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Real world article
(written from a Production point of view)
For the in-universe article, please see Computer-generated imagery.
USS Enterprise-D at Qualor II, remastered

CBS Digital CGI USS Enterprise-D

CGI, or computer-generated imaging (or imagery), is a relatively advanced computer-aided, or digital, method of producing on-screen illusory effects to depict imaginary events and/or settings. It is a form of "visual effects" (often abbreviated as "VFX" and also referred to as "opticals" or, as was the case in the end-credit roll of Star Trek: The Original Series, "photographic effects"), a term used to distinguish between effects generated or composited in post-production (usually with computers, nowadays) and effects created live on the set during filming, which are referred to as "special effects" ("SFX"), occassionally also referred to as "in-camera effects".1 Traditional methods of producing visual effects include such techniques as construction of physical studio models or miniatures and the like, manipulation of film elements in post-production, use of motion control photography and matte-painting. Most Star Trek productions used traditional methods of creating VFX; it was not until the advent of Star Trek: Enterprise (ENT) that these methods were abandoned altogether, in favor of CGI.


Antares CGI mesh

CGI mesh of the Antares

Federation Alliance fleet

CGI Federation and Romulan starships in "Tears of the Prophets"

The very first CGI used was in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, where Lucasfilm Graphics Group, then a subsidiary of Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), was responsible for the "Project Genesis" demonstration sequence effect, the very first fully textured 3D CGI representation shown in the motion picture business to a general public. The Graphics Group later evolved into Pixar Animation Studios, in 1986.

Very limited CGI was used in the next four Star Trek films and Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), due to the expense of creating CGI effects at the time, though Producers Robert H. Justman and Edward K. Milkis investigated the feasibility of applying CGI to the new television show. Justman recalled, "Eddie Milkis and I investigated the possibility of generating everything on the computer. We had great reservations about it, because it still didn't have the reality. The surface treatment wasn't totally believable [remark: Justman is referring to a CGI Constitution II-class that was commissioned for evaluation]; we could have gotten by, it would have been acceptable, but it wasn't satisfactory." (Star Trek: The Next Generation USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints, booklet, p. 14; Cinefex, issue 37, p. 10) Milkis declined the prospect of adopting CGI for another reason. He commented, "It was incredibly good, and it took some real thinking on our part, but ultimately we decided that if something ever happened to that company and they couldn't deliver, then we'd have nothing. We were very concerned about that and ultimately they did go out of business." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 1st ed., p. 11)

Tentative beginnings[]

Early CGI for Star Trek
Genesis effect Targeting graphic display on board the USS Reliant San Francisco bar 1, 2285 Time warp effects experienced by crew of HMS Bounty
Genesis Device effect by ILM Computer Graphics
(Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Animated targeting graphic display aboard the USS Reliant by Evans & Sutherland
(Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
Denizens of the 23rd century playing a computer game by ILM
(Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
Time warp effects by ILM Computer Graphics
(Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
Crystalline Entity encounters the Enterprise-D, original Erstwhile original wire-frame model Junior is born Praxis exploding
Crystalline Entity by The Post Group
(TNG: "Datalore")
Erstwhile animated computer graphic display by unknown
(TNG: "The Outrageous Okona")
Junior by Rhythm & Hues
(TNG: "Galaxy's Child")
Destruction of Praxis by ILM
(Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Klingon blood in zero gravity Martia morphing Comet Bajoran wormhole
Klingon blood in zero gravity by ILM
(Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Martia morphing by ILM
(Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country)
Comet in title sequence by Santa Barbara Studios
(DS9: "Emissary")
Exterior wormhole by Rhythm & Hues
(DS9: "Emissary")
Bajoran wormhole interior Odo morphing Detria system Coalescent organism
Interior wormhole by Rhythm & Hues
(DS9: "Emissary")
Odo morphing by VisionArt Design & Animation
(DS9: "Emissary")
Detrian system by Digital Magic
(TNG: "Ship In A Bottle")
Coalescent organism by Digital Magic
(TNG: "Aquiel")
Riker experiences a schizophrenic episode Odo attacks Mora Anaphasic lifeform USS Enterprise-D parallels a rogue comet
Shattering effect by Digital Magic
(TNG: "Frame of Mind")
Odo as a "blob" alien by Video Image
(DS9: "The Alternate")
Anaphasic lifeform by Digital Magic
(TNG: "Sub Rosa")
Comet by Santa Barbara Studios
(TNG: "Masks")
D'Arsay archive freed from icy enclosure D'Arsay archive Plasma stream Emergent lifeform
D'Arsay archive freed from icy enclosure by Santa Barbara Studios
(TNG: "Masks")
D'Arsay archive by Santa Barbara Studios
(TNG: "Masks")
Plasma stream by Digital Magic
(TNG: "Eye of the Beholder")
Emergent lifeform by Amblin Imaging
(TNG: "Emergence")
Prior to Star Trek Generations

Of the Star Trek production team, David Stipes in particular, as well as – at a later time, to a somewhat lesser, more cautious degree – Mitch Suskin, Dan Curry, and Ronald B. Moore were the foremost advocates of applying CGI, Stipes already overseeing some of its earliest applications during the sixth season of TNG. Stipes had lobbied, in vain, for a CGI version of the USS Enterprise-D during that season. He explained, "On 'The Chase[!]' we were all over the galaxy – warp here and warp there – and I have basically the one or two jumps to warp that we had in stock. When TNG was started, the first bits of material were shot at ILM and they shot the original jump to warp with slit scan and streak photography. That served us very well for seven years, but it was very difficult to do and expensive. I had been pushing to build a CGI Enterprise, but no one wanted to incur the expense at that point so I lived with the stock shots." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 79) In regard to the costs, Stipes later remarked, "The approach to the visual effects work was based upon models and motion control photography. We were limited by track lengths and sizes of the models. I began looking at the software available at the time. As I remember, the leading software was about $40,000 a module and you needed three or four different modules to possibly do any film quality work." [1]

In the early stages, Stipes' persistence on CGI was initially met with considerable scepticism by his colleagues. Aside from the perceived cost issue, there was also the barrier of reluctance of accepting the new technology by producers and visual effects artists who were born and bred in the true and tried traditional methods of producing VFX, such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9)'s Visual Effects Supervisor, Gary Hutzel. "It's prohibitively expensive for Deep Space Nine," he said. "Dan set out with Star Trek: Voyager (VOY) to create a new look, but we have a show that's established. And nobody's going to accept a CGI Defiant that has that kind of texture to it, so we're forced to create really photo-realistic CGI elements that have to be consistent with the look of our show – and it's expensive. Plus I prefer to photograph the ships, especially a beautiful ship like the Defiant, or the station." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 105, p. 57) Elaborating a bit further, Ron Moore recalled, "During the run of Voyager, David Stipes joined us as one of the visual effects supervisors [sic: Stipes already joined at the start of The Next Generation's season five. He was a big believer in using CGI and was working with Amblin Effects [sic.], located on the Universal lot. Dan Curry and I were reluctant to use computer models but David wanted to jump right in. We knew that they would continue to cut ship shots we had created for previous episodes into new shows. We were concerned that these older stock shots would not look the same as new CG shots. We didn't think the two models looked enough alike. Over the course of the show the shots that David brought in got better and better and in the end he won us all over. It changed our lives." (Flying Starships, p. 33) Essentially speaking for all of them at the time, DS9's Visual Effects Supervisor, Robert Legato, put it very succinctly, when he stated, "It looks too pristine. I don't believe it." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 24, No. 3/4, p. 105)

Still, it was companies like Digital Magic, along with Rhythm & Hues and Santa Barbara Studios, who kept on experimenting for the television franchise on an increasingly consistent basis with the new technique, which by that time was making a rapid entry in the industry. Illustrative of this was Magic's employees Joe Conti and Tim McHugh's first use of the LightWave 3D software in creating the anaphasic lifeform for TNG: "Sub Rosa".

There were other, practical reasons, as well, for resisting the adoption of the new technology, as Doug Drexler explained in Hutzel's case, who, contrary to Stipes, was the VFX staffer who resisted the application of CGI the longest, holding onto the traditional methods well after the technique was accepted by his colleagues:

"I'll tell you why Gary held out on CG for so long. When you hire a CGI facility to create your visual effects, it represents a loss of control for the VFX supervisor. Especially for someone like Gary, who is a card carrying DP, and accustomed to shooting his own footage. When your shots are being created at a facility, you tell them what you want, and when you come back, you hope it looks like what you are expecting. Not only that, the bureaucracy at the facility can be slow moving, and if you need a change, it could take days to get the wheels turning.

"That is why the visual effects for Battlestar Galactica, which is Gary's show, are in house. Gary runs the CGI from top to bottom, without the middleman. Gary Hutzel is one damned amazing guy. Now he gets his CGI exactly the way he wants it, without any bureaucracy, egos, facility overhead or games. Gary did use some CGI on DS9, but it was always a struggle for him to get what he wanted.

