The Future Begins
The greatest adventure of all time begins with "Star Trek," the incredible story of a young crew's maiden voyage onboard the most advanced starship ever created: the U.S.S. Enterprise. In the midst of an incredible journey full of optimism, intrigue, comedy and cosmic peril, the new recruits must find a way to stop an evil being whose mission of vengeance threatens all of mankind.
The fate of the galaxy rests in the hands of bitter rivals born worlds apart. One, James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), a delinquent, thrill-seeking Iowa farm boy, a natural-born leader in search of a cause. The other, Spock (Zachary Quinto), grows up on the planet Vulcan, an outcast due to his half-human background, which makes him susceptible to the volatile emotions that Vulcans have long lived without, and yet an ingenious, determined student, who will become the first of his kind accepted into the Starfleet Academy.
Kirk and Spock could not be more different. Yet, in their quest to figure out who they really are and what they have to give to the world, they soon become competitive cadets-in-training. With their drastically opposite styles, one driven by fiery passion, the other by rigorous logic, they also become defiant, contentious adversaries, each equally unimpressed with the other, each going all out to be among the special few chosen to join the crew of the most advanced starship ever created, the U.S.S. Enterprise.
The crew is headed by Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood). Joining him are the ship's Medical Officer Leonard "Bones" McCoy (Karl Urban); the man who will become the ship's Chief Engineer, Montgomery "Scotty" Scott (Simon Pegg); Communications Officer Uhura (Zoë Saldana); experienced Helmsman Sulu (John Cho); and the 17-year-old whiz kid Chekov (Anton Yelchin). All will face a harrowing first test that will set in motion the loyalty, camaraderie, daring and good humor that will bind them forever.
In the midst of it all, Kirk and Spock will come face-to-face with an undeniable destiny: a need to forge an unlikely but powerful partnership, enabling them to lead their crew to boldly go where no one has gone before.
In its more than 40-year history, one that has impacted multiple generations, "Star Trek" has carved out an iconic place in modern pop culture as the only ongoing story that encapsulates the awe, wonder and bold audacity of the human desire to reach for the stars. With the indelible opening words of the original 1960s television series, "Space, the Final Frontier," a succession of journeys were launched across the cosmos that did and, to this day, still celebrate the thrill of adventure, the pioneering spirit of exploration and the drive to create an ever-more amazing future full of possibilities. The daring and provocative voyages of the Starship Enterprise, and the many ships that would soon follow in her flight path, have appealed to the stargazer in all of us, and our hopes and dreams that technological and cultural advances will bring out the best of our humanity.
The original TV series was not a hit when it first aired, but later caught on like wildfire among the ever-growing legion of fans who responded to its compellingly funny, contentious, charismatic personalities and its five-year mission to peacefully engage new worlds and cultures. But how did that mission begin? What brought together this disparate group of brash, brilliant, ambitious young men and women and drove them to explore new frontiers? And how did they forge that special chemistry and sense of purpose that would inspire so many discoveries and fantastic adventures for years and even centuries to come?
For director/producer J.J. Abrams, going back to the beginning after more than six television series and ten feature films was the only way to forge into the future. His vision was to literally start fresh, beginning with James T. Kirk and his one-day First Officer, the Vulcan Spock's advancement in the Starfleet Academy and their extraordinary first journey together.
Abrams came to the project with great respect for series creator Gene Roddenberry and all that "Star Trek" had achieved as the creator of an archetypal modern myth and cult phenomenon. However, he also wanted to take the story where it had never been before: making a state-of-the-art action epic about two heroic leaders as brash young men in the making.
"I was a fan of the original series, although I was never a Trekker," says Abrams. "Yet I always felt there was something that had not been done with 'Star Trek.' There have been ten movies, but this is the first time that a movie has dealt with the fundamental, primary story Gene Roddenberry originally created in 1966." Abrams continues: "What I hope with this movie is that you never have to have seen anything about 'Star Trek' before to really enjoy a comical, romantic, suspenseful adventure, but that it also does proud the lasting, brilliant world that Gene Roddenberry created. The brilliant thing 'Star Trek' brought to the world was a dose of optimism and I hope this movie continues in that tradition."
While many anticipated a total re-boot from Abrams, he was excited to go in an unexpected direction, heading way back, as it were, into the never-seen 23rd century launch of the U.S.S. Enterprise. When he brought the idea of a "'Star Trek' origin story" to producer Damon Lindelof, with whom Abrams (along with Jeffrey Lieber) created the contemporary television phenomenon "Lost," the producer was instantly taken by the idea. Explains Lindelof, "For me, the idea that no one has ever told an origin story for Kirk and Spock and all these characters was very cool. We had a great conversation about how this crew of people might have come together and learned to sacrifice certain parts of their personalities to get along. It was really fun and, next thing I knew, Bob Orci and Alex Kurtzman were writing a script."
