Jean-Luc Picard teams up with his former USS Enterprise commander crew to fight a new and mysterious enemy
“The work was a total collaboration between our teams in LA, Montréal, and Mumbai, and we created some really epic shots that hopefully gave the fans the same sense of awe we felt when we saw them coming together.”
Outpost VFX Supervisor Chris Faczek discusses the team’s work on the third and final season of Star Trek: Picard: “We were so excited to work with the Star Trek team again – and their Supervisor Brian Tatosky – on a large body of work for season 3, especially after having so much fun on the work we did for Star Trek: Picard season 2.”
This season, Jean-Luc Picard teams up with a host of familiar faces from The Next Generation to embark on what will be the most daring mission of his life – and one that could change the Starfleet forever.
The team worked together seamlessly across sites to deliver 150 shots spanning all 10 episodes. “Unlike the more planet-centric environment builds we did previously,” Faczek continues:
“The bulk of our work this season included the various Federation and alien ships that play a large role in this season, as well as developing an old favourite of the Star Trek series: the Changeling.”
Showrunner Terry Matalas wanted to celebrate the previous shows in the Star Trek canon by developing a look and feel in this season that fans would recognize. This meant the team needed a deep understanding of the existing Star Trek shows: “From our first shots of the U.S.S. Titan and the Spacedock, to the last of the Enterprise D fighting the Borg, we were able to make use of a great Star Trek “bible” that the team put together in our wiki,” Faczek recalls.
“We referenced everything from ships to space scenes, to characters and battles. This helped give the team a jumping off point and kept us in line with client expectations on things like lighting angles, tonality, camera angles, and weapon characteristics.”
One of the most creatively challenging sequences Outpost worked on involved the design and development of a Borg cube – the largest Borg cube we’ve seen in the Trek universe this far.
The team developed a cube that was quintessentially Star Trek, but that still presented the viewer with something new. “The Borg cube has had several iterations over the years, each of them different but still definitely part of the Borg collective,” Senior Environment Artist Maeve Eydmann says. “The challenge this time was to create the ‘ultimate’ Borg cube; bigger than any we’d seen before. The showrunner wanted it to look as visually exciting seen from a distance as it did close up – a new Borg cube for a new Borg queen,” she continues.
The challenge that this presented meant that the team had to create a cube ten times bigger than that of the previous season and ensure the scale translated in every shot. “When you’re in the emptiness of space you don’t have anything else to compare to that helps to sell the scale, only the details of the object itself,” continues Eydmann.
But creating something of that size didn’t come without its own challenges: “The sheer size and number of the lights on the cube – over a thousand per side – needed some creative problem solving from Sean Myers,” Faczek adds, “especially for the destruction shot where those thousands of lights also had to mix with the fire and explosion lighting.”
Due to the size and complexity of all the assets, the CG team had to work hard to optimise their scenes and assets so that the flow of work wasn’t interrupted by long render times. “The Spacedock also had hundreds of lights and emissives that had to be optimised for our pipeline while keeping the aesthetic of the asset the client supplied. Early tests rendering the Spacedock with the added complexity of multiple ships inside it were extremely slow and resource intensive. Daniel Kumiega worked to untangle the web of materials, lights, and assets to help us really optimise that set up,” Faczek said.
To optimise further, the team also created bespoke tools to help them maintain consistent looks across sequences. “Outpost Compositing Supervisor Rick Ravenell developed a set of tools and templates that allowed us to tweak different looks that were done in comp.
“With this shared visual language, we were able to work efficiently over many shots but still had the adaptability to modify these elements to work with the various environments,” Faczek continued. “This meant our Compositors Mick Reid and Tom Heddell were able to set the looks for the Spacedock and the Nebula scenes respectively – two very different environments – while keeping the overall feel of the show intact.”
The Outpost team were also tasked with developing the behaviour and appearance of the Changelings – an alien race with the ability to morph from one being to the next. “The look of the Changelings varied from previous dealings with these aliens the Star Trek canon. In the past, the production studios have used glowing gold liquid effects, or peanut butter makeup to achieve the desired effect,” Faczek explains.
“The biggest creative hurdle for us was that we needed to create a look and behaviour for them in multiple forms: as a moving, sentient puddle or globular creature, actors morphing into other actors, and actors melting entirely,” Faczek continues. “This wide range of looks required a range of methods to achieve them.”
Outpost FX Artist Mike Zhou led the development of the fully liquid forms of the floating head and the moving puddles, while Animator Peta Bayley along with the animation team in Montreal created the facial animation, giving Mike a base to work with in Houdini. “From here I worked closely with Mike to dial in the look and feel,” says Faczek.
“With that look defined, we were able to bring in Lead 3D Artist, Daniel Kumiega, to develop some displacement textures and mattes that could be driven by a Maya setup or Mike’s Houdini simulations,” he continues. “This meant we could approach each case a little differently, depending on how much simulation was needed, while keeping a similar look throughout the various applications.”
Watch Outpost’s work in the final season on Paramount+ or Amazon Prime now.