ILM Star Trek Visual Effects Nominees Talk Craft + New VFX ‘Breakdown’ Videos

ILM’s visual effects on the 2009 Star Trek movie has garnered BAFTA, Visual Effects Society and Oscar nominations. In a new interview, some of the nominees talk about how they went about bringing realism to the new Star Trek and how it compares to ILM’s Star Wars work. Excerpts below, plus links to some effect shot ‘breakdowns’.


The New Movie Version of the USS Enterprise
Excerpts from Animation World Network inteview with Visual Effects Supervisors Roger Guyett and Russell Earl and Animation Supervisor Paul Kavanagh

Bill Desowitz: Let’s first recap some of the new tools you created for Star Trek and their impact.

Roger Guyett: As a broad overview, I would say that the project had all sorts of different challenges because it had such a broad spectrum of work. Most specifically, we did a lot of stuff with virtual pyrotechnics to overcome the issues of doing pyrotechnics in space and dealing with non-terrestrial kind of gravities. And just the creative aspect of being able to place explosions in a movie like this does have that level of space battle, combat, and that was a lot of fun for us to do.

BD: Audiences expect more realism.

RG: Right: And we’re constantly looking at the way that we’ve solved those problems in the past. If you looked at Star Wars [5], they were just filming elements and compositing those into shots. But they’re filming the elements in the real world, which has gravity, and what we were trying to do is overcome — or at least respect — the physics of real space. And that was certainly a big achievement on the show. The lighting style was certainly a big departure for us, and Russell can talk to you about the destruction.

Russell Earl: That was one of the other things that we knew we had to deal with from early on, including the destruction of planet Vulcan. So for that we knew we were going to have massive landscapes, we were going to be on the surface and then shots in space, where we were destroying full planets, so we worked with some proprietary tools here — Fracture — that we used to break up the surface of the planet or the terrain based on gross sizes, and that could be run through our physical simulation engine to then break and destroy and emit secondary particles of dust and debris. So we had to figure out an efficient way to do that in a variety of scales. In addition, a lot of the destruction was caused by our Black Hole, which was another big simulation.

…read the rest at

VFX Breakdown Videos

AWN also has a couple of VFX breakdown videos from Star Trek provided by ILM. Click the images below to go to each one.

ILM breakdown of "Star Trek" black hole shot

ILM breakdown of "Star Trek" spacejump shot


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“bringing realism to the new Star Trek”??

Sorry, but every exterior shot of the new Enterprise in the movie looked phoney as hell!

Not ONCE did I believe we were looking at a real ship! Try to get it right next time!

Yes, please fix it so that H.B. is satisfied….

They did a great job with the VFX. While the “new” Enterprise looked great, there is something about physical models that can’t be duplicated with CGI. But overall, the visual effects were stunning and clearly better than what was done for the “Star Wars” prequels. The Narada was great.
And the movie gave a great sense of the 3-Dness of space. I can’t wait to see what these guys do next.

ILM rocks.

We don’t believe it because we KNOW it’s fake. There’s no such thing as a starship in space, there’s no such thing as the Narada. We know it’s all in the computer because we know models aren’t used anymore for spaceships.

There’s no more mystery and wonder to CGI anymore beasue almost every film out there seems to have it now. No matter how good a job ILM did with Davy Jones in Pirates 2/3 I still didn’t believe it was real. My brain told me “there’s no such thing as a squid-man, therefore that’s a good effect ILM. Cheers.”

I have to blame our imaginations as adults. We’ve put up so many blocks while growing up it’s become harder to actually use our imaginations we used so vividly as children. We’ve intellectualize so much about the technical side of things we’ve forgotten how to just let go and suspend disbelief.

I hate the fact that I didn’t believe the Enterprise was real. My brain told me “that’s not real.” I still enjoyed the film because I was drawn into the story. But I didn’t believe the effects I was seeing were real.

I didn’t believe Avatar was real.

