EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Mike Okuda – Talking “The Cage”, TOS-R On Blu-ray & more

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.


Star Trek Season One on Blu-ray allows for seamless branching between original and new effects


Mike & Denise Okuda appearing in Picture-in-Picture commentary on Star Trek Season One Blu-ray

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]

 

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I cant wait to see it 1st?

One thing I wish were on the BDs was remastered episode previews. I thought they were done well. It’s great having the original previews, but the remastered ones are good too.

I need to buy a Blue Ray Player and an HD tv! :(

The local Best Buy jumped the gun and had the BluRay sets out today on sale and a friend of mine bought it. The branching is seamless, the quality is breathtaking and how amazing is it to have the original version as well?

A HUGE THANK YOU to Mike and the whole remastering team at CBS for making Trek look and sound better than it ever has before. These are good times for TOS fans.

I like the control panels – or whatever the black panels are – that were added to the inside of the turbolift in that opening fly-in shot. Nice little touch to enhance a featureless wall.

Sweet

Mike Okuda is a badass mofo.

Anthony:

“The Cage” as an available video product has evolved from a color+B&W combination of “Menagerie” footage, and ‘found’ B&W footage (with GR’s introduction), into a full color version (B&W elements colorized, if I recall, including main titles), to, now, this remastered version.

Having seen the remastered version, you can tell when the ‘found’ footage comes in due to a serious temporary degradation of sound/video quality.

I am assuming that the new version is composed primarily of masters from “Menagerie” + cleaned up color ‘found’ footage, plus the new digital effects.

Okuda and crew did an amazing job with The Cage. Especially the bridge dome fly in shot. That is quite amazing. I wish all the remastered episodes were done with the same level of care.

I’m sorry but the whole remastered project was a big disappointment for me. There I said it. The above shot of the enterprise, which looks like a toy with those big red nippled boobs, just looks like a toy. However, that is just my opinion and I will not offer any more negative comments. I know alot of folks are really happy with this effort. So I’ll respect that. Enjoy!

Also, that trailer was way more actiony than The Cage ever was.

I loved the remastered version of Star Trek. I was so excited to watch the Cage again as I always thought it was a beautifully made episode with a great story. The Talosians were such a brilliantly realized race too. I can’t wait until I get a Bluray player.

I’m so glad to have the original episodes in pristine quality on blu-ray… and the original mono track as well. Truly a joy.

where on CBS….NOT ON THE SCHEDULE

This may sound harsh, but I’m sorry to see the imposition of their nebula on the opening credits. The Cage — or as it should be known, “The Menagerie” as it’s the two-parter that took the pilot’s name — shouldn’t have been treated as a “bookend.” The rejected original pilot is its own thing, a stand-alone document of television history. In sitting down to enjoy a classic, we don’t want to be reminded of the clunker Turnabout Intruder. A true recreation of the opening credits (accounting for streaky stars and all) would have been a beautiful thing.

Meh. It’s too cerebral.

Gene L. Coon was a U. S. Marine. Stand at ease.

I remember going to see the B+W “Cage” in NYC back in the 80’s when they first released it…interesting, but it is apocrypha.

There is a definite pattern/link between The Cage and TMP. Roddenberry’s first shot at both the series, and the films was a bit flat, and had to be jazzed up for the second try. Thank goodness we got both of those mulligans. Here’s hoping the latest one works out as well.

Eight days and a wake up to go!

The B&W footage wasn’t colorized. The story of finding the color footage is here: http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/reply/276095/t/The-Cage-1966-.html#reply-276095

Once it was found, it was combined with “The Menagerie”‘s footage. The sound from the clips is from GR’s print since the color footage did not have a soundtrack.

My tivo is set. And I’m waiting by the mailbox for the delivery of my Season One Blu-Ray!

7. Yes, he is! The Okudas are the unsung heroes of Trek. Love their work. Love their passion. Love their commitment.

#8:
““The Cage” as an available video product has evolved from a color+B&W combination of “Menagerie” footage, and ‘found’ B&W footage (with GR’s introduction), into a full color version (B&W elements colorized, if I recall, including main titles), to, now, this remastered version.”

