'Star Trek: Of Gods and Men' is an amazing project - officially a 'fan film', it is produced by a very professional group of people, including many cast members from the original TV series and movies (see the Wikipedia entry for ST:OGAM for more details on this). The first act (26 minutes) has been released last Saturday.
Of course, such a project leans heavily on special effects. We talked to Bill Thomas, Digital Effects Supervisor of ST:OGAM, and found out Blender played an important role in the production!
I'm a software tester by trade, but I've been doing 3D off and on for almost 20 years (yikes!). I started out on the AtariST with Cyber Cad, moved to Windows and trueSpace, then to Imagine, and for the last seven years I've been using Blender. I've tried learning other platforms since then, but I'm just so very very happy in Blender. Blender might want to change their slogan to something like "Our interface: You'll get it or you won't." I'm one of many Blender users no doubt who has tried to delete something in Word with the 'X' key.
I got picked to work on Of Gods and Men after posting my Star Trek 3D on various Sci-Fi related boards. [Here is] one of the animations I did a couple years ago that got some notice in the Trek community.
To describe Star Trek: Of Gods and Men as a "fan film" isn't entirely accurate, since there are many professionals working on it. Almost all of the cast has appeared in one Star Trek show or movie (and in some cases more than one.) But it's being distributed for free and most of the production crew is working for free. It was originally conceived as a celebration of Star Trek's 40th anniversary. Well, things can run a little late when nobody's being paid and real life rears it's ugly head. I read on Wikipedia that we're being called Star Trek: Forever (after Duke Nukem). But we're finally hitting the web on Saturday, December 22nd.
The FX Team
Our FX team is a group of dedicated artists / nerds who's experience runs from "I've worked on Titanic and Pirates of the Caribbean" to "I do 3-D in my spare time because it's fun!" I'm in the latter category. One of the really fun things has been to show off my Blender work to the pros and invariably hear "You did THAT in Blender?" Our team also used the approach of using "whatever we're good at and whatever we can get our hands on" when it comes to tool set. So "plays well with others" has been a big requirement for our work. Blender has improved a lot in that category in the 18 months we've been working.
We have a handful of meshes that were created for this film in Blender. Some of original design, some based on existing Star Trek designs. If the mesh was only going to be used in Blender then I textured it and rendered it out in Blender. Otherwise I would port it to an OBJ file and it would be textured and rendered in Lightwave or 3DMax. One of our professionals was greatly impressed with how well Blender elements would composite with Lightwave (his weapon of choice).
There are shots that were created completely in Blender. Obviously I'm very proud of these. Another group of shots composite elements rendered in Blender with elements rendered in Lightwave and/or Particle Illusion. (I don't think we have any shots that combine Blender, Particle Illusion, 3D Max AND Lightwave!)
There is a shot (it's in our tease trailer) that relies almost entirely on Blender's particles. It was enhanced for the final film with Particle Illusion. (Due more to my inexperience with some of the fancier Blender particle features than anything else. I wish we had had the new particle system a year and a half ago). I'm told it got an ovation when it was shown at the big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas in 2006. (We've been working on this for a while.)
A real treat for me was getting to jump on scene that was added at the last second to reproduce one of my favorite shots from the original Star Trek series. (I can't say what it is, because it's a fairly pivotal plot point in the third act. It also meant that I got to use my own U.S.S. Enterprise modeled and textured entirely in Blender!
We used Blender for a LOT of the animation of our big space battles. I'd say at least half. Since that's the stuff I love doing the most, this worked out nicely. We determined a good workflow was for me to set up our camera moves and object movement in Blender, render out a really quick and dirty animatic ("Render this window" in the 3D view - doesn't get any faster than that!), post it for the group to critique and approve, then export by way of the FBX file exporter to 3D studio. Our process got a tremendous boost with the addition of this export script in Blender 2.45. Our exports became not only easier but also more accurate. We had been using another format - I don't recall which - to get to Lightwave and THEN Max, but it was very manual and took a lot of tweaking. And it hated path animation. So things are much much easier now.
That's all I can think of. The website is http://startrekofgodsandmen.com/ and our release date is December 22nd. Thanks!
-- Bill Thomas
Digital Effects Supervisor, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men
View Star Trek: Of Gods and Men