The f/x of TOS....

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Warped9, Feb 23, 2015.

  1. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2003
    Location:
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    It can be lost today on younger viewers how amazing many of TOS' f/x were back in the day. In some respects time hasn't been kind to the f/x of TOS given how far the art has progressed since the '60s.

    TOS' f/x stood up pretty well for many years. I don't think it was until perhaps the late '70s and early '80s that some of the f/x began to look dated and that was due mostly to the big sci-fi spectacles we were getting in film. As far as television goes I don't think TOS' f/x suffered much until the advent of TNG in 1987. I think that's when some of the challenges the original production faced really started to show.

    When one reads about how Star Trek was produced you should quickly appreciate how much of a challenge the original creators faced. TOS was attempting to bring (then) feature film level f/x to television on a weekly basis. And this despite the fact they did not have anywhere near a feature film budget or resources. In some respects some of what TOS was attempting mightn't have even been done in film before let alone television at the time.

    Today we accept that practically anything that can be imagined can be fashioned and not without nore than a little cgi help. But for film and television back in the 1960s and for many years afterward there were no computers to help bring imagination to life--everything had to be made physically or the film itself had to be manually manipulated to get the desired effect. And if you were short on time and money then you did the best you could with what you had.

    Some folks are fond of saying that f/x didn't really matter to TOS because the story is what really mattered. While the story should indeed really matter make no mistake that Roddenberry and his staff did strive for the best f/x they could get to enhance and help sell their stories.

    Even as a diehard fan I can spot some things that I wish had been different. And yet in most if not all of those cases I know it was a mtter of limited time and money. I know that given extra time and money there is a lot more TOS could have done even if it wouldn't look like the cgi efforts of today.

    We can all cite individual f/x that left something to be desired, and I'm sure we'll here about them in discussion, but there were a lot of very good f/x and some of them still work rather well even after all these years.

    So I'd like to start off with my appreciation of a few and hopefully other folks will chime in with theirs.


    After all these years I still love the original transporter effect depicting people and objects being beamed to and from the Enterprise. The beaming effect has been reinterpreted many different ways over the years, but I still think TOS' is the best. For me it still works particularly with sound effects helping to bring it to life.

    One can quibble with how the 11 ft. Enterprise miniature was lighted, but I never tire of the sense of size and mass conveyed by that monster miniature. There were some truly iconic shots that really sold the Enterprise as a convincing space going vessel. That sense of scale was enhanced many years later with the reveal of the TMP refit, but for television no subsequent ship design came off as well as the TOS E. The only other thing I've seen on television that really gave me a sense of immense size was the Babylon 5 station in Babylon 5. Even more so now I appreciate that the TOS E wasn't overdone with gimmicky lighting effects. The spinning nacelle domes sold it sufficienty.


    Anyone else?
     
  2. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2013
    Today's cloud and plasma generators could do better than the original "galactic barrier," but CBS-D's effort looked flat and lifeless compared to the original. The original thrilled me and filled me with awe. The TOS-R version "looked" like an "animation" effect.

    Oh, and the Enterprise clearing the barrier in "By Any Other Name" hit that magic spot, while the TOS-R shot—I don't know how to put it—missed the beat? The original split Chekov's comment like a razor. Silent and fast as a lightning stroke. The TOS-R version felt slow.

    Ditto on the transporter. I loved the "organic" feel of the energy waves. After that, we were treated to all manner of lens flares coming together from the top and bottom, or from the sides, streaks added. They all looked like animation effects, while the original looked like energy.
     
  3. Richard Baker

    Richard Baker Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Nov 11, 2008
    Location:
    Warrior, AL
    I liked how in TOS all the energy beams were not visible- tractor beams, deflector shields, alien gizmos- though sometimes you got a sound effect. Most energy we have today is invisible and having everything in shows these days is clever animation spoon feeding us.
     
  4. LMFAOschwarz

    LMFAOschwarz Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2013
    Agreed, same feeling here. I still wish The Next Generation had inherited that effect as a) an ongoing tribute to where it all started and b) it just looked cooler and more believable. Not many things that are more realistic or believable are automatically the better-looking one, but this one was!

