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Back on Trek

Apr 20, 2009 12:00 PM, By Michael Goldman

How J.J. Abrams led the Star Trek revival.


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The tone, textures, and palette of the images from the starship environment of the story’s villain, Romulan warlord Nero (Eric Bana), was one of the parts of Star Trek deeply affected by the digital-
intermediate process at Company 3.

The tone, textures, and palette of the images from the starship environment of the story’s villain, Romulan warlord Nero (Eric Bana), was one of the parts of Star Trek deeply affected by the digital- intermediate process at Company 3.
Photo: Industrial Light and Magic. © 2008 Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

Finishing touches

The overall look of the film, of course, wasn’t finalized until the movie went through the digital-intermediate process at Company 3 with colorist/owner Stefan Sonnenfeld—another longtime collaborator with Abrams and Mindel. Sonnenfeld reports the Star Trek DI wasn’t particularly harrowing, despite being a gigantic visual-effects film, largely because Company 3 and ILM work so frequently together—they even have a fiber link between the two facilities—and because of the timing of the production.

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“This and other movies I worked on recently were all for the summer, but were actually shot [in 2008, because worries about a possible actors’ strike put the movie into production sooner],” Sonnenfeld says. “That meant the movie was largely final, including visual-effects shots, by the time we started the DI. That sped things up. Normally, on these kinds of films, you are scrambling because the visual-effects shots aren’t always finished. This time, it was more streamlined. In this case, the look was more from set design and in-camera stuff with respect to the camera flares and things like that. But having a largely final movie to work on did benefit us with things that were not as rigidly preplanned. So, the actual look of the planet Vulcan, we gave a very specific kind of feel working together [in the DI], and same thing for the environment of the villain [Romulan warloard Nero] on board his ship.”

Sonnenfeld used Da Vinci’s Resolve R350 color-correction software, and his team conformed the movie on an Autodesk Smoke system. Company 3’s digital viewing theater, featuring Barco DP90P extended-gamut DLP projectors in combination with a FilmLight Truelight color-management system and proprietary LUTs, was also used routinely by the entire filmmaking brain trust to view and make decisions on visual-effects shots throughout production.

Abrams calls Sonnenfeld “the guy who masters the album after you record and mix it.”

“[The process largely revolved around] sweetening the movie, desaturating it when needed, and matching certain shots together,” he says. “Stefan ended up putting this incredibly subtle and massively important touch on the movie, which is as creative as any aspect of it.”

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