.

          • New Horizon

            Don’t sell yourself short sir. That’s some great work. If you aim to hit CBS-D’s Season 1 look, I think you could pull off CGI’ing Season 2 easily. I would gladly make a donation for your work and even integrate it into the season 2 episodes if you did it. I’m not buying Season 2 unless it’s revamped by CBS-D or someone like you remakes the effects at something akin to CBS-D quality in CGI.

          • Chris2027

            Thanks.

            Yea, I don’t think I could ever pull that level of quality off, but I try… some of the effects in Season 2 I’m not able to create, like some of the vortex shots from “Time Squared.”

            I actually do want to set up a paypal donation thing, but I don’t know how… right now, I do earn revenue from some of my videos on YouTube due to being a partner.

          • kadajawi

            Looks good from what I can tell. At some points the material of the Enterprise isn’t too convincing, too clean, the picture is too sharp. Too perfect basically. So maybe add a bit of grain, blur it a bit to match the live action material, … Is there any way we can that remastered episode?

          • Chris2027

            Yea, I have a set of dirty textures my friend Jason made for the model, but they’re too much like faint burn marks, haha.

            Well, there is grain, believe it or not, just YouTube smudges it out…

            Not sure I understand your last question…

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            That’s really impressive :-) I like the simple touches the most – like the reflection of the energy ball on the Enterprise’s hull as it flits about. Such a tiny improvement makes a huge difference in realism. Also liking the foggy effect on the navigation lights.

          • Chris2027

            Thanks.

            Foggy effect?

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            Around the Excelsior class ship’s warp nacelle navigation lights – there’s a faint glow when they flash – like you’re seeing them through fog – (diffuse)….

          • Chris2027

            Ah, yea, it was just a product of the lens flares, I forgot to tighten them up so they didn’t create that fog effect…

    • M. Wright

      What’s “FrontierTrek”? that’s not a name of VFX company I can find. Also I wasn’t aware that CBS-D had disclosed their new VFX partner. Their official line when asked is that all the rest of the seasons are being done in house.

      • kadajawi

        Uhm, in house? Really? That’s the first time I heard it, I thought they’d still continue doing the odd seasons, while even ones would be outsourced, though not to HTV. Wouldn’t this mean there’ll be only one season per year (though that would still be better than letting HTV do it again…).

        • trekcore

          M. Wright is incorrect unfortunately. Season 4 is not being done in-house, however it is being closely supervised by CBS Digital and so far the results seem much more in keeping with Seasons 1 and 3.

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            That’s incredibly promising news…:-)

          • kadajawi

            Ah, I see. As long as they do a good job I’m fine. Have you seen anything? Can you give any information, like who is doing the job?
            I’d love to see a behind the scenes on season 2… any statement from HTV/Dan Curry, maybe they can explain what happened, …

          • trekcore

            I wouldn’t expect a statement. We’ll have some Season 4 news soon.

          • M. Wright

            Actually that’s exactly what I implied. When asked CBS is saying it’s in house. I didn’t say it was true… I doubted it since TrekCore has already said otherwise ;)

          • hypnotoad72

            Can’t wait to see screen captures of that!

      • trekcore

        FrontierTrek is TrekCore’s account at the TrekBBS. It’s not a new VFX partner, it’s an independent post-house contracted by CBS. CBS Digital is closely supervising their work

        • Frequent Guest

          Yes, I visit their TNG forum and Trekcore multiple times per day to keep up with the remastering projects.

        • M. Wright

          If FronterTrek is your username on TrekBBS, that doesn’t answer the question then of what’s the post-house’s name?

        • hypnotoad72

          For various reviews, didn’t CBS execs say they were closely supervising (HTV-I, for season 2) as well?

      • sypher

        I think some confusion comes from Best of Both Worlds being in house CBS-D and the second half of BBW is in season 4.

        • trekcore

          Ah, OK. To clarify – CBS-D did all of BOBW. They may have done all of Redemption too, I’m not sure.

    • trekcore

      Aatrek’s answers are pretty spot on for 1-3. DS9 is certainly more likely than Voyager at this point, I would say.
      Regarding 4) From what I’ve seen you don’t need to worry so much for Season 4. CBS Digital have closely supervised the new outsourced post-house, and there is far greater consistency. CBS have certainly listened to fan concerns from what I can tell.
      5) I have no idea!

  • M. Wright

    Awesome investigation! Would love to know how TrekCore got such a scoop and the original anamorphic shots. Is someone drinking buddies with Rob Legato or something? :)

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

    Thanks for this, I am so grateful to still be finding out new things about ST:TNG more than 25 years after in debuted. I work with fish-eye lenses in my day-to-day survey work, it should be fairly easy to correct the distortion on the edges of the frame – I use a program called RECTFISH.

    Once again, thanks for bringing us these articles!

    • kadajawi

      Well, these days, yes. Back then…

    • hypnotoad72

      Ah, except those filters and tweaks take away resolution. I manually do some correcting work in Photoshop, and at 2K resolution detail and sharpness are being stripped out. Cropping would be inevitable as well, since new distortions are made to remove the fisheye effect…

  • Matt_Cardiff_UK

    Absolutely amazing article. There’s hundreds of Trek fan sites, but only TrekCore delivers the unique back stories and analysis into the making of Trek. How on earth do you manage to get these rare images? Very very interesting – and as time goes by, I get more and more exicted about DS9 getting the CBS-D remastering treatment.

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

      We actually rebuilt the widescreen shots from screencaps of the Blu-rays (or in the case of the DS9 shot, the DVDs). If you look at the full-sized ‘Samaritan Snare’ shot, you can see the jagged edges of the original caps – the pan-and-scan movement was diagonal for that one rather than a straight-on movement or pull-back.

      • Matt_Cardiff_UK

        I get you – wow…that kind of effort really does prove how passionate you (and TrekCore) are about the whole widescreen subject – I love it! lol I’m so obsessed with the technical aspects. Is there a chance we’ll see some more stuff from CBS-D with regards to how they remastered Season 3? There was lots of info about the process for Season 1 which only served to get me even more excited!

        • trekcore

          Certainly glad you enjoyed the article Matt. We spend a lot of time researching and putting these together, so it’s nice they are appreciated!

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            I didn’t know TrekCore existed until about about a year ago. I can’t believe I didn’t know about it before. I think it’s because nothing Trek related was happening (or at least – that caught my attention – the new movie didn’t register on my radar much). The remastering of TNG is what brought me here. The CBS interviews back a while ago (where we saw how Space Dock had been re composited) was fantastic.

          • trekcore

            Ah well be sure to stay tuned, we’re hoping to bring some very special features on CBS Digital, so if you liked the interviews you’ll be in for a treat!

          • Guest

            Better than sex…. was thinking of editing and deleting that – but actually – I stand by it.

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            Umm – I don’t know what’s going on – I posted that last comment – and it deleted and came back lol – I don’t care – remastered Trek keeps me going between partners :-)

          • Matt_Cardiff_UK

            Could you tell me something please? I can’t seem to attach images any more and I think some of my older posts about Season 2 have vanished. Am I paranoid?

          • trekcore

            Ah, I disabled them a while ago after some system problems, but that seems to have cleared up now. I’ve re-enabled the feature.

  • pittrek

    Very interesting, thanks for all the info

  • Zarm R’keeg

    Awesome article! I knew about the Last Outpost image- but never even noticed all of the other uses! These articles are great!

  • kadajawi

    If only they had shot all of TNG in 2.39:1 and aired it that way!

    • hypnotoad72

      With scenes framed FOR 2.39:1, as opposed to framing them at 1.33:1 to pan and scan with… The composited stills speak volumes and not in favor of throwing 2.39:1 just for the sake of it. The panning in 1.33:1 looks more fluid and nobody’s shoehorned to the side of the screen…

      In real life, people wanting 2.39:1 now will be VERY disappointed by how static the shots are… a la the days of theater…

      • kadajawi

        I have to disagree there. These days we have bigger screens and higher resolutions, so you don’t need to have a close up of characters just to see any facial expression. You can basically give the characters more context, more room to breathe. Now Cinemascope may be extreme (Gaspar Noé went even further with I Stand Alone, which has something like a 3:1 AR and lots of interior shots, and it looked great IMHO), but at least with 16:9 there’d be a lot to gain. If it were composed for that. Btw., the movies were IIRC mostly shot in Cinemascope, and that worked and looked good, right?

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

          I Stand Alone wasn’t quite 3:1… it was shot in standard 16mm (1.37:1) with 2x anamorphic lenses, so the aspect ratio was 2.74:1 — which is actually very close to the aspect ratio of Ultra Panavision 70 (aka MGM Camera 65) which was 2.76:1. Only 10 films were shot that wide, Ben-Hur being the most famous. Of course, the final reel of Abel Gance’s 1927 film Napoleon had a three-screen triptych sequence that was 4:1 (1.33:1 x 3).

          Incidentally, Red Digital Cinema is developing a 3:1 chip they call the 617 Mysterium Monstro which will have a resolution of 28k (28,000 x 9,334 or 261 megapixels). That would blow 15-perf 65mm IMAX out of the water, as that format only has about 10k resolution on the negative (10,000 x 7,519 or roughly 75 megapixels). It will actually have more pixels than typical human eyes have photoreceptor cells! The human retina contains about 120 million rod cells and 6 million cone cells… so 261 million pixels versus approximately 252 million photoreceptors (both eyes).

          http://photorumors.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/red-617-sensor.jpg
          https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/78/28k_RED_CAMERA.svg/2000px-28k_RED_CAMERA.svg.png

  • Xavier_Storma

    Just imagine how cinematic the show would look in cinemascope!

    • hypnotoad72

      Not necessarily – those bits were framed for the intention of panning and scanning, rather than making full, proper, consistent use of the added screen area. The demonstration video above shows the ‘how’ but does not show how 2.39:1 brings anything to the table.

      As a one-lump 2.39:1 ratio scene, much visual space remains unused (“Samaritan Snare”‘s bit is a great example of this) — everything is huddled to the right and it’s constricting on the eyes…

  • Sypher

    you guys are the best articles. Keep it up. These in-depth features on computer-generated effects and editing and anything else you guys can think of regarding Star Trek. these features are all outstanding. Really there is nothing else like this on the web. I would not know nearly as much about the special-effects process for the editing process that you guys keep up the great work

    • hypnotoad72

      Apart from the Doctor Who Restoration Team site, which has been more or less abandoned…

  • http://www.facebook.com/eleanor.bron.5 Eleanor Bron

    If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of how they did the effects, a great old special effects magazine (cinefex) did a comprehensive story on the visual effects of ST:TNG in issue #37. You can snag a copy on ebay for $10-$15 and it tells about how alot of the effects were done using the video switchers, disc recorders, etc. of the time. It’s extremely interesting if you are an “old-timer” like me who messed around with this stuff in the 80′s (Cable Access station :) )

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  • StefanoR99

    Can’t help but feeling it’s a missed opportunity not to 16:9 the entire show by scavenging the extra detail lost when the film was cropped to 4:3. Yes it would have been a tonne of work in scenes where equipment was visible or the film was damaged but in the end it would have been a much better fit for modern equipment to be re-released in 16:9.

    The 4:3 release will forever date TNG which is a real shame – almost like the black and white shows from the 40s. Hopefully they scanned the full print in to digital at full res so one day it can be released in 16:9.