VFX of Star Trek Beyond

The Visual Effects of Star Trek Beyond are being handled by the excellent crew of Double Negative. Their work has won them acclaim and a couple of Oscars too (for Ex Machina and Interstellar). Kevin H. Martin, a Trekkie, and active member of online Trek communities – including TrekMovie, has a new article for HD Video Pro Magazine where he interviews co-founder and VFX supervisor Peter Chiang about Beyond.

Tweaking the model of the Enterprise for this outing:

…there was a lot of shader work needed to translate that into the ship we wanted to see onscreen, which is the Justin Lin version of the Enterprise. It goes back in time a bit stylistically, looking closer in appearance to the original TV version, which always seemed a little vulnerable with those slender segments linking the saucer, engineering and the nacelles.


Seeing the Enterprise from new perspectives:

Justin wanted to attain a definite 35mm Panavision camera lens feel—but not as ‘flare-y’ as the Abrams vision—with plenty of camera artifacting that would help convey a grainy grittiness on a subconscious level. We also took the opportunity to give fans close looks at parts of the ship they’ve never previously seen from these angles, a way to pay tribute to the fantastically original design of the TV ship [created by series art director Walter ‘Matt’ Jefferies].


On the new warp effect (no doubt their ground breaking work on Interstellar helped):

Right from the outset, I was presenting Justin with ideas on how this could look, we did studies on how light is bent by gravitational lensing, then looked at high-speed shooting of 3000 to 4000 fps to see how bullets create a wake as they travel through water. We also scrutinized images of planes and their vapor trails as they go beyond the sound barrier. I imagined multiple shock waves building up and stacking on one another, forming this layer ahead of the vessel. That tells us we’re traveling at high speed and gives a dimensional quality to it.


There’s more to read over at HD Video Pro including designing the giant starbase Yorktown.

You can also check out Double Negative’s website for more examples of their work.

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Love the original tv Enterprise but dont really see that look here… Correct me if I’m wrong here, the movie really seems like it will be good but only time will tell

Lol — it’s the same basic ship design.

Prodigal Son,

Well, Abrams and Lin’s Enterprises obviously share the same basic design.

But for my money, Abram’s design leans more to the same basic form of the 24th century ships that came after the first series rather than the same basic design Roddenberry had Jefferies’ and Minor’s realized versions share, which I found odd because I haven’t found anything from Abrams indicating a fondness for anything from those later series – but I digress.

There’s JJ’s streamlining, extremely suggestive that JJ intends for his E to zoom through a planet’s atmosphere like the Milleniu…err Voyager. Clearly telegraphed before the 2009 effort was ever screened with its Earth surface constructing teaser. I fully expected him to show a planet landing in what we diehards might regard as the upside down position; as the ship has its own gravity, its landing (or space) orientation shouldn’t matter. But JJ went an alternate way with his E’s planetfall in STID — still indicating he clearly intended for his ship to land on a planet one way or the other. Also, his E’s curved pylons supporting the nacelles are more in line with 24th century basic design than Roddenberry’s 23rd.

@PS The Kelvin Timeline Enterprise retains the basic design elements, but is scaled up substantially. What has been the subject of continuous debate is what the working systems of the starship look like. Previous Trek really didn’t dig into that kind of detail, but the industrial look to the Kelvin Timeline engineering sections (‘The brewery’) struck some fans as not being ‘futuristic’ enough.

Well, the reality is, this is an alternate timeline…the bridge looks different, the phasers look different, the communicators look different, the actors look different….they were never going to be able to put an exact duplicate of the original series ship in the movie. They just couldn’t do it. And that’s totally ok, because that’s exactly how it should be. Similar, but different. Carbon copies…of anything…just wouldn’t fly under that premise.


Re:Carbon copies

You are building your case purely on your audience experience. It is not entirely clear that, in universe, these artistic licenses are intended to be perceptible as differences at all.

For example, we know that while the audience clearly sees differences between young Spock(Nimoy) and Spock(Quinto) they are meant to be taken as identical. This is even hit further home when Spock(Nimoy) doesn’t detect any differences twixt Kirk(Pine) and young Kirk(Shatner). Also, in the series, when Spock(Nimoy) is trying to use equivalent and yet subtly different tech like Miramanee’s Fabrini asteroid/spaceship controls, he’s a chatty cathy about the differences. And yet when he’s interfacing with Scotty(Pegg)’s, different to us, equipment for the transporter upgrade, he’s quieter than an owl swooping down on prey and doesn’t appear to be finding any differences worth noting out loud anywhere in using all its features and functions.

