VFX Designer Peter Chiang Speaks about Star Trek Beyond

VFX Designer Peter Chiang Speaks about Star Trek Beyond

New Look Ships and Starbase in Star Trek Beyond

♦ We’ve run this before, but with the movie being in theatres now there’s been an uptick in interest in the VFX side of Star Trek: Beyond. In case you missed it first time around, a feature in Popular Mechanics,  first introduced us to a cutaway view of the two Federation starships, and the alien Swarm vessels:


Then  HD Video Pro Magazine ran an interview with Peter Chiang VFX supervisor on Star Trek Beyond with him detailing revised Enterprise and the  CGI work on the  film:

“All of the digital assets belong to Paramount, so we inherited the ILM model [of the Enterprise]. Even so, 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 to the original TV version, which always seemed a littler vulnerable with those slender segments linking the saucer, engineering, and the nacelles.”


Swarm ships collide with the Enterprise



Enterprise leaves Starbase Yorktown

“Our new changes included adding a ‘fastback’ aspect to the nacelles, which formed a bit of a ‘V’ shape. We also stretched and thinned both the nacelles and the ship’s neck, making them more obvious targets for the Swarm.”

“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 pay tribute to the fantastically-original design of the TV ship.”



A new warp effect using gravitational lensing research

“In the past films, there was always kind of a light-driven way they had for showing the stream to warp speed. In reevaluating our options, this gave us a chance to take inspiration from real physics for our warp effect.”

“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 3000-4000 [fps] to see how bullets create a wake as they travel through water.”

“We also scrutinized images of planes and their vapor trials as they go beyond the sound barrier. I imagined multiple shock waves building up and stacking on one another, forming this layer in front of the vessel. This tells us we’re traveling at high speed and gives a dimensional quality to it.”


USS Franklin approaching Starbase Yorktown

“We looked at a lot of NASA footage to see how the whites blow out in genuine conditions of harsh direct sunlight, and I wanted to introduce a lot more of a feel for 3D space this time, in terms of ship and camera movement. That way, it wouldn’t all be so linear, and instead reinforce how there’s no up or down in this environment.”


Swarm vessels fly through Yorktown

Starbase Yorktown is one of the biggest digital creations for STB, initially based upon the futuristic look of Dubai, which stands in for Starbase Yorktown. Filming there last summer saw a local cast (plus Chris Pine) in special Yorktown uniforms, as the base footage to be elaborated upon with CGI was shot.

“The base is out at the frontier of Federation space, constructed as a series of angled structures… within a 16-mile diameter sphere. Using a volume of space in the most efficient and economical manner would absolutely be the way to go with structures out there, and that meant maximizing the inner volume.”

“We played with the idea that the sphere surrounding the station was opaque during the day, but the inner hemisphere becomes more transparent at night, letting the inhabitants see stars outside; that would be a comfort for space travelers.”


Dubai’s skyline is used as a basis for Starbase Yorktown

“…[footage of Dubai] served as a basis for our final, but we had to embellish very extensively for pretty much every view. Everything changed color-wise, since the Federation is principally blue, white, silver, and black, but Dubai feels very beige and yellow.”

“During shooting, we were very conscious of what was to be visible overhead. We had LIDAR scans done of about forty buildings there that worked for our purposes architecturally… to populate the background.”



USS Franklin fighting through the Swarm fleet

“We found that every facility working on [STB] had what I call “Star Trek Yodas” working there; each of them was like a kind of brain trust you could question to find out if some design or manoeuvre went against what had been established on other Trek shows and films. We had sequences with a vessel from an earlier century and the design process took a bit of a hit when the Yodas told us [the USS Franklin] should reflect what had been seen in the [time of Star Trek: Enterprise].”


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