Forced perspective, painted backdrops and the refit Enterprise

Discussion in 'Trek Tech' started by Mytran, Nov 28, 2013.

  1. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    I have started this thread to further explore the use of forced perspective sets & backdrops without derailing Blssdwlf's original thread, which was doing a "Thermian" approach to the Enterprise - basically, how can we fit the sets as seen on screen into our favourite ship? Complicating the issue is the presence of forced perspective sets featured in both TOS & TMP in order to make the Engine Room spaces seem larger. TMP also used painted backdrops in an attempt to make the corridor network seem more expansive. The results were...mixed, at best. How seriously can we take them?

    FP has been used in film making for decades, in everything from The Time Tunnel to Willy Wonka. It was used in the Star Trek pilot "The Cage" of course (Talosian corridor), but more famously in the main series run as the "cathedral tubes" in TOS Engineering. Thanks to FP, in our first visit to the Engine Room we were treated to the depiction of a huge, long piece of equipment behind protective mesh and it looked pretty realistic.
    [​IMG]

    Forced perspective sets are built with one end tapering from the other, to give the impression of distance. Being physical objects they pick up lighting the same as a normal set (or differently if required, as was often done with the Engine Room), and the actors can even interact with the set if they need to (a deleted scene in The Cage used children at the far end of the corridor). However, the illusion only really works from one or two different viewpoints, limiting the Director's creativity for blocking a shot. Before long the directors began freeing themselves from the restrictive camera angles that were imposed on them by FP and we ended up seeing the tube structure as it really was - drama always trumps realism in the industry.
    [​IMG]

    FP was used agin for the Engine Room in TMP and works pretty well, with child-actors standing in for adults at the far end.
    [​IMG]

    Only one camera angle was really used, which helped carry the illusion. The vertical isolation door in TWOK was added by Nicholas Meyer to block off the FP set and free up his camera angles However, in the process of filming the scene the tapered walls and walkway were revealed, along with the shortened sections of the intermix tube. Still, it is a great scene (again, drama takes precedence over technical inconsistencies).
    [​IMG]

    As far as I know, painted backdrops were not used in TOS (although matte paintings certainly were). However, they too have a long history in stage & film and Robert Wise seemed perfectly happy to include them in TMP. As mentioned above, they were used as corridor extenders throughout the ship, even when it seemed impossible!
    [​IMG]

    Nicholas Meyer only used the corridor painting once in TWOK, although again in a problematic location:
    [​IMG]

    As such, I had an interesting thought:
    The trouble with painted backdrops (in-universe) is that you don't need to be close up to see that it's an illusion - and although I initially suggested "holographic" images, I think I was being too generous, as the painted corridors hardly ever line up believably with the actual set. Painted backdrops share all the inherent problems of a forced-perspective set except that being 2-dimension the camera is even more restricted in the angles that work to carry the illusion. It is worst on a straight corridor, where the mismatching of lines becomes more obvious than ever, leading to floors that appear to slope up or down at weird angles. At worst, the painted backdrop depicts a corridor that diverts sharply to one side, when a moment ago it was straight.
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    So where you can get away with it, backdrop paintings are a cheap solution to extending the depth of your set, far easier to build than a FP mockup. On the weekly grind of a TV series a one-off shot is far more likely to use a painting than a FP set - cost takes precedence even over drama!

    TNG inherited the corridor backdrop painting from TMP, using it in the pilot but used paintings elsewhere too, such as in the episode Coming of Age. Here they used a backdrop used RIGHT NEXT to the actors, never a good thing!

    Backdrops continued to be used throughout TNG, DS9 and VOY. Federation Jefferies Tubes were a frequent user from their very first appearance leading to some odd angles sometimes, although mostly worked OK if you squinted. In Lessons the "floor sloping" issue is present but the reasons behind the scene blocking are clear a moment later. It was used really well in Quality of Life but usually just wound up behind the actors, who would mask many of the limitations in using a backdrop painting.

    [​IMG]

    The best use of a painted backdrop in Star Trek was on the corridor set of DS9, where the effect was used to depict the huge curving arch of the massive space station. With no straight lines to match up, the illusion was far easier to carry off and the effect was used extensively throughout the show's run.

    So, what can we make of all this in relation to the walls and corridors on the refit Enterprise? I must admit, I am half tempted to treat them as what they are - painted murals on the corridor walls, much as you'd find landscapes or pleasant vistas on modern hospital wards and posh reception areas. However, the image of a medium length straight corridor painted on a flat wall is neither aesthetically pleasing (like a landscape) nor would it carry off the illusion of extra space unless viewed from a very specific position. As we have seen, deviating from that viewpoint by even a little would make the corridor appear weirdly angled and thus fake - so why would any interior designer bother? In any case, the creative intent is clearly that they're supposed to be actual corridors on the ship, and I believe we should take them as such, taking the associated oddities as the inevitable technical gaffs they are. As for an in-universe explanation - maybe strange energy emissions from the new Warp Engines are causing visual distortions? The universe is a weird place, after all ;-)
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2013
  2. King Daniel Beyond

    King Daniel Beyond Admiral Admiral

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    According to Shane Johnson, the shot down the intermix chamber core in TMP was a painting too, one at the bottom level of the engineering set which could only be viewed from the one angle we saw in the movie. I'd have loved to have seen it from the wrong angle, it would have been quite a bizarre sight!
     
  3. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I've become partial to the explanation that Roddenberry himself favored: That what we see is a dramatization of the "actual" events and some of the details are the result of poetic license, exaggeration, or error. We're not supposed to believe the forced-perspective backdrops really look exactly like they do in those shots; we're supposed to use our imaginations to "see" the underlying reality that they're mean to represent. Just as if you go to see a live stage play, you use your imagination to envision the reality that the obviously artificial scenery onstage is meant to represent.
     
  4. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    King Daniel Into Darkness - Yeah, that floor painting is truly a piece of work!
    [​IMG]

    I had thought of mentioning it in my opening entry, but it was quite long enough already! The floor painting turned up (partially) in TWOK as well, during Kirk's inspection of Engineering. As for what it looked like from other angles, wonder no more:
    http://movies.trekcore.com/gallery/albums/tmp2/tmphd1235.jpg
    http://movies.trekcore.com/gallery/albums/tmp2/tmphd1349.jpg

    Christopher - I think a certain suspension of disbelief is called for in all areas of Star Trek, set design included. I certainly don't mean to criticise the limits of the technology available at the time - but I don't see any harm in acknowledging them, either! ;)

    The FP sets and backdrop paintings were put together by talented individuals to add depth to otherwise small sets. When used as intended, they carry the illusion perfectly well. However, directors do not like to be constrained by limited camera angles, which is where most of the "gaffs" I've highlighted occur.

    Although I favour the "Thermian" approach myself in terms of DIY deckplans (I'll get around to them one of these days!) I freely admit that sometimes you just have to go with what was intended by the production staff and turn a blind eye to seemingly weirdly angled corridors in the distance!
     
  5. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Sure, there's no harm in acknowledging them as aspects of a television production. But acknowledging them as aspects of the in-universe "reality," like trying to find some excuse why there'd be a forced-perspective mural on the actual corridor wall, is just being too literal.
     
  6. Robert Comsol

    Robert Comsol Commodore Commodore

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    @ Mytran

    Very interesting article! But I think you got some quotes mixed up in your first post - I advocated holo panels. ;)

    So is your combination of two separate shots into an "IMAX" sized one. :techman:

    I'm not that sure, wasn't the "intermix tower" view down a genuine matte painting? (and those painted on FP struts on the studio floor mostly guidelines for this matte painting?). Had the whole thing been a matte painting that "crack" in the line half a level down (bottom right) probably wouldn't be there.

    Bob
     
  7. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    A minor point: A number of the on-set extensions are TRANSLIGHTS, which are large backlit transparencies. The source image for these might be a painting or might be a photo. I suspect the one that extends the radial corridor might actually be a photographic enlargement of the actual corridor, but I've not studied it closely enough to be certain.

    There are design tricks for avoiding the telltale "jogs" you see when the camera gets off-axis, but they're rarely used.

    The floor extension in the TMP engine room isn't a matte painting. The camera move on that down-shot pretty much guarantees that, reinforced by a photo in the book The Making of Star Trek The Motion Picture which is taken slightly off-axis and features the caption "The Enterprise engine core extends many decks downward thanks to forced-perspective painting on the stage floor."

    And then there's THIS tell, re the "crack" Robert mentions:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Nov 29, 2013
  8. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    Thanks Bob, and that error has now been corrected. In my meagre defence; them's a lotta quotes!
    Incidentally, for anyone interested here is the full size pic of the engine room collage (complete with the torn floor panel in the top right).

    Although I never proposed that the vertical engine tube was the result of a matte painting, I am fascinating to learn that it may in fact be a translight effect. I've often wondered about the apparent luminescence of the extended corridor and vertical tube camera shots (which I had assumed were mere well-painted backdrops/floordrops). However, this could explain a lot, not least the missing 2 feet in the lower engine room. What missing 2 feet? Well, in TNG the lower level was shown at being 7 feet tall, shown clearly in ST6. However, in the two shots I listed above, the floor seems considerably higher up, around 5 feet tall instead. The 2 feet below would presumably house the lighting equipment.

