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  • Digital vs. physical Jem’Hadar

    Posted on June 23rd, 2009 dstipes No comments

    In the last posting I shared images of the Jem’Hadar cruiser model. RKW asked for some comparison shots between the physical model and the CGI model used on DS-9.


    Physical model from episode, "Ties of Blood and Water" (Gary Hutzel, vis efx supervisor)

    As you could see from the photo above and next below, the physical model was pretty good looking and would have been used as long as possible on the series.


    Physical model from episode, "Call to Arms"

    With season 6 episode  #546,  “Valiant,”  we were forced to create a CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) version of a Jem’Hadar ‘Battleship.’  The main reason was compelled by the story. If possible we would have used the physical model for both the cruiser and the Battleship, with the scale of the model being the only difference.


    John Eaves' drawing of Jem'Hadar Cruiser and Battleship with defiant for size comparison. (Image courtesy of John Eaves)

    In the story, a young crew on the ‘Valiant”, a sister ship to the Defiant, encounter a Jem’Hadar Battleship which is much larger than the Jem’Hadar Cruiser.


    Valiant begins an attack run. (Both ships are CGI.)

    They think they have discovered a weakness in the battleship and do a series of close-up attack runs. Not such a good strategy as the Valiant is destroyed.


    The Valiant attacks! (CGI)

    Since the story called for close up attacks, the camera would have to be flying an inch or so off of the physical model. This was pretty much impossible with the motion control camera / rig and more importantly, the physical model was never constructed to tolerate that kind of close up scrutiny. It just did not have the detail to hold up.


    Jam'Hadar Battleship (CGI. Note all of the additional texture.)

    Digital Muse (now Eden FX) was contracted to construct a digital version of the Jem’Hadar Battleship.

    The design was quite similar to the Cruiser but with a lot of added texture and detail. That is what you will see as the major difference between physical and digital models. The wing sweep / wing-pod relationships are  different, too. 


    "What You Leave Behind" (All CGI)

    Having a digital model greatly helped us as we got further into the Dominion war story-arc in DS-9.



    14 responses to “Digital vs. physical Jem’Hadar”

    1. From a still photo, I can’t tell which is which, but then I didn’t work with these or look at them everyday.

    2. Hello Cookster,

      Your feedback is really appreciated! I do want these postings to be informative. You and other contributors are helping me do just that!

      I went back into the article and added a bit more detail. The first and second photos are the physical model.

    3. David: do you know the detailed story behind the battlecruiser model which first appeared in the episode “In Purgatory’s Shadow”, marking the very first appearance of John Eaves’ battlecruiser design? It wasn’t the miniature or the season six Foundation/Muse CG model.

      The design is interesting because it looks like the modeller didn’t quite match John Eaves’ intended proportions, so fans usually call it the “V-type”. There is a whole article about it here:

    4. Boris,

      There was another company, VisionArt, involved with DS-9 CGI when I started on season 5. I think they had a version of the Jem’Hadar Cruiser at some point. I dimly remember that their Cruiser may have been more flattened; their CG model’s wings did not droop as much as the physical model.

      I am sorry that I can’t be more authoritative. I am answering this off the top of my head and my production binders are in storage.

      For the most part, I worked with the physical model and Digital Muse’s CGI version.

      Sometimes model decisions and modifications were done with the producers and were outside of my control or knowledge.

    5. I’ll confess David that the first three images labeled CGI actually look real to me. One of the images is at high speed (always a good trick) so it’s hard to tell but the third image looks believable. It’s only the last image “What you leave behind” that screams CGI to me. This probably has more to do with the planet but also the lack of depth. Everything in the far distance looks to be just as crisp as objects up close.

      I don’t know if you do this already with your students but you should test them by showing random images and asking them to document why they believe it’s real or CGI. Only by fully understanding why an image looks fake or real will they be able to prevent it happening in the future.

    6. Hello RKW,

      Hey, this blog’s for you! 🙂

      RE: “What You Leave Behind”

      We decided to go for more accurate optical response with the planet shots. A real camera lens at infinity, photographing giant spaceships, would not render objects blurred at the distance. In space there is no air or particulates to show distance via atmospheric perspective. So it is all sharp.

      If anything, I may be at fault by making the image too bright and having too strong of a Photoshop sharpening filter.

      Thank you for the suggestion for the educational exercise. I have seen this done by Mojo with a Battlestar Galactica Viper. Pretty effective.

      More often I encourage students to go out with a camera and various lenses and understand real world optics and lighting.

    7. “Hey, this blog’s for you!”

      I appreciate it Dave 😉

      Re: “A real camera lens at infinity”

      Does that setting even exist in the real world? I’m going to have to disagree with that as the Mark I eyeball finds it impossible to focus on objects at distance. Since we view the world with our eyes I assume the purpose of any shot is to give you a first person perspective of actualy being there. If I were an astronaut filming with my hand held camera it too would find it impossible to focus on objects at distance, especially if it’s moving. You see this all the time with Nasa footage where they’re shooting an approaching object. The object is just a gleeming white blur until it’s within range. Many Apollo astronauts have witnessed objects out in the distance that they just can’t focus on even with a camera.

    8. Hello RKW,

      While I think you are correct, our human eyes (and camera lenses) only focus at one distance at a time, with photographic lenses you can set them to a theoritic “infinity” mark (or more correctly, the hyperfocal distance) and by stopping down you will get what appears to be acceptable focus from a close up distance to as far as you can see. Check:

      That is the principle we were working with. We did the best we could with the time we had.

      Sincerely, I wish all of my vis efx students took the time to analyze shots as well as you do. 🙂

      Best wishes,


    9. Ansel Adams and the f64 club do space and spaceships, eh.

      At this point, most virtual lenses are all patterned after actual real-world lenses, and the principles of virtual photography are pretty much exactly the same as real-world principles. Which again leads to the value of stepping outside the computer to further one’s skill inside the computer.

      Real-world knowledge of photography and cinematography is vital to being a competent virtual virtual camera person, IMO.

      While I can appreciate the real-world aspect of the last shot, I too prefer a bit of DOF myself.

      It’s actually funny how when you do go the route of following the real-world rules and create a pic that is actually correct, real-world-wise, layperson folks will often say it looks fake.

      If you look at a lot of NASA photography, some of it would never fly if I took it and posted it on a 3D forum saying I created it (not that I would ever do that, just making a point). It would be picked part for every “flaw” it had.

      In regard to sci-fi, the general audience has had a somewhat overriding stylized “idea” of what “real” is instilled in their minds at this point, and if that stylization is missing, it looks fake. 🙂

      Great post David, thanks as always!


    10. “In regard to sci-fi, the general audience has had a somewhat overriding stylized “idea” of what “real” is instilled in their minds at this point, and if that stylization is missing, it looks fake.”

      By stylized “idea” of what is real… you mean films using real objects in front of real cameras with real DOF and real lighting creating a real photographic image 😉

      Us humans have had thousands of years of evolution to perfect what we see and so can tell when something is not quite right. Until the day we become cyborgs I expect to see human DOF in my images. That’s one of the things most CGI artists all ways get wrong is by making the resolution of objects too perfect. Then proceed to do one of my biggest pet hates by adding artifical noise to simulate film grain.

    11. Not sure I follow your point about stylization, RKW, as those aspects you site would not apply in VFX.

      But I’m with you as far as DOF, eh. And your reasons why, As to film grain and noise, I’m all for it myself, and do it, as film has grain, and to not see grain, is the same as seeing a super-crisp perfectly focused shot to me.

      To me it’s all in how you do it, and less is more is the rule to recreating photorealism. Many CG artists tend to do stuff just because they can, and on top of that, when they do it, they overdo it, hope to make sure the efx is noted.

      That’s, IMO, is a sure sign of not paying attention to the reality of what one actually observes in real life.

      This is one reason stylized reality has become so prominent, as reality is often seen as less-than. Often, it’s not dramatic enough to instill a desired level visceral impact upon the viewer

      I pursue a blend myself, but with a strong leaning toward photorealism as the rules apply. I will at time enhance stuff, but only slightly if at all.

      I feel composition can fill the visceral requirements, as opposed to just caking on loud efx for the sake of efx that one would not really see in real life.

      But art is all subjective, and there are as many takes as there are artists, thanks goodness. 🙂


    12. David,

      Hello! I’m so pleased you’re blogging about your work on DS9.

      I have a quick “fanboy” question for you: in “What You Leave Behind,” when we see the Dominion fleet in Cardassia’s orbit, one of the Jem’Hadar battleships we see is absolutely huge next to all of the other ships.

      The last image you posted shows what I’m talking about. See the battleship in the lower rightish corner of the shot?

      A Dominion cruiser just “above” the battleship clearly overlaps the latter, so those ships must’ve been fairly close together. Since the cruiser was supposed to be in the 600-700m length range, the bigger ship would seem to be 2-3 miles long!

      Was this a scaling gaffe, or was the battleship from “Valiant” (and earlier battle scenes from “WYLB”) intentionally scaled up for that last shot?

      Hope this makes sense. Thanks again for blogging, man! This kinda stuff is a fan’s dream!

      Best regards,

    13. A bit late on this thread, but I do believe that it takes a good quality CGI model to compare to something real.

    14. Hello Sean,

      You are correct, we had both the Battleship and Cruiser class ships in the scene.

      Thank you for your interest!

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