Star Trek Movie Make-up Effects Artist Talks Real v Fake

With the biggest budget of any Star Trek film ever, we know that JJ Abrams is going to have a lot of spectacular effects for his Star Trek. However, even though Abrams has brought on CGI effects powerhouse ILM, he has also brought on board veterans of the world of practical effects as well. In a new article in the UK Guardian one of those old-school effects artists talks about keeping it real.

The article in the UK Guardian titled “The return of the real fake,” notes how some of the younger directors in Hollywood are approaching their effects. From the article:

One telling factor in the attitudes of [Christopher] Nolan [Batman Begins] and JJ Abrams could be their ages: Nolan is 37, Abrams 41. “They grew up watching films of the 80s or the ‘golden age’ of creature effects like Terminator, Aliens or The Thing, and miss the tactile reality they had,” suggests Oscar-nominated effects artist Alec Gillis. “These directors want audiences to have a lifelike experience, not a video-game sensory assault. They want stuntmen daring to risk their lives, full-scale buildings being blown up, totally convincing miniatures rocketing through the sky. CG often gives a physics-defying, over-nuanced, pristine-ness that defies our primal knowledge of reality.

The article also quotes Rob Burman, who heads up the mold shop creating puppets and make-up effects for the Star Trek film. Again from the article:

For Star Trek, Abrams hired Rob Burman, whose family has been in the effects business since his grandfather helped create Wolfman in 1931. “CGI had become more than just a tool over the past few years,” Burman says, “but now everyone is getting used to the toy and beginning to see the limitations of it. It takes you out of the grounding of the film. If you watch the Spider-Man movies, it’s great swinging through the city from his point of view, but you don’t have the thrill of knowing it’s a real guy doing these things. It can look utterly believable, but if what you’re watching is beyond possibility, it’s hard to suspend your disbelief. You want people to go to the movie and get lost in it. If you start thinking, ‘Oh, that was fake,’ then you’re automatically back in a seat in a theatre.”

Burman also how notes this approach is better for the actors and editors, saying

Having something practical there helps everyone involved. Actors don’t have to focus on a green tennis ball on a stick and pretend it’s this big monster or character. It even helps the editing and it helps the framing of the shot to have a literal 3D object in front of the camera. Everything is much simpler.

Aliens on the Enterprise
And we know that some of this make-up work will be creating Aliens who will be working with the crew on the Enterprise. Here is a clip of Anton Yelchin talking to MTV about working with Aliens

Abrams on making Trek Real
Star Trek director JJ Abrams recently stated “Effects for Star Trek have never, ever been done like this.” But all indications are that he went out of his way to take a different approach than the Star Wars prequels and to minimize the use of greenscreen. In his live chat with fans at TrekMovie.com Abrams talked about the mix of real and CGI.

I was lucky enough to work with ILM on Mission: Impossible III. Roger Guyette and Sherri Hanson are geniuses who are also a true joy to work with. ILM has always been the best — but in recent years they have — remarkably — gotten even better, making the virtual photo-real.
Having said that, my goal is to make Trek REAL — that is to say, not have it be camp — not have it be phony — not have it look like a scrap of green screen was used anywhere. Of course, this is Star Trek. We’re using every trick in the book. But WHEREVER WE CAN, we are shooting on sets — either built on sound stages or expanding upon found locations. This is important. What this means is that the movie won’t have that “actors performing in a blue or green void then placed in front of a spaceship set” feeling that makes me insane.

Not Burmans’ First Trek
JJ Abrams Star Trek is not Rob Burman’s first trip to the final frontier. He applied makeup effects for Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, working with his brother, Barney Burman. In addition, Burman and his wife and business partner, Jennifer E. McManus, worked on Star Trek: Insurrection. Rob is again working with his brother on the new Trek film, with his brother’s company Proteus FX. The Burman’s come from a long line of Hollywood Make-up artists dating back decades. Proteus also worked with J.J. Abrams on Alias and his first feature, Mission: Impossible: III. Proteus has extensive experience in Holllywood, including a number of recent sci-fi features such as Men in Black II, Planet of the Apes, and The Matrix: Reloaded. More info on the pair at Memory Alpha: Rob Burman, Barney Burman.

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the king in shreds and tatters

So, uh, which aliens will we see?

DOUG

romu-morlocks.

KJTrek

why is it still 11 months away?

I want to see this movie. Now.

