Faux Or No?

Interesting discovery in bridge close ups.

ST1-TMP_1292A tactical plot.  Is this a miniature view screen?

While researching screen shots in preparation to model the next roundabout section of my bridge (the main view screen), I came across an interesting question regarding some clever movie trickery:  In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, were the closeup shots of the bridge’s main view screen all achieved using a filming miniature?

ST2-TWOK_0435

ST2-TWOK_0768Definite close up miniature of weapons console, as seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I’ve been familiar with the use of miniature models to feign full sized set constructs for some time.  I’ve also known for some time that the two above shots of the Enterprise’s weapons console were managed this way, given some images I came across during the “Grand Auction Period” a few years back, when many Star Trek production items were being sold off in droves. I found lot images for some of those actual filming miniatures up for auction and was pretty amazed. Here’s one below.

D4780333xWeapons console miniature used in above scene captures, in its auction lot image.

I am not entirely certain why they needed miniatures to complete some of these filming tasks, however, I do know how useful miniatures were in this TWOK shot:

twokhd0095What’s big and what’s little in this shot?  You tell me.

It’s especially understandable considering how they helped fill in large chunks of non-existent set.  But this is an age old method of forced perspective known to film makers for generations and its advantages are obvious.

The monitor shots in question depict only small specific portions of set with no direct character interaction.  They were obviously meant to focus the audiences’ attentions onto certain stations and the animations depicted within their monitors, all in order to give a clearer idea of what precise plot points the characters were speaking of at any particular moment.  If the effects department that was responsible for those animations didn’t have immediate access to the studio sets, it may have simply been practical to create their own film worthy stand-ins to complete the task, though that’s just speculation on my part.  I find it fascinating to note that the weapons console captures above, though seen in The Wrath of Khan, were most likely filmed for The Motion Picture, but ultimately unused until the sequel film managed to capitalize on them (Note the “Intruder Alert” text in the upper image, a condition not implemented aboard the Enterprise in TWOK but prominent in TMP).  Please correct me if I’m wrong.  Given the second film’s budget constraints, that would have been a very sweet cheat. 😀

Still, a number of similar shots were used in TMP

ST1-TMP_1806Examples of TMP monitor closeups:  “Photic sonar readings indicate… we’re trapped sir.”
ST1-TMP_1820…and, “Tractor beam has released us.”

and their miniature stand-in was also auctioned off.

D4780332xAnother miniature example from the same auction.

One of my preliminary concerns with modeling the view screen was the rather tight inner corners of the screen’s frame that I’d seen in so many shots of the bridge set I’d examined.

ST1-TMP_2477

ST2-TWOK_0119

tsfshd0163Tight, skinny, inner corners visible on set for all of the first three films.

Tight curves such as this can prove very annoying for the method I use to create such curved objects in Lightwave: the highly useful but quirky Rail Extrude Tool.  It was important to see what I was dealing with and how I could model a miniature of it with as little distortion as possible.

I was looking over as many images to compare as I could, when I came across some closeups from TMP.  The moment I saw the much larger curves of the inner corners it struck me.  I was both relieved of my initial worries, but also suddenly left questioning if those amazing view screen shots I’d been admiring all these years had indeed been miniatures in their own right.

tmphd2370Largely rounded inner corners are very unlike the actual bridge set.

The best evidence I’ve seen so far is this shot with the Red Alert animation flashing wildly.  The camera is much further back, and in the top right corner of the image, a chunk of the set’s overhang appears to be missing.  It could just be an obstacle blocking the camera, but that is hard to determine.  If it isn’t, that cut off would be considerably closer (by about half) than the actual set’s pie wedge ends.  It’s not definitive proof, but it certainly enhances the argument.

tmphd1241Best evidence?

Strangely enough, TWOK did not seem to take this same approach for their view screen close ups, instead opting to film the set on hand.  So, I’m left to wonder what the thoughts behind all this was.

ST2-TWOK_0771Most likely actual bridge set used in this TWOK filming.

CURIOSITY UPDATE:  While scrambling through a few other images, I managed to note something very strange about Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.  This film used both methods for its relatively limited number of view screen closeups, and the differences are striking.

tsfshd0165STIII: The mystery screen skips a movie?

tsfshd0982Cloaking devices can’t hide this is the genuine studio set.