Spock(Nimoy) is aware of changes to the time line, it is just never made clear that he’s ever perceived changes in the tech to be one of them.

There is a pretty clear indicator that the design is a very different ship. A photographic mural of an original Constitution-class starship is hanging behind Admiral Marcus’s desk in Into Darkness, cylindrical nacelles and all.
The Abrams Starfleet almost certainly adapted their designs based on the assumption that the Romulans had access to gigantic heavily armed superships – given that assumption, it makes perfect sense that they’d conclude that they’d need to design their ships with a greater combat capacity. The fact that the Enterprise started construction some 10-15 years later than it did in the prime universe would support the idea that the class was delayed in order to accommodate a complete overhaul to the design to produce a more combat capable cruiser.


I just reviewed that scene and I could not find the photographic mural of which you speak behind Marcus’ desk at Starfleet. What IS behind his desk is a counter top progression of spaceship models which culminates in the Vengeance which most definitely is the answer to the Romulan supership of which you speak. Conspicuously absent are any model of the Enterprise’s class of ships we are addressing. The progression shown on screen is NX-01, Kelvin, then Vengeance.

I’ll keep looking but any help you can offer to zero in on it would be appreciated.

Disinvited, check out this clip….thou it was deleted, so canon? Anybody’s guess, but at least we can see the intent is there to establish the TOS design aesthetics as a ship previously existing in the Kelvin timeline.


If it doesn’t appear on screen it’s not canon. But even going with it for the sake of this discussion, the ship is so prominent and still NOT displayed in the progression of models that it’s difficult to a$$ess where it’s supposed to fit in the scheme of things. One could just as easily assume that it’s supposed to be the next generation ship after Vengeance with expected miniaturizations of Khan’s grand overblown designs, I mean, we know that an M5 unit can control an entire ship similar in appearance to the one hanging from Marcus’ ceiling. Was there ever offered an explanation why a 20 member crew needed a ship so huge?

And finally, its a generation ahead of the Constitution Class that would have been for that time. Recall prime Pike’s had whip antennas protruding from the centers of its nacelle front dome caps.

So far, i haven’t noticed a difference in the ship’s structure…. Looks the same to me. An argument can be made for a change in color palate in the ship as you would see with a new cinematographer using different film. The TOS movies always seemed to show color schemes skewed on the Enterprise from movie to movie. In one film it looks pure gray, another it looks like it has a bluish tint. In one the deflector is kind of a green color, and another it’s electric blue. Lots of little differences like that. If it’s kind of imperceptible, I’m ok with that.

I wonder how long the Enterprise will actiually exist onscreen since it’s supposed to be destroyed early on. I also wonder if the saucer section can be salvaged for the next version

Not much I don’t think. I would say a quarter of the movie, a third of the movie max but might be pushing it. Looks like some time from their mission to Yorktown base. Some time docked at Yorktown. Then from Yorktown to the planet where the ship is annihilated.

I doubt the saucer will be salvaged. Although it would be cool to see like two or three starships using the tractor beam (something we have not seen in movie, say Nemesis) to salvage it. But it will be a 1701D scenario, left on a planet unless they wish to completely disassemble it and salvage the raw materials. I don’t really know what happened with the 1701D saucer, it obviously wasn’t reused, but do not know if it was left on Veridian III or salvaged as a museum piece, or salvaged for its raw materials.

I am really hoping they get a new ship at the end of the movie and not identical, something more akin to the refit/1701A. Angles over curves. 1701A constitution refit is hands down still my favourite looking ship, 1701E coming in close second…again because of the angles and that (in First Contact) looks white not grey. Love the very light grey/white hull plating on ships.


There’s extremely spoilerific bits floating around involving the main viewscreen that definitively indicate whether or not that’s possible.

(/\) Happy 4th everyone (/\)

Nice piece of reportage. I’m actually more optimistic about this film than I’ve been since it was announced, and hope it lives up to its promise.

Thanks, Michael. Recently I got to talk with a BEYOND concept art guy, Sean Hargreaves, who basically looked after all the Federation/Starfleet ship/starbase stuff in the film design-wise (he is also credited as vfx art director), and he cited going back to Jeffries and really studying the components exhaustively before tackling the FRANKLIN. I didn’t get to talk with anywhere near the number of folks I have in the past for VFX articles, so this article is kind of superficial (would have liked to go into 700% more detail on YORKTOWN and the warp effect, and never even knew to ask about the flaming space stuff from the most recent trailer), but like you, I’m becoming more optimistic.

