Give your time to SAMUEL COCKINGS, and he will give you his time, and we will all have a great time watching fan films about…time!

Time to cover another couple of TREK SHORTSDESTINY CALLS and BACK TO YESTERDAY, the latest two releases from the time lord of Trek CGI in the UK, everyone’s good buddy, Sam Cockings.

Last year, Sam managed to release nearly one fan film per month…!

That’s a whole lotta blogs, let me tellya—so many, in fact, that I had serious trouble keeping up with them all! In fact, just two weeks after my most recent blog about his September and October releases, Sam premiered yet another new fan film on November 30, the aforementioned Destiny Calls, which turned out to be one of my favorites so far. Take a look…

While I loved the CGI renders of all of the ships and shuttles, as I always do, this time what I enjoyed even more was seeing different versions of the same character from various times interacting with each other. This was certainly not the first time Star Trek has ever done this (most recently, Captain Pike encountered his future self—granted, from an alternate reality—in the season one finale of STRANGE NEW WORLDS , and of course, Admiral Kathryn Janeway went back in time to have a little encounter with her past self in the Voyager series finale “Endgame”).

But Sam’s offering was fun in that there were actually FIVE separate versions of his character, William Davis, each plucked from different points of his Starfleet career, each wearing a different uniform but also with different memories of this same event. It was a “small” story (as Trek fan films are limited in run-time by the guidelines), but it didn’t really need to be any bigger. Indeed, as a piece of a much larger tapestry of fan films with many ongoing plotlines, Destiny Calls was just long enough to be enticingly intriguing.

Sam took a well-deserved break in December and January, not releasing any new Trek Shorts. But on February 10, 2024, Back to Yesterday premiered, starring NICK COOK from the long-running Scottish fan series INTREPID playing his character of Captain Daniel Hunter. But this Captain Hunter was from a later time in his career, commanding a different starship. And like William Davis in Destiny Calls, Hunter travels through time himself—backwards about a century or so—to meet an ancestor of Davis who, as it happens, is again played by Sam. It’s less complicated than it sounds, but you can watch it here…

Sam’s father, STEVEN COCKINGS, also appears in yet another Trek Shorts, reprising his role of Lee Galloway from last February’s This Side of Morality.

Anyway, with so much time travel, the time had come to once again chat with Sam. The first part of this interview deals primarily with Destiny Calls

JONATHAN – You did some digital de-aging previously in PURSUIT OF A DREAM, but that was only done to make Nick Cook’s character look younger. This time, you not only made yourself younger but also older. What techniques did you use for this?

SAM – The de-ageing tricks we are keeping to ourselves at the moment, but its several A.I.-based applications working back-to-back to achieve the results needed.

The many eras of William Davis, played by Sam Cockings

JONATHAN – It sounded a little like you might have digitally altered your “younger” voice, as well, or were you just delivering those lines in a different way?

SAM – That was all in the “acting” of it. I don’t know if I ever quite sounded quite like that when I was young, but it helped to sell the contrast of the ages.

JONATHAN – How much time did it add to the production having to do all of that aging and de-aging?

SAM – I’d say it added 3-4 days extra of work to incorporate the additional aging effects.  Some of that was render time; some of that was key framing the results onto the actual footage. It’s not a quick process. 

JONATHAN – Which version of William Davis was your favorite to play?

SAM – Great question! Young Davis for sure, since I wanted an excuse to act in a TNG season one uniform and show they can look good! Plus, I got to add that “extra something” to my performance…traits that I don’t actually have but I have to convey to the audience. I felt like I was truly acting and making choices to inform a character versus just saying the lines as if I was in Star Trek, which is how Davis started. It was a radically harder challenge to do that film, and I genuinely surprised myself at how well I think I did. Also…it’s fun to see a young me!

JONATHAN – I will say that this was a really stellar performance on your part, Sam. Did you have any acting coaching for this one?

