‘Star Trek: Discovery’ Season 4 Production Update And First Look At AR Wall Virtual Set

The fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery started production last November, bringing with it new COVID protocols, a star with a new significant rank, and some new production technology.

Season 4 is (almost) done

Series star Sonequa Martin-Green is taking a break from the production in Toronto this week tto promote Space Jam: A New Legacy in Los Angeles. In an interview with Collider, the actress offered this update on the production and what Michael Burnham’s promotion means:

Well, we’re just about done. We just have a little bit more to do. And it’s exciting as captain now, that’s a big deal to me and I think to everybody who watches and to the history of the franchise itself. I think it’s a really big deal to have a black woman as captain cemented in that lineage.

The actress also shared some pictures from the Space Jam red carpet on her Instagram.

Virtual Disco

A new element introduced for season four is an AR Wall virtual set, which is being shared by both Discovery and Strange New Worlds. Using gaming technology and large LED screens, the actors can now perform in dynamic virtual environments, which has many advantages over greenscreens.

An article on American Cinematographer about how different shows are using this technology offers some details for the one being used by the Star Trek productions, revealing visual effects company Pixomondo has built them an LED volume with walls 30 feet high and 70 feet wide, wrapped in a horseshoe.

LED volume being used by Discovery for season four (American Cinematographer)

Visual effects supervisor Jason Zimmerman (who was just nominated for an Emmy) explains how this new technology is advancing how they shoot the show:

Getting something in-camera on the day is so much better than greenscreen in many ways. One major difference [in terms of workflow] is that the production-design and art departments are a lot more involved much earlier in the process, because they have to get assets ready to be photographed instead of waiting until after the shoot.

He also discussed how the AR wall is especially useful in the pandemic era:

In the COVID era, being able to shoot large-scale locations without having to leave the stage is a huge benefit. The LED wall is fantastic for creating environments, and on Star Trek, of course, traveling to different worlds is something we’re very interested in doing.

Check out ascmag.com for more on AR Walls and see their interview with Discovery cinematographer Crescenzo Notarile.

Star Trek: Discovery season four will arrive later in 2021. And as a reminder, season three arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Steelbook on July 20th. You can pre-order at at Amazon.


Find more news and analysis on Star Trek: Discovery.

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Dude, they’re using a holodeck to make Star Trek, lol.

Great point. Love it!!!!

I know these shows differ aesthetically from MANDALORIAN, but it really seems funny to me that the image above seems so TOS circa 1967, very ‘painted with light.’

Am also thinking that this might have been what Vulcan was supposed to look like in TSFS, but they hung the backing at the wrong height so you couldn’t see mountains in the distance, just sky.

I just watched tsfs a few nights ago and noticed this. The re-fusion ceremony took place in a large bowl like area, high up mt. Seleya. The edge of the bowl wasn’t too high, but I guess high enough to obscure the horizon. You really should have seen mt Seleya and the tall structure immediately before the ceremony area though.

I’ll be watching to compare this volume with the mandalorians. That one has a overhead screen too and supplies it’s own lighting.

I like the tech that is being used here. In terms of production values and quality, Star Trek TV has never been better with these premium levels of cinematic investment. The final frontier looks stellar, cinematically speaking.

But that leads to an off-topic question…

There is a TON of money being invested by studios into a TON of new productions now.

At a time when NO new production (no movie or TV show released in 2020 or 2021)… nothing is raking in profits/revenues at pre-pandemic levels.

How are studios covering those costs? Is streaming rev + subscription rev really covering the huge gap? 

What is the new revenue model for studios now? Are they mortgaging against future goodness? Or amortizing these productions some how?

BoxOfficeMojo says:
– Total 2019 domestic Box Office was $11B
– Total 2020: $2.1B
– Total (to date) for 2021: $1.3B

But right now, a lot of studios are investing BIG in new big ticket productions. How are they going to recoup all of that cash?
– MCU has tons of new movies and like 13 more TV shows.
– Star Trek is producing new Trek shows like bunny rabbits (or tribbles) and just announced a new movie for 2023. But no Star Trek movie has ever made more than $500M globally, ever. And I keep hearing that the new ST TV shows are not pulling in the large volumes of subscribers that we want to believe they are pulling in. So again, how are Paramount-CBS-Viacom recovering all the money being spent on ST? (NOTE: ST into Darkness is the highest grossing ST movie @ $467M globally).
– Amazon is pouring billions into the new LOTR series.
– The list goes on…

If people don’t start going back to theaters by the dump truck load, how will the industry recoup the HUGE investments?