AJ,

I could of course be mistaken about this, but I don’t believe any footage from any released version of “The Cage” was ever colorized. I recall, at the time the “full-color” version was first shown, that apparently a complete color negative had in fact been discovered.

Looking at that version on the original TOS Season 3 DVD set seems to bear this out. Much of the reinserted color footage has a considerable dropout in sound quality, because the full-length color negative had a degraded soundtrack. If those shots had been colorized black-and-white images taken from Roddenberry’s personal uncut B&W print (the only version available for years), the sound quality would have been much higher than it was.

Also, colorization has never been able to successfully match the range of tone and saturation available on real color film…. it always looks as if someone has done a pastel watercolor wash on the greyscale footage; whereas the “restored” color elements from the complete color version match the surrounding footage pretty exactly.

Robert April is the first captain of the Enterprise, then Capt. Pike for 11 years or so, followed by our Capt. Kirk – if I remember my Star Trek history right…

I don’t know at what point “The Cage” was actually called “The Menagerie” – I know that’s been reported, but the several scripts I’ve seen were all titled “The Cage” throughout. The draft I currently own a copy of is November 30, 1964 (captain’s name “James Winter” at the time).

Overall, they did a great job with the Remastered project. The work is somewhat uneven, given the budget and workload and speed with which they had to accomplish it – hey, those are the exact same reasons that the effects on the *original* versions were of variable quality! It’s really very much in the spirit of the original from start to finish. ;-)

Love Okuda, hope he makes another Star Trek Chronology!!!

@15

“Quasar (as I recall)..with the works in a drawer, baby!”. LOL

I remember eagerly awaiting the color/bw version of the Cage on VHS and was not disappointed.

I’m not interested in getting into the Blu-Ray equipment, but this is one episode I would like to see in that format.

What a great pilot. I’m glad we got the Shatner series, but I think it would have been interesting to see what a series with the cast of the Cage would have been like.

I actually like the Menagerie Keeper voice better, but one thing I would like to hear would be the use of the original Keeper voice throughout the episode on some version. I’m not sure if such a version has ever been released. ???

The showing of the Remastered episodes a couple of years ago was a fun way to revisit the series. Maybe not all of the revisions were done as well as some would have liked, but I always liked how they respected the originals in the way the visuals were done. By-and-large, I thought CBS digital did a nice job.

Will look forward to any further coverage of this

just bought TREK season 1 blu-ray and i love it!

Great Work!

what does “seamless branching” mean? Thank you.

#27 No such version has ever been released with the original
‘Keepers’ voice.

I understand why they changed it for The Menagerie. Since the Cage is the pilot it should be made to stay as it was originally intended putting back the original voice.

I have no doubt the original mono track for the pilot is somewhere in the Paramount vaults and could be digitally restored.

What do you think Mike, Denise and Dave??? I bet you can do that!

Anthony…My parents still have a furniture Zenith TV. We have it in our basement and it still works!

.

I remember seeing the color/BW Cage for the first time and freaking out.
Now we have come full-circle. The remastered Cage coinciding with ST09.
Lots ‘o years.

29: There are multiple versions of the same scene included on the disc and the episodes can be watched with either the re-mastered effects or with the original effects.

I’m glad to see the thought and care into these. Okuda seems cool, thoughtful. I guess I’m gonna have to get a Bluray player. Someone guide me. Matt,….where are you? May wait till this summer.

After watching that preview…..cool music.

#29- Are you the real Gary Seven (or in your case GarySeven)? Will the real Gary Seven (GarySeven) please stand up, please stand up. Are you actually THE Robert Lansing that lives in Florida?
That would be cool!
Too many Sevens! (Love Gary Seven of Nine!)

I got Season 1 on Blu-ray today. I’m just four episodes in, and it’s fantastic! I’m glad I waited to get it ’til now. The one complaint I had is that the original effects don’t seem to have been given the full digital remastering. However, as I’m mostly watching it with the enhanced effects, it’s clear that the new effects fit better with the full digital remastering that the show was given for TV and the Blu-ray release. Other than that, it’s been a frakkin’ awesome set! Can’t wait to finish the set, and get on to seasons 2 and 3.

