Jason Zimmerman is the Supervising Producer and VFX Supervisor at CBS for Star Trek: Discovery, having previously done Star Trek: Picard. He has worked within the "Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek Universe" bringing to life the environments, ships, and character effects in some of the Trek Universe's most popular visual renders for years. Kurtzman has co-produced the Star Trek franchise since 2009 and co-wrote the scripts for Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013) and the TV shows: Picard, Discovery and Star Trek: Short Walks. Zimmerman has worked closely with Kurtzman and his production company Secret Hideout for several years. "It's kind of a big family on the show because we've been together for so long. And Alex is such a supportive executive to us, he loves visual effects," says Zimmerman.
The Zimmerman team is the central CBS hub that both runs in-house VFX and works with a number of vendors who deliver the episodic effects at a level that rivals most movie effects. The production was filmed primarily in Toronto, with part of the first two episodes filmed in Iceland. The CBS VFX team is usually located on Wilshire Boulevard near the SAG building, on the 15.8 mile stretch of iconic LA Street that runs from Santa Monica to downtown. Zimmerman and the team couldn't work together in this age of COVID. The third season of Discovery was completely re-produced, with the team working from home. "It's been over a year since we started filming Discovery (Season 3)," Zimmerman recalls. His team actually delivered the last episode of Picard: Et in Arcadia Ego and “we went into quarantine the next day… Right after the Picard finale, we all started working remotely. It took us a few days to get the team up and running with the right technology, but we've all been working remotely ever since. "
The CBS team uses all Teradici so the artists can log into their computers remotely and the VFX editors have their own Avid setups at home and the team communicates through Zoom. "I think a big part of not being in an office is being forced to put in place a system of checks and balances that allows you to check into everyone," he comments. "I think you take it for granted if everyone was in the same office. Normally you would have these conversations, but I think it was more efficient in many ways. We have team calls every day." Zimmerman conducts CineSync with all providers on a weekly basis to “just talk about recordings”, and his team follows the recordings with shotgun. “It is our lifeline for the providers to keep an eye on the recordings.”
VFX team provider
Discovery uses a number of providers from around the world, as does Picard. Companies such as Ghost VFX (Denmark), Mackevision (Germany), Crafty Apes, DNEG (London), The Mill (London), FX3X (Macedonia) and Pixomondo, where Zimmerman previously worked. When selecting vendors, Zimmerman explains that they target the actual artist specifically: “We're looking for good people to work with. People we know, people we've worked with; Teams with good artists who we think are appropriate for the various sequences. "
Zimmerman supports the idea of having a very strong and tight internal VFX team that “all speak the same language”. Some members of the CBS inner circle have worked with Zimmerman for years at various companies. Similarly, after working so closely with the Trekking directors and producers for so many episodes, the team has solved a large number of visual effects issues very efficiently and effectively, and has come up with both physical and creative solutions that then Often handed to providers can run on a series of recordings. "You could send something to 10 different vendors, you could get 10 different suggested ways to go about something," he explains. "When I give it to our boys – because they know us so well, they'll often say, 'Oh, you want a 2D solution – we'll do it in a flash and it'll take about as long" – because they only know that we are behind. & # 39; For the sequences in which Zareh attacks the miners who are oppressed by his criminal group, Crafty Apes provided the visual effects superimposed on the physical prosthetics (above).
More than in previous seasons of discovery, the VFX crew had to do a lot of world building and environmental work. This ranged from complex hologram space markets to the lush forests of the Trill homeworld (below). For the space market, the team was asked to create many complex hologram effects and define extensions. "There are obviously enhancements that lift the pods and everything, but there are a lot of holograms that went into this scene … they really helped fill in the frame," comments Zimmerman. When the team pre-produced this sequence, they meticulously planned it with the director and recorded everything in great detail. Holograms have been featured heavily for many things this season, but when screens are seen in the shot, most of the show's monitors display actual graphics or animation for the actors to work with live. When an actor appears on the set of the Bridge to speak to characters as a hologram, that actor usually starts and the footage is treated with clean panels in VFX to give the illusion that they are semi-transparent. The actors can then react to each other instead of being shot on a separate green screen.
On the Trill homeworld, Adira (Blu del Barrio) and Cmdr. Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) descends into the watery sacred caves of Mak & # 39; ala, first seen in the Deep Space 9 episode Equilibrium. Unlike that original 1995 episode, In Discovery, a massive CGI dream environment had to be created to re-establish the connection between Adira and the Valley symbiote.
The team mostly shot on the green screen, but also used digital doubles for the complex decent sequence. The visual effects and 3D animation tendrils were created by Mackevision in Germany.
“There was definitely more environmental work done this year than in previous seasons, which was very nice. It's always nice to add something to your repertoire and try something new, ”says Zimmerman.
The series kicked off this season with some fun character animation work in the form of a trance worm that Cleveland booker Booker (David Ajala) is trying to return to a sanctuary. The background plates were taken in Iceland and Ghost VFX animated the worm. The worm was called "Molly" behind the scenes.