Sorry to be off-topic.

But I would appreciate your thoughts.

I think one difference with the streaming companies is that they are not producing nearly as many shows per year as the big advertiser supported networks like NBC, CBS, and ABC who are doing something like 30+ shows per year each with 20+ episodes.

Meanwhile the streaming companies are producing maybe 10 shows per year with a dozen episodes each. Netflix has by far the largest subscriber base and it shows by how many more new movies and tv shows they are producing each year.

Given that TV and movies have an extremely long return on the investment with new potential viewers being born every year, they are opting for quality over quantity. Start out small and just keep building. Soon they’ll have a catalog that the next generation of people with pay full time, all year long to access.

(If only they could get better writers to go along with the high quality effects they’d be all set.)

Uh, pretty sure Netflix produces more shows than all the networks combined.

Nah. They produce a lot of shows, but they also just buy a lot of shows from Canada, the UK, Australia, etc.

Some of those Netflix originals are really just Netflix exclusives.

You could almost create an equation that compares the quality of writing on Star Trek is inversely proportional to the quality of the production. Think about the writing and production of all the shows: as the production quality increases the writing quality decreases.

I only see DS9 and TOS as exhibiting consistently higher levels of writing, so can’t totally agree.

And TNG is the only other TREK show I’d even consider rewatching; gave up on Ent at start of s2 and VOYAGER maybe midway through, and every time I’ve given them another try I’ve regretted it (except for the Captain Ransom 2parter, which I thought was worthwhile.) I found the first 2 seasons of DSC to be an embarrassment for all concerned save for Anson Mount. Picard … well, I made it through the season, but that’s because, like DSC, it was free, plus I was still lobbying to do the piece that wound up running in VFX VOICE about the CGI.

I assume if a Bad Robot Star Trek film could be made for less than 200 million we would have already had the 4th reboot film. The budget of these films is absurd and unwarranted based on the return or lack thereof of investment. They aren’t Mission Impossible. Or i could just be wide off the mark and they really do want to make a film and just haven’t found the right director and script, but i’m not optimistic on that score.

SEBERG got made for less than 10mil, and it still had locations and even some VFX. You can say comparing that to TREK is like comparing apples to watermelons in terms of scale, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Look a little closer to home; TUC cost 30mil. Nearly half of that was above-the-line costs, plus VFX were about 3, with other post work running to something like 4, and none of this addresses setbuilding or writing. So you can see the money left to actually shoot the movie is less than a quarter of the budget. Even if you triple that and say you’re talking contemporary filmmaking, you’re still talking only a sliver of what a modern film costs, not even a sliver.

Try telling the story with 150 VFX shots instead of 1500-2000, see what that saves you. That’s still more than TUC had, am pretty sure. Design a scene around a master view that doesn’t require construction of a 360 degree set, but instead just what is needed to tell the story cinematically (in some instances, that could be a doorframe blocking out half the frame, and then a pie section of the locale actually built, with a piece of backing behind that.) If you make creative decisions like that up front, you haven’t blown out the budget by building everything lifesize, plus you probably have a more interesting looking angle, which means the eye will be pleases and you don’t have to do the hysterical overcutting that is so in vogue for so long, which probably also cuts costs since you’re not shooting as much coverage or spending so long in editorial.

None of these things are new ideas; they are how Hollywood and the UK did things for a long while and rather successfully too.

What is SEBERG?

A movie that came out at the end of 2019. Less than a token theatrical release, I saw a screening in a totally empty theater, no critics even showed up. But it was a solid little movie, well-photographed and performed, about how the FBI smeared Jean Seberg, which ultimately probably contributed to her apparent suicide.

At a time when NO new production (no movie or TV show released in 2020 or 2021)… 

It hasn’t been quite that bad on TV. Picard, Lower Decks, and The Mandalorian were all new in 2020. The Expanse, For All Mankind, WandaVision, Falcon And The Winter Soldier, and Loki have been new in 2021.

Hi Thorny… Thanks for the reply. I have been misunderstood. I was not saying there were no new productions in 2020 & 2021. Clearly there have been, and the new productions continue to increase.