VFX is done right when you don’t notice it. “When it’s a tool to support the story and not take anything away from the actors.” I paraphrased that from a comment George Lucas said back in the 80’s. The hanger where Spock and Spock Prime meet at the end was fake. I didn’t know what they used or what they didn’t use until I saw a break down of the scene. But when I saw it for the first time I didn’t notice or care if that was a blue screen extension. There’s an example of a VFX done right.

Or in A Serious Man, I didn’t notice that they removed several trees from the suburban neighbourhood until I watched the bonus features. There’s a VFX done right.

So my point is. We know it’s fake, let’s try and suspend our disbelief and enjoy a movie once without over analysing it. That includes me too!

#2 Meh, so did the TMP Enterprise. It looked like a big plastic toy…it was a big plastic toy…lol

ILM do indeed rock – but I’m with the comments on using real models. Come on guys, for the next film, please?? Yes, it’s more expensive and time consuming these days (especially all that motion control malarky) but just look back at the exterior shots of the refit Enterprise leaving drydock in TMP – magical!

You know it makes sense!

Yeah gotta say that that I wasn’t that impressed with the visuals, especially considering the budget. I found them only slightly than the CG from Nemesis and a lot of the shots on that movie were better cause they were model based (which I wish they’d go back to) and Nemesis had a fraction of the budget and is years older. And after seeing Avatar and realizing the CG that is possible now, Star Trek just isn’t up to par. Plus the Narada was a waste. True, it looked intimidating, but nothing like a real ship and more like a giant collection of spikes and half the time didnt stand out from the space behind it.


Go watch the first scenes of the Enterprise D in Generations, then compare them to shots from All Good Things…

I don’t know about you, but that CGI shot of the Big D looked amazing, and far better then a model shot.

And yes, the big movie budget did help, but the episode and the movie were only 5 months apart, so a difference in SFX technology is a void argument as well.

ST2009 and the CGI ships from Star Trek’s past, use different art styles, both look great, but its up to the person themselves to decide which looks better.

ILM, as always did a great job, with what they were directed to do…

…unfortunately that direction is suspect IMHO. BECAUSE of what they were directed to do, it came out totally UN-realistic, and unbelievable.


It’s just how it is I’m afraid. Blue screened ships looked more real – they just looked like a model that didn’t look like it was where it was supposed to be. CG ships just look like freeware models that have been run through Lightwave or something. Take your pick, it’ll always look a little hokey.

#9, that shot you’re thinking of was a model. It was a bigger, more detailed model than was used for most of TNG, but not CG.

#2 WTFrak… how the hell can you make the Enterprise (NX,TOS,A B C D E or J) look real?

Its Science FICTION…. stop nitpicking and get a life

“9. Aceman67 – February 16, 2010

Go watch the first scenes of the Enterprise D in Generations, then compare them to shots from All Good Things…

I don’t know about you, but that CGI shot of the Big D looked amazing, and far better then a model shot.”

That’s because – except for the Enterprise-D going to warp – it was ALWAYS the big six-foot model in GENERATIONS. The last shot of All Good Things was the ugly four-foot model.

@ 12… Yeah, I didn’t think there was much CG, if any, in Generations. They certainly did not CG the saucer section’s big crash landing.

…..This stinks. You can clearly see the black hole was destroying the Narada when it formed in the middle of the ship. So the “Arm phasers. Fire everything we got.” order is not only a cold order, but entirely pointless one. Especially when you consider that Nero had no red matter, his ship being cut in half and large chunks of it ripping apart before any weapons from the Enterprise were fired, Nero no longer posed any threat. Why shoot at something that’s already dying, especially when everyone says it is?

Because it’s sooooo kewl, Jeyl. ;)

#2 – Yes, not once did I believe that the Starship Enterprise was real. Nor Starfleet Command. Nor the Narada. Nor the Jellyfish. Nor the planet Vulcan. Nor Delta Vega. etc. etc…

And when the year 2267 comes around, I’ll prove it. You’ll see.

at 16…it may have been apparent the Narada was getting destroyed by the black hole, but for all 23rd century Kirk knew it could survive and go to another time frame, he had to ensure the ship got destroyed.