Very cool, kmart! :) Like many out here, I’ve grown more optimistic about this film of late, whereas I was only annoyed with ST09 but violently disliked STID. This looks and feels like a breath of fresh air, and at least there’s always Jaylah to keep some of us interested. I must say though, I’d love to see something very large and extremely heavy fall through a few decks on the ship, but nowadays that would have to be a CGI instead of practical effect (inside joke).


And here’s a link to that article of yours from that talk with Hargeaves, kmart:


Hargreaves, that is. Ramaframitz typo.

The complete article was a good read. Especially interesting was the fact that the new warp drive effect is inspired by Jesco Von Puttkamer’s notes from ST:TMP. Hopefully the movie will live up to the promise of the past few trailers and teasers but regardless it looks like the VFX people definitely did their homework for this one and I appreciate that.

So that’s the new WARP effect. Wow. I was presuming that it might be the Enterprise travelling through a more “scientifically accurate” wormhole (as opposed to the swirly vortices that Trek’s wormholes used to be). This is a bold departure from the warp effects we’ve grown accustomed to (even more than Abrams’ “hyperspace”-take on it), but I friggin love it!

@JAGT, agreed that this is a really awesome warp effect. I don’t remember there being another time in Star Trek where we saw a ship in warp from a distance like that shot. The new perspective is fantastic!

For those that might know, does warp drive create a bubble of space in front of the ship and that bubble increases behind the ship? This way the ship doesn’t actually move through space but space moves around it? I absolutely love the effect from the second trailer and I’m curious about the engineering/scientific principles of Star Trek.

That is actually the current theory (Alcubierre warp drive). Basically you would need a theoretical type of “exotic matter” that had negative energy density in order to create a warp bubble that bends space in a kind of gradient in front of the ship, which would pull it along behind it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94ed4v_T6YM

What you have described is basically correct. It’s actually sub-light travel that is going to subject a ship to flight stresses, even in space.

Visual effects… the only thing the JJ-Verse has. “Substance”, “originality”, “creativity” and “plot” are meaningless terms.

According to…..?

Wow. When did you get to see Beyond?

DejectedRedshirt – Delete your account.

I wonder what program they used to render the effects. And it would be cool to know how they set up the shaders to do the hull.

I don’t get these “slender”, “vaunerable” segments linking the ship comment. I mean, yes they are seemingly the weak link when they aren’t protected, but that’s always been the case. The Enterprise is supposed to be protected by shields that make everything equally as strong. So Lin wanted to see them targeted in an attack. OK. But first he’s got to get the shields off. And once that happens, everything is equally as vaunerable. Just seems a little misguided to me.

Spoiler: something has happened to cause the shields to be down, because the ship is covered in some sort of docking pods that allow a ship wide invasion. So once that happens, ripping the nacelles off, and splitting apart the primary and secondary hulls is not a problem. And that happens plenty in Trek. Would Khan knowing “exactly where to hit us” make any difference if he took off the nacelles, or split the ship in two? Well it would have ended the movie much faster. So one has to wonder why that never happened before. Maybe because those slender, vaunerable segments aren’t so vaunerable at all — I mean they nacelles generate the warp field that envelopes he whole ship, seems like a lot of potential for cataclysmic failure if they aren’t fairly sturdy.

Oh well, it will be fun to see.

Where are you getting all of this from? That Lin wants the nacelles targeted? Maybe he does, but I didn’t read it anywhere in this story – just that he wanted the Enterprise to look a bit more like the TV version, which the fx guy said has nacelle struts thst always looked vulnerable to him (and they’ve changed them from JJs version).


The quote from Martin is likely a restatement of what Lin told him in describing what he wanted …


I love the 50th anniversary “references” in this movie:

The Yorktown station feels like a chaotic version of DS9…

The Lincoln is basically NX-01…

The female head of Starfleet in the second trailer sounds a lot like Janeway…

Still missing any NextGen reference though…

I wasn’t a huge fan of Intersteller but it had great, albeit flat, fx. Big fan of Ex Machina (fx and story).

I hope they’re great – so far, to me, the swarm is looking a little like something from a late 90s TV show.

Not sure what you mean by flat. I thought they looked absolutely stunning and veered toward trying to present something more realistic than flashy. Felt more grounded, which for me at least pulls me into the world more.

