Star Trek fans rejoice, on 30 January 2012 the Blu-ray campaign for Star Trek: The Next Generation – which returned the franchise to the small screen in 1987 after its wilderness years – kicks off with the one-disc teaser, Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Next Level, which is available for pre-order now, priced £6.99.
The Next Level contains the feature-length pilot ‘Encounter At Farpoint’, ‘The Inner Light’ from Season 5, and ‘Sins Of The Father from Season 3, and has been extensively remastered for 1080p HD, but what’s got the Trek community babbling frantically into their com-links is the special effects.
We spoke to CBS Digital’s Director of Visual Effects Craig Weiss to find out just what’s going on and what to expect when the first season box set arrives later in the year.
The consensus is that this is finally how Encounter At Farpoint is meant to be seen…
“That’s exactly right.”
The original production team have been involved in the Blu-ray conversion, what role did they take?
“We’re doing pretty much everything – we had one season that we needed help on just due to the schedule, but my group here at CBS Digital is responsible for six seasons out of seven.
“We’re doing pretty much from the very beginning to the very end in terms of remastering the picture and the visual effects, starting with the original can of negative all the way through to looking at the final file, we’re also doing the Blu-ray as well in terms of the design and coding it to Blu-ray.”
With the visual effects, are you just enhancing what’s already there or are new elements being put in from scratch with CG?
“It’s an exactly rebuild of the original visual effects using the original elements, so we’re not taking anything out. It’s not a ‘reimagining’ or a ‘recreation’, it’s a faithful remastering of the original visual effects.
“What’s really unique about this show is they shot everything in film and they did everything in-camera, so all those elements were preserved and it’s just a matter of rescanning them in high definition, and re-compositing and re-layering, almost the way they did it 25 years ago but with today’s technology.”
Is if difficult knowing at what point the look of the remastering is just right and what standard to enhance it to, because the visual effects evolved hugely across the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation?
“Exactly, it’s a good question. We go through with one of our consultants who was on the original show and we evaluate each episode and evaluate each shot, because it’s very easy to push it further and do things.
“Wherever we can make the slight enhancement in terms of adding a glow – things that get lost in standard def but were really there, but you can’t really see it. We do analyse each episode and make an evaluation, but the whole goal is to stay 100% faithful to the original material.”
Do you think there’s a point when high def can stop doing a series favours? If you look at older shows and movies, even the best matte backdrops suddenly look like matte backdrops, for example.
“It’s an interesting questions, and I think there’s always going to be those issues that come up. When we redid I Love Lucy you see certain things on the set that you never saw in standard def.
“I think for the majority of people, they’re OK with it because they get re-immersed in the experience, they’re watching the story and that’s what they fell in love with. I think sometimes the technical people get involved in those other issues, but for the most part when you watch in HD, hopefully you’ll forgive that stuff and just get right back into the story… with a better picture!”
You did the same job with Star Trek: The Original Series Blu-ray, were there any challenges that were unique to The Next Generation?
“Absolutely, the biggest challenge was that The Original Series was a cut negative – so the show existed on film in its entirety, cut to cut, and then we would just scan in the entire episode. With this one it has to be rebuilt from the ground up, because when they did this back in ’87, they shot on film, they scanned the film, it went to tape and then put the film away and they never used the film again.
“When they edited the show, they edited it on tape – so we had to kinda create propriety software and work with existing VDRs/videos [?] to go back in and rescan the negative, and match it frame-accurate to the original picture. So there hasn’t been a real easy solution to that, that’s been the most time consuming part of the project.”
How long has each episode taken on average?
“Probably anywhere from a week and a half to two weeks – it’s nothing you can do in a day or two, that’s for sure.”
Have you had to play around with the ratio to account for the boom in home cinema?
“No, we’re staying faithful to the original 4:3 ratio that was intended and framed for, so at this point it’s gonna be HD 4:3.”
CBS seem really loyal to Star Trek, what kind of feedback have you had from the company?
“It’s been fantastic, everybody’s seen the little teaser trailer with the before and afters and everybody internally is extremely excited about the project. In terms of difference in quality, everybody who has only seen the standard def version on DVD and now the HD release is pretty mindblowing in terms of the quality.”
With the advent of Super High Def, do you see yourself having to return to remaster Star Trek: The Next Generation at some point?
“It’s a good question and it’s hard to say, but if you look at standard definition TV that was around from the Fifties all the way up through to almost the late Nineties… I have a feeling that high def will be around for a while.
“They’re always looking for ways to invent new TVs or new ways to view, so I’m sure, as with everything, we’ll go back in. If there’s something new in the future, we’ll always look for ways to work with that new market.”
How much attention have you been paying to the fans and making sure that this project isn’t ‘tampering’ with their show?
“You bet! I think the main goal here was to honour the fans and not make it just about putting a product out. We’ve gone through all the extra added expense of rebuilding the visual effects in high def.
“There was originally talks of just up-converting from standard def, but we’ve gone through the arduous process of rebuilding them just for the fans, so that the experience from beginning to end will be consistent and really wonderful, they’ll have a really great product to be very excited about wanting to see.”
Is it too early to tell if the same will be done with Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine?
“Yeah, I’m not aware of anything at the moment.”
Would you happily sign up to it?
Look out for more on Star Trek: The Next Generation in future issues of SciFiNow.