See How ‘Star Trek: Picard’ Visual Effects Were Made

Emmy voting starts this week and CBS is hoping that Star Trek: Picard will continue the Trek tradition of being recognized for work in visual effects. We have gathered some highlights from their campaign to garner the attention of Emmy voters.

VFX supervisor on canon and how ‘Picard’ is different from ‘Discovery’

Visual Effects Supervisor Jason Zimmerman has already been nominated for his work on Star Trek: Discovery and CBS is hoping he will be again for Picard. Earlier this month, he spoke to Deadline about his history with visual effects, as well as the work on Picard, going into some detail on the tools used for the show.

Zimmerman contrasted his work on the two Star Trek shows:

I am a big Star Trek fan for sure, so it was definitely something when I got the call and the opportunity I could not pass up. From a visual effects perspective, what was appealing about Picard was it is different stylistically from Discovery. And we were going to do different things and that is one of the things we discussed. I was also really excited to stretch our legs as a visual effects team and try different things out.

He also spoke about the importance of starting from canon:

Working with these canon things like the Enterprise and the Borg Cube, it is always a little bit daunting to be responsible for something so revered and been depicted so many times. What you definitely don’t want to do is go back and start from scratch. You have probably the best amount of research and reference humanly possible for any show. So you definitely start there and want to make you don’t do anything that doesn’t make sense. For us, doing our research is an important part of the process and checking with everyone who knows the Star Trek universe to ensure we are actually treating these things appropriately. That we are not doing anything that is not part of canon or would otherwise not be what is expected from Star Trek.

You can see more from Zimmerman and get a glimpse at how some of the VFX are made in the video below.

Making a Borg Cube requires billions of polygons

One of the prominent elements of the first season was the Borg Cube. CG supervisor Dan Smiczek (of Pixomondo) spoke to Digital Trends about what it took to make a computer model for something that large:

[The Borg Cube is] supposed to be 4.7 kilometers on each side. So we knew we had to have a level of detail from far away, but also close up. We did something where we create a “greeble” — which is a fancy term for a very high-detail, small object that you can digitally place on other elements to add more detail to them. So we had a library of 23 different greebles in that Borg style, with right angles, like you mentioned, and very cube-like. We placed them on every surface of the Borg cube to give it this extreme level of detail. In the end, there ended up being around 82.7 billion polygons on the Borg cube we created… Thankfully, you don’t see all of that at the same time, but we definitely built it so that you could be right up close to the surface and see a lot of detail. And from far away, you’ll pick up on it, too. That was one of the challenges: When you’re accounting for that kind of size and covering those distances, you have to have large enough details to give it some variety, but not have those details seem repetitive when you get up close, too.

Pixomondo also released a video showing a breakdown of the visual effects that went into the Borg Cube.

More visual effects breakdowns

CBS has also been using Twitter to show off some of the visual effects behind Picard.

 


Keep up with all the Star Trek: Picard news, reviews, and analysis at TrekMovie.com.

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I think we have to give kudos to all the people who worked on the visual effects of Trek over the years. Trek almost always had the best visual effect work. Yes, the copy-paste ships in the season finale were a bit of an easy way out, but I think these guys deserved a little easy-way out after all the hard work they put on the visual effects.

I’m just not seeing this with the same eyes, I guess, because nearly all of this work has a gauzy, indistinct and unrealistic look that seems decidedly low-rez compared to a lot of work from 30 years back, and in some instances stuff going back to TOS. Space scenes are part of the appeal of TREK — most of TMP’s stuff is glorious — and yet for both series, I find those shots to be nearly always cringe-inducing.

I actually agree, I was actually praising more the general visual effects of Trek as a whole and to a certain extent the visual effects of both Discovery and Picard doesn’t have that same “awe” effect when it comes to the space shots.

Star Trek historically had relatively inexpensive effects (compared to say the cinematic effects of the day), but carried the story with characterization, relationships and plot.

TMP was really the exception and the story of the vfx team was harrowing at best.

I can understand that in today’s market a certain level of vfx is essential for a streaming series. However, I’d really prefer the “oh wow” vfx moments not to be relied on to carry the tale.

(The orchids still make me smile every time though.)

Actually the cost of TOS VFX was very high relative to the overall budget. Amazingly, early TNG VFX costs were closer to 7% of the episode budget according to stuff I read in the late 80s, where Rob Legato was saying many s1 eps were budgeted at 75 or 80 grand out of 1.2 mil. Where did the rest of the money go?

But to my point … quality and cost are not synonymous — ST V’s VFX cost more than the work in TWOK, SFS, TVH or TUC. I have no clue about budgets for the current shows, but the results are uninspired.

As great as the visual effects are, you cant beat a physical built set and model, wondered why the Romulan bridge shots was short and it’s been a while since we have seen space that is clear of lens flare junk from visual effects.