I was saying there are no new productions pulling in revenues at the same level as Pre-Pandemic.

“At a time when NO new production (no movie or TV show released in 2020 or 2021)… nothing is raking in profits/revenues at pre-pandemic levels.” That is why I showed theater box office totals for 2019-2021, which have cratered horribly from $11B in 2019 down to $1.3B in 2021 so far.

But in this case, now I am mistaken….

A person broke down for me the FRACKIN’ HUGE profits that Netflix draws from its streamed content. The same person then did simple Disney subscriber math for me:

  • 100 million subscribers at $6 per month for subscription fees = $600M per month. Or $7.2B a year… for just Disney+ access.

So what I realize is that (1) streaming revenue is more profitable; (2) studios don’t necessarily need immediate payback on all the new content that is being made now. They just need subscribers to continue to pay their monthly fees, and they need to always be attracting more new subscribers for streamed content. If they can do that, then the content will more than pay for itself over time.

I find the new profit model quite interesting. It moves from straight ticket purchases and home video sales to a model based on subscription access to a digital content library where a person is not paying to view just one film per se… and the studio is not seeking payback from just one film. The studio is saying that one piece of content is now worth $$$ in initial subscriptions / subscription renewals / recurring viewings over XX period of years. The subscriber is saying they don’t mind paying $$ dollars per month / per year to 3 or 4 streamed content services because it gives them access to a vast digital content library they like.


Thanks again!

Even networks like The CW have had shows premiering and being produced throughout the last year and a half. The Outpost, for example, had it’s entire third season air in the fall, was back to filming before the season finished, and just premiered it’s 4th season on Thursday. The Vancouver-filmed Arrowverse, while severely affected by the pandemic and having had season finales dropped from the last seasons, has been back to nearly full production for nearly a year. The pandemic hasn’t hit television production as hard as it did film production by a long shot, since they are able to function well with a barebones crew. Theaters are open again, at least for now, and most studios are back into full production.

  • 100 million subscribers at $6 per month for subscription fees = $600M per month. Or $7.2B a year… for just Disney+ access.

This is COMPLETELY wrong. You are assuming they are all American – they are not.

I have heard that Indians are only paying 45c per month. You are going to need hundreds of millions of Indians to sign up to generate as much revenue.

It’s more like 4 dollars per month or 20 dollars per year

Sort of, its 399 rupiah per year for dubbed content, and 1499 rupiah per year for English language versions. That is US$5.35 and US$20.09 per year. Disney is only stating subscribers because if you were breaking down the revenue you would see how the Western world is massively subsidising it.

Another important factor to consider is that streaming providers are also still offering a lot of ‘6 months free’ packages. These will typically be offered in conjunction with a partner company that uses the promotion to gain a commitment to their product/service. Undoubtedly the content provider still receives some remuneration although it would obviously be less than what the same number of customers paying directly for the service would bring. I think for the bigger players like Disney and Netflix there’s still likely plenty of profit to be made. I think it’s also worth pointing out that for the likes of Disney and Apple there’s probably an acceptable margin for loss leading as well so long as enough people buy into their wider product/service ecosystem. Disney could take a loss on the tv side so long as the profit increase on their ancillary merchandising, park rides etc was bigger. Likewise I’m sure Apple’s long term future in the streaming industry will be influenced by how effective their tv output is at persuading customers to stay invested in Apple products and services.

Thanks Tezna.

It’s not completely wrong.

It is right in the USA, and when exchange rates are applied, it’s also right in other geographies.

It’s not $6 in India. So it’s $5.35 in India. I am corrected. But that is straining at a gnat which people like to do these days… and $6 USA vs $5.35 in India has zero bearing on my point, which remains quite intact:
huge revenues are being created by streaming that are absolutely off-setting
losses at the domestic box-office, and off-setting the costs of new productions.

Again, I wanted to understand the new studio revenue model for paying for these costly shows and films. And paying for the new tech that is being used to make these new shows (like the AR Walls).

If streaming is paying the bills, then now I understand the new revenue model.

Really doesn’t matter about India paying less in Rupees. In aggregate, Disney+ is still reaping HUGE profits from streaming and subscription fees… as is Netflix… and so on.


Actually you are completely wrong on that point. You said per month, while the charge is per year.