Chris Basken

The problem with CGI isn’t that CGI is inherently more fake looking than traditional effects. The problem with CGI, frankly, is that it allows you to get by with 75% and it still looks “okay.” If you try getting by with 75% with latex and animatronics, it looks horrendous. You MUST go the distance with the more primitive effects to get something looking good. CGI allows you to cut corners, and the end result often looks like it.

Well done CGI is stunning. Just look at Gollum (especially in RotK) or Davy Jones.

Well I’m glad these guys got it right.

Unfortunately spielberg has been getting it wrong, check out the new Indianna Jones movie to see realism, and traditional VFX thrown out the door. Like damn they even had a computer generated prarie dog in the film.

Im glad to see that Abrams knows to avoid this. This guy really is on the right trakc.

I guess now we know what JJ and Lucas may have been talking about in those black and white photos that surfaced a few months ago.

A lucas quote from way back, I am paraphrasing here: a good effects shot is worth nothing if the story is not involving.

I have two words for Lucas: Phantom Menace.

QED.

Kirk, James T.

Arex?

AJ

I do not think there have been any directors who didn’t want their features to “look real.”

Peter Jackson’s Gollum was a masterpiece, and the other actors interacted with a real actor performing the role, and not a “tennis ball on a stick.”

CG or no, or less CG will not make the film any worse or better if the story is strong.

In any case, we have read here statements from the Trek crew that there is lots of green screen work, and now that there isn’t, but that they’re using “every trick in the book and that these guys from ILM are great.”

I bet it’ll be great. Show us something.

braxus

SO why can’t they use models for the ships like they did in the first 7 movies? I still think CGI space ships look fake on screen or tv. Models always looked more realistic to me on film. I think they’ve lost that look in recent years. Its a shame they are sticking with CGI in this case for the new film. Even Lucas used models for shots in the prequals.

That One Guy

3,

Because a sufficient amount of time has not yet passed. Go stand outside of Earth’s gravity well for about 10.5 months, then you’d find yourself on the day that Trek is supposed to come out. Of course, once you enter the well again, everyone is behind you, so you’ll still have to wait.

As for CGI, models should definitely used more. I remember the first Jurassic Park. It looked, and still looks, more real than most of the CG crap that is used in most movies today. I just got back from Indy 4 and Iron Man about 20 minutes ago. Indy used so much more ACTUAL footage, very little CG effects, except for the ending, which was…. interesting…

The difference between it and Iron Man was obvious in the effects. You can also tell when the suit for IM is real, and when it’s fake. I so much prefer the old-style models. Because of it, Voyager looked so much more tangible than Enterprise (NX-01) ever will.

Keep the models alive! I want another good Jurassic Park with animatronic dinosaurs! JP: IV is coming next year, by the way. Just to drop that note. There should definitely be a combination of the two in order to make a movie truly pristine.

Xai

#8
I’d love to see Arex or his Edoan brethern as a nice “tip of the hat” to TAS.

Except that a LOT of the ship shots in Voyager were also CGI.

Plum

Umm… do we know there aren’t using models (for the starship FX shots, or some shots)? Maybe they are?

While I am an aspiring CG artist, I agree that it should not be used unless there is no other way to do a shot. And if the shot must be CG, then at least incorporate real elements into it, such as real fire, real smoke, real dust, etc. to go with your CG objects. If you’re going to have cg creatures, then use skin based off real animals, or real objects.

ILM does fantastic CG, and can make things look very real, there is no doubt about that. Alot of the problem with CG these days is not in the technique, or the artist doing CG shots, but with the time allowed to complete your work. The more time you can spend working on a CG shot, the better the end product will be. If you have to rush through it, it won’t look too great. Movie studios are expecting CG artist to do more and more shots these days, without alot of time to do them.

Hopefully Star Trek won’t suffer from this, because of the May release date, although, I know ILM said they would still deliver in December. Perhaps they’ll get a bit extra time though.

The Underpants Monster

Good to see the Burmans are involved – I hope there will also be a Westmore or two in the makeup department.

Not too off-topic: am I the only one to think that Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk was more believable and scary than its CGI counterpart?

Spock with a Crowbar

#17

You are absolutely not alone. I agree completely. Nothing clever to add, just that :)

Chris Basken

#10:

When you can tell a ship is CGI, it’s not just because it’s CGI but because the effects people cut corners. The Voyager was CGI half the time and a model the other half of the time and I bet you never noticed the difference. In ST6, the Enterprise B was CGI part of the time but again, I bet you never saw the difference (I’m a CGI hobbyist and I can’t tell the difference).

