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Star Trek On Oscar VFX Short List + Nominated By Detroit Critics December 11, 2009

by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: CBS/Paramount,Marketing/Promotion,Star Trek (2009 film) , trackback

The award season continues to ramp up and today Star Trek got another (albeit expected) accolade by making the short list for the Oscar for best visual effects. But early reaction says that Trek is not the favorite. Also, Star Trek actors picked up a couple of nods from another critics group.


Star Trek FX on the short list – but can anyone beat Avatar?
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced the 15 films on the short list for the Achievement in Visual Effects award for the 82nd Academy Awards. The final nominees will be drawn from these semi-finalists. And the list is:

It is no surprise that Star Trek is on the list as it was one of the big ILM movies for the year. And given the competition, Star Trek has a good chance of being one of the final nominees. However, now that James Cameron’s ‘game changing’ Avatar is out, touting ‘breakthroughs’ in CGI and motion capture, it seems to be the early favorite. The LA Times ‘Envelope Blog‘ notes:

Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the motion-capture wonderland that is James Cameron’s “Avatar,” does any other film have a chance in that category this year?

And The Wraps ‘The Odds‘ Awards blog had this to say:

But getting onto the shortlist is only the first of four steps in one of the more complicated Oscar processes — and this year, that process is almost certainly a doomed quest for everything except “Avatar.”

Can Star Trek’s FX beat out Avatar?

Mindel talks Star Trek Cinematography and VFX
In one of those end of the year wrapup articles, Variety takes a look at some of the directors for photography being talked up for awards, including Star Trek’s Daniel Mindel. According to the DP, 60% of the shots in the film involved some form of CGI. Mindel notes:

There’s nothing worse than watching a movie where the CGI stands out so much that it looks artificial

And regarding his relationship with VFX Supervisor Roger Guyett, Mindel tells Variety:

We had a symbiotic relationship that enabled me to give him exactly what he needed so he could give us back effects that were just right

Before and After Star Trek FX shots show the integration of CGI and live action

Trek gets two nominations from Detroit Film Critics
The Detroit Film Critics will be announcing their awards next week and announced their nominees today. Star Trek got a couple of acting nods, one for Best Ensemble and one for Breakout Performance by Chris Pine.

As noted in the last Award Buzz column, a number of season announcements are coming up in the next week. TrekMovie will keep updating new developments as we delve deeper into the season.


1. JG - December 12, 2009

Not unexpected. And…first.

2. MC1 Doug - December 12, 2009

Having not seen ‘Avatar’ yet, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen come Oscar time. I do think TREK stands a better chance at an Oscar for sound, but getting it for SPFX would be nice too!

3. Phasers On Stun - December 12, 2009

The effects were great in ST09 and much better than previous ST films (though I still love the completed effects for STMP director’s cut). But there was nothing ground breaking. So I’ll be surprised if they pick up an oscar for VFX.

I would love to know what the process is and what they look for when they pick a film for the best VFX.

4. Harry Ballz - December 12, 2009

I thought Chris Pine “knocked it out of the park” with his portrayal of a young James T. Kirk, but an Oscar nod is highly unlikely…

5. SChaos1701 - December 12, 2009

For the first time ever, the Enterprise looked like it actually existed.

6. Hat Rick - December 12, 2009

Good ol’ Oviatt Lib– I mean, Starfleet Academy. :-)

7. Harry Ballz - December 12, 2009


Are you kidding? Every exterior shot of the Enterprise looked as phony as hell!

8. Will_H - December 12, 2009

First off, I have yet to be at all impressed by the CG shots from Avatar. They look cartoonish and unrealistic. Also, I wasn’t that impressed by the new Star Trek ship shots either. All they were was more flashy than what we’ve seen. I hate to say this but I honestly found the Enterprise shots from Nemesis more realistic than the ones from this one, and that movie is like 7 years older, which is an eternity in CG. Still, I think Star Trek looks better than Avatar, but I have yet to see Avatar so its hard to make a good judgment.

9. USS Manila NCC-99232 - December 12, 2009

Star Trek really had the awesome CGI effects. Haven’t seen Avatar yet so I don’t know if I’m right about my decision.

