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‘Star Trek Beyond’ Visual Effects Master Peter Chiang Goes Back to the Future

Double Negative, Atomic Fiction and Kerner Optical go back to the roots of the "Star Trek" series while adding some cool VFX twists for the latest adventure.

Star Trek Beyond

For “Star Trek Beyond,” director Justin Lin —a Trekkie since youth — wanted a return to a simpler “Star Trek” with a more unified theme tuned into the multi-media franchise’s 50th anniversary. This included streamlining the Starship Enterprise before systematically destroying it, along with introducing a few new wrinkles.

Production VFX supervisor and Double Negative co-founder Peter Chiang looked back to the 60s f0r The Enterprise, “with a thin neck and a thin nacelle,” he said. “We view different attributes of The Enterprise through angles and shots and little openings that hadn’t been explored before.” Those new perspectives include: how the saucer separates from the neck, where Kelvin pods sit within the Bridge, and the Bridge view port area where escape pods are placed.

StarTrekBeyond_trailer2

The take down of The Enterprise by the ingenious swarm ships represents a new kind of alien destruction, created in Houdini by Double Negative, with coding to get the movements right.

“The Enterprise gets methodically stripped away when attacked by the swarm ships,” said Chiang. “We started using flocking, but there wasn’t that control so we broke it down into much more balletic, programmed movements. But to achieve the intelligence of the take down, the swarm takes on different shapes: a drill bit to take out the deflector dish, chevrons to take the neck out and spiral chevrons to take the nacelle out.”

Due to budgetary constraints, Chiang started out with a simpler approach. But once “Star Trek Beyond” started shooting (with practical artists, stunt people and trained ballerina artists performing), Chiang and his colleagues decided that their structure was not aggressive enough. And so Kelvin Optical came up with an entire digital design. That asset was handed off to DNeg (which built the swarm ships) and Atomic Fiction (which helped with environments and mayhem).

Star Trek Beyond from Paramount Pictures, Skydance, Bad Robot, Sneaky Shark and Perfect Storm Entertainment

“Star Trek Beyond”

There’s also a new Warp Speed design by Chiang. It’s based on the concept of folding time with a warp bubble, rather than the iconic “Trek” stretch and streak look. This protects The Enterprise, which is traveling at great speeds while shrinking space. “It has all that lovely lens distortion and gravitational lensing you would associate with light bending through time,” said Chiang, “and I thought it would be interesting to travel with The Enterprise.”

Meanwhile, the creation of the Yorktown multi-gravity Federation space station, with its Dubai-inspired building structures and interlocking “arms” with tunnels and airlocks, marks a new advancement in “Star Trek” world building.

DNeg’s art direction team took production designer Tom Sander’s master plan featuring 40 Dubai building structures and modeled them with their City Engine software. This generated new buildings with multiple styles, and throughout they were able to take the Dubai plates and rendered arms into that environment. “When you looked out,” said Chiang, “there would be other arms suggesting other worlds.”

However, when they thought of designing Vulcan and Klingon arms, it became too difficult to implement their unique cultural references. “So we kept the arms more neutral,” Chiang added.

That’s where the “Beyond” comes in.

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