    Christopher - as far at the refit goes, it mostly gets a bonus in terms of "squinting (not least because we saw so little of it). However, in the case of TOS the engine tubes were mis-photographed so many times that we really have little choice but to interpret them as part of a short triangular wedge-shaped engine component, rather than the long structure they were originally intended to represent.

    Multiple engine rooms may help alleviate this problem, however...
     
  9. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    We do? No.

    How many times did what was on the other side of the fence have a bearing on the plot? Zero? It's zero, right, so I don't have to take any of what I see on the screen literally or at face value. It wasn't until TAS that the characters got to walk among anything like "the tubes".

    Another example, the drawing of the Enterprise on the plaque by the bridge turbolift had engines that were out of proportion. It was there the whole series. Do I have to accept that that was what was really there in-universe?

    For examples of glitches with respect to the ship exterior that were present for the whole series, what about the globes at the end of the nacelles that were sometimes there or not, or the size of the deflector dish, and so on?

    I can squint just as easily the 100th time as the 1st.
     
  10. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I don't know that the floor painting in the TMP engine room is a translight, let alone backlit, although it's possible. The Making of TMP book notes that there was no crawlspace under the engine core so all the internal lighting contraptions had to be lowered in from the top, but then the core tube could have gone through the art for the extension down to the bottom of the "pit" below the stage floor.
     
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2013
  11. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Of course we have a choice. As I already said, that's where our imagination comes in. We're pretending a set on a soundstage in Hollywood is the engine room of a starship, we're pretending that actors we recognize are people living centuries in the future, so we can just as easily pretend that the tapering pipes actually do stretch as far back as we're intended to believe they are.
     
  12. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    P.S. There's ONE freaking engine room. ;)
     
  13. Data Holmes

    Data Holmes Admiral Admiral

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    Three points.

    1: TMP is really a beautiful movie to watch.

    2: I don't think any of the TNG sets were as we'll shot as what Nic Meyer did with them in TUC. I almost wish he had been allowed to direct a few episodes of the show.

    3: I hate that so many productions have moved to green screen sets and cgi. I miss the beauty of large, practical sets.
     
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  14. Tosk

    Tosk Vice Admiral Admiral

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    If he had, they still would have looked like most of the other episodes. You only get six days to shoot an episode.
     
  15. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    TMP had 125 days of shooting (25 weeks!), not including the Klingon Bridge and Epsilon 9. Ouch!
     
  16. Mytran

    Mytran Commodore Commodore

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    Wow, I am really missing out by not having that Making of TMP in my collection - something to remedy soon I think :drool:
    The apparent length of the corridor depicted in the painted backdrop is very close to the long corridor outside the Transporter Room (with just a couple of tweaks) and I strongly suspect it was used as the model.
    Although I estimate 5 feet for the lower Engine Room, I'd be very interested in learning the actual floor depth as it really seems less than the one shown in TNG and TUC. Would the TV series really have excavated another 2' of stage out on their budget? I honestly don't know! But it would make more sense to have been there all along, just filled with backlight machinery. IMHO.


    CorporalCaptain &Christopher - You're right of course about it being a personal interpetation of the footage - I got a little too "Thermian" back there stating it as fact. ;)

    I would argue that screen graphics be exempt from the need for squinting though, since they exist to provide certain information rather than a scale-accurate picture. There's a similar "erroneous" graphic on the wall of the TNG Bridge (the width of the saucer is reduced to better fit it all in). I think the graphic shape is duplicated on the table in Engineering, but in both cases these are technical diagrams, not scale blueprints.
    YMMV.

    I hope one thing we can agree on is that the FP effect was spoiled on too many occasions by the wrong sort of camera angles.

    * * * * * * *

    And the number of TOS Engine Rooms is definitely a discussion for another thread! ;)
     
  17. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I'd wager they didn't "dig" a pit at all. In fact, I suggest there was already a pit on that stage in that location, which would explain why they put the engine room where it was in the overall set plans.
     
  18. Robert Comsol

    Robert Comsol Commodore Commodore

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    Here is one from last year: http://www.trekbbs.com/showthread.php?t=196048 :)

    It's strange, indeed, that the engine room set was deeper in TNG and TUC. Could have made that floor painting in TMP a little easier.

    Bob
     
  19. QuinnTV

    QuinnTV Lieutenant Commander Red Shirt

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    The stages at Paramount have a basement level. Many of the Trek props, costumes and set pieces were stored there over the years. The warp core extended down into this area.
     
  20. Maurice

    Maurice Vice Admiral Admiral

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    I knew some of the stages did. Do all of them?