10. JJ Savard - December 12, 2009

I said it yesterday to a friend of mine, the new movie looked very CG (especially the fanal scene with Nimoy’s “Space the final frontier” VO) I far preffer DS9’s special effects because there is something tangible on screen, and the last season aired 10 years ago.

11. AJ - December 12, 2009

I have to agree with Harry in #7.

The Enterprise, while it looked real in the Iowa yards, really falls short in some of the space shots, especially in spacedock, lying in wait by Saturn, and pulling away from the singularity.

I heard there was a ‘beauty-pass’ by Saturn’s rings, and, watching attentively, as I have over 20 times, I still can’t see it. It’s too quick and choppy. It’s also ‘in your face.’ TMP had a beauty-pass or two which were effective in conveying scale.

The E coming out of warp in the debris field and twisting through the debris was pleasingly real, as were the fleet preparing for warp. Funny, as the Kelvin sequence seemed to be fine (save the huge humanoid flying out of the hull into space).

12. AJ - December 12, 2009

It sounds like Avatar should be nominated for “best animated film.” Like Bedknobs and Broomsticks, for example, they both combine live action and animation, but B&B would qualify as a cartoon. I mean, if the whole film is one big computer SFX montage, it’s like “Toy Story,” right? Animated.

Best SFX should be FX which seemlessly interact with the filmed ‘real world” like the Enterprise or a giant tidal wave.

13. ChristopherPike - December 12, 2009

Hmm. Nice FX I guess… But was that actually Nero’s planetary drilling platform or another near miss by Paxton, using the Mars-based verteron array. :p

14. JimJ - December 12, 2009

I thought the effects were amazingly good in the Star Trek movie, but with James Cameron attached to “Avatar”, you can kiss any Oscar hopes goodbye for Trek. If you want Oscars for Trek, hire Cameron and give him a $500 million budget. Then, you’ll get Oscars. It’s not going to happen, though, after Avatar will struggle to even make back it’s $500 million here in the USA. Movie studios will get nervous about a budget that big.

15. Flake - December 12, 2009

I don’t think Trek will win any oscars. I think Avatar will clean up the technical nominations which means Trek has nothing. It will be nominated for a few though.

16. Author of The Vulcan Neck Pinch for Fathers - December 12, 2009

For its time and production circumstance, the views of the Enterprise in ST:TMP were and are unmatched. The view of the travelpod in contrast to the drydock immensity of the Enterprise gave her a scale unlike any other Trek production before or since.

Abrams’ realization of the Enterprise, while a wonderful reinvention, still carries that breath of disproportionism (for lack of a better nonword) that just doesn’t “work” for me entirely. Its a nice looking ship, but it can’t hold a candle to the TOS movie series Enterprises.

17. rainmaker83 - December 12, 2009

IT would be nice for star trek to win but i doubt it very much the new E just dosent look as good as the one in TMP but the kelvin i thought looked fantastic anyway the fx shots in the movie were up and down a lot some ones that were great like the E coming out of warp at valcan was good but the end shot with the E firing all her wepons for me was disaponting anyway thats my opinion rock on

18. VulcanNonibird - December 12, 2009

On the one hand Trek is and was always destined for the technical Oscars and acting-wise Sci-Fi is seldom able to act up to a solid drama piece.

On the other hand the Oscars in the last years were more and more about financial success of a movie than acting excellence, so Trek could still grab an acting Oscar.

Aside from Trek I mostly like small indy dramas and not some actors/actresses trying to mimic the big Jack Nicholson (Tim Burton’s Batman rules!!!)…

19. Admiral Waugh - December 12, 2009

I’d also like to agree with 7 and 11…

I choke a little every time I hear JJ say that we have now become completely “photo-real” when describing the CGI. So many of the shots, like the Vulcan school, the Enterprise in the debris, the Kelvin flying through the Narada, the orbital skydiving, really do stand up to the test–

But very sadly, all the more because of how TMP glorified her so, the Enterprise suffers in several shots, most already listed here. The reality is that the model from TMP still looks much more real.

