Musings & Interests of David Stipes
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  • Creating a dramatic Star Trek starship smackdown

    Posted on March 28th, 2020 dstipes No comments

    Destroying spaceships was one of the more interesting challenges on the Star Trek TV shows. The default approach was to superimpose some gasoline fireballs over the spaceship miniature and then dissolve the model out and call it a day. Early on after I arrived at Star Trek I did experiment with what were supposed to be thermonuclear explosions with bright flashes and shock waves. It was effective in the scenes but a bit unsatisfying.

    When the story allowed I would try to make the shot a bit more fun with what I called “visual shorthand.”  I was looking for what quickly communicated visually that a starship was in trouble.

    As I originally pondered this I wondered what was a real-world visual correlate to spaceships being destroyed. To me, the best comparison was a huge military ship in combat. I most often thought of the Bismarck sinking in 1941.


    After a massive battle, the Bismarck roll over onto its side and sank.

    This is an example of how an artist’s life experiences can affect their work. My awareness of the Bismarck capsizing is a direct result of building a model for a middle school history class. I proudly showed my model of the Bismarck to my instructor.


    Being a typical young teenager I had not done my research and had constructed the model sinking by the bow like the Titanic. My instructor complimented my model and then informed me that the Bismarck actually sank by rolling over or capsizing. My embarrassment etched the experience into my memory for me to draw up many years later for Star Trek.

    Previously I wrote about the glass tabletop approach to spaceship shots on Star Trek where the ships were filmed predominantly level for maximum readability and recognition.

    To better dramatize the destruction I would violate the glass tabletop and tilt the ships over as if they were capsizing.

    My two favorite examples are from “Valiant” episode number 146 and “Sacrifice of Angels” episode number 130.


    When the ships were hit they would roll over like a dying dreadnought on the high seas.


    As the starships capsized the hull would burn away revealing the inner structure and then followed by the ever-popular fireball explosions.


    In a couple of instances, we would have the ship do a huge jolt from the blast and then come apart in tilting pieces or in one case the ship began to tumble from an impact in the front. They were effective visually and had a strong visceral impact.



    Of course, none of my fanciful destruction scenes would have happened without the talents of the CGI artists at Digital Muse and Foundation Imaging. With a smackdown team like this, the poor spaceships didn’t have a chance!


    Star Trek and all related elements ™, ® & © 2020 Paramount Pictures / CBS Studios Inc.
    Photographs and media are used for educational purposes only. 
    No copyright infringement is intended.

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