Yeah, they were PROPERLY dimensional, not goofily so. And by using physical objects for the ships, they were a magnitude more credible with the foreground element and light interaction, too.

I got the news tonight that I will be amongst the first 60 Trekkies in the world to see Star Trek Beyond when it premieres here in Australia in 45 hours! Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban and Justin Lin will be in attendance. Awesome news!

Wow, I have to say, I am envious. ;) Feel free to post your (spoiler-free) impressions after the event. :) Have fun!

Wait I thought the premiere was at comic con in San Diego in 2 weeks. Why are they premiering it in Australia? That makes no sense at all …

North American premiere is at SDCC. The international premiere is in Australia on July 7th. I believe both of the previous movies premiered there as well.

I still don’t get it. Why Australia? Is it just an excuse to take a vacation for the cast and producers? And why before the North American premiere? If it’s to raise international profile, wouldn’t China be a better location?

It is a good question. In terms of English speaking countries, it’s a good market, and a friendly and receptive one (particularly in terms of film grants and tax loopholes for production), so I think they’re counting on good press / early reviews and word-of-mouth to spread from there across the English-speaking world (UK, NZ, Canada, USA, etc), and regionally into Asia-Pacific and South Asia as a start.

Also it’s a great hub city to kick off the press junkets into Asia as you mention, logistically, hop to Singapore / HK / Mainland China, sweep westward back through South Korea, Indonesia etc (which alone is almost the population of the US), India, of course Dubai, UAE, etc… I am not privy to their planning but I presume they’d work across the globe in that fashion to hit key cities every 2-3 days and do grueling full-day interview sessions. Not fun, but part of the biz of marketing.

Well, all of that makes sense, except the Australian premiere of STID was the one that leaked Khan’s identity, and began the downfall of that particular installment. OTOH, they did make $20 million+ in China …

Telstra Thanks Comp?

No. Via the Australian Star Trek Facebook page.

I always disliked how different the warp effect works. I get there is an opportunity to show something different, but it’s like they’re changing it just because they can.. not because it makes sense or can be explained. In STID we suddenly had warp trails, when there had previously been done (again.. cool effect and one I’d call a bit of a minor tweak as opposed to a wholesale change). But this new warp effects seems like something completely different. Star Trek has always been bad at visual continuity, and I thought at least this new iteration (JJ Trek) would be consistent. Minor quibble in many ways, but I find it completely distracting to constantly see these things depicted differently.

Definitely agree that the lack of visual continuity has been bothersome to me as someone who likes a certain level of consistency.. As for the new warp effect, I’m thinking this is created from a long-distance perspective of the ship while the previous Kelvin timeline movies have been “wormhole” looking because those were from the perspective of the ship. Essentially, those inside the warp field see the “wormhole” while those outside see the rippling of light around the warp bubble. We’ll see though when the movie is officially released.

I too have thought of explanations as well.. and it can be easily explained given the elasticity of technobabble we’ve gotten over the years, but it still kind of irks me that it looks so drastically different.

The later of the original Trek movies had “warp trails” that were streaks behind the ships that disappear pretty quickly. I see the STID trails as an interpretation of that. We’ve never seen a ship at warp from this angle at such a distance before (Voyager I believe had a few “closer-up” shots), so it’ll be cool to see how it is interpreted. Personally, I think its better to do something different, something we haven’t seen before, or were simply unable to see before, due to lack of technology to show it to us. I like seeing something different and unexpected in any film- keeps it fresh.

Well, from what I’ve seen so far, I’d say this is the coolest warp effect yet.. and my statement is a minor quibble. It is cool to get new stylized effects.. and who knows.. maybe it’s explained credibly in the story?

Trek (all Sci-Fi, for that matter) has always visualized motion through space in terms of what the audience will understand, akin to watching a sailing ship on the high seas. Looks great, and neatly explains epic space battles, but probably doesn’t represent what an actual construct moving through space would look like at all. At Warp, it’s not the ship that’s moving, it’s space itself being expanded and contracted around the ship. I’m the first to admit that I’m not that creative, I have no idea what that would look like. Impulse (or sublight), at least in Trek, has always been understood to mean fractions of light speed. So, a ship at 1/4 Impulse, would have moved a bit over 46,000 miles….per second. At those speeds, Sulu’s job it pretty much pointless, it’s the computer flying the ship, not him.
So, my point – appreciate the artistry, and that it continues to inspire smart people to figure out how this works for real.

Some more Peter Chiang on BEYOND, article, video and audio: