Going Old and New School for Star Trek Into Darkness
It's been four years since J.J. Abrams successfully rebooted Star Trek by putting the venerable sci-fi franchise on steroids for a harder and more believable space adventure. Now with Star Trek Into Darkness, the director continues his rite of passage story for Chris Pine's Captain Kirk with a hybrid approach that mixes up the foundation while staying true to the spirit of the franchise.
Once again, ILM took the VFX lead with Roger Guyett serving as production supervisor and second unit director. This time he worked with Pixomondo, Atomic Fiction and an in-house team at Abrams' Bad Robot production company to create 1,700 shots. However, nearly half of the movie was shot using the large-format IMAX camera for the action sequences and it was done in 3-D for a more immersive spectacle.
"There's the comfort of having established the world but wanting to take it further and expand it," Guyett explains. "The very fact that it was 3-D gave us more opportunities to go deeper into it. The pyrotechnical aspects of simulation have expanded to include more efficiency but also the realism and level of detail has expanded too."
Last time, ILM boldly went where no Star Trek had gone before, with bigger space battles, explosions, black holes and planetary destruction, as well as cool upgrades for the phaser, the transporter and Warp Speed. Along with it came some new wrinkles, including a new fracture program and improved procedural rendering and volumetric shader tools.
For Into Darkness, there's a more expansive view of this tricked out Enterprise, both inside and out, allowing the audience to get closer to the crew. What's more, ILM goes deeper into Warp to take full advantage of 3-D. It's still basically a particle and compositing trick with a series of noise patterns mapped onto cylinders and smeared through time. But here ILM added a tail.
But some of ILM's best work on Into Darkness was building the architectural worlds that define the futuristic London and San Francisco, which was a sleeker and more efficient retrofitting. The idea was to make these cities look advanced yet still familiar. There's softer metal and higher vertical structures, but warmth to the appearance.
"The Star Trek universe has a level of accessibility and optimism," Guyett explains. "Landmarks such as Big Ben and Saint Paul's Cathedral will still be there but modified. We try and shoot on location as much as we can within the range of our process but there's a lot of augmentation, futurization and functionality. At the same time, it's a very human world, which is what J.J. wanted."
Future San Francisco was created by ILM art director Yannick Dusseault, who made flying vehicles but kept some trams. "I originally thought I could shoot plates and then we could augment them. But the reality was that San Francisco wasn't large enough for such an expansive backdrop. In the end, we built the entire city."