Blog, business, post production for film and video

Star Trek rocks, brings in new FX workflow

I just got back from watching the new “reboot” of Star Trek. I really think J.J. Abrams hit it out of the park on this one. But that doesn’t surprise me: I have enjoyed parts of Lost, Alias, and his take on the Mission Impossible franchise.

What interested me was the seamless integration of really complex FX work. And when I read that JJ changed many FX shots after they were completed, I understood why the film flowed so well: he broke the cardinal rule of FX — plan so that you don’t have to re-do shots — so that he could tell a better story. But this created havoc in their production schedule, such that ILM had to create a new workflow. As Paul Kavanaugh describes it:

“I thought that we had to work as efficiently as possible or we would be spinning our wheels for a long time,” he says. “We needed to get multiple takes to J. J. quickly and get him to agree. So I combined layout and animation into one department for the show. I picked animators who had done cameras and layout artists keen to animate.”

Woohoo — a new workflow! What does this signify to me? As awesome as the “old” Hollywood studio system is, there is bloat and inefficiencies in the extreme specialization that occurs at every level of Hollywood movie-making. So ILM dumped it, in favor of speed — using animators who had operated a camera, or camera operators who wanted to work on animatics — and came up with a wonderfully fast, new way of doing FX work on a major motion picture.

And the proof is in the pudding: the film, story, acting, FX all flow together seamlessly. The reason people are liking this movie so much ($75 million at the box office on opening weekend!) is that, even though it is a sci-fi movie, story is at the heart. JJ gets it: tell a good story, and people will flock to the theater.

Good job. I like it when telling a great story compels people to think out of the box.