20. rainmaker83 - December 12, 2009

totaly agree. Liked some of the shots of the new E but overall they could of been done better. also would of liked to of seen some more of the other ships at the spacedock rock on

21. richpit - December 12, 2009

The Oscars are stupid and have nothing to do with the quality or popularity of a movie. It’s all about politics and “who you know”.

I’ve never cared about what movie wins an Oscar and I certainly won’t start caring now because there’s a slight chance that a Star Trek movie may be nominated.

Sorry, I don’t mean to sound grumpy, just the way I feel about awards shows in general.

22. Third Remata'Klan - December 12, 2009

That is one Oscar nomination that Star Trek deserves.

And another it definitely won’t win.

Hell, I’m even pulling for AVATAR, and I haven’t seen it yet….

23. BOOZBA - December 12, 2009

Star Trek VFX looks more real,the Avatar VFX looks more cartoony.

24. Zebonka - December 12, 2009


That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. The Enterprise looked way more real in the other movies. The difference was, it looked like it was really a few feet long and in a studio somewhere.

Now it just looks like …. gurrraphics. There were only a couple of shots in the new movie that even looked remotely real.

25. AJ - December 12, 2009

One issue is that FX start to look shittier the better they get. Look at the battle over Coruscant that begins ROTS. What a beautiful piece of crap. Stunningly awful. It’s the issue of reliance on the FX to fill time rather than tell the story, of which there isn’t much in the prequels.

JJ’s film had some basic things going on, and I think he understands that FX shots should not eclipse ‘real’ ones. He’s said so. But he’s paid lip-service to Robert Wise’s fly-over sequence, and said it inspired the 2-second one we get in ST09. I don’t see it. The Enterprise didn’t get the treatment it should get in ST09.

Hopefully, should he make it the ‘character’ that it is in TOS and the first 3 films, we can see it in a better light.

26. Michael - December 12, 2009

Of the films I’ve seen so far this year, Star Trek and District 9 are the two with the best effects. Quite an accomplishment for District 9 considering it’s low budget. As to Avatar, I have not seen it yet so I will withhold judgment. One film that should not even be anywhere near this category is G.I. Joe. Some of the worst effects in recent years.

27. Thorny - December 12, 2009

Avatar is already out? I thought it wasn’t hitting theaters until next week.

28. SarahJM - December 12, 2009

This whole silly conversation of special effects looking fake reminds me of when I went to see Superman Returns, and when we first see Superman fly up to save the jet, the guy behind me said, “Oh, now that is FAKE!” I reminded him that of course it was fake because people can’t really fly.

There is some suspension of disbelief that is required to watch movies, especially sci-fi movies. I can’t believe how whiny you people are about the fakeness of scenes that are clearly not real. The day that people can actually build a huge starship and film it flying through space is the day you guys should be complaining aboug CGI starships – until then put your fanboy criticism on hold because clearly no special effect in any movie looks absolutely real.

29. Harry Ballz - December 12, 2009

Question to Bob Orci:

Not that you have to agree with us, but can you at least tell us whether JJ is aware of the fact that a core group of fans here are inherently unhappy with the exterior shots depicting our beloved Enterprise in the movie?

It would be a nice Christmas present to get your feedback on this!

30. Ceti Alpha 5 - December 12, 2009

I agree with 28 SarahJ
And @29 Harry Ballz, this core group you speak of, is still pretty small.

31. Harry Ballz - December 12, 2009


I’ve been reading every post over multiple threads here and that core number might be bigger than you think. Time for a poll, maybe?

32. Sci-Fi Guy - December 12, 2009

I am sure Avatar will win the VFX award…on sheer volume if nothing else.

And no, I haven’t seen the film but you can tell these effects are going to be groundbreaking and huge just from the trailer.

Trust me, it’ll win best VFX…

33. EFFeX - December 12, 2009

I dunno… Avatar looks like an XBox 360 game, it’s pretty, but nothing that blows my mind.

34. dep1701 - December 12, 2009

I’ve gotten used to the Ryan Church Enterprise, and enjoyed it in the movie. At times, I can even look at the two replicas I have on display ( the Playmates Toy – which I got weeks before the movie premiered so I would have time to get over the shock of the redesign, and the really nifty and relatively accurate exclusive Target DVD holder ) and think it looks pretty cool.

