OTOY’s virtual journey into the world of Star Trek

How those Roddenberry Archive short films were brought to life.

Over the past few years, three promos have appeared online that seemed related to the Roddenberry Archive, a collaboration between OTOY and the Roddenberry Estate to preserve Star Trek founder Gene Roddenberry’s lifetime of work. Well, that’s exactly what those promos, which are really like short films, are about.

More specifically, they are journeys that OTOY–headed by founder and CEO Jules Urbach–had embarked upon while undertaking interviews with key Trek personnel as part of building up the Archive. These interviews morphed into the promo pieces/short films.

To make them possible, a team of artists relied upon several virtual production techniques, including LED walls, Light Stage scanning and of course OTOY’s Octane renderer.

In this excerpt from issue #12 of the magazine, Urbach shares with befores & afters the origin story of the ‘765874’ shorts (each of which has received huge views on YouTube despite them being ‘unlisted’) and the virtual production workflows behind them.

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b&a: I think the first thing to ask you is, what this collaboration with the Gene Roddenberry Estate is all about, and how it resulted in these short trailers or films? 

Jules Urbach: We’ve put out several concept video shorts over the past year related to the Roddenberry Archive project. The most recent one got a lot of attention among Star Trek fans—it portrayed an old Spock, shortly after the events of Star Trek: Generations, visiting Kirk’s grave at the site of the Enterprise-D salvage operation. The latter event was also noted off screen in Picard season 3. We never intended for these concept videos to attract widespread attention from fans, but the reaction to them has been remarkable nevertheless and each has a million views even though they are unlisted.
The Roddenberry Archive began with an endowment from the Roddenberry Estate to digitise all that we could of Gene’s work for posterity, using the latest technology and tools at our disposal.

Prior to the work OTOY began for the Roddenberry Archive, there had been plenty of documents and printed materials and photos, millions of pages in fact, that were being scanned. But what about the visuals? Star Trek was not just written, it was produced, it was filmed, it was crafted in a visual medium. There’s an insane amount of love for that process. So we started off going after something that felt pretty ambitious but doable, which was, let’s just take the original Enterprise, and make it life-size and rebuild it as close as we can as a digital double. We got together with a team that included Mike and Denise Okuda, and the idea was we’d build a full interior of the motion picture Enterprise as that had the most data for us to fulfil a complete vessel down to every hallway and nook and cranny.

As we started down that project, we also started to build up the team of artists. Then it became clear we could do a little bit more in terms of the scope we had in mind. We were thinking, ‘We want to fill in the gaps.’ So we’re doing both the history of Star Trek, not just the assets, not just the props, but the stories—the timeline in visual form—to the best of our abilities.

b&a: Fascinating. How did you map that out?

Jules Urbach: We could create a world-line of the Enterprise from all the episodes of the ’60s TV show, through the various movies – up to where it ends up blowing up in Star Trek III. We began building the original Enterprise from the TV show, starting with the 1964 pilot shown in The Cage.

Then, last year, it came time to start to do interviews–because we always intended to interview every living person that could speak to the history of Trek. As we were putting that together, the idea was, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we also set up the sets for the pilot episode?’ We went beyond the Enterprise itself. We started rebuilding all the sets that you visually see on the show, including the planets. The Cage had all these underground terrain pieces and the costumes were another aspect we took on. We planned to have Laurel Goodwin, who was the last surviving actress from the pilot—she played Yeoman Colt in The Cage—she was going to do an interview for the archive. The week that she was supposed to do film, she passed away, which was a devastating blow to all of us.

Laurel was to have her interview paired with scenes from The Cage recreated by actress Mahé Thaissa who portrayed Laurel’s version of Colt as she appeared in 1964. Mahé helped bring together the team that created the amazing costume and make-up effects for the project, and brought to life a remarkable version of Colt that looked so close to the 1964 version that the crew was doing double takes, including Cage director, Bob Butler. We filmed shots from The Cage with Mahé as Lauren Goodwin in the exact same sets as in ‘64, using virtual production techniques, with Unreal Engine and Octane for UE. StandardVision was the AR wall that we used. We’ve now moved to Orbital for the later pieces.

We completed interviews with the actors and crew from the pilot. We found we had an extra day of filming on the AR wall, so I said, ‘Let’s film something more’ in these few hours and see what comes of it. We were fortunate to have Carlos Baena on the team to help steer this into a really beautiful short concept video. Carlos went on to direct the third short, and also brought in composer Johan Söderqvist, who scored the incredible music in that piece.

A lot of what Rod Roddenberry, who happens to be my best friend, a lot of his intent with the archive is to illustrate and shine a light on things that are written in the Star Trek literary world, but that have never been made into live-action, and may need a visualization. Most of the novels, many of the comic books, I mean they’re great stories, they’re in a different timeline form the TV and films. It’s a multiverse and they haven’t been turned into live-action, even if they make up 40% of all Star Trek stories told to date. Gene’s take was, if it’s not in live-action, it’s not canon. But not all the stories left out of the live-action were intentional, Gene had many stories that never left the page. Our take in the archive is that we have scenes from Gene’s own scripts, we have elements that are from stories that have highly influenced the lore, what can we do with them to bring them into the live-action realm and give them this elevated stature?

For example, what could we do with Yeoman Colt—who’s in two minutes of The Cage—with the many stories, comics and novels that extended her story beyond the filmed material? So, the first teaser we did–that 22-second piece–was an attempt to do that, using materials from the literary universe.

Read the much longer full article in issue #12!

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