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David Mullen ASC

Star Trek: The Motion Picture

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In past discussion, I mentioned that I believe "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" must hold the record for the number of split-diopter filter shots. I'd swear that a third of all the non-efx shots use them to create more depth-of-field. Some are better than others. In general, look for how the bridge railing or roof line gets broken by the split-diopter.

 

I'm not sure why this extra in the b.g. had to be in-focus:

 

startrekTMP1.jpg

 

Whereas here you barely notice that the viewscreen on the right is kept in-focus:

 

startrekTMP2.jpg

 

More typical use during group dialogue scenes:

 

startrekTMP3.jpg

 

startrekTMP4.jpg

 

startrekTMP5.jpg

 

These last two use TWO (!) split-diopter filters on each side of the frame:

 

startrekTMP6.jpg

 

startrekTMP7.jpg

 

Because of the 100 ASA film used back then (Kodak 5247), and the anamorphic format, combined with the 16mm rear-projection used for the monitor screens, most scenes were shot at a T/2.8 except when the zoom was used. But since director Robert Wise wanted a deep-focus effect (he fell in love with the look ever since he edited "Citizen Kane") he and his usual DP, Richard Kline, used a lot of split-diopters. You can also see it in their work in "The Andromeda Strain".

 

The bridge set naturally leant itself to staging in depth because of the seat placement, so whether to rack-focus, split-focus, use a split-diopter, or let most of the frame be soft was always a big problem on all the Trek movies. ST2 increased the light levels and depth of field by replacing the monitors with real TV screens and using the new 250 ASA Fuji stock. Nimoy and Correl dealt with the problem in ST3 by lighting the bridge to f/5.6 or more and push-processing their high-speed Kodak film stock (5294, 400 ASA).

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Very informative, David. I didn't know you can use two splits in the same shot.

 

I saw ST:tmp for the last time around the time I came out on DVD. Most of that shots with diopters are well done enough that you didn't notice them. What I disliked was the use of hard lights inside the Enterprise cause I had expected a softer lightning for a 79' sci-fi, but it seems that they first goal was to achieve deep focus.

 

The Hinderburg (1975), directed by Robert Wise and shot by Robert Surtees had some great split-diopter shots too.

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David, David, David. Why do you keep trying to be a bigger Trekie than I am :D I am always puzzled by the different ways of shooting the very dissimilar lighting styles of the different movies in the series. I can understand varying techniques between different series, but between the same genre? Why wasn't there more of a consistant look for Star Trek's lighting throughout its theatrical run? The series was done a set way, and it looked great. To me, one of the things that made ST:TMP only an average movie was that it was too radical a departure from the television series, being most akin, in my opinion, to the show's first pilot. Also puzzling to me is the use of high speed stocks after ST:TMP, which clearly were not the finest-grained (again giving a much different look to the movies than the original series, which was shot primarily on 50 speed film). Why is it that they didn't just light more if they wanted to get greater depth of field? Wasn't Kane done with slow stock too? Were the rest of the movies influenced by ST:TMPs deep-focus look? Don't get me wrong, I love all of the Star Trek movies (except maybe the one that Shatner directed ;) ), but I think they were quite a departure from the look of the series. I'm not sure if that's good or bad, just different. Also, since you seem to know so much about the Star Trek series, can you tell me what stock the effects were done on in ST:TMP? The effects there seem much different looking than the ones in II, III, and IV.

 

Regards.

~Karl Borowski

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David, David, David.  Why do you keep trying to be a bigger Trekie than I am  :D  I am always puzzled by the different ways of shooting the very dissimilar lighting styles of the different movies in the series.  I can understand varying techniques between different series, but between the same genre?  Why wasn't there more of a consistant look for Star Trek's lighting throughout its theatrical run?  The series was done a set way, and it looked great.  To me, one of the things that made ST:TMP only an average movie was that it was too radical a departure from the television series, being most akin, in my opinion, to the show's first pilot.  Also puzzling to me is the use of high speed stocks after ST:TMP, which clearly were not the finest-grained (again giving a much different look to the movies than the original series, which was shot primarily on 50 speed film).  Why is it that they didn't just light more if they wanted to get greater depth of field?  Wasn't Kane done with slow stock too?  Were the rest of the movies influenced by ST:TMPs deep-focus look?  Don't get me wrong, I love all of the Star Trek movies (except maybe the one that Shatner directed  ;) ), but I think they were quite a departure from the look of the series.  I'm not sure if that's good or bad, just different.  Also, since you seem to know so much about the Star Trek series, can you tell me what stock the effects were done on in ST:TMP?  The effects there seem much different looking than the ones in II, III, and IV.

