Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) returns for a new adventure in CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Picard,” two decades after he was last seen on-screen. This later-in-life titular captain retired from Starfleet but now has to face the consequences of what his absence has caused. With space being as vast as it is, the series used multiple visual-effects houses to put together intricate sequences that included the Borg cube ship, space battles and various planets. DNEG was one such house, with VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman, who also works on “Star Trek: Discovery,” leading the team.
How did you create the look of Mars for “Picard” when it’s so well-known?
That was so interesting because we have imagery and a lot of references. We also have the Mars rover, which shows us what it looks like on the surface. We knew what it was going to look like and we knew we were going to show an attack. “Star Trek” fans are well-versed in VFX and they want stuff rooted in science. We had to keep that in mind when we created it. It really boiled down to tons of references and working closely with our vendors and then putting it in the hands of the artists to bring it to life.
What was the most exciting thing to do in the world of VFX for the show?
The sequence with the orchid was an interesting challenge. When you bring in something like a giant biomechanical Borg cube or multiple biomechanical orchids that can bring down the Borg cube, how do you do it in a way that looks photo real? How do you do something that isn’t going to take the viewer out of the story? At the end of the day, if somebody looks at it and gets pulled out of the story, we aren’t doing our job. We looked at textures and colors and how it would look against the Borg cube and the La Sirena, which is a bigger ship. Once we had the previz done, we put the CG model in and made sure it was properly rigged. It was a massive sequence that required between 60, 70 shots. It was challenging to have the orchid take the cube down. Showing the orchid and cube together was great because then you get a completely different understanding of how big one is next to the other.
What went into planning the two-part finale?
It was a massive undertaking. The finale was the largest in terms of shot count that we had done on “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Picard” to date. Once we got the script, the first step was to discuss it, and the second step was to get a storyboard artist to get the beats out of how we want the story to go. A lot of it takes place in space, so we choreographed the battlefield and spent a lot of time laying that out with creator Akiva Goldsman on the storyboards. In advance of shooting, we did rough animations in previz so we had an idea to show the actors Akiva’s set.
What are some of the effects you worked on that seem less obvious that they are VFX shots at all?
We extended the Borg cube interiors [through VFX]. I enjoy doing the invisible stuff because they see the breakdowns and they don’t even realize what we’ve done. They were just so much fun to do because the Borg cube is such a part of the “Star Trek” world and a big deal in the universe. The bridges of both the Federation and Romulan ships were all CG. Typically, we’ve built those in the past, but in this particular instance, it made it more fun to do it as CG, and most people don’t realize. It’s subtle and refined.