SAM – Nope! I just…went with my gut. We’ve actually filmed many projects that haven’t been released, and even though Davis is a side character, he has lived though events with Keeley and Reed, Harriman and Hunter, etc. So knowing exactly when each Davis was from, I knew exactly what they’d had for life experiences and wrote the script around little things I could add. Lots of those references are seen in other films. This is one of the films which, in three years time, you will say, “Wait…THAT is what he was referencing?!?!” as more films are released.

JONATHAN – Destiny Calls features numerous ships and shuttles never before seen in any Trek fan film, including the Enterprise-G.  What was the process involved in acquiring those models, and did you need to make any adjustments, or were they all just ready for you to use “out of the box”?

SAM – Almost everything in Trek Shorts is made custom for us. The ST 5 and Defiant shuttles were both written for other films and both had been languishing for months. By writing them into a film which was due to be released in mere weeks, that was the spark needed to get these ships finalised and on screen. This allows me to have confidence just to…make the shots when we get to those other films. It was a real joy to bring lots of them to life!

For the Enterprise-G, we used the early model made for TREKYARDS and another model for the registry close ups. We do have a custom Trek Shorts Enterprise-G more accurate model built for us, but it’s not converted or set up for my software. So when she appears again, it will be a proper hero mesh made custom for us!

Oh, and this was the first real hero treatment of the 4K bird-of-prey model made custom for us, which will then also be the primary antagonist ship in the up and coming FARRAGUT FORWARD. MATT BOARDMAN did the texturing of that BoP, and he did a superb job, so I really worked to show it off in this piece. 

JONATHAN – How challenging was this episode to write compared to other Trek Shorts?

SAM – It was a totally different experience. How do you make a one-actor piece interesting? How do you make a meeting of five versions of the same character all feel unique, have their own voice, and tell both this story and the grander tapestry? Turns out, because of Pakled Resurgence released earlier in the year, I had a far, far greater sense of Davis’ “voice.” So once I started writing the scene of all of us, knowing where it ended up, the bickering actually flowed in a single writing session. Turns out that it’s easy to argue with yourself…especially when you know yourself and what buttons to push!

I was also very pleased to have Alexa do a voice over cameo recorded as a personal favour to me from her home office. It really added a lot of extra weight to the end!

JONATHAN – How challenging was this episode to animate and render compared to other Trek Shorts?

SAM – There was a ton of CGI in this one, a ton of different things. I would say it was one of the most challenging because of the sheer variety, BUT—as mentioned earlier—by writing this, it meant we HAD to get certain exteriors and interior sets ready for screen…which finally got them finished.  I will admit thad I had not done serious aging effects in a while, so it did take longer than I expected. It’s a real process, but once it was all in place, it felt well worth it. It was potentially the most new effects per minute of any Trek Short since TEMPORAL ANOMALY, which had a lot of location/angle swapping. 

JONATHAN – What did you use to generate the bridge and characters of the U.S.S. Vigilance, and how easy/challenging is it to get the animated characters to be where you need them to be and do what you need them to do?

SAM – Character models were given to us by a fan, which we then modified as we needed. For example, we’d start with a Starfleet TNG male body, then we would swap out heads, etc. and make custom animations for them—typing and sitting and walking etc. This was a EUREKA technique learned in the last few days before the release of THE ICARUS INCIDENT, and I have gotten more and more ambitious with them since. If you recall, I had a CGI Chakotay in a First Contact uniform beam onto the Enterprise-E bridge in Pakled Resurgence!

Chakotay beaming aboard the Enterprise-E in PAKLED RESURGENCE

As for time, each character’s animation is all done specifically, so since I wanted the Orion at helm and a sitting/typing animation, I had to set that all up. What’s nice is that is now a pre-saved scene, so you will see her again! I think people can forgive me for repeating background extras—at least  I populate my sets now! 

That particular long shot took two days to render—actually literally two days, so 24 hours x 2 =  48 hours done in 10-hour increments over five nights—and was an absolute JOY to make. It was also clearly me showing off, but if it made some people happy to walk on the Enterprise-D style bridge again, then it was worth it! 

Next time in Part 2, we shift over to discussing Back to Yesterday and upcoming Trek Shorts projects. Will 2024 see as many new releases as 2023? Find out in the conclusion!