How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK AND McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 3: legal and moral questions)…

In part 1, I discussed how I used Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to turn a Star Trek inspired fan script that I wrote back in 2010 into an audio drama featuring the voices of Spock and McCoy. I utilized ElevenLabs‘ voice synthesis algorithm to convert sound clips captured from a variety of sources into a series of back-and-forth dialog between the two characters. Ultimately, I wound up with an approximately 15-minute long audio drama.

Part 2 covered how I managed to take the audio drama and turn it into an animated fan film with the help of an amazing illustrator by the name of MATT SLADE, music composer MATT MILNE, and my longtime childhood friend MOJO. Indeed, in the end, I was the only person involved in this production whose named didn’t start with the letter M! The finished product came out looking like this…

And now the moment that I am certain many of you have been waiting for: the legal and moral questions of “Can Jonathan legally do this?” and “Should Jonathan ethically do this?” These are both complex subjects to tackle. But let’s dive in…!

Continue reading “How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK AND McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 3: legal and moral questions)…”

How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK AND McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 2: the art, animation, and music)…

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In part 1, I explained how I had used Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) to synthesize the voices of Spock and McCoy to speak the words of a script I originally wrote as a short story back in 2010. In it, Captain Kirk has just “died” saving the U.S.S. Enterprise-B (in the feature film Star Trek Generations), and Bones is getting angry-drunk mourning the untimely passing of his longtime friend. Spock finds McCoy sitting alone in an unnamed bar and offers to join him. It’s the last thing the doctor wants—a Vulcan with no emotions—but, ironically, the thing he most needs. And Spock needs McCoy, as well, even though the Vulcan would never openly admit it.

The story was always intended to be a sort of a two-actor stage play, simple but poignant, giving a glimpse into how these two longtime friends and colleagues deal with the loss of AN ABSENT FRIEND. But the story/script sat quietly on my hard-drive for more than a decade, unused and mostly unpublished, waiting for its “moment.”

That moment came when I discovered the ElevenLabs website (thank you, RAY MYERS!), which can generate synthesized speech from any decent voice sample of a minute or two. Assembling verbal snippets from LEONARD NIMOY and DeFOREST KELLEY from various sources, I set out to create an audio drama of my script. The project took me a couple of months, and I explained the nuances of how I did it in part 1.

Now in part 2, I’ll explain how I got from that audio drama to this completely animated Star Trek fan film…

As I mentioned in part 1, after I completed the audio drama, I was frustrated by the subtle inconsistencies between sentences (especially for McCoy) due to my generating the voices in short segments. This was a necessary evil due to the limitations of the early A.I. technology, but it still bothered me.

Then I had an idea…

Continue reading “How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK AND McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 2: the art, animation, and music)…”

How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK and McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 1: the audio)…

While some Star Trek fan films have begun to Artificial Intelligence ( A.I.) in limited ways to age and de-age characters and also to create brief visuals and short bits of dialog, my new animated fan film AN ABSENT FRIEND is the first time that A.I. speech synthesis has been used to generate ALL of the voices. And what’s more, two of those voices are sampled from the late LEONARD NIMOY and DeFOREST KELLEY, allowing the beloved characters of Spock and McCoy to live on.

The obvious question that might come to mind for some people would be: Is this legal? The short answer is “yes…at least for now.” That could change in the not-too-distant future, but no law governing or restricting the A.I. generation of a deceased actor’s voice in a fan film exists at the moment. I will dive more deeply into the legal status of voice A.I. in Part 3 of this blog series (along with the ethical considerations). However, right now in Part 1, I would like to discuss how I managed to digitally recreate the voices of these two deeply-missed actors, and in Part 2, I’ll be covering how I and my illustrator, MATT SLADE, turned an audio drama into a full animated Star Trek fan film.

First, though, let’s take a look at this groundbreaking project…


A.I. has exploded across the planet in the last year and a half, and it’s certainly become a bit of a mixed bag. The term itself is an umbrella for a wide range of digital breakthroughs whereby computers are doing some incredible—and occasionally worrisome—things. A.I. is being used for everything from generating business presentations and news articles to writing millions of lines of computer code in seconds. A.I. digitally de-aged an 80-year-old HARRISON FORD in the fifth and final Indiana Jones feature film last year and also completed an unfinished Beatles song despite two of the original band members having died decades ago.