A fan of "Star Trek" since childhood, Lindelof believes the story's premise and characters have continued to be so relevant for so long because they capture something essential about the space travel mythos: the sheer hopefulness of it. "Most stories we see now about the distant future are bleak, dismal and dystopian. The incredible thing about the initial 'Star Trek' television series is that it was so energetic, optimistic and cool. It presented the future the way we'd like to believe it will unfold. It's a future to aim for."
That view, he felt, was a great match for Abrams' exuberant style of character-and-action-driven storytelling. "J.J. brings innovation to everything he does, but also brings an ability to boil a story down to its most human elements and translate hugely complicated production challenges into something with mass appeal, and that was all necessary to go back to the beginning of 'Star Trek' with today's cinematic technology," says Lindelof.
Adds executive producer Bryan Burk, who has also collaborated with Abrams on "Lost," "Alias" and "Cloverfield": "We envisioned this 'Star Trek' as a truly grand adventure about two very different men whose destiny is not only to become true friends, but iconic partners, guardians and explorers."
Executive producer Jeffrey Chernov, who oversaw the line production, concludes: "The film for me became not only a new look at the 'Star Trek' universe, but a kind of cross between 'The Right Stuff' and the original 'Star Wars.' It has that fresh, imaginative, intergalactic storytelling, but is also very grounded in the idea of young men and women with a lot of heart and camaraderie. When you add J.J.'s mastery of action and love of scope, you have something very fun and entertaining."
The characters of "Star Trek," especially Captain James T. Kirk and his loyal but contentious First Officer Spock, are among the most instantly recognizable fictional characters created in the 20th century. But J.J. Abrams needed writers who could take these well-established personalities and reverse engineer them to get back what forged their hopes, dreams and motivations in the first place.
To do so, Abrams went straight to a team he knew could attack the story with a high-intensity, suspenseful action style and an authentic allegiance to its legacy, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, whose partnership has produced memorable screenplays for such films as "Transformers," "Mission: Impossible III" and the current FOX show "Fringe." Orci, in particular, has had a lifelong passion for all things Trek. "When I met Bob in high school, one of the first things I remember about him is that he had an Enterprise phone and the Bridge would actually ring!" laughs Kurtzman.
And yet, when they were approached about "Star Trek," the duo admits they did not instantly jump at it. "We paused because we knew it would be such a huge responsibility," explains Kurtzman. "The whole Trek universe has kind of hit a crossroads at this point and we knew that it would take a lot of thought to really engage the next generation. The challenges were a bit terrifying. But when you're scared to do something, I think you also get the feeling that there's a personal challenge there you need to meet. After our initial trepidation, we began talking to J.J. about it and then decided to just sit down and dive in."
They did so with a die-hard commitment to following in the spirit of Gene Roddenberry's vision of an enlightened future. The pair began with a list of what they believed to be the "Star Trek" universe's greatest and most universally relatable attributes. Orci explains: "That list included the idea of a family of friends coming together; the way each character seems warm and human and real; the use of genuine humor, not parody or irony, that comes out of real situations; and then a thought-provoking story that is true science fiction, not impossible fantasy, but a vision of a future we hope humans can achieve."
Continues Kurtzman: "There was also something we wanted to capture that's always been very specific to 'Star Trek': men and women rising to the challenge of who they are as people by confronting what appear to be insoluble problems. Part of the irresistible fun of the original series was watching these incredibly intelligent and intriguing personalities work together and become the best of who they are. We felt that if we could take that spirit and put a fresh spin on it, you could advance the legacy of 'Star Trek' in this movie."
Starting from that base, Orci and Kurtzman were exhilarated by the chance to do two new things: imagine the never-before-seen youth of Kirk (Chris Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) and their development into friends and leaders; and devise the Enterprise's very first mission.
Exploring who Kirk and Spock were as adolescents helped the writers to get to the root of what has made them so consistently compelling: the idea of two wholly opposite men coming together like two lost halves and embarking on a perilous mission in a way neither one could have alone. Says Kurtzman: "It was really fascinating to think about young Spock, who is literally torn between the Vulcan and human world and, like any child, is trying to figure out where he fits in. That makes him extremely relatable. It was equally fascinating to think about young Kirk, who grows up a rebel, a kind of James Dean, while searching for his identity. When they meet at Starfleet Academy, they couldn't be more different in how they approach life, but they also each react to the similarities they see in one another. A big part of this journey is how they learn to use the best in each other to make command decisions that will help the Enterprise and the universe itself survive."