However, I still prefer the original two designs ( series and movie ) because to me they seem more well proportioned and balanced than the 2009 version ( lest you think I’m picking on Ryan’s version alone, I was also never thrilled by the 1701-D either ). But, this is what we have now, and you can either learn to get used to it, or let it constantly get in the way of your enjoyment of a film. I will say that I doubt that it will ever have the same place in my heart as the originals.

As I said, I thought it looked pretty good in the film ( for the most part ) and I enjoyed watching it being put through it’s paces in the movie. My favorite shot is probably when the ship pulls away from the space dock, banking starboard. Generally It looked close enough to the original Enterprise – particularly in distant shots – to give me a trekkie thrill when it was on-screen. However, on a purely personal aesthetic note, I do miss the red pennants on the engines, the ID numbers under the saucer, and some of the technical markings that were on the hull, which I felt added a bit of scale and visual interest to the ship.

While none of the effects in the film were groundbreaking, I thought they were quite good in the service of the film, and watching some of the behind the scenes features on the DVd made me truly appreciate how good ILM has gotten at integrating realistic CGI into moving live action shots ( a good example is as Kirk and Spock run up to the Jellyfish ship inside the Narada ). For that alone they do deserve an Oscar nod.

35. Author of The Vulcan Neck Pinch for Fathers - December 12, 2009


Your argument misses the point entirely. If you had said to me what you said to that gentleman in the theater, I likely would have told you turn around and shut your mouth. I strongly suspect the man knew flying people weren’t real, and didn’t need your chronic condescension on top of it. In the reality *of that movie*, a superhero *could* fly. That reality had better be credible or it won’t work. For that one viewer, it didn’t. Shame on you for daring to suggest the only possible answer was a disingenuous assessment of the man’s intelligence.

We all understand that to appreciate movies you must suspend your disbelief, and with science fiction genre this is especially so. The trick is finding that imaginary line where the work before you truly makes that suspense a natural consequence of theatrical immersion. The CGI, or model-based photographic effects, or the combination of both, have the necessary responsibility of performing that immersive trick. When it works, its breathtaking (see Trumbull’s work in 2001). When it fails, its an embarrassment (see Trek V).

If you can see the artifacts of production, if the effort makes you have to *think* about suspending that disbelief, they’ve failed. Pure and simple. That’s why you get people who have been sold a line of “you’ll believe that a man can fly” makes the “that’s fake” comment when the promise isn’t realized.

Unless they’re chronically cynical and have the latitude to blow $10 a ticket to see a movie only to pick it to death, I suspect you’ll find most people *want* to suspend their disbelief. Each person has their own levels of fantasy they’ll accept, and if the line gets pushed too hard, escapist fantasy turns into cornball Hollywood schlock.

In effect, your comment here is a broad way of telling all of us how much smarter and clever you think you are than all the rest of us. Congratulations.

There are those of us who have seen a variety of science fiction movies, some Trek, some SW, some a collection of myriad other offerings, and a narrow subset of those have included special effects that were so phenomenally well done that it made you second guess the idea that they *might* be real, even though your intellect tells you that’s impossible. Those are the special cinematic moments that differentiate good films from classic films, and ratify the suspension of our disbelief for a couple of hours. Oh, and by the way, we all know that there really aren’t warp drive spaceships out there, too. But Trek, at times, gave us a magnificent illusion for a few minutes every few years that they just *might*. And therein is their magic.

I’m sorry you don’t see, or even apparently comprehend, the distinction.

When I look back at what Doug Trumbull did for ST:TMP under impossible conditions and production constraints thirty years ago, when a computer controlling a camera was groundbreaking technical achievement, and saw how he made *that* era’s Enterprise seem truly epic in scale (even though some shots didn’t work) it set that effects achievement bar tremendously high. The new Trek did a fine job in its own right, but never captured the awe factor that was achieved in a technically primitive environment from three decades ago.

If that comparison engenders a desire in you to lob an intelligence insult grenade my way, so be it.

36. Michael Hall - December 12, 2009

“But very sadly, all the more because of how TMP glorified her so, the Enterprise suffers in several shots, most already listed here. The reality is that the model from TMP still looks much more real.”