"Ultimately, CGI... if you have a set up like Gary... is faster, cheaper, and can look better. The models never wear out, internal lighting never needs to be changed, alterations are a snap, you don't need a teamster to pick it up from the warehouse and drive it to the stage either. I can go on." [2](X)

Hutzel himself has stated in this regard at the time in 1997, "I don't use CGI myself, others do. There's nothing wrong with CGI for appropriate purposes, but we have a mutually exclusive situation on our show with CGI; we don't have the proper budgets or the time. So what we get is second-rate CGI, because there's no time do it properly. I think CGI is certainly a direction we're going in. We will be using it, but we can't beat that two-to-three-week delivery schedule. And I haven't found anything yet that I can't get more control and a better look out of by doing it myself. None of "The Way of the Warrior" was CGI, for instance, but I didn't use any technique in it that haven't been used in the industry for decades; I just combined them all in one blow! And of course working here at Image G [note: motion control studio] we've been developing our infrastructure for 10 years now...that's unheard of anywhere! So we are able to shoot things more efficiently than anywhere else in the world, and that's a tool we should explore." Hutzel's stance originated from his experiences with the fourth season episode "Starship Down", where he considered the CGI work (done at digital VFX house VisionArt Design & Animation), which entailed all the visuals that took place in the Badlands (including the ships), frustratingly disappointing. (Star Trek Monthly issue 31, p. 26)

Yet, things changed when the contemporary science fiction series Babylon 5 premiered on television in January 1993, conclusively proving that computer animation, most notably CGI, could be employed in creating spectacular, and more importantly, believable VFX on an economical budget. And despite themselves, this was not entirely lost at the time on the Star Trek producers. Producer David Livingston commented on the use of early CGI in creating the Bajoran lightship for Deep Space Nine''s third season episode "Explorers", "We were reluctant to do computer graphics, but Peter Lauritson finally came around. He recognized how valuable it is. You can do more stuff with the ship, but you have to do it right. Not to pick on other shows, but Babylon 5 looks like computer-generated imagery. On Voyager and Deep Space Nine, you may not know some of these shots are not motion-control shots. They're really, really good if done properly. You have to spend a couple of extra bucks and get really good artists, but CGI just allows you to do more and you can build more elements into the shots". (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)

In regard to Babylon 5, its groundbreaking CGI work by VFX house Foundation Imaging notwithstanding, Hutzel had creative reasons for continuing to resist the technique as well, fearing that the unique strategies and concepts of the Star Trek series would be copied over onto other competing genre productions, which started to proliferate, as there were only a handful of CGI effects houses at the time from which digital visuals could be obtained. As a matter of fact, the Star Trek franchise itself had been very hesitant to hire Foundation Imaging for Voyager, as its visual style was so associated with that of Babylon 5. Continuing and elaborating on his vision for Star Trek, he has added, "My particular focus for our show, for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is that it should be a visual effects leader; we should never follow, we should never do what's been done before. CGI has certainly been used to various different degrees of success on Star Trek: Voyager, but I think it's still a hit-and-miss prospect, so I'm not interested in doing it." (Star Trek Monthly issue 31, p. 26) Touching upon the fact that each VFX supervisor had a great autonomy in VFX decision-making for the episodes they were responsible for, Hutzel was true to his word, and made virtually no use of CGI for any of the episodes he was responsible for (save for emergency situations, such in the case of the CGI Type 10 shuttlecraft for the sixth season episode "The Sound of Her Voice", and in those instances where partner Stipes got his way, such as in the earlier episode "Call to Arms"). Hutzel's near-total rejection of CGI was despite the fact that all his colleagues used the method starting from the episode "Sacrifice of Angels" onward, in the same year he made his statements. As stated by Drexler, Hutzel only made the switch when he started working for the Battlestar Galactica franchise.


A December 1993 Christmas party, thrown by NewTek (the company that owns and markets the LightWave 3D software), provided a key moment for overcoming the Star Trek producers' resistance to CGI, when Stipes met the animators of Amblin Imaging. Amblin's John Gross recalled, "David was always interested in getting 3-D incorporated into Star Trek. He saw the benefits of that probably before many of the other producers over there did. And so we invited him over here and showed him the facility and when Voyager came up he saw the opportunity to get this stuff involved. He and Dan Curry came by and we talked about what we can do and showed them some examples and eventually we gave them a bid to build a virtual Voyager." To prove their skills, Gross and Grant Bouchet took some stock footage of a Maquis raider with the accompanying motion control data, provided by the studio, and added some CGI ships. They matched flight movements so perfectly that Star Trek producers were unable to distinguish between the physical models and CGI models. Vice-President John Parenteau related further, "That meant a lot to Dan Curry, because Dan was weary. I think he had some bad experiences with CGI in the past and didn't feel it was quite there yet. But when we turned out their flight tests and people couldn't tell the difference, Dan started to realize that maybe we have finally conquered whatever barrier there had been before." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, p. 80)

The cost of CGI production dropped dramatically after LightWave 3D became commercially available, off-the-shelf, in 1994. Although both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager had already implemented CGI in their title sequences (created in 1992 and 1994, respectively), they both started their runs predominantly using traditional visual effects methods but transitioned to regular use of CGI in the late 1990s. The transition to CGI was completed in 1997, during DS9's sixth season and VOY's fourth season; Voyager took the lead, having been unofficially designated as a testbed for the technology, and Deep Space Nine followed suit. DS9 was particularly well served by CGI in its last two seasons, allowing the series to showcase Dominion War battle scenes that would have been impossible using models. Actually, the transition was already accelerated one year previously as staffers of the motion control company Image G began to see the writings on the wall when they observed that their main client, Star Trek, was increasingly experimenting with the new technique. As Visual Effects Supervisor Mitch Suskin noted at the start of Voyager's third season, "Fortunately for me, or I guess coincidentally, we had a problem where the vendor that we were using for motion-control had a mass exodus of their personnel, and we were unable to do motion-control [note: Image G's remaining capacity entirely taken up with Deep Space Nine] at the beginning of the season", but as a former Foundation Imaging employee he has, hardly rueful, added, "It worked fine for me because I prefer to do computer graphics." (Cinefantastique, Vol 29 #6/7, pp. 103–104) This circumstance reciprocally accelerated in fact the introduction of, and full transition to, CGI in Voyager, whereas Deep Space Nine followed likewise one year later.

The DS9 episode "Sacrifice of Angels" was a pivotal moment for televised Star Trek. When – in 1997, during the pre-production of DS9's sixth season – it became clear that events would lead up to the massive climatic battle in the episode, visual effects supervisors were aware that that battle was impossible to realize using traditional motion-control photography. "The problem is that motion control is about shooting one ship at a time, one pass at a time. There was just no way we could have done it. We just didn't have enough time or money," Stipes explained. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 501) In order to pull this off, it was decided to complete the transition to CGI. Due to the scale of the project, it was decided to divide the workload up between Digital Muse, who would transform the Federation starships to CGI, and Foundation Imaging, who were responsible for the alien ships. Part of the process was the decision to greatly improve production efficiency by employing one software format only, LightWave 3D. This entailed turning over existing CGI models, done in other software formats, to Digital Muse for re-programming and re-rendering in LightWave, including the ILM models done for Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact. David Lombardi, of Digital Muse, recalled:

"'Sacrifice of Angels' was actually the first real major digital undertaking; not only was it a huge amount of digital shots for Star Trek, it was about 40 shots per house. It was a huge space battle. Up until then, the largest battle they'd [had] was, I think, a Borg battle, Wolf 359, back in Next Generation, where you saw at most three or four ships, on the screen at any given moment. What the producers wanted for 'The Sacrifice of Angels' [sic] was something where you saw two, three hundred ships on screen. At that time, none of the ships were built in CG, so between Foundation and Muse we split up the workload. Quite a few of the ships we built from scratch; some of the other ones came in as partially translated models from the film, from ILM. Those models were not readily usable in the format we needed, so we kind of used them as templates and rebuilt them almost from scratch. A good month was spent rebuilding and creating the entire fleet." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 10, p. 67)

Afterwards, the vast majority of the VFX were executed in CGI for the remainder of both DS9 and VOY.

The VFX of ENT were almost exclusively achieved using CGI (for example, virtually all exterior ship shots were digitally rendered), as with the Star Trek movies from Star Trek: Insurrection onward. Cost-effectiveness by that time had reached a level that made CBS Broadcasting take the decision, in 2005, to retroactively apply CGI to Star Trek: The Original Series for virtually all its exterior VFX shots, resulting in the 2006 remastered version of TOS.