When the Enterprise comes under attack, the leadership styles of Kirk and Spock gradually emerge. Orci explains: "The rules of duty on a Starship come from a rich history of the actual rules of naval engagement; it's all about code, honor and the chain of command. Yet, within that atmosphere, Kirk is always looking for opportunities to break the rules in order to win, while Spock believes in the logic of adhering strictly to order. That is their major argument with each other and we felt very strongly that they both had to have a point. We didn't want either one to be right at the expense of the other. Kirk and Spock are truly facing a moral dilemma but come to realize that only by finding a way to work together can they actually move forward."
For J.J. Abrams, this was one of the most vital elements to get right. "In a larger sense, I wanted the movie to be a journey of the heart and the mind coming together. The beauty of Kirk and Spock has always been their relationship, but here we had a chance to explore not just the humor and fun of that tension, but also how they first became brothers in arms. It was to see how they were thrust into an adventure that not only tested them, but bonded them for life."
The stakes for Kirk and Spock become unimaginably high as they begin to understand the agenda of Nero (Eric Bana), the fuming, merciless Romulan. As a newly introduced character, the writers spent an equal amount of time developing Nero into a worthy adversary for the Enterprise crew, one who is full of tricks, savvy and unpredictability. "In the best tradition of complex villains, Nero is someone who legitimately feels he has been wronged and believes he has a genuine bone to pick with Starfleet," says Orci. "His drive to destroy goes beyond intergalactic politics to something deeply personal. He's frightening, yet there's something in him to which you can relate."
In rounding out the cast, the filmmakers sought out one of the original Enterprise crew members, the legendary Leonard Nimoy. "We felt so strongly that he had to be in the movie. We wrote him in as a key part even though we knew he might very well say no and we'd be back at square one," says Orci. "And then when we sat down with him, we hit a hard eight. We couldn't believe our luck. Just to get his input was an incredible boost."
"We wanted Leonard because we wanted that link to the 'Star Trek' canon," explains producer Lindelof. "But it was a real risk to go to Leonard Nimoy, because he had said he would never do another 'Star Trek' again."
As they got deeper into the meat of the story, Orci's depth of familiarity with the volumes and volumes of Trek lore was a huge advantage. "Instead of having to look up things in a book, we had the freedom to come up with cool storylines and play with them without worrying if we were getting the details right," says Orci. "But, while we were always very clear about writing a movie that would appeal to everyone, we also wanted to satisfy longtime fans and reward their knowledge of the franchise. It was important to us that the story include in its very fiber and fabric all that had come before. We made lists of certain things we knew people would want to see: a red-shirt crew member, a green Orion girl, Spock playing his harp, the kinds of things that would excite the fans and be fun for people new to the adventure as well."
Whenever there was the slightest doubt about Starfleet rules or the history of an alien race, the writers didn't hesitate to consult with the legions of Trekkers who have a passion for finding those kinds of answers. "The fans have been the stewards of this franchise for the last four decades, and they are also some of the smartest fans in the world," Orci says. "So if there was a question, we knew that any fan worth his salt would invariably know the answer. And they did."
The writers further relied on the skills of researcher Sean Gerace, who assured that, nothing in "Star Trek" would be in conflict with the long future of Starfleet already depicted in the movies and shows like "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine." Gerace was faced with such unusual, though fun, tasks as writing a detailed report on Romulan mythology. He also watched each of the original series' 79 episodes and all the motion pictures, taking detailed notes on personal histories and personality nuances. The filmmakers were especially interested in "The Wrath of Khan," widely considered the most emotionally exhilarating of the earlier motion picture series.
As Orci and Kurtzman neared a finished draft of "Star Trek," they also got a lot of support from Abrams and the producers, who were ready and willing to debate the finer points of character and plot development at every turn. "Working with Bob and Alex and the producing team on the screenplay was an effortless exchange of ideas," says Abrams. "What was great is that we all had different gradients of experience and knowledge. Bob Orci was a complete Trekker, who knew every detail and also knew whether fans would be angry if you did X, while Bryan Burk had never even seen the original series and came to the story from that perspective. That allowed each of us to have a unique voice in what would work for different audiences. It was a kind of checks and balances system, so we had the excitement of total newcomers yet were true to all that came before."
Once the cast was set, much like their characters at Starfleet Academy, they were plunged into rigorous training for the action ahead, which would range from a bar brawl to such wholly 23rd century pursuits as galactic parachuting from space pods. This was a central part of J.J. Abrams' vision for a film that he hopes will transport audiences to a new frontier of rollicking, epic adventure. Abrams explains: "I wanted there to be an exuberant energy to this 'Star Trek' that hasn't been there before, with more emphasis on action, adventure and spectacle."
To prepare the crew for the film's many thrilling sequences on alien planets and enemy ships, stunt coordinator Joey Box worked on their physical training. "It was a pleasure for me because this cast is full of young, athletic people and they learned everything so fast," Box says. "The choreography just came naturally to them and what they didn't have in action experience, they made up for in enthusiasm and love for their characters."
