• Member Project Spotlight - Star Trek: Specter of the Past

    When you think of computer animation, what generally comes to mind are movies like "Toy Story" and "Shrek". Many people are not aware of the extent of independent filmmaking, whether live action shot with 35mm, or with budget-oriented digital cameras. But there is a third kind as well - animated. CGI is an industry that has grown exponentially since the explosion of the PC market in the mid to late 1990's. Many independently made animated movies tend to be shorts, anywhere from 5-30 minutes long, some with incredibly realistic animation and lousy story, some with bad animation and a great story. And then there is "Star Trek: Specter of the Past". "Specter" is a feature-length, fan-made movie revolving around the captain of the "USS Fitzgerald", Gaius Reyf, his crew, and his long-time friend-turned-enemy, Dr. Braiyon Garr. The movie is being written, directed and produced by SFM modeler Brandon Bridges (tnpir4002). Current plans for the movie expect a late-2010 release, but an exact date has yet to be announced.

    While many people like to build full-size models of various starships, rendered in anything from Blender to Maya and everything in between, Mr. Bridges is slightly less ambitious, to some degree, and at the same time much, much more. So far, using set plans from the Paramount blueprints, Mr. Bridges has constructed more than 25 sets, on a shoestring budget and using software better suited for building landscapes than the insides of the Enterprise. The main action, like any good trek show, takes place on the "hero" ship, in this case, a Galaxy Class Dreadnought, based on a modification of the classic Galaxy design, and seen on-screen in "The Next Generation" finale, "All Good Things". The Fitzgerald sets are based on those seen throughout the seven year run of "The Next Generation" and "Star Trek: Generations", adapting the darker lighting from the feature to create more visually interesting scenes. But the eye candy is only half the fun.

    What his movie lacks in professional-grade CGI, it more than makes up for in story. The pacing, acting and lip-syncing are superb, as is the score and of course, his incredibly detailed interiors. When asked what possessed him to tackle this project, he indicated that the artist inside him wanted recognition - in SciFi and CG communities - for having accomplished something totally unique, that few others would dare to do. In his own words; "When was the last time you heard of someone, singlehandedly, daring to make a two-hour movie, with accurate-to-TV sets, an entire franchise's worth of continuity not to trip over, in which they themselves play the villain?"

    While any live set is full of producers, directors, artists, technicians and who knows how many kitchen sinks, "Specter" is a one-man show. From pre-vis to lighting to compositing, everything is done by Mr. Bridges himself.

    A typical scene, like in every production, starts with a script. Usually, to make it easier on himself, Brandon writes the script in a novelized form, to add detail and depth, and to assist him in identifying important plot points to include in the final animation. Following this process is voice recording. As the draft version is being recorded entirely by himself (the final cut will feature an ensemble cast to do the voices), this is the most tedious and time consuming aspect of production. The result is usually several hours of dialogue per scene, and when the final takes are extracted, you can see it’s well worth the effort.

    Animation is done in Poser - a rough scene, with a basic background plate is assembled and mercilessly edited to find the best and most visually interesting shots. Slowly the scene starts taking shape: The characters are posed and animated and rendered. This involves two passes - a "standard" rendered frame and an alpha-channel frame - at 1128x480, no less!. The background plates are then lit and rendered, and the whole pot of soup goes into Ulead’s Media Studio for cleanup, comp, and sound. On a whole, each 10 minute clip can take well over 5 days to make, start to finish - not including computer rendering time.

    Currently, each new scene is anticipated, discussed and critiqued by an active group of SFM-ers following the thread, and more than a few fans who make suggestions via SFM's private messaging system or by email. Each time a new scene is released, his dedicated YouTube channel gets a huge increase of hits. The best feedback, according to Brandon, is honest feedback. "Don’t hold yourself back; criticism only makes the story get better. Scripts have been analyzed, entire scenes have been completely changed or cut altogether based on fan recommendations."

    Since I can’t seem to be getting enough of Brandon's movie, the possibility of a sequel, once this is completed, needed to be mentioned. The answer, as I suspected was a negative. In Brandon's words - "To be honest I couldn't conceive of a time in my life where I'm not working on Specter. As I said earlier, I want to get a job doing graphics somewhere, somehow. The idea with this is to show what I could do with the limited tools that Bryce and Poser offer, and to make prospective employers salivate at the thought of what I could do with something like Maya or 3DS Max, or even Lightwave."

    Specter of the Past features an impressive array of set designs to help bring its story to life. These currently include -

    USS Fitzgerald (Galaxy Class)
    Bridge/Ready Room (Refit)
    Corridors (Residential)
    Corridors (Main)
    Observation Lounge
    Office - Troi
    Quarters - Captain
    Quarters - Data
    Science Lab
    Stellar Cartography
    Ten Forward
    Transporter Room

    ISS Voyager (Intrepid Class)
    Cargo Bay
    Mess Hall
    Quarters - Captain

    Bridge - USS Daystrom (modified ST:VI bridge) (prologue)
    Bridge - USS Goodson (Wolf 359 Flashback) [This bridge was redressed by Brandon; the actual mesh was built by Sean Robertson]
    Mellis II Office (Chellik)
    Runabout Interior (Prologue)
    Shuttlecraft Interior
    Garr's Lab

    Specter of the Past was started in 2006 by tnpir4002 as a short Star Trek project. For more information, the Specter thread can be found on Scifi-Meshes.com and the Specter Wiki. Questions, comments or inquiries regarding donations to Brandon's Offshore Bank Account can be sent to tnpir4002(at)gmail.com.

    HomerPalooza67 has been a member of SFM since before “The Crash”, althought no one seems to remember him. He can be found in cyberspace as Jedman67 on various other websites, such as google. Jedman67(at)gmail.com.
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. Grzesiek's Avatar
      Grzesiek -
      I've seen some of the early episodes, and i have to agree. Impressive work, and can't wait to see more of it. It is truly inspiring.
    1. Starship's Avatar
      Starship -
      Yes, it´s an impressive work! I´m following the progress of this project since it´s early days. I know that Brandon don´t have the time to make subtitles available, so, hopefully somebody will do it, and then we can translate it to other languages too.
      Kudos for the hard work Brandon.
    1. Dannage's Avatar
      Dannage -
      I'm considering starting a whip round, maybe we can buy him 3DS... I've seen some of the earlier pieces and will give thumbs up to decent story and writing over photo-real animation any day. I wish I had a tenth of the skill, tenacity and commitment!
    1. gray_death's Avatar
      gray_death -
      Must ask. Will there be copys for sale? DVD by mail, paypal payment. or even digital copys for sale online? pay to download. What can I say.? GD wants a copy. lol
    1. Pogona2010's Avatar
      Pogona2010 -
      Wow! Great story telling!
    1. somacruz145's Avatar
      somacruz145 -
      Congratulations on the feature ! It's a really big accomplishment for one person to do all of this. Looking forward to seeing the movie finished !
    1. Karronade's Avatar
      Karronade -
      Great work at all, I love this, but you have to be careful with the recording volume, the audiostream sometimes overmodulates.
    1. Shonner's Avatar
      Shonner -
      V3 looks great. The Poser 4 figures look meh though. But that can't be helped. Everything else looks great, too.