CGI also allows you to do “unreal” things, like zip the camera along the length of of a 600-meter starship in .4 seconds, weave through the pylons, and then turn in place and look back while that massive ship banks and weaves on all possible axes with all the weight of a paper airplane. NONE of those problems are inherent to CGI; ALL of them are inherent to bad artistic decisions on the part of the effects people.

#17:

Believable? Sure, Ferrigno was physically there in camera, so of course he was more believable. Plus, he was proportioned like a real human (a very muscular human, but Lou Ferrigno was an actual person). But scary? I dunno… He looked pretty goofy in that green beatles wig.

Fred

#5, …or Davy Jones

The Monkee?

Chris Basken

Just Another Pleasant Valley Sunday!

On the off chance that Fred (#20) isn’t joking, I mean the villain from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.

Chris M

Good to see they’re trying to make Star Trek look as real as possible!

[The] TOS Purist aka The Purolator

I thought the greenscreen work in Indy 4 was painfully obvious and fake-looking. The haze around the actors and the contrived blurriness of the CG background gives it away; none of the other movies looked like that. I’m really looking forward to the new “Wolfman” movie, since it uses zero CG. I’m really getting sick of all the CGI so it’ll surely be theraputic!!

Garovorkin

The secrecy around trek is getting just a tad tedious, I really think it would be nice if we could start seeing stuff now not later. i would image that Im not only one getting a little impatient on this one. We’ve gotten glimpse of props and things only to have those photos withdrawn. why does that happen? what is the harm in letting these be in circulation, it would go along way to relieving the tedium secrecy.

Spocko

I’m glad that Abrams is taking this approach. I think that obvious CGI effects lessons the quality of a movie and some film makers are getting lazy with it.

sweet, more talk, no pics… how awesome is that?

Redjac

Case in point of CGI run amok: Speed Racer.

I mean, my god…almost every shot had some kind of CGI or digital compositing in it!

Green-Blooded-Bastard

There’s a Mugato in engineering.

SPB

MY 3 MAIN GRIPES WITH C.G.I. …

Look, I’ll be the first to admit that, as an average filmgoer/lover, my knowledge of the process and manhours put into a typical CGI sequence is minuscule, to say the least. However, hasn’t ANYONE in Hollywood noticed or addressed the following problems with CGI (my own personal pet peeves):

1) NO MASS. In a film like TRANSFORMERS or the 2003 HULK, as examples, you have HUGE main characters that should weigh a couple tons easily, but they move, dance, bounce and strut across the screen as if they had all the weight and mass of a $1.10 helium balloon.

2) THE UNWRITTEN RULE OF PERPETUAL MOTION. Almost no CGI animator or director seems to understand that a living, breathing character does NOT need to move every conceivable muscle in its body whenever it’s on screen. That means, if a 100% CGI creation needs simply needs to be shown standing and breathing, that does NOT mean that said creation also needs to breathe in and out as if in the middle of a doctor’s exam; it doesn’t need to blink its eyes in slow motion; and it doesn’t need to move every other part of its body, as if it’s slowly floating in a vacuum. If a CGI character needs to stand still, DON’T MAKE IT MOVE! It’s that simple.

3) THE PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE CAMERA MOVES. I may hate this the most, and it’s a big turn-off in the otherwise decent SPIDER-MAN films… does the camera honestly NEED to swoop in, around, up, down and sideways around a CGI creation that swings or flies across the screen??? If a camera move can’t accomplish something like that in real life, then why do the filmmakers/animators feel the need to show off in a purely masturbatory way? “See what WE can do?!” Guess what, it looks fake and takes you right out of the movie.

It just seems like a lesson in RESTRAINT is needed in order to make most CGI work believable. Just my 2 cents. If someone like Daniel Broadway can help explain my points, that’d be appreciated.

T.K.

I think all this talk from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek Crew is just Hype.
Every movie these days has all the same talk. Real, little CGI and old school filming.
Look at this pre-release talk about Indy 4 from the indy 4 crew:
“Steven (Spielberg) is very aware of the process and we’re not cheating with CG (computer graphics) at all,”
“Spielberg wanted to make sure it looked like all the other Indy films”
Now go and Indy 4.
“Spielberg wanted to keep it real”

It is all just to Hyping people up so the movie makes money.
Indy 4 made $307 million on it’s open weekend, but how do people feel about it.
reading some Fan reviews, alot People said it is was fake-looking and did not look or feel like the other Indy films .

