This weekend Star Trek’s first pilot "The Cage" will be the final new episode to air in syndication for the remastered Star Trek (check local listings). Also this week CBS Home Entertainment released Season One of the remastered Star Trek on Blu-ray. In our exclusive interview, TrekMovie spoke to Star Trek Remastered co-producer Mike Okuda about both, and a little bit about the new Star Trek movie.
INTERVIEW WITH MIKE OKUDA
TrekMovie.com: We started our coverage of the remastered "The Cage" with the CBS promo last week which was well received although some people questioned how it implied Pike was the first captain of the Enterprise.
Mike Okuda: No it does not. If you read it carefully it says that Kirk was not the first Captain, but it does not specifically say that Pike was, so there is a little wiggle room…I think people are dissecting it more finely than is really appropriate.
TrekMovie: Getting to the episode itself, with "The Cage" was there anything more or less difficult in doing the episode with regard to the source material?
Mike Okuda: "The Cage" was a particularly difficult exercise in that regard because the elements were wildly inconsistent from a number of sources.
TrekMovie: What were some of the particular challenges for "The Cage", in regards to the new digital effects?
Mike Okuda: You can’t really talk about "The Cage" without also talking about "The Menagerie" as they are an organic whole. We actually started work on "The Menagerie" very early on. And the greatest single challenge of the entire project was the bridge fly in shot. We did not have film elements for that and from an animation point of view it was enormously complicated….it took multiple people around six weeks to complete it.
Zoom into the bridge in "The Cage" most challenging shot of Trek Remastered project
TrekMovie: With regards to that shot, were there any tweaks made to it between "The Menagerie" and doing "The Cage"?
Mike Okuda: Yeah, there were some minor reworking required to match because it was a longer shot in "The Cage."
TrekMovie: Were there any other shots used in "The Menagerie" that were tweaked for "The Cage"?
Mike Okuda: They reworked the planet a little more, so the planet renderings are slightly different.
TrekMovie: Your new version of the opening credits for "The Cage" seems to use the same nebula seen at the end of the final episode, "Turnabout Intruder", was that on purpose.
Mike Okuda: Yes we deliberately used the same nebula, to make it as a bookend.
Nebula in "The Cage" same as used in "Turnabout Intruder"
TrekMovie: What are some of the other key enhancements to the episode?
Mike Okuda: Probably the coolest addition is the stars in the window in Pike’s quarters. That helps bring the ship to life and to get a sense they are traveling among the stars. Also with the city of Mojave, Max Gabl did a wonderful matte painting that is based on the original scenic back they had on set, and helped enhance the reality of being on this futuristic Earth, but staying within the style of the original. Another thing that was done that is hopefully not too obvious is that there were a number of the illusion transitions in the original that they didn’t put the shimmer effect on, so we asked them to add the shimmer. For those kinds of things we would like you to believe they were always there. And there was actually quite a bit of work to the morph sequence when Vena becomes the old woman. Again you don’t realize the change was made, but the background plates didn’t quite register properly. CBS Digital rotoscoped her out, stabilized the background plates and it looks like the same shot but it just a little cleaner.
TrekMovie: I can’t tell, but did you do anything with the painting on Rigel 7?
Mike Okuda: The original matte painting for Rigel 7 was by Albert Whitlock, who was one of the greatest visual effects artists of all time. CBS Digital has a very talented artist with Max Gabl. Max is not only a very fine artist, he is a very fine technical artist. He will figure out the perspective and the lighting and figure how the clouds affect the diffusion and those kinds of things. There are a lot of things which technically aren’t right with the Rigel castle, like the lighting on the castle doesn’t quite match the lighting on the moon, those kinds of things. And Max wanted to fix those and he made a quick pass on what that fix would look like and we realized that it would substantially change the character of the painting. It wouldn’t feel like this iconic science-fiction image. So we decided not to do it. They added a little bit of shimmer on the water. And if you look at the castle in the original they cut the matte painting two or three times and vines on the side of the castle change lengths. Which means Whitlock must have been retouching the painting even as they were filming, so we asked Max to standardize that. But we realized that mistakes and all, it is such a beautiful and iconic painting that we thought it would be wrong to change it. And it pleases me to hear you say we did nothing at all.