True, but some of those lower cost services are a mix model of advertising and subscription fees. Advertising revenue can be significant in those markets.

That’s why ViacomCBS is doing well rolling out Pluto. It’s mainly in Latin America and Europe so far, but advertising based streaming video is huge, and can sell up to pay per view for new releases.

The key thing on the streaming profit equation is for the provider to have just enough new “must see” content that subscribers will keep continuous subscriptions.

The “churn” where subscribers join binge and drop is the biggest issue for streamers. That’s why they have reverted to weekly releases of episodes, or the model of 3 episodes at the premiere to hook viewers and weekly releases thereafter.

Which is why I thought it was odd that ViacomCBS has pulled back from the Short Treks and the plan for 5 adult targeted series to make sure that Trek viewers would keep their subscriptions continuously.

Last, the other parts of the equation includes how deep is the library to keep people hooked between new features. Netflix has been licensing access to other content producers’ libraries and Disney, Paramount, WB etc aren’t renewing those licenses.

ViacomCBS has built out further with a model that steps up from streaming 100% advertising revenue on Pluto ( which is expanding rapidly globally) to mixed basic streaming service with fewer ads to premium streaming ad-free. By using market differentiation, ViacomCBS can both extract the most profit and sell people up to its premium services.

Cool tech; wish they’d hire some decent writers to do something with it.


As a film student, I think all this new tech and automation is incredible. The idea that an entire movie can be made in-camera by filmmakers working remotely, hundreds if not thousands of miles away, in real time, is mind blowing, and it shows how movie making is so collaborative as an art form. But also as a film student, I have to lament the nature of the content being produced these days, where everything is a franchise, each episode a teaser for the next spinoff for the next movie. Take, for example, Space Jam Legacy, literally a 2 hour ad for Warner Bros’ entire back catalog, and a plug for the next Matrix film coming out this year, just to get you to subscribe to HBO Max. It’s disgusting that this is what passes for movies these days. If all we get are tired sequels like F9, Black Widow, and Space Jam, I’d rather spend my time on YouTube or even Tiktok

Here are better places to watch good curated films and associated content:

Criterion Channel
No Budge
Metrograph Theater’s subscription service

HBO MAX has got a whole lot of Criterion movies, so you shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater in a rush to judgement.

Over 40 years back, I was very excited by MagiCam and all the virtual production possibilities it offered, but it just never came together in high-res. And IntroVision was too limited as well, though it was a nice bump-up from traditional front projection. Then CG started creeping in, and it was a novelty adjunct to serious filmmaking, till suddenly it wasn’t, and it was THE thing, and I think films suffered for the rush to do it all that way, instead of splitting the work between traditional and digital methodologies, using the best of both (which kind of sort of peaked around 1997, where you had films that DID use a mix of motion-control miniatures and other techniques, augmented and enhanced by CGI.)

Whatever the new tool is, it is the wielder of the tool who makes the most difference. I rewatched T2 last week and 99% of it still looks great. I tried to rewatch part of one of the MATRIX sequels a couple years back and it was as epic a fail as it was in 2002 or 2003, with much less visual credibility than the first one, owing to how it embraced tech that worked for background in the first one to create foreground characters that wouldn’t have passed muster at Madame Tousaud.

I’m off track with this rant, will try to chime back in later when I’m a little less angry about the world.

maybe s4 (& Picard s2/3) will lead into the crossover P+ movie (the disco writer is doing) leading to the summer 2023 theatrical movie starring the kelvin cast, Hemsworth, Bana, and Shatner

Huuuh? She is not the first female, black captain. Yes, in a series but not first.

The first one who’s a main character. Unless you count Freeman.

Why shouldn’t you count Freeman? LOWER DECKS is canon, after all. *Snort.*

Because she’s more of a secondary character. The four ensigns are really the main characters.

The AR wall is like old school Trek – every planet has a flat as pancake surface plus rocks

I think the point is that it actually isn’t like that at all, the screen renders different depths of images based on the programmed camera movements, creating a more realistic illusion

The ground is always flat in the images I’ve seen. Lots of depth, but flat ground (the studio floor)

You get proper parallax with the screen imagery, but you have to integrate it with the live-action foreground elements, otherwise it’s just a gussied up high-tech version of GREEN ACRES.

See above, we already covered this.

That’s nice. I don’t mind if you have to read it twice though.