God bless!

#29 Never mind, Robert Lansing (Gary Seven) is dead, it is his son Gary Jr. that lives in Florida. Is that who you are?

GarySeven- I meant are you Robert Lansing Jr.? If he had named his son Gary that would have been very cool though!

“Yes we deliberately used the same nebula, to make it as a bookend.”

Last year I suggested, on this site, that a cool way to bookend the original series would be to do a reverse pull out of the Enterprise at the very end of “Turnabout Intruder”. Well they did it at the end of the re-mastered Cage…still would’ve preferred it at the end of “Turnabout..” Instead, they tried to evoke the endings of the spin-off’s with the way they re-mastered TI’s ending.

I want TNG, Voyager and DS9 on Blu Ray!!!

Branching – or Forking as its called in the DVD standard – is not restricted to Blu-Ray. If you need proof look at the splendid Doctor Who DVDs with optional CGI effects from 2entertain.

I’m generally not a big fan of Blu-Ray as in my opinion the copy-protection was more important during development than quality. One question – among many I have: Why didn’t they use 2,35:1 aspect ratio as in cinemas for HDTV???

If forking will for this releases is only available on Blu-Ray its just a marketing trick….

22: SB:

I then stand corrected, not having remembered that they found a true color print of “The Cage” at some point following the color/B&W release.

24: Dennis, “The Menagerie” Parts 1 and 2 is the 1st season TOS story of Fleet Captain Pike, after having been gravely injured and forever handicapped by Delta rays, being kidnapped by Kirk-era Spock, and brought back to Talos IV to live out his life with Vena in an illusory uninjured body. The TOS ep frames much of the “Cage” footage as backstory, and throws in a cracking story of its own to boot.

cant wait to see it 45th

Wish they would’ve put this on the first Blu-Ray set. In production/stardate order instead of seasons.

Could’ve made things seem more chronological and call them vol. 1, 2, and 3

#18 I remember seeing STTMP in the theater on opening weekend. I also remember being in awe when I walked away. It was a huge hit at the time. Only in hindsight does the movie seem slow. It was a spectacle that lived in another time of patient edits and more intelligent audiences. I also remember the biggest criticism about the movie was not the pace, or the length (we wanted more) but the uniforms. What were they thinking? Now, nobody even talks about that, it’s just a part of the history and newer generations exposed to much more dynamic films made during the 80s and 90s tend to historically revise the ’79 experience in retrospect.

Likewise with the Cage. I was mesmerized when I finally saw the full color print in the 80s. It holds up with the likes of the recent hit “Knowing” which despite its generous quasi-action special effects was mostly a slowly paced classic Hitchcock thriller with a Twighlight Zone twist, just like the Cage – and also proving that such a thoughtful film can “do business”. Indeed they were both “mulligans” in the sense they were Roddenberry’s “do-overs”, but both have been enormously successful in their own right, so it’s not like they were bad shots off the tee. Roddenberry, or more particularly, Paramount just wanted him to hit different shots to the green.

#41: Yes, we thought a pull-out at the end of “Turnabout Intruder” would have been cool, but the timing of the end shot didn’t work for it. A pull-out would have been jarringly fast.

By contrast, the end sequence of “The Cage” was quite long, and it started with a nice tie-in shot of Pike and company on the bridge, so it worked very well, at least in my opinion.

Dave, Denise, and I, along with Niel Wray and everyone at CBS Digital want to thank you all for your opinions, for your support, your criticisms, and most of all, for sharing your love of Star Trek.

-Mike

You Rock Mr. Okuda, we love what you do for Trek and we love sharing our love for trek with everyone!

The timing of this episode’s release on TV is very appropriate. Captain Pike is an integral part of the new movie, and the typical non-Trekkie movie goer is not going to know that Pike was even in the original series. If they happen to see this episode immediately before the movie, they will have a deeper appreciation for the long history behind this character, and know that JJ Abrams and his team did not just make up the Pike character for the new movie.

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