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

We're continuing our look behind the scenes of TNG's visual effects, focusing this time on Season 3's "The Bonding"! If you haven't already seen our exclusive look at an early workprint copy of "The Bonding", with additional scenes, missing music, and several unfinished visual effects shots - go take a look now, then come back here and view an exclusive before-and-after video comparison, along with a scene-by-scene breakdown of the technical processes used to complete each scene!

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We have used three versions of "The Bonding" in this presentation: a production-era workprint VHS tape dated September 15, 1989, the 2002 DVD release, and the newly released Blu-ray remaster! The Season Three Blu-rays also contain a special audio commentary on this episode, the first to be written by the legendary Ronald D. Moore.

1989 Workprint 2013 Blu-ray

TEASER, SCENE 2A: The workprint uses a cross-dissolve for the away team beam-in; this is actually the first of four primary stages involved in creating the standard TNG transporter effect. In the finished shot, a "shower" of streaks is wiped down over the actors, which then dissolves to a more confined version.

A semi-transparent, soft-edged hold-out matte is created by an artist in the shape of the actors; 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. Lastly, another dissolve and soft-edged circular wipe reveals a final residual chest cavity layer which, in turn, is slowly dissolved away.

ACT TWO, SCENE 22A: In the workprint, handheld "home movie" footage featuring Susan Powell and Gabriel Damon (as Marla and Jeremy Aster) is used when editing the sequence. In the finished shot, the footage is resized and cropped to fit the screen of the PADD; in addition, a reflection of Damon (likely shot separately) was added for greater realism.

Actor Gabriel Damon doesn't seem to be holding the PADD in this shot (look at those chubby thumbs). In a later scene in the episode, you see his actual hands and realize his fingers are much longer and thinner. Take note how rigidly the hand-actor appears to be holding the prop - it was likely secured to prevent movement. He is also careful not to let his thumbs pass over the display area, which avoids an unneeded complication in the final compositing process.

ACT FOUR, SCENE 46: Here we see several separate elements in the workprint, in quick succession: a background plate of Powell on a couch in the Aster's home, a clean plate of the Aster quarters aboard the Enterprise, and Marina Sirtis and Damon on a bluescreen stage. The bluescreen footage has been carefully lit by Director of Photography Marvin V. Rush to integrate it with both background environments as seamlessly as possible.

In the completed shot, the first background plate cross-dissolves to the second to create the effect of Jeremy's fantasy vanishing; the foreground plate with the actors is composited on top.

ACT FOUR, SCENES 53A-69: The Koinonian non-corporeal energy being seems to have been created by traditional cell animation, painted frame-by-frame by an artist on transparencies and photographed in 35mm on an animation stand. The abundant dirt specks on these shots (as seen on DVD) give the effect the appearance of being optically printed on top of the background plates with the actors.

This process was certainly an unusual one for TNG, as these type of effects were usually painted electronically by an artist on the Quantel Harry effects-compositing system, with Paintbox software. This change from the norm actually worked out in CBS Digital's favor, as an original 35mm element existed for this effect and could therefore be re-scanned and composited digitally and cleanly with the 35mm background plates.

In addition to the visual effects work, the footage of the two stunt men being attacked by the energy being was sped up to give a more violent look to their on-set movements; we had to increase the speed of the workprint footage by nearly 15% in our comparison video to match the final Blu-ray sequence.

ACT FOUR, SCENE 53E: In the workprint, a background plate of the Aster quarters cross-dissolves to footage of Sirtis and Damon performing on a bluescreen stage; a final dissolve reveals the plate of Powell in the Aster's Earth home. In the final composite, a cross-dissolve transitions between the two background plates while the foreground plate with the actors is composited on top.

ACT FIVE, SCENE 70: The force field effect seen here occurs in two stages. As the characters initially hit the field, concentric rings radiate outward due to what appears to be a practical ripple effect in water, with light reflecting off the crests and troughs of an expanding wave. In the Blu-ray footage, it's even more apparent that this element was mirrored both horizontally and vertically as each quadrant appears identical.