 

Regards.

~Karl Borowski

Well, I'm not David, but regarding the FX shots looking "different" in ST:TMP, you have at least two major factors. One, the effects houses were not ILM, but Doug Trumbull's outift and Dykstra's Apogee. And two, the bulk of the Enterprise shots were not shot bluescreen as they would later be by ILM (and even Bran Ferren's outfit for STV:TFF). Trumbull used the frontlight/backlight technique (see also EEG's work on Blade Runner) and not worrying about things like blue spill allowed him and his crew to light the models more naturalistically. Dykstra employed bluescreen, but managed to match his stuff very well with Trumbull's, IMO.

 

I suppose the dupe stock might have been a factor also (CRI anyone?)

 

To my knowledge, all Treks up to #6 employed 5247 for their motion control work. I recall that ILM got their hands on some 5295 for one or two shots in #4 (the Klingon bird of prey lifting off from Vulcan), but the results weren't to their liking.

 

Saul.

Edited by Saul Pincus

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>Why wasn't there more of a consistant look for

>Star Trek's lighting throughout its theatrical run?

 

Because you had different directors and DP's with their own agendas. It's not like a TV show under the creative thumb of the producer. Also, the six Trek movies with the original cast were made over a twelve-year period with changes in technology and styles occuring over that time, unlike a single TV series.

 

I also find the differences interesting as opposed to the dullness of the stylistic consistency imposed by Rick Berman on the last decade of Trek, although there are a lot of things I like about Marvin Rush's work. I just think he's been a little hamstrung by the need to maintain a "franchise look".

 

>To me, one of the things that made ST:TMP only

>an average movie was that it was too radical a

>departure from the television series

 

I actually like the fact that ST:TMP tried to be "bigger" and more cinematic than the TV series; the problem with the movie was less about the style and more about the characters and plot. I wish "Star Trek 2" had more of the budget of the first Trek movie, because it was the cheapest Trek movie with the best script.

 

>Also puzzling to me is the use of high speed stocks

>after ST:TMP

>Why is it that they didn't just light more if they

>wanted to get greater depth of field?

 

Well, 90% of ALL movies by the mid 1980's switched over to using high-speed stock for interiors so why would "Star Trek" be any different? The problem with using more light was the balance with the video monitors (16mm projectors in the first film) which determined the light level of the sets. Plus in ST5 & ST6, they put in a large rear-projected viewscreen. The original TV show didn't use working monitors on the set, just blinking light bulbs. Plus it wasn't shot in anamorphic.

 

>Wasn't Kane done with slow stock too?

 

It was shot on the fastest b&w stock Kodak made, Super-XX (160 ASA), which Toland sometimes push-processed. But again, it didn't have to balance sets with the brightness of TV monitors.

 

>Were the rest of the movies influenced by

>ST:TMPs deep-focus look?

>can you tell me what stock the effects were

>done on in ST:TMP?

 

For Robert Wise, it was personal stylistic preference, but after that, the reason for wanting more depth of field on Star Trek was more practical than aesthetic -- the bridge set pretty much demanded composing in depth since it was a circle with Sulu in front of Kirk and Spock behind Kirk, etc. So staging a dialogue scene on such a set using anamorphic lenses (except for ST6) meant a lot of decisions to be made on what to focus on and when to rack, etc.

 

Right off the bat, every Trek movie after the first one used whatever the newest high-speed film stock was:

Fuji F-250T for Trek 2

5294 for Trek 3, even push-processed to 1000 ASA

5294 again for Trek 4&5, although some 5295 was used -- but it wasn't any faster, just optimized for bluescreen and a little more contrasty and finer-grained.

5296 for Trek 6 (the only one shot in Super-35.)

 

Other stocks were also used, often 5247 for day exteriors and bluescreen work, 5297 for some day exterior work on ST5.