TrekMovie: What is different about "The Cage" Enterprise model?
Mike Okuda: The bridge dome is bigger, some of the details on the saucer are different, the sensor dish is bigger, the front ends of the nacelles have these spikes coming out if, and the back end has a different design as well. There are some details we did not copy, but we wanted to capture the spirit of that version of The Enterprise, just because people would be looking and say "that’s The Cage version".
The USS Enterprise in "The Cage"
TrekMovie: Looking back on the remastered project as a whole, what was most surprising?
Mike Okuda: Certainly the amount of work that was required. We knew it was going to be a tremendously challenging project on a fiercely tight schedule. But as you got into it, there were so many things that cascaded. But the main thing that happened is that we as a group learned as we went along, as always happens on a project. So we were much more efficient towards the end. That always happens on any TV series or feature.
TrekMovie: While you guys were running new episodes almost every week back in 2006 to 2008, how much attention was the team paying to fan feedback on sites like TrekMovie.com? There was quite a lot being said back then, often quite heated.
Mike Okuda: Even before the project started we knew that fans were going to be intensely skeptical of anyone who dared touch the original show. We respected that and shared it to an extent. And we were determined to do it in the most respectful possible way. We actually had a lot less time to look at fan boards than you would think, although there were some people at CBS who certainly looked at the boards, and some would occasionally get discouraged. We would tell them "by all means look at whatever interests you and take into account whatever opinions there are and if there is something valid to be said, then by all means learn from in, but don’t obsess over it." Because the person who doesn’t like some detail, they may have a valid point of view, they probably do, but we had to make a decision and there often are creative, technical, logistical, artistic considerations that that person is not aware of, and if they were aware of them, they may make the same choice. At the end of the day we were responsible for meeting the schedule.
There was one thing, it might have been on TrekMovie, they made a posting that they hated the original chronometer on Sulu’s console. I always thought it was a little charming, but I can see it. At one of our production meetings Dave Rossi said "make that person happy." It was one of those things that CBS Digital didn’t have the time to do it, so I foolishly said "I’ll do it." It is just a couple of shots, so I did the shots. What I didn’t realize is that whenever there is a chronometer I had to do it, and those shots always came up when I was crunched with something else.
TrekMovie: So the new Blu-ray for Season One comes out this week and it now has seamless branching. Is that how you thought it always should be?
Mike Okuda: From the very beginning all of us wanted seamless branching. We were all obviously proud of the new visual effects, but we don’t want the originals to disappear and we want to see both versions. Even though it seems like a no-brainer, there were actually some big technical issues in making seamless branching happen and to their very considerable credit, CBS Home Video agreed with it and they stuck with it and made it happen. And even better they also included the original mono mixes of the soundtrack. The new mixes are beautiful, but again it is really cool to have the original versions available.
TrekMovie: So you are going to see the movie next week, what are your thoughts now towards this new Star Trek movie?
Mike Okuda: I am very excited. Everything we have seen looks like JJ Abrams has done it right. Everything suggests that they have the courage necessary to reinvent the franchise to re-energize it. That may sound like a small thing, but as you know Star Trek fans are very protective of what they love. Both Denise and I are very excited about it. The casting looks great and it certainly looks like the studio has given the resources to do a good job. And both Denise and I are big fans of Abrams from Alias and Lost. We used to watch Alias all the times in the art department.
The Remastered "The Cage" airs this weekend in syndication. Look for Jeff Bond’s review on Friday night. Here is the preview:
[hit ‘HQ’ button to see in higher quality]
The Original Series Season One on Blu-ray came out April 28th and is discounted at Amazon for $64.99.
Amazon pre-order: $64.99 [discounted $129.99]