C4D and StarTrek MattePainting

C4D and StarTrek MattePainting

17 December 2009

Working under the direction of Star Trek: The Next Generation art director Michael Okuda, longtime Star Trek producer Dave Rossi and visual effects supervisor Neil Wray, Gabl was tasked with elevating production values across all 54 episodes, which contain many original shots that were filmed with very simple lighting setups and hastily painted and poorly-lit backdrops. Gabl deployed BodyPaint 3D as a core software application to bring the look of backgrounds up to present day high-definition standards, recreating 33 establishing shots and scene extensions, as well as 47 planets and several paintings of nebulae and other planetary system objects.

A key creative challenge was the complete lack of data crucial for visual effects content creation, such as camera type and focal lens that are used to match the virtual camera to the scene. “I quickly realized that successfully bringing elements such as matte paintings of planetary objects from the original series into an HD format and maintaining the visual integrity of the iconic television series would necessitate a 3D software solution that offers stability and customization,” Gabl said. “CINEMA 4D with BodyPaint 3D is the ideal solution for matte and texture painters. It offers numerous workflow advantages that are key to maintaining high production standards on a long-term project of this magnitude, and the interface is well-designed, stable and extremely easy to use and customize.”

Gabl, whose credits include Stealth, Flags of Our Fathers, Racing Stripes, and Pushing Daisies (see www.maxgabl.com/Content/Matte_Paintings.html), created many of the matte paintings of the buildings and planets from scratch (3D model to final render) directly in CINEMA 4D. He also worked in some cases with models built by other artists at CBS Digital, which he imported into the application to light, texture, and render. Some of the paintings were completely new overview shots while others were crafted around original Star Trek footage, with subtle enhancements blended into existing images.

CINEMA 4D’s modular design was a major factor in Gabl’s ability to complete the project efficiently.
“Being able to select the modules I needed as I needed them kept the interface uncluttered, lending itself to a fast workflow,” he said. “The Projection Man feature was especially handy, affording quick setup of camera projections while allowing me to look directly at the textured 3D object when touching up textures and seams in painting mode. Virtual set creation is uncomplicated, allowing me to switch back and forth between modeling, projection painting and texturing within the same application.”

“We’re thrilled that Max chose to rely on MAXON’s animation and texturing solutions to handle this challenging project,” said Paul Babb, president, MAXON USA. “Star Trek is among the most venerated and beloved television series ever made, and with the high resolution afforded by the Blu-ray format, the original backdrops might have detracted from viewer enjoyment. Instead, with the help of CINEMA 4D with BodyPaint3D, Max and his colleagues at CBS Digital were able to update the series beautifully for HD, allowing millions of fans to enjoy the show to the fullest.

To create the large number of planet matte paintings required the creative team to identify basic concepts such as earth-like with large, dark mountain ranges, pink skies, poles, swirly clouds, etc., usually based on shots in each Star Trek episode, which included at least some features of the planet that viewers could see. Gabl used a NASA template to start modeling each planet, manipulating the textures in BodyPaint 3D until he had approximated the “look”. The dimensionality of each planet’s surface was achieved using data gathered from geological Web sites for the displacement maps to create elements such as mountains and other terrain.

Over the course of the project, Gabl built an extensive library of textures that could be modified as needed, allowing him to turn a blue ocean green or vegetation from green to brown, thus saving much-needed production time. “By using BodyPaint 3D I could paint textures directly onto the planets and see the results right away rather than having to wait for them to render before entering Photoshop, which proved to be a real time saver,” said Gabl, adding that the planets were rendered at 4000 x 4000 pixels. While Gabl worked on planets and establishing shots, another team of modelers, animators and texture artists worked almost exclusively on a new CGI version of the fictional starship, Enterprise. Once the various matte painting elements were finished, CBS Digital’s team of compositors inserted them into the footage for the finished look.