Law enforcement is using intuitive software to sift through endless social media postings to track down wanted suspects and potential terrorists. On the other side of the moral spectrum, however, some students are using A.I. software to write their school essays for them, while a few political campaigns have begun to generate false images and articles to spread realistic-looking fake news to unsuspecting voters. Earlier this year, a New Hampshire robocall seemingly from Joe Biden that told Democrats not to “waste their vote” in the primary was actually faked by a supporter of one of the other primary candidates. And of course, the recent Hollywood writers and actors strikes worried that A.I. would make many of their jobs all but irrelevant.

My own mind was blown last year when I saw A.I. used to create an actual Star Trek fan film! THE RODDENBERRY ARCHIVE released the following short fan film featuring a deepfaked face of Leonard Nimoy as Spock put onto the body of actor LAWRENCE SELLECK…

Continue reading “How I used A.I. technology to bring the voices of SPOCK and McCOY back to life in “AN ABSENT FRIEND” (part 1: the audio)…”

The curious case of Jonathan’s YouTube channel “SURGE”…

It was recently brought to my attention that a false rumor has begun circulating that I purchased views for my YouTube channel last summer to boost my numbers for some strange reason. (See the above screen cap.)

Of course, this doesn’t address the most obvious question of I why would do this and then never even mention it. I mean, you buy 300,000+ views to…what? Brag? I completely forgot to brag, folks…d’oh!

In fact, I never even noticed it, let alone talked about it. And apparently, it boosted my subscribers by a couple of thousand, as well, and I never mentioned that either until earlier this past week—and even then it was buried deep inside this response (paragraph 3) in the comments under a blog. I mean, if you’re gonna buy that many views, then shout it from the rafters, right?

The other thing I wondered after hearing about this crazy, stupid rumor was: how much exactly do 300,000+ YouTube views cost to buy? I mean, haven’t YOU ever wondered that? Well, you probably haven’t—but I bet you’re curious now, aren’t you? And that’s why I looked it up

Wait…what??

Buying 300K would have cost me more than FIFTEEN HUNDRED DOLLARS?!?!?!? Holy second mortgage, Batman! I would be kicked out of the house at warp speed if I did that!

Anyway, I was still kinda curious where this surge came from. I mean, SOMETHING happened last summer! A bump like that doesn’t materialize out of nowhere, and I doubted that anyone else out there liked me enough to drop over a grand and a half buying views for my channel. So where did those views come from?

Turns out the answer was: STONE TREK!

Huh?

Back in 2016, one of my first-year’s blogs was about the hilarious fan series Stone Trek, a brilliant mash-up of Star Trek and The Flintstones. At the time, their episodes appeared on this Angelfire web page using the Adobe Flash player to animate (which is how the episodes were created in the first place).

A couple of years later, a convention organizer from San Diego where I’d be a guest wanted to show Stone Trek along with other shorter fan films as part of a continuous program in one of the smaller panel rooms. So I did a video capture from the Flash player of the five completed Stone Trek episodes and provided them as mp4 files for the convention.

And thank goodness I did!!!

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A public APOLOGY and sincere THANK YOU to C.W. THOMPSON from myself and JOSH IRWIN…

It’s never easy to admit that you screwed up. But that happened in December, and now is the time and place to acknowledge and try to correct it.

To understand what happened, we need to leapfrog back to last October and a crisis that happened with CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALIBURS. After working on the project for over two years and putting several thousand dollars of his own money into it (along with several thousand dollars that were crowd-funded from fan donors), AVALON UNIVERSE showrunner JOSH IRWIN was in a serious bind. A final shoot had been scheduled for the upcoming weekend with an actress who needed to travel from Oklahoma to Arkansas, and expenses for gas, food, and lodging for the weekend were promised to be covered. But a last minute unrelated emergency put Josh in a bind of quite literally being too broke to afford reimbursement for this person, nor did she have the financial means to make the trip without it.

Usually when something like this happens, I can come through with a loan or donation. I’ve never advertised this fact, as I didn’t want to become known as an ATM for fan filmmakers. Unfortunately, the Lane family had our own emergency in late September requiring unexpected and significant construction/repair costs, and my days of donating left and right to crowd-funding campaigns are done for now. So I couldn’t help Josh personally.

Over the years, CLARENCE W. THOMPSON has been a very generous donor to many fan film crowd-funders, including my own fan film INTERLUDE. Without even telling Josh I was doing so, I reached out to C.W. and asked if he could come through with a donation to help Josh. Without hesitation, C.W. offered a very nice amount that would cover the weekend expenses for this actress and allow her to make the trip. The money was Paypal’d to Josh within minutes. Josh was immensely thankful (as was I!) and promised to include C.W. in the credits as a full producer. C.W. was happy to accept the offer.

Guess what Josh totally forgot to do.

Finishing Crisis on Infinite Excaliburs drained Josh not only financially but also mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually. By the time of the last few weeks before the December release, Josh was essentially running the last half-mile of a full marathon, sprinting the entire way. But that’s only a reason for forgetting to include C.W. as a producer in the credits, NOT an excuse.

And why am I apologizing, too? Because Josh asked me to copy-proof his credits. He said, “I always forget someone or something!” He wanted a second pair of eyes to double-check him. And while I did catch several mistakes, I didn’t even notice the omission of C.W.’s name. And so I share a portion of the blame.

Continue reading “A public APOLOGY and sincere THANK YOU to C.W. THOMPSON from myself and JOSH IRWIN…”

SANTA needs a new KIDNEY…

As some of you know, back in 2012, I helped a professional, real-bearded Santa Claus write his memoirs in a book titled BEING SANTA CLAUS, which is available on Amazon in hardcover, paperback, kindle, and audiobook versions. It recounts the heartwarming stories of Santa Sal’s then-20-year career wearing the red suit–from his first clueless mistakes to becoming one of the most believable and effective Santas you could ever meet.

Last year, Sal lost his beloved wife of 35 years, Linda, and this past November, Sal was placed on the kidney transplant list. He now lives with his daughter and granddaughter in Kentucky, and they struggle to make ends meet. You can help make Christmas for Sal and his family a little merrier in two ways:

1) You can buy a copy of the book in any version, and royalties from the sale go to Sal and his family. You can also spread the Amazon link to your friends and family and loved ones.

2) You can donate to the following GoFundMe campaign…
https://www.gofundme.com/f/help-sal-lizard-aka-santa-aka-the-vampire-santa

I know that at at least one person out there in the Star Trek fan community has generated more than $18K crowd-funding his legal bills/debts for an upcoming lawsuit. Right now, Santa Sal (a Trekkie and former president of STARFLEET: the International Star Trek Fan Association, Inc.) has generated just $707 to help himself and his family survive a very challenging Christmas.

Whether or not you gave to that other campaign, please consider donating a little to help Santa Sal and his daughter and granddaughter. Or maybe buy a copy of the book. Sal’s stories are wonderful and will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and always smile. My friend Sal has given so much over the years, and I hope people can see their way to giving back at least a little.

Thank you and Merry Christmas.

My SON the FAN FILMMAKER!

Two weeks ago I blogged about, among other things, how VANCE MAJOR retired from fan films only to discover that his 7-year-old son ROYCE MAJOR wanted to make fan films! In fact, here’s one of Royce’s first projects.

Over the years, Vance and I have swapped “dad” stories and compared notes, as my 13-year-old son Jayden is very similar to Royce: Star Trek and sci-fi fans, very into computers, very creative, adorable, and way smarter than their dads (both Vance and I both are totally out of our league when it comes to our kids completely lapping us!). And as I was giving Vance some compliments on Royce’s latest efforts and praising his involvement as a father in encouraging Royce’s passions, I told Vance a little about what Jayden was up to these days.

“Y’know, Jonathan, I’d really like to read a blog about that,” Vance said to me. “I mean, it’s great reading about all these other fan filmmakers and their projects, but Jayden is the ‘next generation,’ and finding out what he’s been doing would be really interesting…to me, at least. You really should write a blog about Jayden and his latest projects.”

Okay, Vance, because you asked for it…!

Like many kids, Jayden has a lot of hobbies and interests. He builds competitive robots and takes karate. We watch Star Trek, Stargate, and other sci-fi together. He spends waaaaaaay too much time viewing YouTube videos, but welcome to Generation Alpha (the next one after Gen Z). He hangs out on Discord in a bunch of special interest group servers (he even has a server of his own), he has his own YouTube Channel, and has friends and followers all over the world (he says that people from other countries are nicer than Americans). And yes, Mommy and I feel completely overwhelmed trying to keep track of and monitor all of this online activity…heaven help us!