For the movies, it was Star Trek Generations that marked the true breakthrough of CGI in the franchise. Up until then, CGI in the Star Trek motion pictures was employed in isolated instances on a limited scale but, in Generations, CGI was used throughout the movie as an integral part for a wider variety of effects. Still, the amount of work in creating them was such that, to ease their workload, ILM solicited the help of other effects houses, such as Digital Magic and Santa Barbara Studios. By the time Star Trek: Insurrection went into pre-production, it was decided that the VFX for the entirety of the production would be created in CGI. However, in a last-minute decision, the film's VFX supervisors decided to create the scene that shows the destruction of the Son'a collector in motion control photography with physical studio models, because they believed that the scene could not yet be done convincingly in CGI. (Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, 1999, issues 34-35) Similarly, in Star Trek Nemesis, a scene in which the USS Enterprise-E rams the Scimitar was achieved with physical models and motion control. (Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 107–109)

Putting the technique in perspective[]

The perceived low cost of CGI has been put more in perspective by Adam "Mojo" Lebowitz – at the time, modeler and VFX supervisor at Foundation Imaging. He commented, "I think the cost-effectiveness of it came slowly into play. A lot of people say, 'CGI is a lot cheaper, isn't it,' but the way I like to think of it is that CGI is not cheaper necessarily, but you get a lot more for your money and you can tweak it a lot more. They [the producers] like that, because with motion control if they had a complex shot that had a small problem it would be very, very expensive to go back and reshoot all the elements. But in fact I don't like to use the word 'cheaper'; CGI is more versatile, far more cost-effective." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 47) Visual Effects Supervisor Ron B. Moore exemplified from his production point of view, "Working with CG gave us a couple of options. We could render out elements we produced when we were shooting physical models: beauty passes, light passes, matte passes and the like. This allowed us to composite in the edit bay the same way we had always been doing. In many cases this worked out the best and in some cases was essential. The other option was for the CG artist to deliver a finished shot. This saved us edit bay time and money and worked well in a lot of cases. We did this a lot on Star Trek: Enterprise." (Flying Starships, p. 36)

If anything has exemplified Lebowitz's assessment, then it must have been the number of staffers Industrial Light & Magic had employed on their Star Trek projects; whereas The Search for Spock "only" needed 42 traditional VFX staffers, by the time Star Trek (2009) went into production, staff-count had burgeoned to no less than 315, virtually all of them working as digital specialists.

The versatility that Lebowitz referred to came into play, especially, once the CGI model is finished and loaded onto a server. An example of the kinds of live-action shots that CGI would typically be used to enhance is an explosion which was originally done by pyrotechnics, stock footage of which was shot and later inserted in the post-production stage of whatever production it was deemed necessary. This technique was often used for the Star Trek films and TNG. The only options open to editors of those days were size, placement and intensity. In CGI, once an explosion has been modeled, the original file can be manipulated (with embedded-or-not software) to change such elements as intensity, color, direction, size or movement. Essentially, the original shot can be changed completely beyond recognition and be inserted anywhere in a frame – since, nowadays, productions are edited digitally, quite literally by a click of a mouse-button. This versatility has been proven exceptionally useful for the producers of Star Trek in kitbashing CGI studio models. Whenever a script called for a new design but – due to time or budgetary restraints – a design of such newness was not feasible, existing CGI models of starships were used, as they were easily adaptable into another type of ship, a method frequently employed during VOY (1) and ENT (2). Using CGI also meant that pre-production evaluation shots of VFX, by visual effects supervisors, could be done on a computer screen instead of having it played out in real-time, thereby (in the process) eliminating the need for physical camera test models.

Derivative alternate uses for CGI[]

Star Trek Fact Files Part 69 cover

Files, no. 69, first derivative use of a Star Trek production CGI model

While the technique was first and foremost employed for the live-action productions' VFX, it turned out that the produced CGI had an unintended, advantageous side-effect for the franchise. Once produced, the effects could easily be used, or equally easily adapted for (licensed) print publications as illustrations. One of the very first people to fully realize this potential, at least where the Star Trek franchise was concerned, was GE Fabbri's chief editor Ben Robinson, who recollected, "When we were first doing the Fact Files they were just introducing CG on the show and I realized it was an incredible resource for any publication. If you've got a CG model you can look at something in real detail. We approached Foundation and Eden FX [note: at the time still Digital Muse] about getting people to render CG models out for us. Rob [Bonchune] was one of the guys who really took that on and we became good friends, so when I started on this project he was one of the first people I thought of. There’s no substitute for a good render of a starship. It's as close as to the real thing as you could ever get." [3] Robinson followed up with the inclusion of the first-time use of (adapted) beauty and orthographic views of a life-production CGI model, that of the Voth research vessel, which was prominently featured on the cover of issue 69 (1998) of the Star Trek Fact Files. CG imagery thus conceived, and likewise featured on the covers, has been included ever since, it also being the case for the entire run for the Star Trek Fact Files' US derivative, Star Trek: The Magazine. Prior to the Voth vessel, non-production CGI versions of the Oberth-class, D7-class, Romulan Bird-of-Prey and Daedalus-class were already especially constructed in the previous year by Bonchune, for representation in the Fact Files.

Incidentally, major Fact Files contributor Larry Nemecek begged to differ with Robinson's recollections however, as he has claimed that it was he who took the initiative to utilize the production CGI files for print purposes. He has related that he approached Foundation's Senior Supervisor Ron Thornton with the request to come up with a cost-effective way to provide the publication with CGI assets for print purposes. He has credited Thornton for coming up with the protocol of instructing his digital modelers (which included Bonchune) to simultaneously create orthographic views and a ¾ beauty view of a model for the partwork, whenever they were working with the model for a live-action production. [4] Nemecek had a point in all fairness, as the first production-used CGI model already appeared in a 1998 Files issue (Issue #69), over a year before Robinson even set foot in the USA to co-head The Magazine, whereas the already well-connected Nemecek had been stationed state-side as Files writer/consultant/researcher from beginning to end.

Inspired by his experiences with Robinson, Bonchune also convinced his Foundation supervisor Adam Lebowitz, to become one of the first people to fully realize the print potential of CGI as well, when both men were working on the CGI Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards sequence for the VOY episode "Relativity". "In fact", stated Lebowitz, "the whole time we were working on the episode, we thought it was a shame that the people at home would only see this stuff on blurry TV screens, and not in the high-resolution glory we had created them in." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 9, p. 102) His notion resulted in the Star Trek: Starship Spotter reference book, as well as the highly successful Star Trek: Ships of the Line calendar series and their book derivatives.

Star Trek Official Starships Collection model production guide

Eaglemoss' production stream for a model without pre-existing studio CG assets

Lebowitz and Bonchune would later join Ben Robinson's Star Trek: The Official Starships Collection partwork magazine from the latter's subsequent employer Eaglemoss Collections, to supervise the rendering of CGI models and the creation of new ones, if pre-existing production-used CGI models were either non-existing, unavailable or unsuitable for print publication.

The majority of these CGI effects and models in these publications started out life as VFX elements, produced for the live-action productions. Currently, the use of CGI for illustrative purposes in print publications, often specifically produced to that end, including those belonging to the Star Trek franchise, is rule, rather than exception. On at least one occasion, there was a case of cross-fertilization in the opposite direction, from print publication to live-action production, when CGI models, originally constructed by Petri Blomqvist for the abandoned reference book Starship Enterprise, were bought by CBS Digital for use in the 2006 remastered Original Series project. (Sci-fi & fantasy modeller, Vol. 26, pp. 40, 44)

In a somewhat amusing twist, the Starships Collection CGI models were used as computer templates for the construction of starship miniatures which were included with the publication, thereby bringing designs into the physical realm, where none had existed previously, including that of the Voth research vessel. When the franchise started with the application of CGI techniques, one of its first major chores was to transform the existing physical studio models – using them as templates – into their digital counterparts.

In extension of its print franchise use, Star Trek model kit company Polar Lights is as of late increasingly reverting to production-used CGI as well, often rendered by the actual starship designers/digital modelers such as Doug Drexler, to adorn the boxes of their model kit releases. This actually is to the great joy of modelers, they being sticklers for canon accuracy of their models, who find the usual artistic interpretations on the boxes next-to-useless as reference, for the model painting in particular.

Computer software[]

CGI made its tentative entry into the motion picture industry in the 1970s, in movies like Futureworld, Star Wars, Alien, The Black Hole, and Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. In most cases, the CGI was limited, 3D wire-frame models, aptly used as computer displays. The Genesis Device effect sequence, created by Lucasfilm Graphics Group (who themselves referred to the sequence as the "Genesis Demo") on their own in-house developed software for The Wrath of Khan, was as is not only a first for Star Trek, but was also the very first fully CGI-realized 3D sequence – not being a wire-frame but rather a fully textured 3D representation – ever to be shown in the motion picture business to a general public.