    And the sound effects: I loved the two separate sounds used depending if people were being beamed up, or down. You could hear it from another room, away from the tv, and still know if they're arriving somewhere or leaving. That's story-telling! :techman:

    Yeah! Gravity and magnetism, to name two, are awesome forces which are completely invisible. Why not force fields and tractor beams and such?
     
  5. Maurice

    Maurice Fact Trekker Premium Member

    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    One ferry ride from Starfleet HQ
    The matte painting of Rigel 7 remains phenomenal. The Enterprise alongside the Botany Bay looks great. The curved "whoosh" past the camera in the opening credits still has a sense of speed and excitement that none of the copies has even quite matched. The Space Amoeba still looks cool.
     
  6. Melakon

    Melakon Admiral In Memoriam

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2012
    Location:
    Melakon's grave
    Some of the original effects for the small screen look better than the bluescreen work for 1969's Marooned, which somehow won an Oscar for best visual effects.
     
  7. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2003
    Location:
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    I still love the Starbase matte painting. And TOS' sound f/x rock.

    I'm also a big fan of the shuttlecraft hangar deck sequences--the shuttlecraft on the turntable as well as the launch and landing sequences. TOS-R really botched those.

    Definitely! Not seeing these things actually made them feel more real.

    No question on both counts.
     
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2015
  8. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2013
    Location:
    New York State
    Spaceship fx were always a major draw for me. I was aware of Star Trek's limitations but I loved the fx anyway. They couldn't show special circumstances affecting the 11-footer or open its hangar doors, and the compositing process would reduce sharpness, but what we saw was still great. The Enterprise looked real.

    Lost in Space shot its Jupiter 2 scenes entirely "in-camera," with the model in a diorama for lift-offs and landings, or front of a painting to represent space. They got sharp, lossless results doing that. If anything, it was more tantalizing than Star Trek because of the immediacy of the smaller ship's scale and the super-clean shots.

    Space: 1999 shot their spaceships using a different process, putting a single reel of film through mulitple passes. It meant that one object could not pass in front of another, because that would reveal the double exposure. But the finished film looked as clean as can be. As with Lost in Space, lift-off and landing scenes were done in dioramas.

    I think classic Galactica went back to the blue-screen technique that Star Trek had used, but with better control over matte lines and so forth.
     
  9. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2003
    Location:
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    Granted I haven't seen everything spaceship oriented made before TOS, but the flyby sequences of the Enterprise always struck me as so much grander than what I'd seen before. This wasn't a small saucer or rocketship just passing across the screen, but a massive carrier sized spacecraft. Of course, it went beyond exterior f/x shots also being aided by interior scenes of the crew and equipment in operation.

    Mind you the accompanying music helped sell it, too.


    Although the 11 ft. miniature itself had no lights in it yet I have always loved that very first shot of the Enterprise from "The Cage" which has the Enterprise banking toward the viewer pov. Yeah, it's flawed, but I still love. And when they tried to recreate it for TOS-R it felt lifeless and flat and with the ship looking far too dark and gray.
     
  10. Restless Spirit

    Restless Spirit Wandering the Mortal Realm Moderator

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2003
    Location:
    Between Here and the Hereafter
    Um, I'm going to have to go give a couple eps a listen, because I can't say I ever really noticed that! :alienblush:

    Maybe it's one of those things you just know subconsciously, and I can't bring the auditory difference to mind right now because I'm *thinking* about it? Maybe I'll listen, and it'll be like, "oh, yeah, THAT..."???
     
  11. Melakon

    Melakon Admiral In Memoriam

    Joined:
    Nov 22, 2012
    Location:
    Melakon's grave
    The Jupiter 2, the Flying Sub, and I think the Spindrift miniatures used a flying rig developed by Howard and Theodore Lydecker in their Republic serials. I knew the Enterprise wasn't shot like them, I knew it wasn't an animated cartoon. In 1966 I knew nothing about blue screens and optical printing, so TOS got me reading about that. It wasn't like today, when any kid knows how to do the same effect in a computer.
     
  12. LMFAOschwarz

    LMFAOschwarz Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Oct 1, 2013
    I kid thee not! I'm surprise you never noticed!

    And if I'm not mistaken, I don't think they screwed it up once! :)
     
  13. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2013
    TOS was extremely rich in audible cues. It would have passed muster as a radio program—without need of a narrator saying, "Meanwhile down on the planet..."
     
