In Part 1, we began discussing the new TREK SHORTS fan film A LONG WAY FROM HOME. And whoever said that the CBS guidelines “killed off” all Star Trek fan films obviously forgot to inform SAMUEL COCKINGS!
With the talent and ingenuity of Willy Wonka and the uncanny productivity of a factory full of Oompa Loompas, Samuel has lent his considerable VFX skills to more than TWO DOZEN different Star Trek fan projects in five different countries on three different continents! In his “spare” time, Sam is also the co-host of the long-running and prolific TREKYARDS video podcast series. And in his “other” spare time, Sam also created the ambitious fan film TEMPORAL ANOMALY, six years in the making!
In late 2018, Sam successfully crowd-funded $7,385 from 114 backers for another ambitious fan project, this time a crossover bringing together characters and storylines from five different Star Trek fan series. Called CONVERGENCE, part 1 was filmed in 2019 prior to the pandemic. But part 2, requiring travel of cast members to England from the United States, Holland, and Scotland, was indefinitely delayed due the outbreak of COVID-19 and subsequent quarantine orders.
This didn’t stop Sam, though. Wanting to release something that could be produced during the pandemic, Sam came up with the concept of Short Treks, high-quality Star Trek fan films produced on shoestring budgets utilizing Sam’s prodigious CGI skills for exterior starship VFX combined with actors filmed remotely both on location and in front of green screens with super-realistic digital backgrounds composited behind them.
But Sam wasn’t content to just make one fan film; he got it in his head to create SIX separate stories, each set in different periods of Starfleet history with different characters and starships. And so Sam launched an Indiegogo with a $10,000 goal. And with 10 days left, Sam is about two-thirds of the way there with more than 100 backers. If you haven’t donated yet and have a few bucks to spare, the perks are pretty cool. Here’s the link (pass it around to your friends, too):
But Sam couldn’t wait for the campaign to fund before releasing the first of the six Trek Shorts fan films: A Long Way from Home. It stars NIMRAD SAUND (from Temporal Anomaly) and NICK and LUCITA COOK (from the fan series INTREPID), as well as featuring MICHELE SPECHT (from STAR TREK CONTINUES). It’s a really well done production, having already generated more than 27K views on YouTube in just three weeks. Check it out…
When we left off in our interview with Sam, we’d just moved from talking about the actors and pre-production/production onto post-production. More specifically, we began discussing how members of Sam’s CGI team deliver him “gray” models that look like this…
Then Sam has to turn those models into realistic backgrounds to composite in behind the actors, who have been filmed in front of green screen.
JONATHAN – So how long did it take your modeling team to make all the virtual backgrounds for A Long Way from Home?
SAMUEL – I’ve had them building interiors for 7 months.
JONATHAN – Wow!
SAMUEL – But it’s ongoing, so they’ve been working on much more than just what you’ve already seen. Because it takes months and months to create these, I had to get them started as soon as possible…before I even launched my Indiegogo campaign. So I really am personally invested in getting fans to crowd-fund this project because a lot of the money we’re raising has already been spent…by me!
JONATHAN – How far along are you and the team?
SAMUEL – I may have half of the sets done now after this many months, but I had a weird month and a half when all the modelers but one went off to do other things…LOL. I knew I wanted to show stuff in the Indiegogo, so we have all been hard at work, hence the Defiant bridge, the Sayer-class bridge (TMP bridge), and the Type-11 shuttle.. I’m particularly pleased with the Norway bridge as seen in the Indiegogo pitch video…as I think I got the vibe very close to the practical set.
We also had to get our hero Type-9 shuttle created; that’s the one that appears in A Long Way from Home. Having looked around at other fan CG versions, I am happy to say we have the most detailed model out there, and it was a real pleasure to get up close and personal to the classic Voyager Type-9 shuttle in a way they never could in the show!
JONATHAN – Okay, back to post-production. You were explaining that your modelers give you “gray” interiors and exteriors. And then you come in and paint them pretty colors?
SAMUEL – Basically, yes. I get the all-gray models from my team members and then use an industry standard texturing program called Substance Painter, something that was expensive and I also had to learn…lots of options and very complex. But it’s used by most arms of the content creation high-end world, although they may use it as a base and do extra stuff on top. And then I do a lot of tweaking because it won’t look the same when I go from Substance to Lightwave 2020. This is an example of how it looks about midway through my progress…
JONATHAN – That’s only “midway”??? It looks pretty darn impressive to me! So at this point, what is there left to do?
SAMUEL – Well, now I have to really get into the texturing—making the chairs look leather and the metal look reflective, etc. Then I build up the lights in the scene and spend ages refining it until I get something which, gut reaction, looks good. And the more work I do, the better I can get. Take a look at the finished background…
JONATHAN – Wow.
SAMUEL – It’s all manual refinements to the same background. And this is what I have to do for every single set…including almost EVERY Defiant set. It’ll take a lot of effort, but I value having the fans see that ship again as we bring it back to life.
JONATHAN – Double-wow!
SAMUEL – I basically took a self-taught crash course from November through March working on lots of things like this for various projects. It takes a beefy PC to render it, but this whole new way to render and texture and light using Lightwave 2020 can make far more realistic results than anything I could ever achieve before. My 3D 2020 octane-rendered sets can already be seen with the Klingon bridge in the Avalon Universe fan film AIR AND DARKNESS.
JONATHAN – So what else went into completing A Long Way from Home after you finished filming all the footage?
SAMUEL – I spent hundreds of hours creating over 40 space-based effects shots. I wanted the film to have a bit more “life” in the exterior visual effect aspect if I was not able to have as many cast and locations with the green screen content.