In those early days, CGI was generated by using computer programs that were developed at universities (such as the Computer Graphics Laboratory) or by in-house programmers of VFX companies themselves (often indicated as "propriety software", though the term is not quite correctly used in this context), meaning that interchangeability was non-existent. One such early program was ILM's own, "Reyes" (acronym for the somewhat flippant "Renders Everything You Ever Saw"), developed in-house by Loren Carpenter. That program was used to construct the very first CGI ships for the Star Trek franchise, that of the the CGI refit-Enterprise and CGI K't'inga-class, which served as a probation piece for the Graphics Group in order to obtain permission to go ahead with the "Genesis Demo". (American Cinematographer, October 1982, p. 1038) The CGI models themselves though, have never been seen by the general public.

The first solid 3D CGI models were featured in the movies Tron and The Last Starfighter. Though, in the first case, critically acclaimed, the movies were considered commercial failures and convinced directors and producers at the time that CGI could only be used in instances where those effects were supposed to look like computer images, most notably (animated) computer-generated display graphics, what the "Genesis Demo" in essence was. Examples of these, applied in early Star Trek, were the targeting graphic display aboard the USS Reliant in The Wrath of Khan, the World War I computer game in the San Francisco bar and Genesis surface scan in The Search for Spock, as well as Spock's instruction computer displays in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home The latter were provided by the company Video Image, who specialized in computer-generated computer console display imagery, becoming a market leader in this field during the 1980s through halfway the 1990s, having provided computer display imagery for dozens of major film productions. Under the current understanding of CGI, this company could be considered as a proto-CGI vendor, producing and selling visuals that were positioned at an intermediate stage between traditional animation and modern computer generated imagery.

These kind of animated computer graphics have not gone out of style, quite the contrary actually, as they are still very much in high demand and latter-day successors of Video Image have become specialists G. Creative Productions Inc. (for Star Trek Beyond [5]) and Twisted Media (for Star Trek: Picard [6]), who provided their respective Star Trek commissions with by then immensely more sophisticated computer graphics. In the 2010s these kind of graphics became known under their own moniker as "Motion Graphics" or "Motion Graphic Effects" ("MGFX"), with Timothy Peel and his team having become the in-house MGFX specialists for Kurtzman-era Star Trek.

Things changed dramatically in 1993, when the movie Jurassic Park was released and the TV series Babylon 5 premiered. Modelers at both ILM and Foundation Imaging respectively, used the commercially-released first 1990 version of the, by NewTek owned and marketed, LightWave 3D software package (then called "Video Toaster Suite", a hardware/software combination; the software was, from 1994 onward, available as a stand-alone application) to create life-like convincing 3D CG imagery. The success of both productions meant the definitive breakthrough of CGI in the motion picture business and LightWave and its successive versions have become the premiere software packages for its creation in the next decade-and-a-half. The list of productions having used LightWave since 1993 is impressive [7](X) and within a decade, traditional methods of producing VFX were relegated to the fringes.

A very early and tentative LightWave application introduced into the Star Trek franchise, concerned the spinning 3D wireframe diagram of the Enterprise seen on overhead bridge station monitors of the Enterprise-A in the 1991 film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which was created in one of the earliest versions of the LightWave 3D software by Mike Okuda's art department. Okada noted that the film marked the first time that most computer graphics seen on the bridge were created digitally in his department. (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Special Edition), text commentary) The subsequent and more substantial LightWave effort was three years later undertaken by Digital Magic's aforementioned Joe Conti and Tim McHugh in the guise of their digital anaphasic lifeform in TNG's "Sub Rosa".

All companies who provided CGI for later seasons of DS9, VOY, and the entirety of ENT used a version of LightWave. This greatly improved production efficiency, since computer files were easily interchangeable between the companies' platforms, the co-operation between Foundation Imaging and Digital Muse for the production of "Sacrifice of Angels" being a prime example of this. Foundation Imaging's CEO Ron Thornton has noted in this respect, "It was really nice, because were able to communicate back and forth, and we use the same software, so we were exchanging models and texture maps. It worked out really well." (The Official Star Trek: Voyager Magazine issue 16, p. 38)

Interchangeability of CGI files created on different software platforms was often possible, but it almost always meant a fair amount of reprogramming and reconstructing, as Digital Muse experienced when ILM turned over their ship models, made for Star Trek: First Contact, for use in DS9. For some companies, it is then more expedient to newly construct a CGI model from the ground up. "ILM actually released their Enterprise database to us, which was very nice of them. It was very helpful in the beginning, because we had all these animatics to create. However, their Enterprise was a fairly low-resolution model, and while we originally thought, 'Maybe we can just add to this database', that process became more trouble than it was worth, so we had Viewpoint Data Labs come down and actually redigitize the Enterprise using the original miniature," stated Santa Barbara Studio's effects supervisor, John Grower, in preparation of Star Trek: Insurrection. (American Cinematographer, January 1999, p. 41) Appearing in three movies – for which four different CGI companies provided the VFX, each using different software – the CGI version of the Sovereign-class was built from scratch no less than three times. Michael Stetson, who had to rebuild the Jem'Hadar fighter in LightWave from the VisionArt files for "Sacrifice of Angels", gave another example: "I don't remember where exactly the original model came from, but I believe we got it as a .obj file that was a mess when it was imported into LightWave (version 5.5ish back in '97) I had a couple of days to make it usable in Lightwave3D which involved seriously cleaning up the geometry (I think the original might have been NURBS) and redoing the texture map since LW didn't have UV mapping back then." [8](X)

However, as supervisor Bruce Branit of Digital Muse explained, referring to the aforementioned "Sacrifice of Angels" episode, sometimes the effort of transferring CGI files to another software format was worthwhile:

"It was the first time that anyone had actually assembled the entire Starfleet fleet in CG. Normally there were always a few ships they used for CG, and they pulled models out, and did motion control. Due to the nature of the show, there was no way they could do it with motion control. There was not enough time and not enough money. They were talking about having fifty to a hundred Starfleet vessels on screen at one time, and there was no way to pull that off in traditional ways. So we were a collecting point for anything that had been done in CG before. We brought the digital models in and converted them to LightWave, which is our rendering package of choice. The Enterprise-D had been done before, but in something else, so we were able to bring the geometry in, and bring some of the maps in, but we had to rebuild it. We had all the ingredients, so we could put it together much more quickly than building it from scratch. So now we have folders with the entire fleet all lined up in the same form, so we can just load a Reliant, we can load a Defiant, we can load an Excelsior, whenever we need it. That was the first real challenge, to get all that stuff in order, and to fill the garage with useable ships." (Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, No. 9/10, p. 64)

Alex Jaeger has commented in this regard, "Actually ILM was using Electric Image for animation and Form-Z for the models of these ships back then." [9](X)

Tackling the ILM models, done for Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact, in an early stage, Digital Muse was able to showcase the upgraded versions already in DS9: "Call to Arms". Visual Effects Supervisor for those episodes, David Stipes, has expressed his contentment at the time over this decision to do so, "Yes, we did do a lot with CGI this year. CGI is a good solution for the wild FLEET(!) battle shots that have been written into the show. I could not have done those shows with motion control with the time and money available. The ILM ships have been through several CG companies and through several program translations. The surface details have been somewhat corrupted. We cleaned up the Akira ship for this show. In time the others will be repaired. As for Reliant (Miranda class) ships...I really love the design and I like to use them. I would beat up more Galaxy Class ships but the producers are not so fond of my destructive desires. So I destroy Excelsiors. (I love my job!)" [10]

USS Voyager orbiting planet

The Amblin Imaging CGI model in the title sequence showing its missing texture

Even interchangeability of CGI files generated on the same software platforms was sometimes not without its problems, as John Gross remembered, in respect to transferring the CGI version of the USS Voyager from one version of LightWave to another:

"There are six shots in the opening title sequence, three of them had the CG ship that we built; the other three have the practical model. The three that had the CG ship were the one where it goes by the sun, the one where it goes through the smoky, particle stuff, and the last one, where it jumps to warp. (...) We always use beta software [remark: meaning a new version of LightWave which, at the time, was available on two different computer systems, Amiga being the hardware component of the 1990 "Video Toaster Suite" package], which means there tend to be some bugs. As we were modeling Voyager, some of it was being done in the Amiga version; some was being done on the SGI version. If you transferred the model between the different systems, the textures – effectively the paint on the ship – would get lost. That happens in the final shot where the belly tips up toward us and Voyager goes to warp. It's something you don't really pick out unless you know it's there, but if you look at the bottom of the ship there are these three darker patches that aren't supposed to be there – it's where there are some ports and hull plating. That made it into the title sequence. Nobody said anything, and we never mentioned it!" (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 3, p. 112)

Adam Lebowitz, no doubt speaking from experience, estimated that it would take six to twelve months of study in one's spare time to master the LightWave software. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 51) As a consequence, designers and modelers like Doug Drexler, John Knoll, and Larry Tan made the transition from the traditional way of producing VFX to CGI.