Box's primary challenges were to take the original television series' campy, '60s-style action and bring it into a more reality-based view of the 23rd century and to merge action with character. "J.J. wanted this to be a huge action movie, but he also wanted everything these characters did, including the action, to really define them and their relationships with each other," he explains. "So, for example, Spock has his own Vulcan-influenced fighting style, which is very fluid and straightforward. He never uses fists or emotion, while Kirk is a real street fighter, a clever sort of brawler who will persevere in any situation by whatever means necessary."
"No detail was overlooked for the fans, either," Box continues. "We went to great lengths to make sure that the Romulans fight like Romulans and the Klingons fight like Klingons and all those little nuances stayed true to the canon."
The never-before-seen Nero developed his own distinctive Romulan-esque battle style befitting of his character's rage-filled persona. "Eric Bana was amazing physically, which let us really have fun with Nero," says Box. "Eric's a complete athlete and his fights are some of the most exciting I've ever seen. Nero fights in an almost Greco-Roman wrestling style with lots of throws and holds and tumbling around."
Box's team also poured their efforts into rigging pneumatic catapults and high-speed wenches that could safely yet viscerally speed actors through the air. "There were a lot of propelling bodies and a lot of huge explosions on this movie," he explains. "It was all part of J.J.'s vision for finding realistic ways to really get across the feeling of what this crew is going through with a lot of action and adventure."
One of the eternally compelling themes of "Star Trek" is how human beings put ingenuity, passion and optimism to work in tackling seemingly impossible problems. The production took those precepts very much to heart. Astonishingly, the epic shoot that recreated a cosmos light years away from earth was shot almost entirely in Southern California and not primarily on stages, but at practical locations, which meant that the crew initiated such total metamorphoses as turning a beer factory into an Engine Room and a baseball stadium parking lot into a desolate ice planet.
This was the way J.J. Abrams, always spurred by imagination, wanted it. "So much incredible stuff that is almost unimaginable to us happens in 'Star Trek,' so I wanted to always keep it feeling as real as possible, emotionally and physically," he says. "I didn't want to have it all be green screens and CG. I wanted to build as much as possible, which meant a really intricate process that involved a lot of discussion about every detail, from what the interface on the dash of a 23rd century car looks like to how a ship fires on another ship."
Like the captain of a ship, Abrams surrounded himself with people who had already earned his trust: cinematographer Dan Mindel (from "MI:3"); editors Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey (from "MI:3" and "Alias"), production designer Scott Chambliss ("MI:3," "Alias"), and a newcomer to the team, costume designer Michael Kaplan ("I Am Legend," "Miami Vice," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"). Also re-teaming with Abrams from "MI:3" was Industrial Light & Magic's Roger Guyett, who has also served as visual effects supervisor on some of the biggest adventure films of recent years, including the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, "Star Wars: Episode III" and several "Harry Potter" films. Guyett also took on the role of second unit director.
Chernov continues: "J.J.'s philosophy was very important and it's one I share, that you put together a crew made up of the most creative people you can find and let them do their job, always encouraging them to go farther and come up with more ideas. That spirit was contagious on this set."
Director of photography Dan Mindel says: "What was great about the way we shot 'Star Trek' is that we were continually learning from what we did the week before and upping the production level."
After much debate, the decision was made to shoot "Star Trek" in anamorphic widescreen. "We all wanted this movie to feel as huge as space itself, and widescreen gave us the expansive, cinematic feel 'Trek' has never had before. I've always believed that movies should be about creating a complete illusion. There's something magical about what we've done: keeping the effects very organic and using analog photography to make a high-tech space movie," Mindel says.
Fans of past "Star Trek" movies will definitely be in for a fresh experience. "This 'Star Trek' has J.J.'s touch," says Mindel. "The way we approached it is that the viewer is the camera and the camera is never standing still, which makes for a feeling of constant adventure, exactly what you would feel if you were on the Enterprise light years from home."
How do you update and refresh one of the most iconic motion picture sets of all time? This was what the production crew of "Star Trek" was up against as they began tackling how to design the U.S.S. Enterprise and, most especially, the Bridge, the nerve center of the ship, where the commanding officers steer her through the stars. Accessible only by turbolift, the Bridge contains a communication station, a science station, a helmsman station and a navigation station, all encircling one of the most recognizable pieces of furniture in modern storytelling: the Captain's chair.
