German Fan Filmmakers make it to the “big time” with DEEP SPACE NINE Teasers! (interview with DAVID FRANK and CHRISTIAN LERCH)

I have a term for Star Trek fan films where there is little-to-no talking, no actors appear on screen, and instead the fan filmmaker simply lets CGI animation tell the story. I call them “FANIMATIONS,” and you can see some examples here.

But then there’s the series of DS9 TEASERS created by DAVID FRANK and CHRISTIAN LERCH from Germany. Back in November of 2015, a year after the final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation had been remastered to high definition and released onto Blu-ray, David and Christian felt it was time for their favorite Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine, to get the same HD treatment. But how could they let CBS know how intensely these remasters were desired by fans? That was the question!

The answer, at least in David and Christian’s minds, was to create a series of unofficial teasers for each season’s release of DS9 onto Blu-ray. They began with the following simple but elegant promotion for Season One (complete with a message for CBS Home Video at the end) using beautiful CGI animations over an orchestral score…

The following March, Season Two then got the same treatment, but this time they added short audio clips of dialog, along with animated recreations of scenes from the season that did not show any of the actual actors (since that was a no-no according to the fan film guidelines)…

The quality of their 3D work is, I think, absolutely stunning! But things got even more exciting four months later with their Season Three teaser, as they added Romulan warbirds, Jem’Hadar attack craft, and the newly-introduced U.S.S. Defiant. And the dialog was taken from the season’s awesome two-part episode “Improbable Cause” and “The Die Is Cast”…

A year later, their teaser for Season Four was their longest yet—a full minute more than the previous one—and absolutely their most ambitious. The sound clips spanned all of that season, and the graphics included multiple starship interiors of the Defiant plus new CGI Klingon ships and, for first time in any of their teasers (believe it or not!), the DS9 station itself! It was, in my opinion at least, their best teaser yet by far…

Well, it was their best one—that is until the end of 2019, when after 16 months, they released their teaser for Season Five. Although the same length as their previous release, this one felt even more epic, as well as looking like a true work of cinematic art. Now we see fleets of Klingons, Cardassians, and Federation starships—and you begin to suspect that, were CBS to actually re-release a remastered DS9 onto Blu-ray, this is the teaser that would entice the most sales…

Although David and Christian weren’t successful in their primary goal, they did manage to accomplish something almost as cool. When IRA STEVEN BEHR saw their work, he commissioned David and Christian to create CGI graphics and sequences for his DS9 documentary, “WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND“!

Cue the interview with David and Christian…

David Frank and Christian Lerch

JONATHAN – Simply amazing work, gentlemen!

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Thank you so much.

JONATHAN – Were you both born in Germany?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Christian was born and raised in East Germany and David in West Germany.

JONATHAN – How did you become such big fans of Star Trek?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Chris’ Star Trek journey started with the (sometimes for years) delayed broadcasts and reruns of TNG in the 90’s and continued with message boards, Star Trek chats online, and conventions in the early 2000’s. He also learned website programming and website design by creating Star Trek themed websites. 

Growing up with the original Star Trek movies on VHS, David ultimately became addicted to Star Trek watching Voyager and DS9 in the mid 90’s. Soon he spent a lot of his time building starship models, studying every Star Trek magazine, technical manual, schematic, and making-of that was out there and participating in online RPGs.

JONATHAN – Are you fans of any other sci-fi series?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN -We love sci-fi in general and really enjoy cci-fi shows like The Expanse, Ron Moore’s Battlestar Galactica reboot, and Westworld. Of course, we also watched other genre shows like Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1 back in the day but didn’t dive as deep into them as we dove into TNG, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise.

JONATHAN – How did you both develop such impressive CGI skills?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – We both studied Media Design in Germany and focused on 2D and 3D animation during our studies. Meanwhile, we are both professional Motion Designers for over a decade now.

JONATHAN – How did you two meet, and how long have you been working together?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – We met almost 10 years ago at the company we both still work at. It’s a German design agency for moving images based in Frankfurt and Hamburg. Together, we worked on projects like broadcast design and intros, advertising, automotive shows, and image films.

We discovered our mutual love for Trek when a co-worker asked the following question from a Star Trek quiz: “Name the episode in which Barclay got turned into a spider.” And we were the only ones who knew the answer.

JONATHAN – Ugh, “Genesis.” Man, I hated that episode! So what is the creative process like when you produce something? Who does what?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – We both have a similar skill set. Imagining shots and doing styleframes and look development are the first steps in producing stuff, usually. Then you move on to animatics (rough animations that concentrate on timing and framing), and you refine that until you’re satisfied (or—more often than not—time runs out). We work mostly with the Adobe Suite and Maxon Cinema 4D.

JONATHAN – What was it about Deep Space Nine that inspired you to choose that series and not TOS, TNG, Voyager, or Enterprise?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – DS9 is just something we both feel the most passionate about in all of Trek. At first, we just played around with the idea to animate some of the awesome Okudagrams and Cardassian graphics on the station. It then merged with our desire to see DS9 get the same remastering as TNG (and TOS) had.

“What if we make a teaser for DS9 on Blu-ray?”

For Season One, we told a very simple story of how Terok Nor station was sort of “waking up” when the Bajorans were ready to take it over from the withdrawing Cardassians. And the trailers just evolved from there.

JONATHAN – How long did it take you to make each season’s teaser, and what was the process you went through in storyboarding it and determining what to include and not include?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Every teaser was different—both in the time it took to produce them and in concept. Mostly, we work on these teasers in our spare time, so it’s not easy to say how long it takes to produce them. It ranged from three weeks on our Season Two teaser to months of work for the last one (Season Five). Sometimes we start the process, but then we don’t find the time to work on it, and a couple of months go by until we can get back to the project. Actually, we took one month off work to finish the teaser for Season Five. That was a bit crazy for a nonprofit project but also very productive! 

JONATHAN – What lessons did you learn from your earlier trailers that led to improvements in your later ones?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Well, our concepts changed over the course of the last few years. First, we started off by just imagining some cool shots and putting them together with some music. But after we finished our Season Three teaser, we tried to bring in audio quotes from the actual episodes—and it came out very nicely. Just as an experiment, we also went back and added the voice track to our Season Two trailer afterwards. It just seemed to be more interesting to have the characters represented as echoes, and it gave the whole thing more gravitas.

From then on, the trailers became more grand in scale and effort. Every time we try something different, a new approach, to give each season a distinct feeling.

It’s hard to condense a whole season into a short teaser—especially with a serialized show like DS9. But we try to focus on some key elements and spin a visual story around them.

Also the collaboration with TOBIAS RICHTER, who immediately offered to support us with his amazing starship and station models after watching our first trailer, took our trailer to another level. It gave us the opportunity to leave the boundaries of interior shots and also show some starship action in the following trailers.

JONATHAN – Are you planning to do the remaining two seasons of DS9?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Absolutely. But when that’ll happen is another story. We’d love to get on this right now, but we still have our day jobs, and there are many other things to do. But we have already talked about season 6 and picked some cool shots. But the overall story and all the elements are still unclear.

Of course, we would love to work full-time on the remaining two teasers and all sorts of similar projects we have in mind, but at the end of the day, we have to pay our bills, and these videos are entirely non-profit projects.

JONATHAN – Well, they’re not all non-paying projects, are they? You guys actually got hired to work on the Deep Space Nine documentary “What We Left Behind.” How did THAT happen???

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Joe from 455 FILMS contacted us when the fundraiser for “What We Left Behind” was about to start. They saw our trailers and wanted to discuss the possibility to use some shots for their sizzle reel. We were thrilled, of course!

Since then, we gave input, rendered CGI shots, and did some graphics and other stuff for them. The logo and its animation came from us, as well as the rendered shots of the station (for which we used Tobias Richter’s awesome DS9 model). To integrate and present photos in the documentary, we also created interiors of the station and the Defiant for the doc crew to use as templates. Furthermore, we provided designs for the special edition discs and some LCARS animations.

We met the crew at several conventions, and they even invited us to their offices on the Paramount Studio lot. That was fun!

Left-to-right: Kai De Mello-Folsom (Producer of “What We Left Behind” and co-producer of “For The Love of Spock”), David Frank, Christian Lerch, Ira Steven Behr (executive producer of Deep Space Nine), and David Zappone (co-director of “What We Left Behind” and producer of T”he Captains,” “Chaos on the Bridge,” “For the Love of Spock.” etc.)

JONATHAN – I’ll bet it was! So, will you be doing similar trailers for Voyager or the other Star Trek TV series?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – While we have no concrete plans…never say never! For the 25th anniversary of the fourth Season of DS9, we are currently creating teaser posters for each episode and even threw in a poster for Voyager’s 25th anniversary of the episode “Deadlock.” Creating these posters is a great way to explore other artistic approaches, and it sometimes gives us the satisfaction to get some of our work out there every week—and not only work on mammoth projects, which sometimes take months or even years until we can release them to the public.

Three of David and Christian’s Star Trek episode teaser posters (click to enlarge)

So you see, we already did some things in the realm of Voyager!

JONATHAN – Speaking of Voyager, have you been contacted yet by 455 Films about doing graphics for their upcoming Voyager documentary? And is that a project that you’d even be interested in doing…or are you primarily Deep Space Nine fans?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – Well,  the cat’s out of the bag now, as Luke from 455 already wrote on Twitter that we’re involved with the project. So, yes, we’re working on that. And we’re happy that the Indiegogo campaign was so successful. It’s a record-breaking campaign for a documentary!

And although we usually wear our Niners caps, we also have love for Voyager. And so we‘re very happy to contribute.

JONATHAN – And finally, would you be interested in or available to lend your talents to help other fan filmmakers with their Star Trek fan productions?

DAVID and CHRISTIAN – While there are many worthwhile efforts out there, our dance cards are pretty full for no-budget projects right now. That doesn’t mean we are not available for fan projects in general. For example, we also created the intro for 1701live (a German web series celebrating the 55th anniversary of Star Trek), and we sometimes help out other fans with LCARS designs. Of course, we always love to work on something Trek-related, but since it’s sometimes hard to find the time for our own (non-profit) projects, we primarily focus on them right now.

If you’re curious, here’s a collection of the other DS9 episode posters that David and Christian have released over the past three and a half years (click on any image to enlarge)…