Fortunately, Jayden is at his core a “good kid”—kind, empathetic to others, and a bit of a prude. We’ve discussed online privacy and safety with him, and he gets it. Like many parents, we’re crossing our fingers that the genie doesn’t get too far out of the bottle, but eventually you just have to trust that you’ve raised your kid right.

One of the things that completely blows our minds—in addition to the robot-building—is Jayden’s ability to code video games. He creates his projects using the Scratch game engine (developed at MIT for kids) at a level that, frankly, most 13-year-olds aren’t even close to being able to do.

You’ve obviously heard of fan films, but did you know there are also fan GAMES? Jayden, along with possibly hundreds of others, has taken to creating video games based on a 2D online game released in 2015 called Undertale (read more about it here).

Here’s a short segment of one of literally dozens of fan games that Jayden was created based on Undertale

Continue reading “My SON the FAN FILMMAKER!”

R.I.P. – ARTHUR H. LANE (1932-2023)

My dad passed away early this morning. He was 91 and had Alzheimer’s. He and my mother were married for 58 wonderful years, having raised two loving sons with three wonderful grandchildren.

I know most eulogies start with a biography, but what I believe is far more important than where Arthur Lane grew up (New York City) and what he did for a living (stock broker) is the impact he had on those around him.

You see, my dad was one of the four “Lane boys” brothers. That term doesn’t mean much to most of you, but to my grandmother, mother, and three aunts, it meant the world. And that was because the “Lane boys” (and their father, my Grandpa Moe Lane), were the sweetest, most honest, loving, decent and dedicated men you could ever hope to meet.

You’ve probably heard some folks described as “absolutely the nicest person in the world.” In the case of my father and his three brothers and their father, that was almost an understatement! These five amazing men were all incredible husbands, loving and supportive fathers, and stand-out role models for their sons and daughters.

I know that some folks on Facebook try very hard to paint Jonathan as somehow nefarious or [insert random insult here]. Welcome to modern life. But those in the fan community who know me even a little are solidly aware that I am generous, supportive, encouraging, courteous, and always willing to help if I can. And let me assure you all: I got that from my father (and Mom, too!). I am a “Lane boy,” too…as is my brother David and all of my cousins, both male and female. We’re equally dedicated to our wives and children (and in a few cases, grandchildren), to helping friends, and just generally being nice and pleasant to people.

I thank my dad (and mom) for making me who I am today—and for making me in the first place! Dad showed me through a beautiful example, day after day of my entire life, how to be a wonderful father and husband…and ultimately a grandfather, too.


There’s an autobiographical song by the late singer/songwriter HARRY CHAPIN titled Shooting Star, and the chorus starts off with these two lines…

“Oh, he was the sun, burning bright and brittle,
And she was the moon, shining back his light a little.”

Continue reading “R.I.P. – ARTHUR H. LANE (1932-2023)”

Jayden and I spent last night with TIM “TUVOK” RUSS in the woods!

What better way to celebrate Star Trek Day (or at least the day AFTER Star Trek day) than to spend part of the evening with one of the cast members of Voyager under the stars discussing astronomy? Unfortunately, nature didn’t quite cooperate on the “under the stars” part, as the remnants of Pacific hurricane were passing overhead, and it was very overcast. Only one star, Vega, was poking through the high-level clouds.

Maybe I should back up a few parsecs and tell you all how I got from there to here—“here” being Malibu Creek State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, a few miles away from the Pacific Ocean. My friend and fellow Trekker, KAT CAMPBELL is a docent at the park and is in charge of booking their “campfire” programming in their amphitheater area. September 9th was their annual astronomy program where visitors can learn about the stars and planets and look through a giant telescope in a nice setting without all the city lights.

This year, the free program featured TIM RUSS speaking for 90 minutes beginning at 7:30pm. Now, Tim wasn’t invited because he used to play Tuvok on Voyager (and most recently on STAR TREK: PICARD). Nope, before Tim ever donned the pointed ears, he was a fervent astronomy enthusiast and is still a prominent member of the Los Angeles Astronomical Society. He’s spent several thousand dollars on telescopic equipment, and a couple of years ago, he was one of six “citizen astronomers” to help NASA detect what are known as Trojan asteroids. Pretty cool, huh?

I actually went stargazing with Tim once before, at a gathering of the USS Angeles chapter of Starfleet International about 20 years ago. He brought along his daughter Madison to that event (a wee bairn at the time; she’s now a grown-up singer and actress in Hollywood). Tim knows his stuff…I mean seriously knows his stuff! If NEIL deGRASSE TYSON ever needs an understudy, just call Tim Russ!!!

What was one of the most fun aspects of the evening was taking my son Jayden along and NOT telling him who would be there. Jayden and I have been watching Star Trek together since he was five—he’ll be thirteen in just ten more days!—and we’re currently in season two of Voyager. (In fact, the season premiere of LOWER DECKS kinda spoiled the rest of the series for him…D’OH!) So he knows who Tuvok is.

Jayden also has the following photo on his wall…

It’s from a magazine shoot we did with LEVAR BURTON about a decade ago when Levar was rebooting Reading Rainbow and the editor to include some Trekkies in uniform. Jayden was only three at the time, and as he got older and learned who Geordi La Forge was, Jayden felt increasingly frustrated that he had never met a Star Trek actor when he was old enough to really appreciate it.

So this was gonna be a fun surprise for my not-so-little boy…

Continue reading “Jayden and I spent last night with TIM “TUVOK” RUSS in the woods!”

My son JAYDEN just graduated from SIXTH GRADE!

Wait a second…isn’t this a blog about Star Trek fan films??? What does Jonathan’s kid have to do with that?

Nothing at all whatsoever! So if you’re not interested in what I have to say as a proud father, feel free to skip this one. Most likely, it’ll just get views from family members and a few friends, and I’m fine with that. Y’see, Jayden knows I spend a lot of time blogging about fan films. But today I am going to blog about him.


Wednesday night, after his final day at Echo Horizon School after seven years, Jayden came into the kitchen as I was finishing making his dinner. As he walked to the refrigerator to get his milk, he said, “I’m sorry for growing up.”

Whoa.

On the one hand, yes, the last twelve and a half years have flown by at warp speed, and that tiny premie newborn that we brought home to Los Angeles from Shreveport, LA has grown nearly as tall as his old man and is already towering over his Mommy! But apologizing for growing up? No way!

I told Jayden that he never needed to apologize for growing up because he’s becoming such an incredible person…and Mommy and I get to be a part of it all. It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to both of us.

And to inject a little Star Trek into this indulgently non-Trek blog, I see Jayden right now as my own little Deep Space Nine. What does that mean? Starting at the age of four, Jayden and I began watching Star Trek together…and one of my greatest blessings has been that he LOVES it. It’s one of our “things.” We watched TOS, TAS, TOS again (because he was too young when we first watched it to remember), TNG, the TOS and Generations movies in chronological order, and now we’re into season four of DS9 and about to start season two of Voyager.

3-year-old Cadet Jayden with Daddy at Starfleet Academy.
Jayden at age 5 sitting on the U.S.S. Ares bridge…still under construction.

Jayden absolutely ADORES Deep Space 9, although he’s lukewarm at best on Voyager (I’m kinda the same way, but we’re trudging on through the series). We just watched “The Way of the Warrior” and “The Visitor,” and as most fans of DS9 know, season four was the beginning of the four-season Dominion War arc. Therefore, I know what’s coming, and I am so looking forward to sharing those next 100-or-so episodes with him. And yes, we’ll need to get through Voyager‘s “Threshold” and debate whether “Tuvix” should have been separated, but Jayden will also get to meet Seven-of-Nine before too long and see other decent Voyager episodes that bring back Barclay and Troi. Jayden will ask me if Harry Kim will ever get promoted, and I’ll say, “Watch and find out!” (BWHAHAHHAHAH!) He’ll watch Sisko toast to his own tainted moral compass “In the Pale Moonlight,” discover Vic Fontaine, Weyoun, and see Gul Dukat’s descent into madness.

In other words, we’ve shared so much together, but so much more is coming our way! And that’s how I feel about Jayden himself. So let me tell you a little about this incredible person…

Continue reading “My son JAYDEN just graduated from SIXTH GRADE!”