When it came to doing a renovation on the Enterprise, Abrams and his design team knew they would have to walk a very fine line - one that would utilize free imagination, yet, at the same time, respond to and reflect the legacy and logic of a Starfleet future that has already been seen by many on the television series and movies. "We had to walk the line of being consistent with the timeline of the series while at the same time finding our own look that would be futuristic and cool for today's audiences," Abrams explains. "For example, 40 years ago the communicator seemed truly futuristic but now we all have tiny phones in our back pockets that look a lot like that. So the approach was to take what was familiar about 'Star Trek,' especially on the Enterprise's Bridge, and expand outward from there, making the design more beautiful and incredible, what we now might envision of the 23rd century's design from our present."
Much of this task fell to production designer Scott Chambliss, who started by laying out a framework of ground rules that would affect every knob, button and gadget. "The first rule was that we wanted to pay tribute to the great optimism of the original television series and the hopeful idea that technology was going to be a real boon for humankind. We wanted to avoid the sorts of dark, morbid visions of the future that have lately become popular in sci-fi because Gene Roddenberry was coming from a very different place," he begins.
"We also wanted to balance that optimism with a real functionality to everything on the set, where everything looks like it really works, which was so important to J.J.," he continues. "There was a strong, sleek, modernist vision at play in the 1960s when the television series began and that was something we wanted to infuse into our look. The Enterprise has a sleek sexiness to it, whereas the older Kelvin has a more typical militaristic style to it. Our Enterprise draws from work of great designers of the period like Pierre Cardin and also from Kubrick's '2001' by honoring, though not mimicking, those sensibilities."
After compiling an initial set of images for Abrams, Chambliss worked with a whole phalanx of illustrators, model builders and designers. "Each person brought their own incredible gifts and insight to this gigantic, aesthetic adventure," he says. Chambliss had the joy of being able to tackle familiar elements on the Bridge with far more advanced technology at his disposal. "Technology has allowed us to add layers and depth to the overall magic of the Bridge," says Chambliss. "We were able to do things on this Bridge that no one else ever has. It's not just a literal recreation of the old Bridge. It's fresh and new, yet you instantly have that feeling of 'I'm on the Enterprise's Bridge.'"
Along the way, Chambliss worked closely in concert with visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett. "Scott and I had long conversations about what the most efficient approach was for what he needed to physically build and what we would add synthetically later," notes Guyett. "So he could, for example, build the Bridge of the Enterprise knowing what the view out the main window was really going to look like. Scott is a great collaborator and it was a rewarding process."
Guyett's main focus on the Bridge was the panoramic window so central to the concept since its inception. "In the original, the window was almost like a TV screen that switched on and off. So one of the things we wanted to do differently was to use that as a real window, like a car or airplane window, so you had a constant connection to the environment these guys were in - a link to that very specific universe."
The Bridge set was built on gimbals so that it could twist, shudder and tilt in viscerally realistic ways when coming under attack or accelerating into warp speed. Explosions on the ship were shot live-action to up the ante for the cast and photographic team. "You want to see the imminent danger in the faces of the characters and feel that the Enterprise is in peril," says Guyett. "We shot the live-action sequences knowing that we would be adding a lot of CG later and allowing J.J. to shoot as he wanted without restrictions."
For Abrams, that feeling was palpable. "Scott and his team designed a Bridge completely in the spirit of the original show and movies, but one that raises the bar and makes it all that much better and more interesting. When I first walked on the set of the Bridge, I had the feeling not of being on another set, but of being somewhere really special. It was like crossing a threshold. There was this moment of 'oh, wow, we are really going to make this world real.'"
There could be no starker contrast with the Enterprise's forward-looking beauty and stylishness as that of the gargantuan, dark, threatening Romulan mining vessel, the Narada. The crew of "Star Trek" was thrilled to have a never-before-seen ship they could design completely from scratch, especially one as mind-bogglingly huge (several miles long by several miles high) and unusual as the Narada.
"We were able to start fresh on the Narada," comments Chambliss, "and it was a chance to really emphasize the culture of the Romulans, who are related to the Vulcans way back, but have let their emotions hold sway, making for a very different society. Romulans are volatile and violent, so I always felt that their ship would be more like a living, breathing organism."
In creating the Narada's skeleton-like, exposed interior, Chambliss was influenced by the Spanish architect Gaudi, who liked to reveal the inner structure of buildings, turning architecture inside out. "We started with the idea of having all these cables and pipes that were like the ligaments, tendons and nerves of the ship," he comments. "It draws you into this dark, mysterious world."
Once he had a vision of the ship's sprawling architecture, Chambliss also had to come up with a way to create a ship of nearly inconceivable proportions on one of Paramount's largest soundstages. He explains the team's creative solution: "What we did was to create modular anchor pieces of the Narada that we could reconfigure at will to form new spaces. J.J. embraced that notion right away and we were able to give him five or six different looks at the Narada from a single stage."
Shooting the Narada was one of the most exciting tasks facing Dan Mindel's camera team. "Scott had come up with this ingenious idea of a totally modular set with all these moveable elements that was very creative," says Mindel. "We had no idea how it was really going to work until we got there, but it turned out to be amazing. It has a completely different feel from the Enterprise, scary, foreboding and ethereal and, in its own way, quite groovy."