Well, I disagree. For my money, the Enterprise has never looked more viscerally “real” onscreen than it did in the Abrams film. Given my overall distaste for the “re-imagined” design, in fact, it looked all-too real. :-(

37. Captain James T. Kirk - December 12, 2009

Will see but I’m going to see avatar it lokks damn great to watch

38. ryanhuyton - December 12, 2009

I’m looking forward to this movie. It is curious to know whether or not this movie makes back it’s money and earns a profit. Judging by how well his previous films did at the box office, there is a good chance it will. But then again, it has cost between $250-300 million already, so it is a big challenge.

39. ryanhuyton - December 12, 2009

ooops! Wrong post! Never Mind!

40. David B - December 13, 2009

It would be interesting to know the cost of a CGI Enterprise vs a Model filmed Enterprise.

If a model being filmed is cheaper than hours of cgi work then please go back and do it the old way.

41. Gary - December 13, 2009

Can someone explain why the blue rectangle is needed as shown on the second pair of the Star Trek before and after photos?

42. DaveO - December 13, 2009

@34. dep1701 – December 12, 2009

“… While none of the effects in the film were groundbreaking … “

The VFX sequence of the destruction of Vulcan was groundbreaking.

In fact, I’ve rarely seen *that much* ground broken on screen.

— DaveO

43. Anthony Thompson - December 13, 2009

The FX were nearly flawless. And very beautiful at times. The new warp effect is so much better than what was done in past films (with rainbow colors trailing the ship, etc.).

44. Michael Hall - December 13, 2009


Good one. :-)

45. dep1701 - December 13, 2009


Two Possible Explanations:

1. The blue background functions as a blue or green screen to allow any actor body parts ( head, arms, torso, etc ) to be easily rotoscoped into the CGI effects shot without having to deal with painting out surrounding plants or buildings.

2. On set, the blue wall provides a visual cue for the players to know where to look, run and gather at, as well as providing the FX guys with a guide as to where the bottom of the effects should begin in the plate.

46. MC1 Doug - December 13, 2009

#5: “For the first time ever, the Enterprise looked like it actually existed.”

Sorry, but no. ST TMP’s shots of the Enterprise, especially Mr. Scott’s guided tour was far more real than any of the shots of the new E. AND no, I am not saying the new E’s shots were not impressive, they clearly were.

47. MC1 Doug - December 13, 2009

#35: Lighten up already. Your response that Sarah is suffering from a superiority complex doesn’t wash.

If anything, she merely said what a lot of us–as are you, I suspect—are tied of people doing nothing but complaining about this and that on this website.

48. colonyearth - December 13, 2009

In worldwide box, AVATAR will easily recoup its cost. Let us also not forget people that the upwards of $500 million that’s been mentioned includes the film’s P&A (that’s Promotion and Advertising) budget, which is exclusive of the production budget. Need I remind you that Spiderman 3 cost upwards of $300 million and easily made its money back (and that didn’t include the P&A I don’t think. AVATAR, while expensive, is also groundbreaking in almost every way, so it’s cost is viable. Even Cameron admitted the cost was high when pitching the two sequels to Fox and told them that now that the worlds have been “built” the cost of the next films will be much much lower. Oh and BTW, Spiderman 3 was a hunk of sh*t! And it did well.

As to those who claim the FX in AVATAR look like a video game…wait and go see the film! Stop bitching! You all sound like fanboys! This film is groundbreaking on many levels and the least you could do is acknowledge the hard work and vision that’s gone into this film. It’s getting rave reviews and I still remind you that most of the trailer images were also still being tweeked up until about a week ago. I will also say AGAIN that you have to see this in its native format, 3D to truly appreciate it and the vision behind it! The FX were rendered for 3D and it’s in 3D that they look their absolute best (and photo real as hell!).

Stop judging and downing films before you’ve seen them, folks. Such pissy little whiners you all are.

“The new E just isn’t pretty enough,” “The FX aren’t special enough.” “DS9’s FX were better (that one made me laugh! You cannot compare FX made for TV – especialy pre HD TV – to those of a film. Besides I hate to tell you the FX for DS9 were —– wait for it —— CG! Yes, folks, they were CGI and not very good CGI at that.)” Oh and the beauty pass over of the E in TMP was WAY TOO LONG! Everyone said it, even Wise! You are such fanboys!

