When most of think of Star Trek fan films, we picture fan actors—trained and untrained—dressing up and portraying characters on fan-made sets or green-screen composited in front of virtual backgrounds. Sometimes, we only hear the actors’ voices under computer-generated scenes or captured from Trek online or CD-ROM games.
The one thing all of these types of fan films have in common is they feature actors. But what if you don’t have any actors? What if the stars of your fan film are…starships?
There’s a whole sub-sub genre of Star Trek fan films where the filmmakers don’t bother with sets or actors but instead simply use their CGI or animation skills to tell a story. I call these “fanimations.” Now, of course, there’s countless digital artists out there looking to showcase their work with elaborate (or simple) renderings of fly-bys and “hero shots” of various well-known starships. But I’m not talking about those folks this time.
Instead, I’d like to focus on those “fanimators” who tell a STORY through their productions. It’s not easy! It usually involves at least two different ships (or a ship an an object), since having only one ship usually falls into the “hero shot” video category that I described in the previous paragraph. For there to be a story, the viewer needs to imagine the crews on board, hear in their head the familiar orders given (“Raise shields!” “Evasive maneuvers!” “Fire phasers!”), and figure out what has happened at a pivotal moment. In other words, the viewer should be able to figure out the story even without words or narrations…and hopefully the story is compelling and makes some sense.
As you’ll see from the following selection of “ship star” (as opposed to “starship”…get it?) fan films I’ve included, the filmmaker’s CGI animation skills don’t have to be breathtaking (although some are pretty high up there). Heck, some aren’t even 3D! The trick lies simply in communicating the plot through sound and movement. The ships become the characters in these fan films, and they must do a sort of interpretive dance. Do they succeed? I think these five fan films do.
Let’s see what you think…
This first fanimation is a very literal example of the point I was just making about the “dance” that the ships do. In fact, the one-minute film even has the word “ballet” in the title and features a classical music track (royalty free) from GoSoundtrack. This super-short vignette by an animator who calls himself “ANTI-MATTER” tells a very simple story without a single word. And yet, the viewer knows exactly what happened…
Now, I have to admit that the other reason this video got the top spot on this blog page is because I’m a fan of those old FASA role-playing game starship designs, and I loved the USS Chandley class. Seeing it anywhere in CGI makes me do a happy dance.
In a future blog, I plan to feature more of Anti-Matter‘ CGI work, which utilizes After Effects, AVI Synth, Lightwave 3D, Mocha, Photoshop, and Sony Vegas. Right now, he is working on new VFX sequences to splice into Star Trek: The Motion Picture in celebration of the 40th anniversary of that film’s release later this year. Anti-Matter has already created similar replacement shots for Star Trek II in something he called “The Unity Project.” He also did an amazing updated trailer from Star Trek V (using a new title:”Beyond the Barrier”). You can take a look at his work and the behind-the-scenes vlogs on his DeLimited Productions Youtube channel.
STAR TREK: The Klingon Weapon
This second CGI fan film was originally created nearly a decade ago by CHRIS CUNNINGHAM, who has uploaded a whole lot of 3D animations to his Youtube Channel spanning multiple sci-fi franchises…Star Trek among them.
Chris recently decided to re-do his 2010 fanimation with improved HD effects. Both films used 3D Studio max for the rendering and After Effects for the compositing. The music came from the “Starfleet Academy” CD-ROM game and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The sound effects were sourced from the “Starfleet Academy” and “Star Trek: Legacy” PC games along with some other unnamed sources. And the 3D ships themselves were created by a bunch of different CGI modelers, including Chris himself.
The result is a visually dynamic and very impressive five-and-a-half-minute video that conveys a cohesive story from beginning to end. You can view the original from 2010 here. And here is the latest version, released just last month…
STAR TREK: Rewind
Next up is our longest fanimation, which times out at more than 17 minutes…or does it? You see, the storyline here is a very creative one, but it takes a little while for the viewer to figure out what’s going on (although if you “cheat” and read the Youtube video description, you’ll know immediately…which isn’t nearly as much fun!).
The fanimator this time is ROBERT ZIOLKOWSKI, whose Youtube channel features only a couple of Star Trek-themed animations. But one of them obviously took a lot of time and effort to put together, and it makes for an enjoyable and somewhat wild ride through space…and time.
Unlike our previous two fanimations, which received nearly unanimous praise from YouTube viewers, Rewind saw its fair share of critics (some constructive and a few just plain nasty trolls). In some cases, the quibbles were minor, such as getting the years of certain incidents wrong. In other cases, the commenters were unimpressed with the quality of the rendering, lighting, textures, etc. And for a few folks, the motions of the starships themselves seemed more like fighter jets than large spacecraft whose inertial dampeners could only handle just so much!
Personally, I ignored all of that. As I said, high-quality rendering isn’t a prerequisite to get onto this blog…and I can forgive listing the year of the “The Doomsday Machine” as 2271 when we all know it was 2266, or having the USS Enterprise maneuvering like a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. (Dancing with the Starships is more like it!) In fact, once again, it’s the “dance” that grabs and holds my interest. This is an artistic presentation combining visuals and movement of both the ships and the camera with a diverse selection of music (too long to list here, but it’s all included in the Youtube video description). The result, as far as I’m concerned, is engaging and almost hypnotic…
Blueprints and Particles: STAR TREK 2: TWOK
Okay, so most of us have seen Wrath of Khan so many times we can karaoke every line. We’ve memorized every space battle scene between Enterprise and Reliant—every maneuver, every phaser and torpedo shot, and every explosion. And that’s why this next fanimation works so well! But rather than displaying three-dimensional thinking, fanimator ANSON CALL demonstrated TWO-dimensional thinking (yes, you read that right).
In a captivating 6-minute sequence, Anson gives us a bird’s-eye view of every encounter between Enterprise and Reliant in Star Trek II…from beginning to end. During the entire video, we see the two starships represented only as top-view outlines, maneuvering around each other as though they were partners gliding across a dance floor. And as I said, these fanimations are all about the “dance.”
In this case, the dance is accompanied by an original techno music soundtrack that Anson composed himself, which fans begged him to make available as a separate download (and Anson obliged). Now, I realize that this video kinda breaks my “no actors” rule, as it includes snippets of dialog from the film (Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Joachim, and of course, Khaaaaaannnnnnn!!!). In fact, the film was produced as a tribute to those amazing Star Trek actors who have left us: DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Leonard Nimoy, and Ricardo Montalban. But the dialog is interwoven with the music and, in my opinion, doesn’t really count. Or even if it does count…tough! It’s still an awesome short film.
But enough with the preamble. Enjoy this amazing fanimation…
Last but not least, I’ve decided to include a fanimation with far fewer “bells and whistles” than the previous four. DAVID MILLER didn’t have advanced, intermediate, or even novice 3D skills. What he did have was access to some of the Adobe suite of products—Photoshop, Illustrator, and Flash—plus some still images and music snippets from TOS.
But that was all he needed.
Well, not entirely. Later on, when his friend ERIC PICCIONE heard that David was working on this project, Eric built the original Nomad probe in 3D Studio Max, and David immediately vandalized it to make look like the damaged Nomad.
The story that this fanimation tells is actually somewhat intriguing. We know from the TOS episode “The Changeling” that the Nomad probe from Earth was damaged by a meteor collision and later merged with the alien probe Tan Ru. According to Spock, they somehow merged and “repaired each other.” This suggests that Tan Ru had also been damaged. But what could possibly damage a probe of such immense power?
What indeed! Check out David Miller’s theory on what happened and see if you’re intrigued, as well…