Though LightWave has, until the 2000s, been a prime software package for generating CGI, it was by no means the only software available in that era; in fact the majority of Star Trek films did not sport CGI generated by LightWave. As stated by Jaeger, ILM used a myriad of software, often in conjunction with each other, both developed in-house and off-the-shelf and has not used LightWave for Star Trek since Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Santa Barbara Studios used in-house-developed software (Dynamation) in conjunction with off-the-shelf software (WaveFront, ViewPoint, and Autodesk Maya, which went on to become a major CGI software package as well) to create the spatial phenomena in the title sequence of VOY and the VFX in Star Trek: Insurrection, whereas VisionArt used two packages, called "Prisms" and "Ice", from SideFx Software (which may explain why their services were no longer called upon after DS9's fifth season, when the studio continued with the LightWave-using Digital Muse and Foundation, at least for televised Star Trek). [11](X) Of the later films, only the CGI in Star Trek Nemesis, and parts of Star Trek was done in LightWave. The CGI for Star Trek Beyond was largely realized in Autodesk Maya as it was the package of choice for lead vendor Pixomondo.

When the television franchise was revived in 2017 with the advent Star Trek: Discovery, the first Kurtzman-era Star Trek production, Pixomondo was selected as the primary CGI vendor, meaning that Autodesk Maya had superseded LightWave as the primary CGI software package for live-action Star Trek. Maya had already been the package of choice previously of CBS Digital for their work on the 2006-2008 Original Series remastering project, though they switched over to LightWave for the 2012-2013 follow-up The Next Generation remastering project.

Computer hardware[]

CGI companies require a lower capital outlay than full-fledged traditional VFX production companies, as Lebowitz elaborates:

"At Foundation, most of our workstations are regular off-the-shelf PC's [prices of which dropped sharply in the 1990s] – the same as anyone reading the magazine probably has. Fast Pentiums with lots of RAM (286 megs or more) is about average. We don't need a lot of hard disc space, since all the frames get stored on a massive server. The render engines, which create all the animation frames, are a mix of Pentium computers and DEC Alphas (a faster PC). Other equipment includes videocards with Open GL, a mode that lets you preview LightWave scenes in a sort [of] 'rough draft' mode in real time. All our machines also sport 'Perception' cards from DPS, which allow us to compile the final frames into full screen video playback. We also have a soda machine with a built-in icemaker!" (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 47)

The relative low capital outlay (essentially only office space and computers), however, was also partly responsible for the high turnover in number of CGI companies, especially in the early days. As easy as it was to start up a company, it was also as easy to close down companies in such situations as slow business (Amblin, Foundation) or hostile take-overs (Digital Muse). In case of bankruptcy, a specific problem arises, as Lebowitz showed in response to being asked if Star Trek: Voyager could be transferred to high-definition (HD), "When Foundation closed down, the servers – along with the content – were auctioned off. Much of the content may have been saved by artists who worked on the series, but it would have to be tracked down. No matter how you slice it, it would be a considerable amount of work to re-integrate the entire Voyager visual effects server and re-render the FX in HD. In addition, although the series was shot on film, the entire post-production process was finished on NTSC video; to create an HD episode of Voyager, Paramount would have to go back to the vaults, re-transfer the film and re-built the episodes from scratch using the original editing data – if THOSE files still existed." [12] In a similar, earlier case with Digital Muse, Paramount had the good sense to retain ownership of the contents, and the entirety of the contents from Digital Muse's server was transferred, one-on-one, onto the servers of its successor, Eden FX.

Of all the CGI vendors that had originally served prime universe Star Trek – thus excluding CBS Digital as it was an after-the-fact vendor – , only ILM was still in existence by the time Star Trek prime was rebooted as a live-action franchise in 2017 with Star Trek: Discovery.

Building a CG model[]

John Gross of Digital Muse breaks down the procedure of building a CG model:

"If we get a design from the Trek Art Department, we might get just a ¾ perspective drawing, or we may get all sides. It really depends on whether the ship is a "hero" (one that will be seen a lot and close up) model or not. At that point, the artist assigned to modeling it will start breaking it down into its basic shapes and start creating it in the computer. Sometimes they'll start with a shape that is close (like a box) and start adding geometry and reshaping it to fit. Sometimes, they will have to create it polygon by polygon. Once the geometry is created, then it has to be surfaced to look real. This is where we'll add weathering, decals and the like to make it look like a real vessel. For almost all of the ships we built for DS9, there was an existing practical model to begin with. In the beginning of Voyager, there were existing models, but by the end, everything was CG. For the new series, Enterprise, everything will be CG. If a practical model does exist, that model will generally get delivered to us so we can have the real thing there to base the CG version upon. This was a lot of fun for DS9, because a lot of real models came through our shop. Things like the Reliant and Enterprise-A from Wrath of Kahn, the Defiant, the Excelsior, Ferengi ships and Cardassians, At one point, I think we had about 8 models in house as we were building the CG fleet for DS9." [13]


From wire-frame to CGI effect
Wire model for TNG-Masks D'Arsay archive freed from icy enclosure
An early wire-frame model by Santa Barbara Studios...
...resulting in this final shot
Akira class CGI wireframe model by ILM
Akira-class 3D-mesh by ILM, with increased sophistication at the curved surfaces
Wire model for Star Trek-Voyager USS Voyager in Nekrit Expanse
A far more sophisticated wire-frame model by Amblin Imaging
...resulting in this shot

A CGI effect conceived as a 3D solid object, whether it was a starship, structure, solid lifeform, or a celestial object, normally started out life as a wire-frame model, or 3D Mesh as it is also referred to. As the name already suggests, it is the basic computer model defining the contours of the model in question. In the early days of CGI, the more curvatures a design had, the more work building a wire-frame model entailed. While flat and square surfaces could do with a limited number of contour lines, curved surfaces typically needed far more tightly spaced contour lines, as was evident in one of ILM's earlier wire-frame models, that of the Akira-class. It also explains the deliberate design as a largely angular structure of another early CGI model, SBS's D'Arsay archive. The more refined the wire-frame was (meaning the more contour lines the computer model has), the more refined the final CGI model was to become.

In case of existing studio models, some companies like Santa Barbara Studios, Amblin Imaging, and Digital Domain hired specialized companies like Viewpoint DataLabs International, Inc. or Cyberscan, who digitally scanned the physical models to construct a wire-frame CGI model, a process sometimes referred to as digitizing, whether or not clad with a nondescript smooth skin generated for example as NURBS. In the 1990s, one method of digitally scanning entailed the application of an electronic stylus at regular intervals to a physical object, in this case the studio models. The contact points were electronically registered and loaded into a computer, where the points were digitally connected with the contour lines, eventually resulting in a 3D wire-frame model. The more contact points that were registered, the more refined the wire-frame model would be. At the time, given the then level of sophistication of the computer packages, this was a vastly time-saving method in comparison to creating a wire-frame model freehand. Final application of skin, called mapping, and animation were, in the case of Star Trek, done at the effects houses themselves, using photographs taken from the actual physical studio models, loaded into the computer programs. The CGI models, for example, of the Galaxy-class, Intrepid-class, and Sovereign-class were thus conceived.

In the case of new models, the meshes were created in the respective software modules freehand from either the design drawings or the actual physical studio models themselves. Gross' statement about the percentage of perspective drawings is reminiscent of a remark John Eaves made. "Most of the time with models all you need is a three-quarter view," he stated, "and a couple of three-quarter angles on different parts of the ship." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 2, p. 22) Speaking for televised Star Trek, three-quarter views were preferred by some CG modelers, since they could load those drawings directly into their computers and build the meshes directly onto them, they already conveying a sense of three-dimensionality: in essence, cutting corners.

David Anderson, Tholian stand-in Tholian, 2155
Stand-in performer David Anderson acting in his Tholian motion capture suit, which ultimately resulted in the scene on the right

A far more advanced variation of digitizing, called roto-animation, applied to Humans or even animals, is still employed in the motion picture industry. This variation registers the natural movement of actual living beings by utilizing so-called "motion capture suits", stand-in performers wore during life filming, digitally recording the movements they made. The movement data thus gathered is subsequently in post-production digitally imbued into the CGI models of, typically, alien lifeforms, in order to give them more natural looking on-screen movement. Well-known examples of CGI lifeforms being animated this way are the Jar-Jar Binks character from the Star Wars franchise, and the Gollum character from the Lord of the Rings franchise. In the Star Trek franchise, the Enterprise Xindi-Insectoids [14](X), Gorn and Tholian were animated using roto-animation. VFX Producer Dan Curry has designed the motion capture suits for the aliens featured in the Enterprise episodes. (ENT Season 4 DVD-special features, "Inside the "Mirror" Episodes"; "Visual Effects Magic")

The construction stage of a CGI model from wire-frame model until the application of the final, hereafer mentioned, rendering phase is also referred to as "computer-aided design", mostly abbreviated to "CAD". (Computer Aided Design T363)

Rendering and animation[]

D'Arsay archive CGI model

D'Arsay archive CGI model in various build-up stages; wire-frame, mapping, rendering and lighting