While the design team's largest ship-forging tasks were the Narada, the Enterprise and the Kelvin, there were also smaller vessels to be designed, most notably a re-think of the famed Starfleet shuttle and Spock's so-called "Jellyfish" ship, which was modeled in part after the design of a particle collider, and has a shape and movement unlike any other starship. "Different art directors were responsible for each ship," explains Chambliss. "Dennis Bradford was responsible for the Enterprise and the Kelvin; Gary Kosko oversaw everything that was Vulcan-related and Curt Beech was responsible for all the shuttles. They were all overseen by supervising art director Keith P. Cunningham, who kept everything organized and running. Along with our incredibly gifted set decorator Karen Manthey, this team contributed so much to the look of the movie."
One of the eternal joys of "Star Trek" is the fun of the crew (and by extension, the audience) getting the chance to discover brand new planets and living beings unlike anything an earthling has ever seen before. To keep the thrill of exploring the stars front and center throughout the film, Abrams made creating realistic planet environments a priority, from the dry, rocky planet Vulcan, to the far, frigid reaches of remote Delta Vega.
From the beginning, a big question for the production was how to create Delta Vega, the bone-chilling ice planet. Initially, Chambliss and Abrams made plans to shoot in Iceland but Chambliss decided to challenge himself by coming up with a way to forge a desolated, glaciated world outdoors in sunny Southern California.
He did so in the most unlikely of places, the parking lot of Dodger Stadium, which afforded the team enough space to create an entire planet, yet was high enough above the city to allow a constant view of the horizon. The parking lot, an area of about 50 x 125 feet, was filled with "snow" (made out of biodegradable paper products) and the sculpted tops of jagged cliffs. "We sculpted huge glacial chunks that we could move around like chess pieces to create any configuration or angle," Chambliss says. Then, eight huge wind machines were employed to create the havoc of blizzard conditions. Says special effects supervisor Burt Dalton: "With smart photography, visual effects and great design from the art department, J.J. was able to make these scenes look like they were happening in a wide variety of areas across the planet."
Adds Mindel: "J.J. is incredibly brave and once he made the decision to shoot outside in the elements and create those sets, he fully committed. It gives the ice planet a very true look and feel."
It is on Delta Vega that Kirk encounters two otherworldly creatures, one that is terrifying and another that is far worse. Muses Roger Guyett, "Here we were at Dodger Stadium, and we had this ice planet and imaginary beasts with wind blowing snow everywhere - it seemed like total chaos, yet it proved to be a very efficient way of shooting both scenes."
Also built at Dodger Stadium was a very different, and equally alien, environment: the suspended-in-air drill platform, which serves as Enterprise's first big mission as the crew makes a daring "space jump" into a fiercely hostile situation.
To recreate this deep space mining platform and one of the story's central set pieces, Chambliss built his set literally up in the air, towering 16 feet above the ground, and covered it with a rubberized surface that would allow the actors and stunt men to fall and tumble without harm. Here too, huge wind machines were employed to simulate the platform's volatile atmosphere, and the cast was swathed in harnesses and wires that allowed them to safely parachute onto and fight on the platform without tumbling into the abyss.
"The difficult thing was making it look like the people are actually parachuting down, rocketing head-first and then snapping into position as if a parachute had pulled you up," says Burt Dalton.
Later, Roger Guyett's visual effects team would expand the scenes with CG. "It all came together in a very exciting way," he says.
Adds Jeffrey Chernov: "The space jump was one of the biggest pieces of the puzzle we had to solve: How do you do it realistically and safely? We had to baby-step our way through it because it was completely new territory. Shooting both Delta Vega and the drill platform at Dodger Stadium was a bit insane. If we'd put it in the hands of someone who wasn't a master multi-tasker, it would have been a disaster. But it was right up J.J.'s alley. He loved it and thrived on it."
Meanwhile, to stand in for the planet Vulcan itself, which is part of another major set piece, the production headed to nearby Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park in Agua Dulce, where unique geological formations have already become part of Trek legend, having been used in the 1960s to shoot such episodes as "Shore Leave," "Arena," "The Alternative Factor" and "Friday's Child."
"Vasquez Rocks is such a cool place with this whole television history, so it felt right to shoot there," says Chambliss. "It has this big, jutting rock formation that provided the opening for the interior tunnel that leads to the Vulcan Shelter, which we then built on a stage at Paramount. We adhered to the lore by keeping Vulcan devoid of water."
One of the most beloved, but rarely seen, locales within the U.S.S. Enterprise is the Engine Room, where the chief engineer works his magic to keep the ship aloft, no matter what kind of attack the ship comes under. In "Star Trek," a young Scotty finds his first introduction to the Enterprise is an adventure in itself, as he is accidentally beamed into the very innards of a cooling pipe.
To shoot Scotty's wild ride through the inner Enterprise, the production team made a new home in another highly unexpected place: a Budweiser beer plant in Van Nuys, California. Within the plant, the giant tanks and stainless steel tubing made for the perfect simulation of the pristine guts of a working starship. "We were searching for a place with tremendous scale and a place that would contrast with the Kelvin's engine room, which was shot in a grungy Long Beach power plant built in the '30s," says Chambliss. "When our brilliant supervising location manager Becky Brake came back with photographs of the Budweiser plant with these huge, sparkling, stainless steel tank rooms, we knew it would be perfect. The scale of the place was simply phenomenal."
Adds Mindel: "With its huge spaces, the plant was able to give us the dimension and depth J.J. had envisioned for the interior spaces of the Enterprise. The patina of the walls and the tanks was just perfect. You could never replicate that on a sound stage."
Inside the plant, the weather was a chilly 41 degrees, so everyone had to wear parkas, but the sudsy atmosphere only added to the fun, says Simon Pegg. "We've never really seen the full inner workings of the starship before this and the Budweiser plant was huge and impressive, just as J.J. wanted it to be," he says.
Few costumes in film and TV history are as instantly recognizable as the Starship Enterprise uniforms, with their slim-fitting black pants, color-coded tops and Starfleet boomerang logos. So the mission facing "Star Trek's" costume designer, Michael Kaplan, was at once huge and subtle, as he battled against time to create thousands of costumes that would update the familiar and reflect J.J. Abrams' vision of a bright, brilliant future full of style and functionality.
Kaplan previously won the British Academy of Film and Television Award for his costume design work on another futuristic classic, Ridley Scott's dystopian fantasy "Blade Runner," and more recently designed Francis Lawrence's hit last-man-on-earth fantasy "I Am Legend," as well as many other style-forward films such as "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "Fight Club" and "Miami Vice." But when he was approached by Abrams, Kaplan had never seen any of the Trek movies and only a handful of the original television episodes. Nevertheless, he decided to take the meeting.
Since both men were vacationing on the East Coast, Kaplan met with Abrams in a Maine coffee shop, where they engaged in a lengthy two-hour conversation about galactic worlds and space uniforms. "It was really J.J.'s enthusiasm, energy and charm that sold me on doing the project, more than the notion of 'Star Trek' itself," he says. "He saw my lack of Trek knowledge as a plus because he wanted the film's entire design team to come at the designs freshly. I liked that point of view - it took away any intimidation."
Once he took on the job, Kaplan had not a moment to spare because the production date was fast approaching. He dove into basic research, utilizing the famous Star Trek Encyclopedia to get a sense of the evolution of Starfleet uniforms and the motifs that have been repeated in every iteration of the Trek universe. Then, he unleashed his imagination as he began sketching. "It was an intuitive process," he explains, "of deciding on a case-by-case basis what we would hold onto from the past and where we could expand into new ideas. I was motivated by J.J.'s excitement for what we were doing."
Kaplan split the film into different eras. For example, for an earlier era of Starfleet with Kirk's father, he went back to a '50s-tinged view of the future. "I looked at '40s and '50s sci-fi movies for inspiration in creating a look, with items like stretch pants and other retro-futuristic designs, that would naturally predate the 'Star Trek Enterprise' look that was born in the 1960s," he says. Other distinct eras include that of civilian earth during Kirk's adolescence and, a few years later, the Starfleet Academy full of young cadets.
Then came the Enterprise uniforms themselves. "With the Enterprise uniforms, there was a certain wholesomeness that we wanted to hold onto. We didn't want to throw away that indelible 'Star Trek' look. We updated the uniforms by simplifying them and using some manufacturing technologies that didn't even exist when the original television series came out," he notes. "For example, each of the uniforms is very subtly printed with tiny Starfleet logos that you can't really see from a distance, but add a cool texture to the look. It was a painstaking process, printing on red, trying to get just the right chemistry with the ink colors."
For the Romulans on the Narada, Kaplan matched his costumes to the grit and grime of the environment around them. "The Narada is actually a mining ship, so I wanted the ship's crew's clothing to have a kind of rugged work wear look to them," he explains. "I found some fabrics at a flea market that had just the right feeling, top-stitched and aged, looking like grease had been rubbed onto them. I approached the makers, who happened to be based in Bali, and they manufactured my costume designs in their fabrics."
For the Vulcans, he concentrated on their most prevalent qualities. "They are all about elegance and austerity because they're such a cerebral society," he comments. "I also developed a whole new silhouette for the Vulcan women, with a corseted shape that hasn't been seen before."