  14. Khan 2.0

    Khan 2.0 Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Aug 30, 2013
    Location:
    earth...but when?...spock?
    The great barrier in WNMHGB was more menacing, effective than the coloured dyes in water tank great barrier in TFF.
     
  15. Agent 13

    Agent 13 270 Rear Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 21, 2013
    Location:
    GNDN18
    When I was a kid, I used a cassette recorder to tape the audio. Home video was several years in the future. The care taken by the producers to create a rich aural landscape made the exercise almost as enjoyable as watching the program.

    I noticed that the shipboard scenes had a hum that ran underneath the dialogue; every major part of the ship (bridge, engineering, sickbay) each had its own distinctive sound, but that hum was underneath it all. Because of this attention to detail, unusual sounds, such as a phaser or somebody appearing, weren't jarring because they didn't just happen: it was part of an already rich sound pattern. This was not the case on Lost in Space, the "other" science fiction show I watched.

    Speaking of radio, if you haven't already, give Gunsmoke a listen. Incredibly realistic sound effects without a narrator in sight, or within earshot.
     
  16. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2013
    Take a listen to THE QUICK AND THE DEAD either through a very good sound system, or good headphones. The whole movie is fantastic, but one scene stands out.

    Herod (Gene Hackman) faces off against Ace Hanlon (Lance Henriksen). One can practically count the various parts of the guns as they move. Herod smoothly lights a cigar and flicks the match away—with a nice "flange" effect as it sputters in the wind. Very crunchy.

    Meanwhile TOS was doing it in a pre-digital era with loops of magnetic film for things that did not have a defining sound yet. And not a single "Wilhelm" in the entire series.
     
  17. Forbin

    Forbin Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Mar 15, 2001
    Location:
    I said out, dammit!
    I personally don't think there's ever been better weapons sound effects than the TOS phasers and photon torps. Everything that came since sounds watered down and wimpy.

    Also TOS photon torp explosions - amorphous expanding blobs of white light that sometimes blanked out the screen - looked more convincing as super-powerful anti-matter detonations than the oil flame spurts we got in later shows.
     
  18. Ronald Held

    Ronald Held Vice Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2005
    Location:
    On the USS Sovereign
    I thought TOS set the standard for future f/xs. I also think the transporter effect should have remained the same, maybe sped up a little with the same sound effect.
    Without hijacking the thread, if they had more time and money for the TOS effects, would they globally have been that much better?
     
  19. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2003
    Location:
    Brockville, Ontario, Canada
    I don't think you're hijacking the thread given your point is tangental to the subject matter.

    I think a lot of what TOS was doing had been done before in some fashion, but perhaps not on the same scale. I don't think it was an exaggerration to say that TOS was trying to do a mini SF film on a weekly basis at least in terms of f/x. And they had to invent and fashion everything from scratch particularly in terms of sound.

    It's interesting to ponder what they might have done under better circumstances. What seems like small potatoes today could have been huge in 1966-69. Imagine what they might have done with a steady $200,000 per episode budget. An extra $5-15,000 per episode would have been huge back then (although highly unlikely).

    A big plus would have been not to have gotten backed up in regard to f/x. I think the Howard Anderson and other f/x house delays really hurt them. The opening credits that are now so familiar are apparently a hastily put together effort from very little finished materiel--not what they originally wanted. I think this boils down to Howard Anderson and others struggling to achieve the kind of f/x Roddenberry and company wanted. So to some extent what Roddenberry was asking for was somewhat novel and uncommon at the time.

    A little more time and money might have given us more variety in spaceship designs as well as designs for things we never got to see. It would also have allowed them to have additional sets and matte paintings that they otherwise had to forego. Third season alone would have benefitted greatly from more money for f/x, sets and background extras.

    I think one could look to feature films of that era (1950s-60s) to get a sense of what else TOS might have done with a bit more time and money.
     
  20. feek61

    feek61 Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

    Joined:
    Nov 25, 2011
    Location:
    In the Sunshine!
    Agreed. I think some of the matt line problems were a result of simply that they didn't have time to get it right; or maybe they ran out of time before they could get it right. Still, some of the effect shots look great and for me still hold up. After they started using several different effects houses; the quality did improve.

    Some of my favorite beauty shots ! :)

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]