The second stage (on DVD) seems be either a general turbulent rippling of the same water surface - sped up - or some kind of glitter element, similar to the third stage of the transporter effect. For the Blu-ray, CBS Digital had one of their artists approximate the original look in Autodesk Flame.

Force fields on TNG were approached in many different ways, depending on the look that was required. Sometimes a Mylar pom-pom was used; other times, table salt falling onto a simple surface (such as a bowling ball) sufficed. Occasionally, even the water spray from an ordinary garden hose served as a base element for the effect!

ACT FOUR, SCENE 43: In the workprint, Sirtis and Damon perform on the Aster Earth home set with bluescreen behind the doors. In the completed shot, an appropriate angle of an Enterprise corridor is composited into the background.

ACT FIVE, SCENE 74: In the workprint, a background plate of Powell in the Aster home set cuts to footage of Michael Dorn and Damon on a bluescreen stage. In the completed shot, the footage of Powell cross-dissolves to an appropriate angle inside the Aster quarters.

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During our analysis of this episode, we noticed one small effect missing from the Blu-ray version of this episode, during the Koinonian attack. Originally, the cell animator highlighted portions of the security guards bodies in white as the energy being contacted them. We mentioned the shot to CBS, and it appears that this split-second effect was unfortunately missed during the restoration of the episode.

Watch out for future installments of our TNG Visual Effects - Behind the Scenes series. In case you missed them, take a look back at our behind-the-scenes look at visual effects from "The Child" and "The Wounded".

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



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  • archer9234

    I knew there was something wrong with the impact shot with the security officer. Sucks they missed this one effect.

  • Mike G

    I always thought that zapping of the security guard looked incredibly
    dated as an effect anyway – looks much better just having the force
    attack and assuming some kinetic energy is at work.

    • CaliburnCY

      Hmm, to me it looks worse without the zapping. (I just compared the DVD and Blu-ray versions in motion, rather than only the screenshot, so I could see how I felt about the difference.) But to each his own. However, one thing is for sure: the Blu-ray in this instance doesn’t represent the original effect properly, which is unfortunate.

  • Guest

    I always thought that zapping of the security guard looked incredibly
    dated as an effect anyway – looks much better just having the force
    attack and assuming some kinetic energy is at work.

  • CaliburnCY

    Regarding the missing effect, while it was always possible that things like this would get overlooked in a restoration of this magnitude regardless of how much time was taken, I do hope it isn’t a symptom of the restoration schedule being too aggressively fast. I understand the business realities that cause CBS to want to release the seasons within a short window from each other, but I think most fans would agree that we’d rather that the restoration teams have enough time to calmly attend to everything properly.

  • Sky

    I noticed the forgotten effect the first time I watched it and I was a little bit shocked and also sad!!

  • peter

    How could this effect possibly be missed during restauration?

    • Frequent Guest

      It happened before with a phaser shot in Heart of Glory and they issued replacement discs.

    • archer9234

      It happens. Even when tons of people watch a scene a million times. My guess would be the effect was disabled to work on the energy wisp. Then just left off. I’ve personally done this on some effects. I remember I left a 2D city background off. And you just saw the sky.

  • SpaceCadet

    I didn’t notice the effect missing and I don’t think it’s that big a deal. However, hopefully this oversight will just be a rare event and the exception rather than the rule.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.english.50 Ronnie English

    I don’t think the missing effect is a big deal, unless you know its missing it does not really impact on the scene.

    • archer9234

      That’s not really the point. It was not noticed. Even though tons of the remaster crew saw those episodes like 50 times before finalizing it. Especially the guy wo worked on the shot. So far all the seasons have add errors. Phaser missing before disc replacement. Light pass during the Schizoid man, and now here.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ronnie.english.50 Ronnie English

        Then CBS must employ a person to independently check each episode frame by frame. Although the episodes are unlikely to be perfectly identical to the original.