CmdrR

SPB — I’ll add one to your list: THE CASPAR EFFECT. CGI is typically designed (shadings are chosen) to be projected onto a highly reflective movie theatre screen. Take that same image and backlight it, as on a TV screen, and the shadings can rapidly become cartoonish. As bad as Lost in Space was in theatres, it’s ten times worse on TV. Even LOTR has some weak moments (the final attack of ghostly army loses all believability.)

I agree, also, with your take on restraint. CGI can do some fantastic bits — like taking out wires, for instance, and adding very nice planetary shots. It can also make entire characters, such as Golem. But, it cannot replace certain live elements. Using CGI to de-age actors, for instance, must be done very sparingly. It only worked in X-Men because we never asked for that film to be totally convincing. I’d hate to see the Shat de-aged through an entire film. Sorry, Bill.

Anyway, that’s one or two cents to add to your two, SPB.

Izbot

29. THE PHYSICALLY IMPOSSIBLE CAMERA MOVES.

I *hate* that sort of thing and for the very reasons you give. I saw “Beowulf” and every scene had one of these superfluous and unneccessary ‘virtual camera’ moves. I was stunned when the final credits ran at it was directed by Robert Zemekis! I thought it had to have been directed by a cgi artist with no restraint or understanding of how to pace or tell a story. It was weighed down with effects tricks just for their own sake. It was annoying and amatuerish.

I am quite gratified by the above article. They’re saying what I want to hear. And I was totally invested in the theatre-audience experience during “Cloverfield”. I was swept up in it and believed it and that’s a rare thing in film these days. I can’t wait to see what JJ and the team have in store for us.

Oh, and putting Arex in the film in a cameo would rock!

Irishtrekkie

@32 i think your being a bit hard on Beowulf cause its basically a comic boy type movie , so i would expect impossible camera moves plus it was all cgi so it was not overly out of place, but i must admit spiderman really annoyed me , you would have him out of the suit doing normal stuff , then put the suit on and jump out a window and just enter fake land , really bad i thought .

Oh and Cloverfield was great yes i saw it on an imax screen , man people got sick lol

SirBroiler

Doesn’t the idea of a “Burman” anywhere near this new Trek freak you out a bit? Just kidding.

Sounds like real talent on board this new film – and the realistic approach they are taking to EFX and stunts gets me excited.

But hopefully we’ll have Westmore’s touch somewhere in the make-up effects on this film. Doesn’t matter if it’s TNG, DS9, YOY, ENT or the Generation movies – no one can say that the make-up effects were ever lacking.

Not to mention he’s a world-class gentleman. Wrote him a letter once – got a hand-written response on the back of a page from a DS9 shooting script. Talk about cool dude.

Long live Michael Westmore!

Heywood Jablomee

#28 green blooded bastard:

Airlock that friggin’ Mugatu.

That One Guy

Heh, Speed Racer.

I went to the Midnight of that. I really wish I hadn’t. I felt like I was on a CGI LSD trip. It was just bad. The plot in and of itself wasn’t bad, but the CGI just ruined it. Had they just left the M5 alone, had some guy driving it, it would’ve been much better than it was. As for Beowulf… also a bad CGI movie. It should’ve been done by actual people, and not their computer counterparts. It also should have stuck to the original Epic Poem a little more closely.

Indy 4, while it didn’t look and feel like the old Indies, it was decent. I admit they could’ve done a better job with the Siafu. I think that there are things that all of us would change about movies. Hopefully, J.J. will usher in the new era of movies, and we can all get back to models, with just a hint of CGI.

It’s just a matter of “Would you like some human with your salt?” to borrow an example from Futurama. It’s all become to much seasoning and not enough substance.

Stanky McFibberich

re; 12. Xai – May 26, 2008
#8 I’d love to see Arex or his Edoan brethern as a nice “tip of the hat” to TAS.

That might ease some of the pain.

Chris Basken

#29

Couldn’t agree more, and notice that all three of your issues have less to do with the realism/look of the CGI and more to do with the composition/animation choices of the effects artists.

CGI allows mediocre artists to make passable work. Old school methods are less forgiving. CGI in the hands of someone really skilled and determined to do good work can look freaking amazing.

Pete359

#11

I absolutely agree about the dinos in Jurassic Park. They looked fantastic, those Raptors, the Rex even the Brachiosaurus all breath-taking.

