Interview: Mike & Denise Okuda On Star Trek: TNG Blu-ray Season 1 + New Images

The first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation will be released on Blu-ray in just a couple of weeks. Mike and Denise Okuda are working on the project of bringing TNG into the HD world and they took some time out to talk exclusively to TrekMovie about the project. The interview is below, along with some new images released today for Comic Con.


Mike and Denise Okuda Talk Star Trek: The Next Generation on Blu-ray

Mike and Denise Okuda were there at the inception of Star Trek: The Next Generation, both working to help define the look of the series. Now twenty-five years later the pair are consulting with CBS to restore the show for HD and Blu-ray. To start off for those who are not familiar with the background on this project, what is the big difference with how CBS is remastering Next Generation and how it was done with the original Star Trek series?

Mike Okuda: The original series was shot and edited on film so the completed episodes existed on film so all – not that it is that easy – but all they had to do is scan the film, do the restoration and then do the visual effects. For The Next Generation they had to go back to the original camera negative and rescan it all and reassemble it all by recreating the original edits. They had to do quite a bit of detective work because even though Paramount did a wonderful job of archiving there were always pieces where they had to hunt them down. Then they had recreate the visual effects and in many ways it was more demanding because, unlike with the original series, the mandate was to match the original shot as close as possible – just making it clearer, sharper and better. And as anyone from CBS digital would tell you, this was a huge huge task. Are there are any other examples of CBS or anyone doing something like this for a TV series?

Mike Okuda: While not experts in everything in home video, we have not heard of a restoration project of this magnitude for any television series. To be honest, the first time i heard what CBS was doing to bring TNG into HD, I didn’t believe it. How much of a debate was there internally to spend the money to do this? Especially doing all seven seasons, instead of just a "Best Of" set or something of a smaller scale?

Denise Okuda: I can say that when we got the call about this two or three years ago and we were asked that if it went forward would we be interested. Of course we would but after that conversation and we hung up Mike and I looked at each other and said "this will never happen." Because it was so complex and so expensive and require so much manpower. The fact that this is being done and being done right is amazing.

Mike Okuda: This is a considerable leap of faith on CBS’ part to support Star Trek in this extraordinary way. After watching a few more episodes I am taken aback at the level of detail. As the show was never really meant to be seen in HD, do you ever dial it back as you could end up showing too much? Possibly making people look unflattering or revealing unseen details?

Mike Okuda: Occasionally but that’s relatively infrequent and just the nature of the process. Thinking back to when we worked on the show originally we would always lament, it is really too bad this was being broadcast on television because you lose so much detail and color richness that it is a shame it couldn’t be on the big screen. And now it is.  What we are finding is the material holds up. In fact, one of the delights I found was if you look in Troi’s hair, Marina wears these interesting red jewels. Because of the limitations of standard def they look kind of dull red or even grey. Now they are these beautiful…

Denise Okuda: …they actually sparkle! There is a lot of fascination with new effects shots. In the first season, besides the pilot of course, which episode was the most challenging and required the most new CG work to be done?

Mike Okuda: Every episode has some little unexpected thing that requires extra effort. Sometimes it is how do you make the planet look better in HD but stay true to what the original artist did.

Denise Okuda: You would be amazed at what we can obsess about, like phaser shots, explosions, planets. We try to put everything under a microscope and see if we can get it as close as possible as we can 25 years ago.

Mike Okuda: For example, one little thing that our compositor Eric Bruno does is whenever the Enterprise is orbiting a planet – whatever color the planet is, he will put a little of that color onto the ship as if it reflecting on the ship, and making it look natural and making it look like it is really there. Now are you talking about the original shots or new CGIshots.

Mike Okuda: The original film. There is always some tweaking going on. But there are some uses of a new CGI Enterprise D model being used as well, periodically.

Mike Okuda: The vast vast majority of the ship shots are the original film, but there were some shots that were missing and so CBS Digital brought in Tobias Richter who built a beautiful Enterprise and CBS went on to tweak it further. As an example, and it is a shot I actually thought was the original film, was in "Encounter at Farpoint" – one of the shots of the saucer pulling away from the battle section was with the digital ship. Speaking of missing things, I understand you found those "lost" thirteen seconds from "Sins of the Father."

Denise Okuda: That was Sarah Paul. We keep telling her she is our hero. She along with Kiki Morris, have the mission of finding all this stuff going through boxes and boxes. They are not daunted by the massive undertaking. Are there other instances of having to upscale or are you finding everything so far?

Mike Okuda: For the live-action footage there is a two or three second close-up shot of Riker in one of the later episodes that had to be upscaled. I think that is pretty much it. Speaking of finding things, after watching some of the special features I was impressed with some of the never seen before images and behind the scenes footage, like the original makeup and wardrobe camera tests for the different actors. Are these little nuggets things that they are finding randomly while they go through the archives or are they looking for specific things?

Mike Okuda: It is a mixture of all of it. A lot of early tests were grouped. We had a couple days of test shooting during pre-production for "Encounter at Farpoint." One of the camera tests that I personally found fun was when I borrowed a friend’s hair clip to become Geordi’s VISOR. Herman Zimmerman and Andy Probert were trying very hard designing Geordi’s VISOR and Gene [Roddenberry] wasn’t seeing what he wanted and so I one day I brought in a friends hair clip and gave it to Herman and he loved the texture and so he got it painted and immediately did a camera test and Gene loved the look and that is one of the shots we found.

Denise Okuda: My favorite is the pencil drawings of the people walking around inside the window on the Enterprise during the opening credits. I had never seen that before. Wasn’t that cool? I also love the gag reel. Where did those come from and will we see more on future season sets?

Denise Okuda: There were only gag reels for the first two seasons and we stopped doing them. Looking ahead to season two, recently Melinda Snodgrass tweeted about a possible extended version of "Measure of a Man." Is that going to happen? Do you think you will find all the deleted scenes for that?

Mike Okuda: They are investigating that. I would love to see it happen. It is one of the best of the series. It came in quite a bit long – twelve or fourteen minutes – so they had to cut out quite a bit. So back in the day we made an original cut for Melinda. So we emailed her and asked "do you still have that tape?" And thank goodness she still did. So you are trying to find the original film elements from those extra bits?

Denise Okuda: Yes. We are trying to find them because we all think that episode is important and it would be so cool. There must be examples in every season of episodes that came in long…

Mike Okuda: This is an unusually large amount. Mostly it is a scene here or there. So this is a special occasion?

Denise Okuda: I would say probably. Unless we get anything else with additional footage, but we haven’t so far. Earlier this year a CBS executive said there would be two releases a year, which would have season seven coming out in 2015. Do you think that is still realistic based on progress?

Mike Okuda: If a CBS executive said it, then we agree with it. OK, well on that note thank you guys for taking the time.

Mike Okuda: Thank you. Anthony, appreciate the support 

Denise Okuda: Yes and we will see you soon.

REMINDER: Star Trek Season 1 Pre-order available now

The first Blu-ray season for Star Trek: The Next Generation comes out July 24th. The six-disc set includes HD remasters (in 1080p and 7.1 DTS audio) of all 26 episodes, plus brand new special features (see below for full details). The official retail price (according to CBS) is $118.00 in the US (which is actually a little less than the MSRP for Star Trek: TOS Blu-ray Season 1).

You can pre-order the set at discounted prices. Walmart is selling it for $78.86 with Amazon matching the price and Best Buy selling it for $79.99 with a $10 in-store savings rebate.

Walmart – USA BestBuy – USA Amazon – USA
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One
Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season One

The set is also available for pre-order at Amazon sites around the world.

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