#19. “23rd century Kirk knew it could survive and go to another time frame, he had to ensure the ship got destroyed.”

No he didn’t. He said “Your ship is compromised. Too close to the singularity to SURVIVE without assistance”. Why would he make an offer that he knew was a lie? And if he knew that the Narada would survive, why would he assume that Nero himself, the Captain of the freaking ship, wouldn’t know?

pick, pick, pick, why, why, why, what, what, what, more pick, more pick…. I’ve given myself a migraine…..

You people are IMPOSSIBLE to please. Absolutely impossible. Goid bring back the old pre-internet days when people used to acyually ENJOY films for the most part and not feel this need to pick apart EVERYdamnthing…

I feel Bill really DID nail it when he said “get a life” – this IS entertainment folks. NOTHING more!

Out of curiosity, is anyone else miffed that only the new Star Trek movie is in IMDB’s 250 and non of the others?

Like why is TWOK or FC or TUC not in there?

the effects for the new movie were great, I can’t fault them.

I fault some of the creative choices made but not the effects, they were top notch as they always are for a Star Trek movie.

Also as much as I hated the lens flares being over used, they did work for the visual effects.

I enjoyed the FX on new Trek but still, for me a thirty year old Trek film still beats it for realism. Go figure.

@22. “this IS entertainment folks. NOTHING more!”

Well, Star Trek in it’s best days were a little more than just entertainment. It has things you could respect on an overall level of story telling, not just “that was entertaining”. And this is my opinion. Nothing more. Take it or leave it, cause I don’t think you’re doing anyone a service by whining about it.

Here’s a shocker. I’m not just a fan of Star Trek, I’m a supporter. I’ve bought the DVDs, BluRays, merchandise, comics, games and saw all the movies I could in the theater. So what if I voice out that I don’t like this Star Trek film for having characters that are all complete a**holes, situations that make no sense and plot development that is nothing more than convenient writing cheats? I also miss the cadence. You remember how Trek films used to have cadence? I can tell you it wasn’t all about action scenes, and what little action Wrath of Khan had (Only two sequences), at least they had impact on the characters. Did Kirk feel anything at all when he failed to save Vulcan and it’s inhabitants as he did when Shipman Preston died? I don’t think so because all he did was argue, berate and shout at his superior officer who just happens to be a Vulcan who just lost his mother and almost his entire race. Some hero he is.


Yea too many people are taken in by the ‘shiny things’ in today’s films that a story is not needed these days in the eyes of Hollywood executives.

A lot of the best films are from years ago. However, the current generation would have you believe that the only great movies in cinema were from the last five years, this is utter crap.

Its a shame that the current generation of kids does not know great cinema.

The CG shots were great, but I am still a fan of actual models. At least in space shots. Of course I just like my little ship models at home so there is that. Maybe I just like knowing that somewhere in the world there exists an actual real filming miniature that one could walk around and look at in the physical world. There is just a more “tactile” sense that I get from the knowledge of the existence of a real object.

Thanks for this, I love behind-the-scenes features like this!
I only wish that those videos could’ve been longer and more in-depth.

Actually a lot of the model work in generations was taken directly from encounter at farpoint. Everything else was new footage of the revamped 6′ model. There was no CG at all.

I remember reading somewhere before the movie came out that they had no intention of doing CG with the models for the new movie. I was disappointed because CG can look just as good as models and you get far more capabilities. Then i saw the movie and though to myself how did they do that with a model? Then i found out that it really was CG and it made sense. I thought it was very believable. I especially like the perlecent “paint” they used on the ship.

Not even 30 seconds for the two of them? Why bother.

26 – Kirk argued BECAUSE he cared. He wanted to go after Nero to prevent it happening again, and thought Spock’s decision to take the Enterprise to the Lautentian System was effectively dooming Earth. You know, HIS HOME PLANET !!!

This “Cadence” you refer too, is that the slower pace of older films?

As for TWOK only having two action sequences, I’d say it had a lot more SUSPENSE, rather than action, and was a different film in many ways.

Also, all of the Star Trek films are a product of their time. Movies are faster and more dynamic, because we have the tools to do it, whereas in the past: not so much.

The writing cheats? Have you ever actually watched Star Trek: TNG? Where somebody had to TECH the TECH to do TECH to the problem and miraculously solve it? Or in TOS, when something devastating and harrowing would happen, and the crew would make a campy joke about the events on the Bridge at the end of the episode?

30 – There was some CGI when the Enterprise D jumped to warp, and the Amargosa Star’s shockwave, but yes, the majority was model work and compositing.

Why do awards discussions always seem to bring out the haters in disproportionate amounts?


Awwwwwk! This here CGI space vessel is nothin’! Nothin’ I tells ye’! I am caught in tha’ vacuum o’ space wit’ only some pixels protectin’ me…


Hey- how comes I can talk and type in tha’ vacuum o’ space?

Oh- cuz’ I never learned me physics, that’s why. Like how tha’ coyote stands in midair aftar’ tha’ roady-runner tricks him ta’ runnin’ offa’ cliff…

Wells, we can start a collecton ta’ build a real spacey ship JJ can set in orbit and film fur’ tha’ next film: Starry Trek: Tha’ Wrath O’ Jar Jar.

Send yer’ money fur’ JJ’s ship ta’
PO Box 47
Kentucky State Penitentiary
(I be tha’ one wit’ tha’ pretty mouth)

Can we grow a real Jar Jar afore’ shootin’ takes place? Pixels just ain’t that scarey-like… and I can dump me sea monkies inta’ me toilet ta’ start a Jar Jar…


you must be blind. When I watched that movie for the first time, I felt like I was looking through a window whenever I saw the Enterprise.

Good response

All those complaining about CGI…I call shenanigans. You all know it’s CG, but if someone had told you the new “E”, Kelvin and Narada were modelwork you all would be none the wiser. The CG models in this film held up just as well, if not better, than the previous modelwork. No transparencies, no matte lines, no garbage mattes, no excessive fill light or spill, no awkward motion control setups.

#2 – the only thing phony is your post.

#33 – Several shots of the Enterprise-B and a couple of the Bird-of-Prey were also CG. The shots are seamless.

*Good* CG has many advantages over modelwork. This film is a prime example (pun intended).

@32: “Kirk argued BECAUSE he cared. He wanted to go after Nero to prevent it happening again, and thought Spock’s decision to take the Enterprise to the Lautentian System was effectively dooming Earth.”

And blindingly going after Nero wasn’t dooming in on itself? Kirk didn’t have the Transwarp beaming equation needed to beam onboard the Narada unnoticed, and he sure as heck didn’t have a plan on what he was going to do about the Narada once they caught up with it. For the circumstances they were in at that moment before NuKirk met Prime Spock, NuSpock was in the right when he states that they needed more man power to counter Nero.

Now, if you want to go down the “He’s Kirk. He would have thought of something. He can do anything” route, be my guest. I find that characterization to be vague, boring and lazy. If Kirk was like that in the Wrath of Khan, there wouldn’t be any of that ‘suspense’, because where’s the suspense when you know he can do anything?

I also love the irony on how NuKirk whines about how Spock was violating protocols by abandoning him on Delta Vega, but NuKirk was the one who acted all “emotionally compromised” by shouting at his superior officer and assaulting not one, but two officers on the bridge. Why should I like this character again?

I love it when people on this site tell me my opinion is wrong. And then act as if they are intelligent.

The Kirk portrayed in Trek09 is not the same Kirk portrayed in TWOK. First, TWOK-Kirk is older, more experienced, and wiser, while Trek-Kirk is not. Second, this is an ALTERNATE universe/timeline/world, so Trek-Kirk is not TWOK-Kirk… at least not yet. In either case, the two Kirks are years (decades) apart in experience. The Trek-Kirk probably has much more in common with TOS/Farragut-Kirk, who froze before firing at the cloud creature seen in “The Obsession.” Kirk wasn’t born perfect, right out of the oven……

@ 36…


I believe it was that wascally wabbit who defied the laws of physics by stating that “I never studied law”.

And I be afraid ta ask what be the special ingredient to grow a jar-jar from sea monkeys in yer toilet, although it do be a fitting spawning ground fer a jar-jar.

Hang on to yer soap!


Secret ingredient=gin.

The ship-jump sequence was *astounding*, especially the forced-perspective view from space at some distance where it was plenty convincing for my lyin’ eyes to wonder, “man, how did they create that shot?”

I mean, that’s the key for any FX, whether models or CGI. Push that work to the point where your mind starts thinking, “okay, I *know* that’s not real, but MAN they’re making me think *it just might be*.”

Its much harder to do for a “starship,” because we know its not real, but you create illusions of reality by intermixing movement, scale, lighting, and all those other ingredients. I think Doug Trumbull did a masterwork in the drydock/flyover sequence in ST:TMP, because the composite shot of Kirk’s shuttle docking with the Enterprise gave the ol’ gal a sense of immensity and proportion she never had before.

While I’m not totally enthused with the new Enterprise (not a fan of the dragster motif that was intended and achieved), I thought the CGI work to reaiize the ship sans a physical model was phenomenal.

@38 I would have been the wiser, if only because of the final scene, the light that reflected off the Enterprise looked incredibley fake, and a model wouldn’t look like that, I compared the new film to the DS9 modelwork, and I would far rather have something tangible on the screen.
P.S. The Kelvin, and Narada looked fine, it was the Enterprise shots which were more noticable as CG.

#35, CarlG, that’s a tired strawman paraded out by the media to sell newspapers, and it’s extremely old news.

It’s only a tiny minority that thinks the movie “sucks” as a whole from what I;ve seen, and usually trolls who disappear as quickly as they arrived. Most people I’ve observed on this forum liked the film. Perhaps not more than others, but definitely enjoyed it.

What I see is people like you, Check the CIrcuit, PTechnobabble, etc. fanning the flames and making simple criticisms of aspects of the film that could be improved for some fans, into huge overblown issues the likes of that tired old media story you dragged out.

We’re entitled to dislike things about the film, and like it at the same time. Even those who thought it was terrible are allowed to say so. Especially because it is entertainment. I don’t see anyone suggesting they are going to commit suicide or stalk Abrams unless these things are fixed.

And yes, even those who blindly accept everything about this film as perfection are entitled to their opinion as well.

What really “sucks” is suggesting that individuals should not be able to voice their dissenting opinions. Seriously though, why do you all care? Why do some fans on this site defend the movie to teeth like they created it themselves? Why does such criticism offend them? What damage is being done?

It’s like that old episode of Star Trek around here – “Get them! They’re not of the body! It is the will of Landru!”

I was fine with the CGI E in the movie, and I’m a fan of Trumbull’s work, a BIG fan.
There’s more to CGI than just laying on tons of detail. There’s STYLE, which ILM succeeded in bringing in gobs. Hats off.
(Hated the squirty red phaser “bolts,” though. Gimme classic hot blue-white beams, dammit!)


Don’t waste your time on this argument with Jeyl. I’ve had it with her before almost word for word. She just doesn’t want to like it…and never will.

I felt the effects were world class, again ILM at their best. If anyone at ILM fancies remaking the effects for STV during some downtime…

That said, I’d still rather a model Enterprise augmented with CG. Compare any Enterprise shot in this film to the pan shot of the E at the end of STIV (sun behind) – that is one real looking beast!