Molly was designed by award-winning creature and concept designer Neville Page (who we interviewed for Greenscreen Tv # 181).
Neville Page (R) on fxgTV # 181
Molly is actually one of the most successful VFX sequences, and one Zimmerman is especially proud to play this season. “It was really, really fun and exciting for us to be able to work this creature with a Neville Page design and do this beach attack and this whole sequence. It was fun doing some creature work that we hadn't done before on the show. We were very proud of this scene. "
In episode 2, the USS Discovery lands on a glacier. After trading in Dilithium for a lot of “programmable matter”, Discovery is caught by the parasitic ice of the glacier that traps the ship and prevents it from launching. The particle system was simulated and rendered by Pixomondo.
One of the challenges for this season of Discovery is that the crew is now over 900 years in their future. The challenge for VFX and design is to create modern, stunning visual effects that reflect both the old and the ultra-futuristic, but all still come from the same Star Trek universe. Take one of the Star Trek devices, the transporter, for example. In all Trek series, a transporter is used on all Trek ships to convert the matter of a person or an object into energy, then to radiate this energy to a new place and bring it back to its original form. This appears visually as a visual effect of an energy pattern. Discovery's own transport is said to date from a time in Star Trek Canon, shortly before Kirk, Spock and the original makeup of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701. Therefore, the visual transporter effects must be a "2020" modernized representation of the visual transport effect from the 1966 show, which is often seen on the "transporter pad". But this season that crew and their ship are in the year 3188. This requires that the transport effect be represented as the same core thing, but with the benefit of a 930 year improvement. The new “3188 years. Point-to-point vans still need to be visually linked to all of the visual solutions VFX artists have used in the past, but must be original and easily recognizable as vans for a loyal audience.
In episode 5 of the third season on board the Tikov, a Barzan is involved in a freak transporter stasis accident. The visual effects for this malfunction of the new transporter visuals – in the future on an old ship – were generated by Ghost VFX.
For Zimmerman, postponing the plot by 900 years is “a double-edged sword because when we were in canon for the first two seasons we tried to repeat what was done before because everyone expected it to be a certain way looks like. "He explains. Now they are creating a new visual language, a new canon of what the visual should look like, and" fans pay attention to it weekly. "He adds," If you check the blogs, they let you know what they are and they let you know what didn't work for them – it's a huge responsibility. "
For the Transporter, we had talks with Alex Kurtzman and production very early on to get a feel for what people thought it should look like and what it would be like in the future. “One of the thoughts was that it should go a lot faster, really fast. So we knew we had to speed it up and we wanted to play with the dynamics of how it moved and how quickly it dissipated. "
Crafty Apes looked for the transporter effect and offered between 10 and 15 versions or interpretations for the filmmakers to discuss and dial in from there through to the final version of this season.
Ships Magnificent ships
One of the most impressive model constructions of the season was the arrival of a strange “displacement bubble”. The Trek VFX team benefits from a clear presentation of the entire season. This helps with asset generation decisions. At the beginning of his work, they have a clear idea of whether the asset will only appear or be needed in that one episode. It is important to know whether it needs to be broken apart, or whether it "comes back together or transforms in some way because of all of that Things have to be taken into account, how you build, structure and structure it, ”emphasizes Zimmerman. "The production and the author's room keep us up to date and let us know what's coming." The arrival sequence was created by Pixomondo.
The show is not dogmatic but prefers an Autodesk Maya and Side Effects Houdini pipeline with compositing in Foundry Nuke. Zimmerman is open to anyone who uses the renderer his team likes, "as long as Discovery can always look the same".
Full CG and those robots from the credits.
Much of the footage is fully CG, including the robotic repair drones that are also featured in the title sequence. In these sequences in particular, the VFX artists can add ideas, "as long as it helps the story, everyone is very open to suggestions," explains Zimmerman. “We have a lot of opportunities to give this type of feedback, especially with the drones. These little drones are one of Alex (Kurtzman) favorite things. He loves these drones. Sometimes there is a shot and we just do fun things, like at the end of the shot at a bar, we add a robot that serves a drink or something else … fun things to make the frame more interesting and busy … We look for all possible possibilities and we always have such conversations. The production is very open to this. "
“There is a lot of experience and a lot of learning. We are constantly discovering things about how things can get better, how space battles can be choreographed, how recordings can be composed and played back, ”explains Zimmerman. For example, the space battle at the end of Discovery Season 2 episode 14 was very well informed from the lessons the team had learned from creating the final battle at the end of Picard Season 1. At the time of this story, episode 5 had aired, and the team was working on the VFX for episode 10 – through to the last episode in episode 13. Currently, every show has hundreds of effects shots ranging from "a low of a hundred to a high of 723 shots in an episode, which means between 3,500 and 5,000 this season". By the end of this Discovery season, Zimmerman and the VFX team, along with the work on Picard, will have delivered approximately 13,000 to 15,000 recordings.