I prefer it when the base models are physical too.

Even when the physical models are photographed from every angle and then used as the foundation for digital ones in the postproduction vfx, it just seems richer ( i.e. the Orville approach).

There are ‘real’ model shots in the ORVILLE pilot that were used as stock elements throughout season 1, so it was more than reference.

I agree 100%

A friend who worked on Picard VFX team said the teams were rushed but also disorganized to high heaven.

Still stellar work, though, all in all.

There seems to be a story of disorganized production, including pre and post.

The costume designs were great, but the sewing/fit/execution was visibly poor in the early episodes. Clearly, there was a time crunch.

SH seemed to be taking its time to get the show made, so one wonders why things were so chaotic.

Last edited 15 days ago by TG47

I find it very telling that all these new ‘premium’ shows both have too much and too little production time compared to the old 26 episodes per year shows from the 1990s. Too much in taking year(s) to produce a measly 10 or 13 episodes, and too little for still not being able to deliver the old standards both in writing and production design (no previous show apart from TOS 60 years ago did copy & paste fleets!) I think it says alot about Kurtzman as a showrunner. He should focus on his head honcho thing and hire someone more capable for the daily production. Unfortunately in 3 years he still hasn’t found one yet!

Last edited 15 days ago by Vulcan Soul

Ah, 26 episodes per season, I’m getting misty eyed just thinking about it. Those were days!

Visual effects are stunning. Good job to the visual effects team.

The copy and paste job they did on the fleet during the finale should disqualify them. I really enjoyed Picard, but that laziness is unforgivable.

That was awful. Made worse by the ugly ship itself, but I expect no better from Eaves sadly.

Eaves proves that professionally, as long as you deliver on the soft skills (be on time, sugarcoat the boss erc.), sadly the hard skills do not matter much – even in a creative, artistic setting! For the opposite example that proves this as well, see: Jones, Ron.

Didn’t he design the Akira and the Sovereign Classes? Those ships are both boss!

I know another artist was responsible for the Sabre Class, not sure about the Norway and Steamrunner Classes.

Alex Jaeger designed all four of the background new Fed starships for FIRST CONTACT. Eaves did only the main ones.

I do find the copy and paste approach to the fleets (both Romulan and Starfleet) unforgivable on the part of the VFX team. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the episode because for me Star Trek is not about visuals, but I’d feel pretty embarassed putting that out with my stamp of approval. They would have been better off just making it a showdown between two capital ships. I did like the “weapons hot” glow though. That was inspired and effective.

It’s pretty sad that a tv show from 30+ years ago has better Enterprise-D fly-bys than ST: Picard. But then CBSTrek’s ultra contrasty, badly lit space shots have never looked good.

I did not like the Picard effects at all. The starships seemed to have no weight, as if they were flies buzzing around the screen. It’s like watching the fights in Batman Begins. Frenetic camera work to simulate action is no substitute for well choreographed fight scenes. Look at the cat and mouse battles in Star Trek 6 and Star Trek 2 for how to shoot starships that look and feel like they’re enormous galleons lobbing canonballs at each other. I’m sure the budget was a fraction of Picard’s.

All these posts from people who are quite sure of how spacecraft look. Most sci-fi spacecraft are aerodynamic, which is pointless in space. Dense asteroid belts and nebulae which don’t exist. Ion storms!

Not one sci-fi show/movie looks like the view from ISS in LEO. Every object in space is bright facing the nearby star and black on the far side. No stars nearby, nothing to see.

Actually there have been shows doing the no stars thing. 2010 did it for their video playback shots, keeping stars just for the exterior views. And I think FOR ALL MANKIND left stars out of nearly everything as well. The no-fill light look is present throughout 2010 (till the second star goes off.)

Kudos to the effort of green-screening the heck our of everything, sure. But the artistry of practical effects is what makes TV shows and movies worth watching. If you green-screen it, it turns into the SW prequels. And that is what we have with Picard….a nonsense mash-up mess lacking any soul or true creativity.

See how the VFX are made: Ctrl + C, Ctrl + V = Armada

A wealth of money and a wealth of tools cannot make up for a poverty of imagination!

Gary Hutzel, you are still sorley missed.

For me, visually, the show is amazing. Beautiful. Besides the copy and paste of the ships at the Season Finale, for me Picard is a 10 out of 10.

Not bored by these terrible interiors, like the Borg ship (talking production design as much as vfx, epic fails on both, and on the lasirena, the flying barn.)

Of all the things I take umbrage with from Picard, the VFX are way, way up there. I can’t stop shaking my head at this show.

My answer to the article’s title: Poorly.

Probably too late to fit into this thread, but my VFX article on PICARD just went up on the VFXVOICE website at https://www.vfxvoice.com/star-trek-picard-warps-the-gamut-from-subtle-to-spectacular/