Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Day 6: Animation!

Making a fan film takes immense resources in time, effort and money - building, housing, maintaining, storing, props, sets, special effects! "Greenscreen" filming, where live actors are 'overlaid' onto a computer generated background cuts out a lot of that expense but you still need cameras, lights, costumes, getting everyone together at the same place and the same time ... and heaven forbid that you should need to re-shoot something! !CoughExeterCough!

Animation takes this a step further by making even the actors virtual! Its a challenge to breath life into two or, more frequently three dimensional graphics but if the creative team have the necessary skills and talent to pull it off it, there are very real advantages. Not only can the most fantastic scenery be used but you also have unlimited wardrobe, props and special effects departments that can be generated graphically, especially important in science fiction where we might want to have six-armed Thoats battling under the hurtling moons of Barsoom!

Who is doing it and, more importantly, how are they doing it?

There are a bewildering array of methods that we can use to create these virtual worlds within which we can play, but I break them down into stop-motion photography, two dimensional graphics and three dimensional graphics.
I think of stop-motion animation as a physical method because you need a real camera and physical, albeit very tiny, "sets". Pretty much all animation works on the optical illusion of movement that we get when a number of images, each minutely different from the one before, are flashed before our eyes. Stop-motion animation works by setting up dioramas, and photographing models or puppets that are moved against them. "Stop motion" is perhaps best known from the work of Ray Harryhausen who became famous for the fantasy scenes that he was able to create for movies like King Kong, Sinbad and Jason and The Golden Fleece. There have been a number of ways that this has been applied to Star Trek by using different methods of building the models, or "puppets", and their backgrounds.
A traditional media for building stop-motion puppets is clay and this was used by Art Binninger in 1974-75 for his first three Star Trix fan films, made with the help of friends in the Air Force’s Audio Visual Squadron, and his larger movie, created between 1979-84, based on Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star Clix 2 and 3

Lego Stop Motion
The same principles have been used to make stop motion films using Lego, commonly called 'Brickfilms', of which there are literally dozens on Youtube although as you might expect, the majority are obviously made by kids and teenagers. As a father I think they are a great idea teaching the rudiments of filmmaking with a minimum amount of equipment - what family doesn't have a box-full of Lego?
Some stand out though. These are some personal favourites...

For more see HERE and HERE

Honourable Mentions
Minimate movies – Who's going to be the first to turn the Trek Minimates into a film?

Action Figure Stop Motion
Ever since Robot Chicken gathered a cult following, the use of action figures (don't ever call them dolls!) has become a vogue.

Star Trek: The Mego Picture by Hoserlu.
When the blurb says, "Warning: Contains adult humor of the most juvenile nature." Believe them! This is not for everyone! However with that said, I liked it! It was witty and whilst the humour was vulgar it wasn't destructive or degrading as so often happens in satires. Production values were surprisingly good without losing the absurdity of the medium. Hoserlu's Youtube page has several sequels to this and a trailer to an Indie project in the same vein
Star Trek: Crossroads by Jürgen Kaiser and Peter Goundrill
Probably the most exciting news last month, certainly for Star trek Enterprise fans was the release by Peter Goundrill of Limited Faith Productions, of an English dub of the action figure stop motion film that has impressed so many when it was released in German by Jürgen Kaiser earlier in the year. It can also be streamed from YouTube.
  • Commander Rob - What do you do if someone keeps bombarding you with a constant stream of
Honourable Mentions
Just to show that there is nothing new under the sun though, check out the Star Trek Alarm Clock video on Youtube which was made by High School students in the '70s.
Random Stop Motion 3 - Youtube video by djtitoflow. Fast paced but well done

By far the most recognisable form of animation though is Cel animation graphics which are hand-drawn and animated and whenever Trek fans think of Star Trek animation, they think of Star Trek: The Animated series which was made by Filmation in 1973. Amazingly, two Star Trek fans are following this traditional route. Cel Animation
  • Star Trek: Cloak - Beautiful concept artwork for a planned animated sequel to the Original Series episode, The Enterprise Incident by renowned Trek fan artist, Douglas Herring 
There's no way around it though, cel animation is very labour intensive and takes considerable artistic talent, basically you are animating two dimensional artwork. Using a computer can now speed up the creation of the artwork and in some cases is the basis of a digital (as against a photographic) animation process. Toonshows - Which bring a limited number of stills to life via fades and wipes

So far we've been talking about creating and animating (bringing to life) 2d artwork but computers are capable of creating 3d worlds. Fan animators have a wide array of tools at their disposal that create three dimensional models that can be filmed in virtual sets. So many in fact that the resulting shows are as individual as their creators ...

The principle behind Machinima is that users control avatars in a proprietary game engine like Star Trek: Elite Force or one of the MMOG's, and then record what they do, like this Second Life promotion. They have become so popular that games have been specially developed to take advantage of in-game movie-making, such as The Sims and The Movies

Understandably this can only be a partial list and viewers and film-makers are invited to discuss this and add their own finds on the TrekUnited forum

What lies ahead for Star Trek fan animation in the next twelve months? I think we are going to see more work done on all of these fronts as those who follow, build on the experience of the trail-blazers. Just as there are a wide number of World of Warcraft machinima, I expect that Star Trek Online will spawn a new breed of Trek machinima played out on its rich pseudo-reality.

Will one become more popular than the others? I doubt it, each appeals to people for different reasons and each has strongpoints and requirements in terms of investment in skill and cost. Some are simple and fun others have the potential to rival reality the same way that Toy Story did. Perhaps the biggest opportunity that animation gives us as a creative fan media is that it is accessible. You don't have to be pretty, you could be disabled or live in the middle of the Nullabor!

However whilst one man could make an animation, as Geoff James did with Borg Wars, it also means that they have to master a wide range of skills to replace all the members of a conventional film crew. For example when making an animation, the creation and manipulation of computer graphics takes the place of cameraman and actor. To do it well, as Star Trek Aurora has, means that the creator needs to understand the skills of both those disciplines. How does an actor's 'Body English' show different emotions? How does the cinematographer film the actors performance to enhance those emotions?

A computer engine can give us all manner of pretty images, but making that 'eye candy' look like it can walk and talk and act? That is the real challenge!


  1. I see no postings in the Star Trek: Dauntless Forum for over a year, and their links to their update website leads to a deserted address. I left a message there asking if their project is ongoing.

    Also, you'd be better off linking the Animated Starship Farragut to this link: http://farragut-animated.com/index.html , since they have now released a show, which is better than just a trailer.

  2. Star Trek: Saladin does have it's own website, as well as the thread in the Phase II Forum, vis: