Executive producer Alex Kurtzman is currently gearing up to put three live-action Star Trek shows into production over the upcoming months, with long-term plans for Trek on TV through 2027 already being mapped out. All of these sci-fi shows rely on cutting edge special visual effects, and Kurtzman is now looking to add the latest technological innovation.
Star Trek Universe going virtual
The season three premiere of Star Trek: Discovery showcased location shooting in Iceland. Production in the era of COVID makes location shooting like that difficult; however, Kurtzman has a plan to deal with that, as explained in this excerpt from a new interview in IndieWire:
Remarkably, Season 4 will start shooting on November 2. The entire cast recently traveled to Toronto to begin their quarantine before production starts, with full COVID safety protocols in place. The kind of international location shooting we saw in Season 3’s first episode is out, but Kurtzman noted, “it looks like we are going to be getting an AR wall for future seasons of ‘Star Trek’ on multiple shows.”
AR walls are new in-studio production techniques using gaming engine technology combined with wall-sized screens of LEDs to create virtual environments that react to camera movements. Using AR walls can create superior visual effects and allow the actors to actually see the environments instead of green screens. And in many cases, these LED walls can replace the need to go on location. The technology has been used in some recent Disney projects including the Disney+ Star Wars show The Mandalorian, which picked up Emmys this year in both visual effects and cinematography.
This video from Insider shows how these AR wall virtual sets are used.
Based on Kurtzman’s comment, it appears this new technology will be installed in Ontario, Canada, the production home for both Discovery and the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. It’s possible it could also be used for Star Trek: Picard, which is shot in Southern California, but these AR Walls are very expensive.
Discovery actors did home motion-capture for season 3 inserts
Production on the third season of Discovery wrapped just 10 days before Hollywood went on lockdown. This moved all of the post-production to remote work, including visual effects. Working remotely created an issue with shooting any additional footage (called “pickups” and “inserts”), which is often needed to fill in gaps as episodes are being edited. So again, the Star Trek team turned to technology to provide the answer, as explained in another excerpt from the IndieWire interview:
“The visual effects team was extraordinary, because there are some shots that you will never know aren’t practical, aren’t actually shot on location, that are full CG shots, full CG elements of things that would typically have been an insert,” Kurtzman said… These aren’t entirely CG doubles for the actors, though. Each actor who needed pick-ups received motion-capture equipment to finish elements of their performance at home. For those inserts, Kurtzman said, “It’s an actual actor at their home motion-capture studio, which then gets rendered in the computer as a living thing. It’s a real person… Each of our actors have been scanned, so we can actually impose their faces on a body, which is quite something.”
The Star Trek TV production team has experience with motion capture suits. The following video shows how they were used in Star Trek: Short Treks.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. Episodes will be available on Fridays internationally on Netflix.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.