TWOK did use a faux ‘dressing’ method for the Genesis presentation video as the details in the monitor close ups match nothing on the communications console in Kirk’s quarters.

ST2-TWOK_0329Admiral Kirk’s quarters: Actual set monitor.

ST2-TWOK_0377Faux greeble dressing for Genesis Presentation.

With all this said and done, even if the view screen close ups in TMP were not achieved by a scaled down miniature (the way some other monitor scenes most certainly were), there is little question they were done with a completely different set prop.  I doubt they had those in abundance back in 1978/79.

The next question for me is, “which version do I follow?”  Do I make it easy on myself by using that wider, more open, inner corner as a stepping stone (the one I actually prefer) or do I get down and dirty trying to recreate a frame that is more like the on set version?  Preferring the wider corner as I do, that would definitely be a sweet cheat. 😉

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~ by starstation on December 16, 2012.

9 Responses to “Faux Or No?”

  1. Very good catch regarding the viewscreen corners. Production-wise it would be logical that a miniature be created like the weapons and comm stations to focus on the storypoint animations for TMP. However if it even exists I’m surprised it wasn’t offered at auction like the other pieces.
    Since you’ve gone through such painstaking effort to imitate the film lighting effects in your previous posts, you may as well aim for the on-set appearance rather than the suspected stand-in.
    By the way, above the viewscreen would you opt to have the spotlight/speaker plant-ons in TWOK or leave them blank as in TMP?

    • I’m sure someone else has done a write up about it out there, I’m just amazed I never noticed it before. It’s funny how sometimes the mind can just smooth over the rough edges. (storypoint… cool term. I love that.)

      As to why it never went up for auction, there are several possibilities of course:

      1. It never survived to the sell off (a likely possibility).

      2. It never made it to auction because someone was able to take it into their personal possession before the sell off (another very likely happenstance).

      3. Not sure it wasn’t auctioned (but I never saw it either and I followed those things pretty closely, so… very unlikely).

      4. It was simply never sold and the studios in control still have it (least likely).

      5 Another possibility… it’s not the miniature I have theorized, but what else it could be, I have no clue. My update last night showing the two captures from TSFS clearly indicate (if it wasn’t already apparent) that there were two distinct versions of that view screen.

      As to which version I pursue, as much as I’ve tried to stick to accuracy and completeness, I tend to cherry pick my favorite aspects. Since I actually prefer the more rounded corners from the apparently scale model version, I really think that is the route I am going to take. I’ve already begun attempting the frame and I can tell you, even that version is not easy. The frame is so thick that getting its cross section shape to wrap around those corners is a finicky task. My computer has already crashed once after I spent a few hours trying to work out some kinks. That stung.

      And I do intend to put the spotlight insets in all the way around the bridge, as they appeared in TWOK and TSFS. 😀

  2. I never knew any of this. And I have/had seen the films countless times!:(

  3. I recently rewatched TMP and noticed during V’ger’s first attack on the Enterprise that the green electrical arcs were actually reflected onto the faux viewscreen frame. So the model did actually serve to make the VFX more immersive and believable, which the later movies skipped. But that TMP example was the only instance I’ve seen where the model actually served its purpose.

    • Really? That’s cool! I never noticed that before.
      I suspect Trekcore screen caps aren’t doing that particular effects shot justice, though I can see the “green glow” in the frame’s concavities. It seems the monster plasma ball leaves a bluish glow on the frame too, upon close approach. I’ll have to check out my Blu-ray this afternoon. 😀

  4. Dammit, just recently I saw a photo which basically proved there was a miniature main viewer, because you see a VFX guy looking in through it and you can tell how small it is. I thought I’d saved that URL for the photo but now I can’t seem to find it. I’ll try to locate it again.

    • Aw man. That would have been a sweet view… er.
      Oh well, keep you eyes open, maybe it’ll turn up. 😀

  5. Yeah. I usually capture that stuff for my personal archive. It looked like the screen was maybe smaller than half scale by he size of the guy seen through it. I thought it was on Trumbull’s site, but I went back there and no luck. Hmmmm…

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