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.
  • Restoring Terry’s figure with Vis Efx

    Posted on September 12th, 2009 dstipes No comments

    Terry Farrell’s contract was up on DS-9 and she was leaving the show. The story going around was that she did not wish to leave but the producers would not grant her contract requests. As the visual effects supervisor, I was on the DS-9 set to oversee the effects needed for her last scenes on the series. Terry was not very happy and was giving tearful goodbye hugs to her production crewmates.

    I have seen actors who were really obnoxious and uncooperative when they didn’t get what they wanted so I was watching Terry with interest as the day unfolded. For every shot when called, she dried her tears, went on set, became her character, Dax, and delivered the best performances she could. She did not give an attitude, whine or make excuses. She did her job.

    To give Terry an exit from the series, the DS-9 writers had bad boy Gul Dukat kill Jadzia Dax in the episode called ‘Tears of the Prophets’. Dukat, possessed by the Pah-wraiths, uses an energy force to lift Dax off the ground then kill her.

    tearsofthephrophets_595

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • 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.

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    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.

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    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • John Eaves’ Jem’Hadar for DS-9

    Posted on June 20th, 2009 dstipes No comments

     

    Jem Hadardesign

    Since John Eaves posted his excellent designs for the DS-9 Jem ‘Hadar battle ship, I thought I would let you see it as a model.  

     

    John’s design translated into a terrific looking model that was fun to light and photograph. Read the rest of this entry »

  • “The Emperor’s New Cloak” vfx

    Posted on May 29th, 2009 dstipes No 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.

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    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 »

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