Kaplan's team had some of the most fun with the skydiving, or rather space-diving, outfits the Enterprise crew wears as they leap for the drill platform above the planet Vulcan. "They were quite complicated because we needed the suits to look as though they could endure such a long jump. The helmet ventilation system needed to work, otherwise the visors would fog up. We also had to produce them in different colors so that you could differentiate between each actor when they were in the air. The suits were a challenge, but I think what we came up with was very successful."
Few long-lived stories demonstrate the lightning-speed evolution of visual effects in the last few decades as well as "Star Trek." The original television series was created using cardboard sets, blinking lights and a shoestring budget. Later, in the wake of "2001," "Star Wars," "Alien" and other groundbreaking effects movies set in outer space, the first series of Trek movies pushed a rapidly progressing technological envelope, using futuristic technology that the television audience could never even have imagined.
In a sense, that evolution has come to its logical conclusion with this "Star Trek," as Industrial Light & Magic joined with J.J. Abrams to create the most visually spectacular Trek adventure yet seen, upping the bar in its depiction of spacecrafts, planets, explosions and the very geography of the galaxies. That team was led by Visual Effects Supervisor Roger Guyett, who had honed his collaborative relationship with Abrams on "MI:3," although that film's earthly setting was downright conventional in comparison to the cosmological array of effects Guyett faced on "Star Trek."
When it came to generating visuals for the film's non-stop space battles, creature chases and planetary catastrophes, Abrams gave to Guyett one prime directive: realism. "I wanted to bring a physical reality to traveling on the Enterprise, and I wanted to create a spectacle, but I also didn't want the effects to ever seem more important than the characters on the ship. Roger was the one person I knew who could brilliantly use effects to connect the aesthetic and the storytelling of the movie," says the director.
To keep a sense of history, Abrams asked ILM to compile a "greatest ever" reel of all the best effects shots ever seen in every iteration of the previous Trek movies. "Great as they are, we quickly realized that what we can do now technologically is superior to anything that was done before," he says. "It was an honor to be able to bring the high level of visual excitement 'Star Trek' deserves. ILM took this array of alien planets, otherworldly creatures and cosmic images and elevated them beyond my wildest dreams."
Guyett's team was inspired by their mission, but they faced a daunting challenge. "We knew that J.J. definitely didn't want to shoot most of this movie against a blue-screen," he explains, "so the visual effects became a very collaborative process woven in with the design of each environment and used to extend the sets and locations in exciting ways - giving the movie some real scope and scale. We had a lot of production meetings, breaking each scene down to its component parts, trying to figure out what we could create later and what we had to shoot for real. It was a huge puzzle."
Guyett used every tool available in the effects arsenal, exploring both the latest cutting-edge technology, including simulation techniques he developed on "Transformers," and old school optical effects using miniatures and perspective. When it came to the Enterprise, Guyett's overriding concept was to present the ship in a more emotional way. "I was thinking of how Kubrick created emotion through lighting in '2001,' - there is a lot of darkness, the unknown," he says. "He'd used a pretty naturalistic lighting approach in '2001,' something we used as a template under the guidance of our director of photography, Dan Mindel. A lot of Trek movies have a stylized approach to lighting, but early on we decided we wanted to capture a more realistic quality - more reminiscent of photographs taken from the Apollo missions, for example. J.J. really wanted to take it in this direction. The whole idea is that when you see the Enterprise flying through space, you believe that it is something like that will really exist in the near future."
Earth itself is seen in new ways, a familiar world just a few giant leaps of next-generation technology away from our own. For Guyett, one of the earthly challenges came in the crucial scene in which the teenaged James T. Kirk is stopped for speeding in his retro Corvette by a cop flying after him on an airborne "hovercruiser." "With the 'hovercruiser,' there was a lot of talk about how we could achieve something with an incredible degree of realism with today's technology," says Guyett. "Hover vehicles might be on the horizon, but we're not quite there yet! The special effects team built the hover bike on the end of a crane arm, which was attached to a very low riding car chassis so it could be safely driven around."
Guyett had a lot of fun bringing a fresh perspective to high-tech gadgetry new and old - from the 'hovercruisers' to the Enterprise's famed Transporter. But it was the effects Abrams needed on a vast, cosmological scale that really got his creative juices flowing.
While J.J. Abrams' trusted crew threw themselves into carving out a majestically designed universe for the Enterprise to explore, Abrams says that all of it only exists to make the characters more real and intriguing.
Abrams concludes: "Cool as they are, the ships aren't what really matters, but who's on board the ships. The action and adventure of this movie is pulse-pounding because you love the people aboard the Enterprise. You want to be on that team, you want to be on the ship with them, you want to be cruising through galaxies with them on an amazing and fun adventure. And that was our mission in every aspect of the production."
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