Once a model was built, the finished model was loaded into dedicated software, embedded into modules of a larger software package or not, for mapping, lighting, and animation (imbuing the CGI model with movement), a process referred to as rendering and (computer) animation (if the software was part of a larger software package: loaded into a rendering engine). The term "rendering" is often incorrectly used, by laymen in particular, to describe the whole creation process of a CGI effect, whereas it is only meant to describe the frame-by-frame mapping and lighting stage, animation often considered a separate stage. Rendering and animation was the process of building up the CGI image in every single frame of a sequence and was, given the state of the technology in the early days, a time consuming process, requiring massive amounts of computer processing power, which still came at a premium those days, both in terms of time and cost. This was especially true because each building stage, as indicated earlier, had to be completed in different software packages at the time. It was only with the later versions of LightWave or Maya that the whole process became integrated within a single software package. One of the earliest Star Trek CGI sequences, that of the time warp effect in The Voyage Home, though only about thirty seconds long, took weeks to render. (Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, p. 113) Even ten years later, at the time of Deep Space Nine and Voyager, computer technology was still at a state, that multiple computer units were necessary to speed up the process. Digital Muse's John Gross explained:

"Let's say the client needs five seconds of Voyager going from right to left. The artist will set up a scene where he makes a key frame, and maybe some frames in between; basically, the machine will generate all those in-between frames. The artist saves out the scene, and then that scene gets sent to the render farm. We render everything at film rates to match the look of the show, so in case of a five-second shot that's 24 frames a second times five, which is 120. The computer allocates those frames and says "OK, machines, render this scene"; machine one gets frame one, machine to gets frame two, and so forth, and once the first one is done rendering frame one then it takes the next frame, which maybe frame 40. Each one gets saved to the network, and when they're all done, the next morning or whatever, the frames are sitting on the network, and we lay them off to a digital disc recorder so we can play them back in real time. If everything looks good, we send it to tape and send it off to the client."

Elaborating on the term "render farm", Gross continued, "Everybody calls it a render farm. It's basically a bunch of machines [Digital Muse has 50] that are just sitting there 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I render a frame; I get a new one. Until I crash." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 11, p. 112)

Though the versatility of CGI was considered a huge advantage, Visual Effects Supervisor Ron B. Moore has highlighted that the technique did not came without its own set of practical disadvantages due to the long render time in the early stages of its full application, "With CG models the problems changed. There was no track or stage, so you could make any model as small or large as you needed. But now we had to deal with render tome and the size of the image files in the computer. If you have a highly detailed model it takes the computer a long time to render it out in every frame it is used in. In some shots this could be days even when you have a large number of computers rendering. The artists and programmers found ways to make this work by creating little routines that prevented the detail from being rendered when it wasn't seen, like on the back side of the ship or rendering less detail in the distance. A lot of little magic tricks that saved us on many occasions." (Flying Starships, pp. 35–36)

Other CGI effects[]

While many CGI effects started out as solid, 3D objects – constructed, at first, as wire-frame meshes – not all CGI effects originated as such. Effects like water, clouds, rain, fire, dust, vapor, hair, and such could not be realized by building wireframe models, but were rather created by using particle, or fractal-generator programs. A pioneer program for creating these kinds of effects was Santa Barbara Studios' Dynamation software program, later embedded as a module in the Maya software package, an alternative to LightWave 3D. It was this software that created much of the title sequence of Star Trek: Voyager. Such was its importance that a later version of Dynamation earned developer Jim Hourihan an "Academy Award for Technical Achievement" in 1996.

Another company who has provided such effects, had been POP Film and POP Animation for the Voyager's second and third seasons, as well as for the Deep Space Nine seasons three through five, before it was entirely replaced with Foundation Imaging and Digital Muse for both respective series.

Matte paintings[]

More static vistas such as long views of landscapes, cities and space vistas, planets or other celestial bodies in particular, were traditionally done as matte paintings, predominantly (though, on rarer occasions, such elements were sometimes executed as maquettes). However, the advent of paint computer programs like Microsoft Paint and Adobe Photoshop (though far more advanced computer software is used in the motion picture business, as they are able to manipulate 2D images into 3D imagery) meant that many matte artists traded their glass canvasses and brushes for a computer mouse and screen. John Grower stated in this regard to the main title sequence of Voyager, in the section where the namesake starship flies over an icy moon, "This foreground moon was actually a matte painting done by Craig Mullins, but then we took the matte painting and mapped it onto three-dimensional geometry, so it became a 3-D matte painting. We painted what's called a height-map that's a black-and-white map in which the bright parts extend closer toward you, and the dark parts get pushed back. You're essentially painting and creating three-dimensional geometry by playing with the contrast between white and black. You place the painting onto this geometry, and now you have a three-dimensional surface that you can rotate. You can have perspective happen within the painting." (Star Trek Monthly issue 10, p. 15) Once constructed, these kind of effects were loaded into the rendering software. In some cases, 3D models of landscapes were first rendered and then refined by digital "overpainting" to act as scene backdrops. Max Gabl created many such effects for the remastered version of TOS.

Incidentally, one of the earliest paint computer programs had already been developed in-house in 1981 by Thomas Porter at ILM. Chris Evans used this program to digitally paint the planet surface, seen in the final pull-away sequence of The Wrath of Khan "Genesis Demo". (American Cinematographer, October 1982, p. 1050) The demo Genesis planet was, in essence, the first digital matte painting in Star Trek, and for over a decade, remained the only one.


Other effects proven to be singularly well suited for execution in CGI, were the ones originally done by the traditional techniques of animation (not to be confused with the computer animation, mentioned above). Best known examples of these to the general public are Disney's early animated movies as well as cartoon movies and of course for Star Trek itself, Star Trek: The Animated Series. The best known animated effects in live-action Star Trek productions were the various laser and phaser beam effects, that were featured in all Star Trek productions until the mid 1990s.

Traditionally, animated effects such as Star Trek's phaser beams were hand-drawn by a craftsman onto, either each single film frame (or cel) itself, or onto a separate transparent cel, later to be composited into the final visual in post-production editing by means of specialized equipment, such as the optical printer. Obviously a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, animation was revolutionized during the late 1970s, early 1980s, with the advent of computers in the post-production editing departments. The advent of commercially available graphics painting software programs, of which Microsoft Paint is perhaps the best known to the general public, greatly enhanced the efficiency of animation in post-production, and was, alongside the traditional animation techniques, already employed for the more straightforward beam effects by ILM for their Star Trek productions of the 1980s as well as by The Post Group, when The Next Generation went into production in 1987. While these computer generated animation effects could, strictly speaking, already be considered as CGI, in practice at the time however, due to tradition, they were originally treated separately as part of the post-production editing process, unless generated as part of a CGI sequence, constructed in dedicated CGI software (which, though related, was considered separate from paint software as the latter is static and incapable of rendering), as it increasingly became from the 1990s onward. It is therefore that the boundaries between computerized animation and CGI are somewhat blurred in the early years.

Moving computer console display imagery, prior to The Wrath of Khan, was also accomplished with the use of traditional animation. CGI has made the traditional craft of animation all but obsolete from the mid-1990s onward, incidentally not in the least due to the ground-breaking work Robert Abel & Associates, Video Image and Pixar have done in this field.

Durability of CGI models[]

After CGI was introduced in the production of movies and television shows, a further advantage besides versatility, economics and practicality, was believed to be the longer endurance of the CGI models over their physical counterparts, as is evidenced by a remark Doug Drexler made in 2004, "Having been one of the poor slobs once covered with paint and glue, there is a wonderfulness to actually seeing something that you have created right there in front of you. But it's ultimately not worth it. Physical models fall apart, age poorly and their surfaces are not infinitely and nearly instantly adjustable. To look realistic, they need to be enormous and therefore unwieldly. Their lighting systems break down and are not easily repaired, their electrical systems can short out and often create interference messing up motion control equipment; seriously, the list goes on and on. Finally, miniatures just can't match CGI for visual quality. Even the expensive and gigantic Enterprise-E model had problems; in First Contact, I could make out tooling marks on the hull. Meanwhile, in many shots of the large Enterprise-D model, you can see the bumps in the paint." (Star Trek: Communicator issue 148, p. 51) While practice has backed up Drexler in regard to the first three arguments, reality, however, has proven to be far more stubborn in regard to the argument of longevity. Technological advances in software and ineptitude at the studios in handling their property (among others in the situation described above in Foundation's case), have to this day caused CGI models to be of a far more fleeting nature than physical models. Lebowitz explained:

"When a CGI company is hired to do FX for a production, in theory all the assets they create are property of the studio. A smart studio should probably ask for regular backups of data for a variety of reasons, most important of which would be safety backups and potentially the need to re-create the work elsewhere.

