We grew up watching and loving the original "Star Trek." So when Dave Rossi asked us if we would help out with CBS’s remastering of the classic show in high definition, we were thrilled.
Of course we were skeptical about the project, but Rossi and the folks at CBS Home Entertainment soon convinced us that they’d give our favorite show the respect it deserves The idea was to use HD to bring out the beautiful detail and incredibly rich colors that were always present in the original film, but had been lost in the murkiness of standard-definition video.
One problem: CBS knew that while the live-action portions of the original series were simply beautiful, they worried that the show’s visual effects might not hold up to today’s audiences. Another problem was that 1960s film effects, which were high tech and cutting edge at the time, required each piece of film to be rephotographed several times. With each step, the image is degraded a bit. The result is that the ship shots were noticeably fuzzier and grainier than the live-action footage.
And to make matters worse, virtually all of the original film of the Enterprise model was lost during the rush to complete the episodes back in the 1960s. The solution to all these problems? Create all-new shots of the ship in space, using computer-generated imagery to re-create the classic Enterprise, with a slightly more modern twist. We also had the opportunity to add a few matte paintings to extend the scope of the show’s planetscapes and alien cities.
The three of us worked with an amazing group at CBS Digital for the remastered visual effects. Despite a very tight schedule and an even tighter budget, Director of VFX (visual effects) Craig Weiss, supervisor Niel Wray and everyone else behind-the-scenes at CBS Digital went above and beyond the call of duty to bring the new effects to life. And on one day in November 2006, we all got to do a little work in front of the cameras, too.
It was “green-screen day.” Wray and his cohorts took over an empty soundstage at CBS Television City, right next door to "The Price is Right." We borrowed a bunch of TOS-style costumes from a friend and invited the CBS-D staff (and a few friends) to be photographed in front of a small green screen.
One of the goals of the new visual effects was to stay as true as possible to the style of the 1960s. Matte artist Max Gabl strove to re-create the style of the original paintings. That’s where green-screen day came in. The magic of digital visual effects would turn us all into tiny figures that could be inserted into some matte paintings and other shots to give them a bit of extra realism.
Even non-uniformed people got to be diplomatic guests in the hangar deck viewing gallery in “Journey to Babel” or civilians in “The Menagerie.” Many also showed up as Eminiar citizens in “A Taste of Armageddon.” Nearly everyone working on the TOS-R VFX crew at that time got to be in the show. We knew we’d all be too small on the screen to recognize, but we didn’t care.
Rossi is a big fan of William Shatner, so he was thrilled that his shoulder was (sort of) glimpsed as Capt. Kirk through the shuttlecraft window in one shot in “The Menagerie, Part I.”
David LaFountaine, TOS-R executive producer, showed up as a Federation official in the window of a building on the Starbase 11 mall, as well as in Eminiar City.
Wray, Toni Pace Carstensen, Wendy Ruiz, Chris Tezber, Max Gabl and others showed up there, too. Denise got to be a hangar deck control technician. (You can tell it’s Denise because she had the only red miniskirt uniform.) Mike got to pilot a shuttlecraft in a couple of episodes. He brought Sarek and his party to a safe landing in the beginning of “Journey to Babel” and even got to be Leonard Nimoy’s photodouble for a few moments in “The Immunity Syndrome” when Spock lands his shuttlecraft at the end of the episode.
One side note: We’ve always wanted to have a “real” prop from the original "Star Trek." Unfortunately, those relics are not only very expensive, but there’s a lot of fakes out there. But green-screen day changed all that. Rossi made it a point to flip open his communicator replica while we were being shot for the Starbase 11 matte painting. Denise checked readings on a tricorder that the late Steve Horsch made for us. And Mike wore an Art Asylum phaser pistol on my belt. Before green-screen day, all three objects were cool collectibles. But afterwards, they became treasured mementos from our favorite show.
One of our regrets from our days working at Paramount was that we were unable to be part of the big crowd scene in the last episode of Enterprise with so many of our friends. (We were working on the pilot episode of "Threshold" at the time.) Thanks to our friends at CBS Digital, we got to make up for it here.
For the record, here’s a list of credits that appear on the Blu-ray release of TOS-R, representing most of the people who worked on the remastered visual effects.
Thank you, all.
Visual Effects Supervisor
Visual Effects Producer
Visual Effects Coordinators
Lead Lighting Technical Director
Lighting Technical Directors
Lead Effects Animator
Shoghi Castel de Oro
Hee Kung Shin
Systems Support Engineer
Director of Visual Effects for CBS Digital
Robert H. Justman
Assistant to Mr. LaFountaine
Director of Broadcast Services
Director of Marketing Services
CBS Television Mastering
Senior VP Business Affairs
Peter H. Kane
VP CBS Stage Operations
President, CBS Studio Center
President, CBS Television Distribution
Original posting date: May 18, 2009. © 2015 Michael and Denise Okuda.
Max Gabl’s Starbase 11 matte painting from the remastered version of “The Menagerie, Part I.” Mike and Denise are visible on the far left. Further back, in a yellow uniform, is Dave Rossi. Others in the scene include Niel Wray, David LaFountaine, Wendy Ruiz, Toni Pace Carstensen and Richard Barnett. Behind-the-scenes photos by Mike Okuda.