After seeing Peter Jackson’s King Kong remark while it made good effects the T-Rex in particular looked soooo fake. All these epic movies with inflated budgets spending money and processesing power on making full CG dinosaurs with muscle movements etc etc and yet a 1993 movie (and even some dino documentaries) can do much better.

Lets not forget that Jurassic Park used CG dinosaurs a lot as well.

`Pete

Irishtrekkie

@34

yes i have to agree with you there, Michael westmore stuff on star trek
was great like i dont know how much of a budget he had but his stuff
always looked like it should be in a movie , good stuff . hope the new
make up for the aliens is good.

The Angry Klingon

well, I liked Anton’s mention of the uniforms,”We shot teh ending scene and it was like Epic,,,we’re all standing there in our gold, red and blue uniforms…”
I have hope…

EHH

I just want to say that even though I agree that CGI is overused in films and TV, there are times that it can be good and the only option. I have watched the Dominion War space battles on DS9. The CGI is good, even by today’s standards. There are about a hundred ships moving in all sorts of directions. I think in models, they would have been lucky to put in 15 moving ships. I hope I don’t offend anyone by saying this, but when I watched the battles, I thought, “You can’t do that with models!” Even if you could, I doubt it would have been done under a TV budget and schedule.
PS. Still, I would only look at that ‘tennis ball on a pole’ if it was the only option for the filmmakers to do.

Bart

Big budget doesn’t make a good Star Trek film. Star Trek II was made on a very low budget and it became the most popular of the film series.

Jim Smith

I love the idea that an alien made out of rubber and foam is inherently more ‘real’ than one made out of pixels; it’s such an obvious ontological absurdity that it makes me laugh every time I hear it/read it.

star trackie

CGI that I don’t notice is great, mission accomplished. It’s those ambitious shots that end up looking lke crap (Indy and the Crystal Skull) because they should have never attempted it to begin with, that always taint the stew.

If CGI can’t deliver the goods you should go physical. If you want to go crazy and neither CGI or physical effects can deliver the shot convincingly then go back to the drawing board and start over with another idea.

CGI is, and can be, a great tool. It is also one of the most abused tools in filmaking. CGI is not the end-all be-all cure-all.

Spielberg, with his digital color correction and CGI jungles effectively removed some of the heart from Indy Jones. It does my heart good to hear that JJ, for many effects, is keeping it real in Star Trek.

Phil123

Westmore was good, but i have to say, saw a few too many bumpy head klingon varaitions by the end for my liking. as of CGI, everyone here seems to be of exactly the same opinion. thats speaks volumes, people on this site disagree (respectfully most times) over so many things, but not on this issue. film makers need to start listening to what film goers want.

totally agree on the king kong t-rex being fake. too much movement is not real. look at an elephant. they arn’t rippling and flexing and bouncing all over the place.

Redjac

I hope they stick to their word on “keeping it real” with these FX. We’ll see.

Even though I have had CGI training, I have always said mixing techniques is the best way to go. I never “drank the koolaid” that CGI was the end all, be all. All these films today look WAY too slick…way too much CGI and I agree the camera moves are ridiculous in a lot of cases.

I heard ILM sold off it’s model shop a while back — not sure if that’s true — but if it is, it’s a shame.

Woulfe

#45 – That’s actually Lucas & ILM who’s responsible for FX on Skull.

What’s bad is we know ILM can do better, but I think they were trying to make it look like a 1950’s Sci-Fi film, right down to the less then convincing “This Was Shot On A Sound Stage” scenes.

Sometimes they went too far to make it look like a 1950’s film.

– W –
* Meh *

Wow, lots of hate for CG.

I have one thing to offer up in the defense of that particular tool:

“Clash of the Titans”

Every time I run across that film on late night TV, I thank the universe for LightWave, 3DSMax, Maya, SoftImage XSI, Shake, Combustion, and its ilk.

That being said, I DO agree with complaints about what I’ve dubbed “CG Cinematography”. The phrase “less is more” is something a lot of the people in the field need to embrace.

COMMANDER KEEN

CGI is fine if in the right hands and context. In DS9, lot of the battle sequences were CGI and they looked great. I don’t like the jerkiness of CGI and the ‘impossible” maneuvers they try to add in. I think the large models work great for closeups and I would like to see more of that for sure.

“Synthetic alcohol, synthetic people” to paraphrase Scotty.