"However, this rarely happens, most probably because it's just not anyone's assigned job. Who asks for the data? Who checks it? Where do they store it? Who keeps the records? All this would need to be answered and a process implemented and in most cases, either no one has thought it through or wanted to spearhead a new headache. Even if the data was backed up, if someone wanted to load up a spaceship model ten years later, success would be hard to come by. Do they have the right software? Since no two companies ever name their hard drives with the same letters or use the same directory structure, will the new user know where to find the files when their computer tells them, 'can't find G:/spaceship/wingtip/test/nogood/deleteme/finalimages/nosecone.png?'

"Even if all the ducks are in a row, often times the CG company, knowing full well the data they provide might be used to cut them out of the picture [note: as has been the case with VisionArt], will purposely not make it easy for the studio. Sure, they'll provide the models as asked, but not the setup/assembly files (hey, setup files are technically NOT the model). All this means is that the more time passes, the less likely it will be to re-create CG scenes. If all the data and the directory structure on a company's hard drive remains untouched, it's fine, but the moment you start to back stuff up and clear it off the server, your chances of success begin to dwindle.

"Some companies have hired data management specialists to protect against this sort of thing [....] However, since it means more money and something else to worry about, this is the exception rather than the rule [....] Unless companies are more stringent about their data management in the future, I'm afraid there will always be a dozen reasons why the data can be 'lost' forever.

"The irony of all this is that when the switch was made from physical models to CG, everyone assumed we had entered a golden era when models would no longer fall apart in a warehouse somewhere, never to be used again. 'We have CG now, things last forever!' If only." [15]

Even the initially optimistic Drexler came eventually around to Lebowitz' way of thinking five years later in 2009, "Does Paramount get sent the models for whatever future use they might have in mind? Does the effects company keep specific archives of their projects? Or will it just be the hope that some artist who used to work on the show has kept something that he personally worked on? Mostly 2 and three. My guess is that if these ships are ever resurrected, they'll get rebuilt to take advantage of what we have learned since then. (...) It's because it's intangible. Most people do not understand how it works, and are even a little intimidated by it. How do you make policy about something that is such an unknown? Pixels, polys? Files? Layout? Content? Huh?" [16](X)

Remastering projects' ramifications[]

As irony would have it, it was the same economics that were part of the reasons for the introduction of CGI that was also responsible for the fleeting nature of the CGI models, as studios were not willing to pay for the upkeep of the computer files, once the original production was in-the-can. This drawback had become quite obvious when Paramount released the remastered DVD and HD Blu-ray editions of the feature films during 2009 and 2010. In the case of The Motion Picture, only the original theatrical release could be remastered, as the computer files used by Foundation Imaging for the Director's Edition were no longer available for upgrading re-rendering, due to Lebowitz' earlier-mentioned statement that "the servers – along with the content – were auctioned off." In a similar, contemporary, case, the aforementioned Ben Robinson has indicated in 2015 that Paramount Pictures had concurrently failed to maintain ownership over the CGI elements, including the CGI models, produced by Santa Barbara Studios and Blue Sky/VIFX for Insurrection as he explained, "Never found the CG models from Insurrection... so we're rebuilding them! Makes me feel like Dan Curry,"" [17], having added, "I'm working on this [remark: Son'a ships for the Official Starships Collection] at the moment. It's tricky because the company that made the CG - Santa Barbara Studios didn't archive them and used their own software. Nothing is impossible though and I do have perfect reference [remark: referring to renders he had received for the Fact Files years earlier]." [18] Likewise, when CBS embarked upon the TNG remastering project in 2012, it found that the files of one of the earliest CGI effects, that of the Crystalline Entity, no longer existed. The effect had to be painstakingly recreated at CBS Digital. [19]

While this has few ramifications for the TNG remastering project, simply because so few CGI was used for this production, it might have not bode well, cost-wise, for possible remastered versions of DS9, and VOY in particular, the latter having been Foundation's primary assignment. Recreating the later seasons of these productions in High-Definition is especially daunting, as it not only concerns the recreation of the CGI effects themselves, but also the recreation of these effects in movement in the guise of motion-control data files, increasing the level of difficulty exponentially (the massive, intricate Deep Space Nine battle scenes in particular), unless Lebowitz' happenstance occurred that "the content may have been saved by artists who worked on the series, but it would have to be tracked down."

However, in 2013, it turned out that Robert Bonchune was one of these artists who did save all of Foundation's Star Trek files, not only those of the models proper but also the all-important motion control setup files, elaborating, "If they ask one of us – and if they use a team that uses LightWave – it'll be much easier for them to redo... because the guys who worked on it, like me, have the assets. We have the original ships; we have most of everything that was used [in the making of the series]. That would eliminate a ton of the cost of rebuilding." Furthermore, Bonchune disclosed that Foundation had "overbuilt" their CGI effects for the productions, meaning that they were originally constructed at a much higher resolution level than was strictly necessary for contemporary television requirements, making the upgrade to High-Definition far more cost effective than reconstructing, or as Bonchune put it, "Literally, you could just load the scene files and hit 'render' – it would be done! I mean, not everything... but a lot more than you'd think.". [20]

Either Bonchune or another former VFX colleague who had saved the files, was taken up on the offer, when a fully remastered effects heavy battle sequence from "Sacrifice of Angels" (alongside an Odo morphing scene) became featured in full HD in the 2018 Deep Space Nine documentary What We Left Behind, paid for by the documentary makers' fund raising campaign. [21]


CGI suppliers to Star Trek[]

The volatility of the CGI suppliers' market as well as the early lack of some sort of industry standard in the 1990s made the producers very wary of relying solely on one supplier. At any given time, at least two CGI companies were employed, as insurance. It was not until the second season of Enterprise that the market was sufficiently settled down for the producers to rely on one supplier solely (namely, Eden FX).

The franchise's wariness turned out to be more than justified; of all the digital effects companies which had worked on the Star Trek live-action prime universe franchise in the period 1980-2005, only ILM (including its derivative Pixar Animation Studios), Evans & Sutherland (though the latter has traditionally never catered to the motion picture industry as their core business) and Digital Domain (going bankrupt nevertheless in 2012) were still in existence as such by the time the alternate reality live-action franchise went into production, starting with the 2009 film Star Trek.

Note: CGI vendors as chronologically employed.
CGI vendor Production Contributions Citation
Industrial Light & Magic Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Genesis effect[1] American Cinematographer, issue October 1982, pp. 1038–1050
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock Computer game graphics Cinefex, issue 18, p. 52
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Time warp effects Cinefex, issue 29, p. 17
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Destruction of Praxis; floating Klingon blood; morphing effects of Martia Cinefex, issue February 1992, pp. 40–60
Star Trek Generations Whorfin-class; Excelsior-class; Galaxy-class; warp effect; destruction of the Amargosa star and Veridian III; Nexus American Cinematographer, issue April 1995, pp. 78–88; Cinefex, issue 61, pp. 62–77
DS9 Season 34 Bajoran lightship; Alien Freighter; Work Bee Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, pp. 237 & 335
Star Trek: First Contact Several Federation ship classes; temporal vortex American Cinematographer, issue December 1996, pp. 68–74; Cinefex, issue 69, pp. 98–119
Star Trek Cinefex, issue 118, pp. 40–71
Evans & Sutherland Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Computer display graphics film credits
Video Image Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home Computer display graphics film credits
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Computer display graphics film credits
DS9 Season 2 Odo as a "blob" alien in "The Alternate" Cinefantastique, Vol 25 #6/Vol 26 #1, pp. 44–111
The Post Group TNG Season 1 Crystalline Entity Star Trek: Communicator issue 148, p. 49
Rhythm & Hues TNG Season 4 Junior (spaceborne lifeform) Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (p. 193)
DS9 Season 1 Wormhole effects Cinefantastique, vol 24 #3/4, pp. 79–82
Digital Magic TNG Season 57 Shattering effect in "Frame of Mind"; spacial phenomena in "Ship In A Bottle"; anaphasic lifeform in "Sub Rosa"; plasma stream in "Eye of the Beholder" Cinefantastique, issue 97, Vol 24 #3/4, pp. 79–82
Star Trek Generations Transporter effects Cinefex, issue 61, March 1995, pp. 62–77
Santa Barbara Studios TNG Season 7 D'Arsay archive and spacial phenomena in "Masks" Cinefantastique, Vol. 25, No.6/Vol. 26, #1, p. 58
DS9 Season 1 Meteor effects in title sequence Cinefantastique, Vol 25 #6/Vol 26 #1, pp. 44–111
VOY Season 1 - 3 Intrepid-class; spacial phenomena and effects Cinefantastique,Vol 27 #4/5, pp. 32–115
Star Trek Generations Bottle sequence at christening; Stellar cartography; graphics Cinefex, issue 61, March 1995, pp. 62–77
Star Trek: Insurrection Sovereign-class; Federation shuttles; Son'a shipclasses; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles American Cinematographer, issue April 1995, pp. 78–88; Cinefex, issue 77, pp. 68–95
Amblin Imaging TNG Season 7 Emergent lifeform in "Emergence" Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 2nd ed., p. 296
VOY Season 1 - 2 Intrepid-class; spacial phenomena and effects Cinefantastique, Vol 27 #4/5, pp. 32–115
VisionArt Design & Animation DS9 Season 1 - 5 Defiant-class; Danube-class; Jem'Hadar battle cruiser; Odo's morphing; spacial phenomena and effects Cinefantastique, Vol 25 #6/Vol 26 #1, pp. 44–111 and Vol 27 #4/5 1996, pp. 32–115
Star Trek: First Contact T'Plana-Hath Cinefex, issue 69, p. 118
Foundation Imaging DS9 Season 5 - 7 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Cinefantastique, Vol 30 #9/10, pp. 32–111 and Vol 32 #4/5, pp. 32–101
VOY Season 3 - 7 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Cinefantastique, Vol 31 #11, pp. 24–55; Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, pp. 46-51
ENT Season 1 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) Constitution II-class; V'ger; spacial phenomena and effects Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, pp. 52-60
Digital Muse DS9 Season 5 - 7 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Cinefantastique, Vol 30 #9/10, pp. 32–111; Vol 32 #4/5 2000, pp. 32–101
VOY Season 3 - 7 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Cinefantastique, Vol 30 #9/10, pp. 32–111; Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 19, pp. 82-89
Star Trek: Insurrection trailer Cinefex, issue 77, p. 75
Station X Studios DS9 Season 7 Deep Space 9 Cinefantastique, Vol 32, No.4/5, p. 91
Blue Sky/VIFX Star Trek: Insurrection Planet bound effects, Federation holoship American Cinematographer', issue January 1999, pp. 40–46; Cinefex, issue 77, April 1999, pp. 68–95; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, Issue 34, pp. 24–31
Eden FX VOY Season 7 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 24, pp. 53-58
ENT Season 1 - 4 Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 10, pp. 24-30; Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, pp. 50-57
Strange Engine ENT Season 1 CGI Visual Effects composite shots Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Digital Domain Star Trek Nemesis Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 88–111
CBS Digital Star Trek: The Original Series Remastered Ships; spacial phenomena and effects; space battles; species
Star Trek: The Next Generation Remastered Ships, Spacial phenomena and effects[2]
G. Creative Productions Inc. Star Trek Beyond Computer display graphics film credits; Official company site
Double Negative Star Trek Beyond TBA Official company site
DIS Season 2 Official company site
ST Season 2 Official company site
PIC Season 1 Official company site
  1. subcontracted to Graphics Group of Lucasfilm Computer Division
  2. limited to replacing effects that were either unfeasible to upgrade to High Definition standards or of which production elements were missing; no newly designed visual effects

