Musings & Interests of David Stipes
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  • “The Emperor’s New Cloak” vfx

    Posted on May 29th, 2009 dstipes 14 comments

    John Eaves has published drawings of the portable cloaking device for Star Trek Deep Space-Nine episode, “The Emperor’s New Cloak” on his blog, Eavesdropping with Johnny at: http://johneaves.wordpress.com/2009/05/27/klingon-cloaking-device/

    When this episode was photographed I was on set as the vis efx supervisor.  It was decided that since the cloaking device was “cloaked” or invisible, we didn’t need to do any visual effects. I wondered if the pantomime was going to really sell that they had a mechanical device they were stealing. I kept asking if the producers were sure there would not be an effect; that they didn’t want me to take camera measurements and documentation of the set up just in case.  I was repeatedly reassured there would be no visual effects.

     cloak_1281

    We did set up a rectangle of string that the actors playing Rom and Quark held in their hands. This enabled them to keep some semblance of size and distance between their hands and each other as they moved along.  After all, they were supposed to be carrying a rigid heavy device of a specific size together.  I am so glad we did that.

      Read the rest of this entry »

  • Conspiracy bugs (revised)

    Posted on May 25th, 2009 Managed WordPress Migration User 7 comments

    startrek-conspiracypic2

    “Conspiracy” was season-1, episode 25, of  Star Trek: The Next Generation. The Enterprise crew must overcome Starfleet Command officers who are infected by an alien parasite. This episode has the dubious honor of having one or more shots censored as “violent images” by the BBC in England.  It is reported that the episode required a warning before airing in Canada.

    The story required that the parasite climb the leg of an officer then later climb out of the mouth of another fallen human host and attempt to escape.

    Animating the parasite bugs for the episode was my first work on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Visual Effects Supervisor, Dan Curry, brought the job to David Stipes Productions, Inc. in April of 1988.

    The property master, Alan Sims, had commissioned another company to create the bug.  They had done a fine sculpting job but I realized we would have to re-build it for the stop motion animation.

    The creature was cast in a dense silicone material and was very stiff. The legs were small nubs that were not long enough to reach the floor to propel the creature along.  We set about re-sculpting the creature and giving it longer legs and defining the body segments a bit more.  A plaster mold was made and fitted with a simple wire armature and the creature was cast in rubber.

    We scheduled the animation time then were told by Dan Curry that the date we were to animate was actually the date they needed the work finished. We scrambled to get the animation set up. Dan had provided frames of the woman opening her mouth so we could line up the parasite’s animation with the actor’s performance. I asked Dan if we could have a bloody slime trail from the woman’s mouth but he didn’t think the producers would like it. I thought it would help sell the horror of the situation but, disappointed, we moved on.

    Dan has also provided a 4ft x 8ft piece of hard Formica flooring to match the set.  It was so big I had to place it on a sheet of Celotex board on my studio concrete floor and animate on my hands and knees.

    The surface was tough so I could not directly pin the model to the floor for the animation process.

    I had to drill through the hard Formica then drive a pin through the parasite’s foot into the Celotex insulation board below. This prevented the feet from sliding around as I animated the body.

    I animated the creature along by twisting the parasite’s body segments in sequence with the legs.

    After a couple of scenes were done, the armature wires broke and the body segment with the last two legs fell off the puppet!  I finished the shot by animating the now two body sections along and making them appear as one creature.

    As I worked, on another stage my assistant, Stephen Lebed, animated the parasite climbing the leg of the main host, Lt. Commander Remick. Stephen faced his own challenges as the creature was difficult to attach and animate effectively on the pants cloth.

    It was a challenge but it was fun and it continues to get comments. This episode is often included on lists of The Next Generation‘s greatest moments.

    Article updated Dec 31, 2018

    Credit: Frame blow-up are from a video by Greg Stone.

  • More Buck Rogers matte shots

    Posted on May 22nd, 2009 dstipes 8 comments
    "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" by Syd Dutton

    "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" by Syd Dutton

    Peter Noble mentioned this matte shot of Buck and Wilma on the walkway. 

    This is again the fine work of Syd Dutton.  Syd told me that he ran the matte split through the guard at the left side of the walk.  The guard is partially painted and partially real.

    This location is the Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles.

  • Matte painting masters

    Posted on May 21st, 2009 dstipes 15 comments
    Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

    Buck Rogers in the 25th Century by Syd Dutton

    Matte painting has been a love of mine for years. As a high school student I would look at the California skies and fantasize what steps I would have to take to render them out in paint.  My early dinosaur stop motion experiments often had painted back grounds or elements in the shot.  Over the years I have gathered a few fun matte shots that I can share. 

    This is a painting by Syd Dutton for Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979). It was shot at an existing demolition site and employed the “original negative” compositing technique.  This means that the live action was photographed with a masked off (the matte), unexposed section of the frame. This film was not developed immediately, but was returned to the studio where Syd painted the ruins and sky to fit into the unexposed section of the scene.  The negative was run through the camera again and the painting was finally exposed onto the original negative of the live action then developed.

    This provided first generation quality matte painting composites.

  • Will the new cost us the old?

    Posted on May 14th, 2009 dstipes 36 comments
    Copyright 2009 Paramount CBS Studios Inc.

    Copyright 2009 Paramount CBS Studios Inc.

    Star Trek has had a special place in my heart over the years. It was often the most intelligent science fiction show on television at a time when Batman and Lost in Space were considered high quality entertainment.

    While I was appalled at the “Spock’s Brain” episode, I nevertheless tried to get onto the show during its last season. I still remember my 1968 interview with Edward Milkis, the associate producer on the third season of the show.  I was very young and “green” but Mr. Milkis was patient and gave me some encouragement and sent me on my way. 

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