As Shatner said, “Get a life!” Can’t you just enjoy something?


49. colonyearth - December 13, 2009

Oh and BTW Harry, it was already stated a while back after ST09 came out that the naysayers only represented about 2% of the fans and that’s not including the new fans the film brought in.

You’re like the right wing…you’re in the minority but you’re all very loud so you seem like a lot more people.

50. Harry Ballz - December 13, 2009


Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the new movie. It was…FUN! I just don’t care for any of the exterior shots depicting the ship. Hell, in Galaxy Quest, when the actors on the elevator first see the ship….THAT looked more realistic, for cryin’ out loud!

51. Jeyl - December 13, 2009

Star Trek for Best Visual Effects? Ok.

District 9: Completely CGI Alien creatures that look totally unhuman but are very photo realistic. Each conveys the right sense of emotion and interaction with the environment and characters giving them a likable quality in more ways than the human characters. Budget was 30 million. Couldn’t have spent it better.

STAR TREK: The idea of selling Aliens in Star Trek relies heavily on very human looking Aliens and those that do look very alien are given little-to-no screen time, no up close shots and absolutely no character basis. The makers thought it would be a brilliant idea of introducing an alien as a perfectly human looking lady with very fake looking CGI eyes. That’s our alien. Budget was over 120 million. What did they spend it on?

52. Harry Ballz - December 13, 2009

Hey, those flare lights don’t come cheap!

53. JohnWA - December 14, 2009


Star Trek will get a nomination because they want the actors to show up for the Oscars. That’s the way Hollywood works. They protect their own and believe in the notion of studio generated hype. Though substantively, I couldn’t agree with you more. Paramount got very little return for their 150 million dollar investment.

District 9 was a great achievement for South African cinema in general. Considering how dominant North America and the United Kingdom are when it comes to the genre of science fiction, it is wonderful to see something interesting and different from an oft ignored part of the world. For once, we have alien visitors that don’t head straight for the Statue of Liberty, Golden Gate Bridge, Houses of Parliament, or White House. Although there’s nothing wrong with using the familiar per se, District 9 is visually exciting for the setting alone. And as you pointed out, they did quite a lot with the “prawns” in spite of a bare bones budget.

But honestly, they probably won’t even nominate it because it is a foreign film. Although there are exceptions (mostly British produced), few foreign films are nominated for anything other than the “foreign film” category.

54. kahhhhhn - December 14, 2009

the effects in star trek 09 were definitely more realistic than avatar.even jar jar binks looked more realisitic.but they definitely have a ways to go yet as far as cg spaceships,actual models look far better.

55. spooky - December 14, 2009

I have to say that FX in a Star Trek film have never been as ambitious as they were in ST09 and I hope they push for more interesting things to show next time around. Does the ship look fake? I don’t know since I have never actually been in space or have seen a spaceship in the vacuum of space, so I don’t know where all these experts are gauging their references from. The old movies were magically and are still a delight to see but the effects were of a different pedigree, they worked and we were so used to how they appeared. It is easy to disregard something that is created on a computer because it is not physically there, maybe people need to stop focusing on physicality vs. polygon count, its all make believe anyway. As for Avatar, I will go see this movie because I love James Cameron sci-fi films and I am hoping that this is a return to form. If this succeeds, we will likely be seeing more and more ambitious sci-fi in the future. :D

56. SarahJM - December 15, 2009


First of all, your post was TL:DR, but from what I did read I just have to say that you would have had a problem if you had told me to shut your mouth, especially since my comment was in response to someone inappropriately opening his in a movie.

Also, if you are telling me that the special effects in Superman Returns or Star Trek were not credible, then I must snicker. Hundreds of people put likely thousands of hours and millions of dollars doing the best work possible into those effects. If they didn’t pass your muster then I think you are too picky, and thus I repeat – it isn’t real; it is always going to look somewhat fake. Stop complaining.

“You’ll believe a man can fly” was 78, not 06.

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