Oh, and I also had to get a new PC between. The last one had a fault that didn’t allow me to render without crashing. As someone who renders for a lot of people, I had to spend whatever it took to get a new high-end PC within a few weeks of starting this project. This almost messed up my work on FIRST FRONTIER, but luckily it all worked out. This new PC has allowed me to create amazingly high quality interiors and push the boundaries for exterior space shots.
We were also blessed to have our musical composer return from 2019’s Temporal Anomaly. MATT MILNE came in and did a fantastic score in April for us, and it really elevated the piece! We are very happy that he will continue to work with us on the shorts.
JONATHAN – Altogether, how many “Sam-hours” do you think you’ve put into this single fan film?
SAMUEL – Sam hours…including all of the learning and testing for the new interior work plus all the space work, the green screen compositing—to which I tried a few new things—we would have to be in the thousands of hours. Unlike the fan films produced in America on the TOS sets, apart from the first scene, every single second is a digital effect and needs large render time to get it into final. It all takes more time for a project like this.
JONATHAN – Your Indiegogo is on track to reach its goal. What are you doing to encourage donations (other than this interview)?
SAMUEL – We are asking all of our fan film friends to spread the word and please post about the project on various social media. Because of the nature of a single Indiegogo to promote six projects, we have had to start by showing off the general campaign, and then we can go in and promote each individual story idea. There is so much fun stuff we want to do that hopefully people will enjoy at least one of the shorts! But to donate, they actually have to see the campaign and click on it…and that’s the challenge.
JONATHAN – Speaking of which…
Gotta make sure people see that link!
And now the hard question: what if you don’t make it to your $10K goal? Will you release a smaller number of Trek Shorts and just try again later to crowd-fund the rest?
SAMUEL – That’s a very good question. In my heart of hearts, with my notoriety though Trekyards and the respect I hope I’ve earned in the fan film community, I had hoped that this would be a smash success and friends of each fan film would support us along with others just waiting to see more classic Trek content. But as with all Indiegogos…when, how, who, the state of finances, etc. all affect donations.
I’ll be honest, I’ve already had to invest a large chunk of the Indiegogo budget just to get this far. If we don’t raise the money, I’d rather not have to cut any of the shorts, as everyone is SO excited, but perhaps simplify them? Spend less time, add fewer props, fewer sets…all things I don’t want to do, as the expensive things I want to add are often the things that add the extra flare. That’s why you raise a budget so that you can make the project at the quality level it needs to be. We will cross that bridge when we get to it, but if we can hit a minimum of £5500 [about $7,500 -Jonathan], we’re in a “decent” place…I will say that. And we’re nearly there.
JONATHAN – But back to positive thinking, assuming you do manage to crowd-fund everything, do you have a proposed release schedule yet, or is it too early to estimate?
SAMUEL – I’ve been having my team build assets since November 2020. Unlike Temporal Anomaly, where I evolved over time, I know the level of quality I want to reach now, and it will just take time in man hours to do the work to reach it.
My aim is to have two more shorts out this year, depending how smoothly it all goes and how many of the lessons that I learned on A Long Way From Home can speed me up in future films! I know that when the new Trek shows—Picard, Lower Decks, Discovery, and Strange New Worlds—start up, Trekyards will keep me busy full time between 4-6 days a week, so I’m using the time before those shows to work on my own stuff. Let’s see how far I get!!
JONATHAN – And finally, how will these new fan film projects affect the
production and post-production of Convergence? Do you have a release
date in mind for that project yet?
SAMUEL – At the moment, we can’t even plan properly until we know the larger picture of the world stage. At the very least, working on these shorts with the current cameras and home-studio setup will give me the practice I need on smaller projects to be confident on the larger project away from the university studio where I filmed Part 1.
But I am very committed to filming in 2021. In terms of the effects work, there is the good news that I have already finished all of the space VFX shots to about 95%…just the last polish pass to go!
Because I’ve learned how to do the interiors myself, I need to go back and do all the interiors fresh in Lightwave 3D. I have the 3D models made, and I have the old 2018 team’s versions, but those modelers have long since moved onto other projects, and I want to have the sets at my fingertips and not rely on someone else to render, etc.
The bridges of Horizon and Intrepid were already done for A Long Way For Home, but there are still multiple sets to work out and do. BUT it’s something I can do and have a lot more creative freedom to get right. It’s another load of work, but I want to have each set finished before we film Convergence, thereby allowing me to move right into editing/compositing and just slip in the space shots! It’s always in the back of my mind, and who knows? If we can film in October 2021, I may be able to have it out about this same time 2022.
And now my bonus question for you, Jonathan! Which short film in the Trek Shorts collection are you most excited to see?
JONATHAN – A question! Since before your sun burned hot in space, and before your race was born, I have awaited…a question (and a derby!).
SAMUEL – And what’s your answer?
JONATHAN – Hmmmm, they all look so interesting. A TOS/Stargate crossover sounds intriguing, and goodness knows I’d love to see a Wrath of Khan-era fan film because there are so few of those. Also, I kinda have a personal preference for the Avalon Universe team! And I’m certainly looking forward to seeing JAKUB HOLÝ from SQUADRON in a new fan film.
But I think it’s a tie for the two Trek Shorts I most want to see. “The Doomsday Machine” has always been my favorite TOS episode, so getting a chance to see your take on the planet-killer feels really exciting to me…especially facing off against the Enterprise-E! And Deep Space Nine is my overall most favorite Star Trek series, and I can’t wait to see all of those U.S.S. Defiant sets that you’re planning on creating for that fan film.
So there you go, Sam. Satisfied?
SAMUEL – Very much so, Jonathan. Now let’s see if you’re satisfied when you finally see each of those films completed. I think you be!
JONATHAN – I am sure of it! And once again, folks, here’s the link to donate…