 

Efx photography (bluescreen, miniatures, matte paintings, etc.) was usually on 5247 except when more speed was needed, then maybe 5295 was used until that was replaced by 5296, then 5298, etc. Any visual differences were more stylistic than due to the stock, or different ways of compositing.

 

In some ways, the bridge scenes in ST6 has the most deep-focus look generally (except it doesn't have the super deep-focus shots in ST:TMP done with the split-diopter) because it was shot in Super-35 often with wide-angle lenses on a Steadicam.

 

There were a few split-diopter shots in the other Trek films, but they are rare.

 

Here's two from "Star Trek 5":

 

startrekfive1.jpg

 

startrekfive2.jpg

 

Art direction also played a factor in the cinematography. The bridge set was completely revamped by Zimmerman for ST5:

 

startrekfive3.jpg

 

Which Nicholas Meyer inherited for ST6 (again, getting his budget slashed like on ST2 because of the costs of the previous Trek). He had it rearranged and painted in darker tones, plus removed the carpeting:

 

startreksix1.jpg

 

Here's a comparison between the set in ST6 and ST2:

 

startreksix2.jpg

 

startrektwo1.jpg

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Couldn't the monitors brightness and chroma values have been set to match whatever lighting or filmstock was the DP's first choice?

 

Would a DP actually be foreced to compromise the grain structure of their film stock and lighting preferences because of monitors?

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Couldn't the monitors brightness and chroma values have been set to match whatever lighting or filmstock was the DP's first choice?

 

Would a DP actually be foreced to compromise the grain structure of their film stock and lighting preferences because of monitors?

 

That's like asking would a DP be forced to compromise because they had to balance with city lights or a setting sun or candles -- it's part of the job. You can crank up the brightness of the TV monitors to a point but they don't look "normal".

 

In terms of "Star Trek: The Motion Picture" I'm sure that the 16mm rear-projection was as bright as possible, short of doubling them up (two projectors overlapping to create the same image.)

 

Like I said, most movies of that period (1980's and 1990's, even today) used the fastest stock made for interior scenes so you're saying that 90% of everything made was compromised because they didn't light for slower stocks.

 

Other than the first high speed stocks, which were replaced withing two years, there was no 200 ASA stock made until the early 1990's so your choices were 100 ASA and 400 ASA (and then 500 ASA.) So if on 400 ASA, where you can shoot TV monitors at f/5.6, you'd be down to f/2.8 on 100 ASA film, which is very shallow-focus in anamorphic. So it was a no-brainer that the "Star Trek" movies used high-speed stock for the bridge set.

 

On "Star Trek V" it was originally going to be much worse: the art director built the new bridge set with smoked black glass so that when the monitors turned off, you saw a solid black surface. However, that lost two stops of light on every monitor so the DP asked them to saw out the black plastic in front of each monitor to restore their brightness.

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That's like asking would a DP be forced to compromise because they had to balance with city lights or a setting sun or candles -- it's part of the job.  You can crank up the brightness of the TV monitors to a point but they don't look "normal".

 

 

While I don't feel the analogies you provide relate to what I was saying what you are saying is they just couldn't make the monitors bright enough to match an f 5.6 and have the monitors look normal. So even though monitors have more of an adjustability range than candles or lights in the distance it's still wasn't enough.

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When using split diopters, what's the rule about panning?

 

You can't really although for ST:TMP they made the mattebox so that the split-diopters could be manually slipped in as the camera moved. But that rarely works.

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David, I too am interested in the workings of diopters. From my still photography background, I knew what diopters were, but had no idea they were used so extensively in certain motion pictures. My question is, how are they graded (i.e. if the lens is focused at infinity and a certain diopter is placed in front of it, how does the diopter affect focus), and how much of the lens can a certain diopter cover? Are these things custom made, or are they widely available at different factors and sizes. Of course, I'm not really likely to be using one anytime soon as 8mm and 16mm have almost too much depth of field.

 

~Karl

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Some info here:

 

http://medfmt.8k.com/mf/diopter.html

 

There are some formulas but usually you just focus lenses with diopters in front by eye once you put it on the lens. You usually use the lightest one you can get away with, so if you are just short of being able to focus at minimum on the lens, it might be a +1/2 or +1 diopter that allows you to focus closer.

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