CGI starships, stations and structures[]

Starship First appearance Original CGI vendor Citation
Star Trek films
Constitution II-class model Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, pp. 52-60; Drex Files(X)
Class F shuttlecraft model Star Trek: The Motion Picture (The Director's Edition) Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 8, pp. 52-60
Refit-Excelsior-class model Star Trek Generations ILM American Cinematographer, April 1995, pp. 78–88; Cinefex, issue 61, pp. 62–77
Whorfin-class Star Trek Generations ILM American Cinematographer, April 1995, pp. 78–88
Galaxy-class model[1] Star Trek Generations ILM American Cinematographer, April 1995, pp. 78–88; Cinefantastique, Vol 30 #9/10 1998, pp. 32–111; Cinefex, March 1995, pp. 62–77; Cinefex, March 1997, pp. 98–119
Sovereign-class model[2] Star Trek: First Contact ILM American Cinematographer, December 1996, pp. 68–74; American Cinematographer, January 1999, pp. 40–46
Akira-class model Star Trek: First Contact ILM American Cinematographer, December 1996, pp. 68–74; Cinefex, issue 69, pp. 98–119; Drex Files(X); Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123
Miranda-class model[3] Star Trek: First Contact ILM Cinefex, issue 69, pp. 98–119
Norway-class Star Trek: First Contact ILM American Cinematographer, December 1996, pp. 68–74; Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123
Oberth-class model Star Trek: First Contact ILM Cinefex, issue 69, pp. 98–119
Saber-class[4] Star Trek: First Contact ILM American Cinematographer, December 1996, pp. 68–74; Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123; Drex Files(X)
Steamrunner-class[5] Star Trek: First Contact ILM American Cinematographer, December 1996, pp. 68–74; Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123; Drex Files(X)
Sovereign-type escape pod Star Trek: First Contact ILM Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123; Eavesdropping
T'Plana-Hath-type Star Trek: First Contact VisionArt Design & Animation Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook: The Movies, pp. 119–123; Eavesdropping
Sovereign-class[6] Star Trek: Insurrection Digital Muse Cinefex, April 1999, pp. 68–95; Drex Files(X)
Sovereign-class[7] Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios American Cinematographer, January 1999, pp. 40–46; Cinefex, issue 77, pp. 68–95; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 34, pp. 24–31
Ru'afo's flagship Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios American Cinematographer, January 1999, p. 41; Eavesdropping
Federation mission scoutship Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios Cinefex, issue 77, p. 72
Type-11 shuttlecraft Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios Cinefex, issue 77, p. 72
Federation holoship Star Trek: Insurrection co-built at Blue Sky/VIFX and Santa Barbara Studios American Cinematographer, January 1999, pp. 40–46; Cinefex, issue 77, p. 83; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 34, p. 29
Son'a battle cruiser Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios American Cinematographer, January 1999, p. 41; Cinefex, issue 77, pp. 68–95; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 34, pp. 18–23
Son'a collector Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios American Cinematographer, January 1999, pp. 40–46; Cinefex, issue 77, pp. 68–95; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 35, pp. 24–31
Cousteau Star Trek: Insurrection Santa Barbara Studios Cinefex, issue 77, p. 72
Son'a shuttle Star Trek: Insurrection Blue Sky/VIFX American Cinematographer, January 1999, pp. 40–46; Cinefex, issue 77, pp. 68–95; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 34, pp. 24–31
Valdore-type Star Trek Nemesis Digital Domain Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 88–111; Eavesdropping
Scimitar Star Trek Nemesis Digital Domain Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 88–111; Eavesdropping
Drydock-type Star Trek Nemesis Digital Domain Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 88–111; Eavesdropping
Romulan capital Star Trek Nemesis Eden FX Cinefex, issue 93, pp. 88–111; Pierre Drolet Sci-Fi Museum
Star Trek: The Next Generation
USS Enterprise TNG evalution finalized CGI model, front total view
Constitution II-class[8]
n/a n/a Star Trek: The Next Generation USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D Blueprints, booklet, p. 14; Cinefex, issue 37, p. 10
D'Arsay archive CGI model
D'Arsay archive[9]
TNG: "Masks" Santa Barbara Studios Cinefantastique, Vol. 25, No.6/Vol. 26, No. 1, p. 58
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Defiant-class[10] DS9: "Defiant" VisionArt Daniel Kramer(X) , American Cinematographer, pp. 68–74; Cinefantastique, Vol 30 #9/10, pp. 32–111
Bajoran lightship[11] DS9: "Explorers" ILM Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 237
Danube-class[12] DS9: "The Way of the Warrior" VisionArt
Alien Freighter[13] DS9: "The Way of the Warrior" ILM Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 335
Work Bee DS9: "The Way of the Warrior" ILM Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, p. 335
Atmospheric probe DS9: "Starship Down" VisionArt Daniel Kramer(X)
Jem'Hadar fighter[14] DS9: "Starship Down" VisionArt Daniel Kramer(X) , Drex Files(X)
Jem'Hadar battle cruiser model[15] DS9: "In Purgatory's Shadow" VisionArt Cinefantastique, Vol 29 #6/7, p. 39; Stipes' Universe
Klingon Bird-of-Prey[16] DS9: "Call to Arms" Rhythm & Hues Cinefantastique, Vol 32 #4/5, pp. 32–101
Excelsior-class DS9: "Favor the Bold" Digital Muse David Lombardi
Federation attack fighter DS9: "Favor the Bold" Digital Muse Cinefantastique, Vol.30, No.9/10, pp. 64–65
Vor'cha-class DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 32, p. 55
Galor-class DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 32, p. 55; Drex Files(X)
Hideki-class DS9: "Sacrifice of Angels" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 32, p. 55
Jem'Hadar battleship[17] DS9: "Valiant" Digital Muse Drex Files(X); Stipes' Universe
Chaffee-type shuttlepod[18] DS9: "The Sound of Her Voice" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Bajoran assault vessel DS9: "Shadows and Symbols" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Bajoran interceptor DS9: "Shadows and Symbols" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Bajoran raider[19] DS9: "Shadows and Symbols" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Karemma starship[20] DS9: "Shadows and Symbols" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Breen interceptor[21] DS9: "Penumbra" Digital Muse Eavesdropping
K't'inga-class DS9: "The Changing Face of Evil" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Cardassian Workbee[22] DS9: "Tacking Into the Wind" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Deep Space 9[23] DS9: "What You Leave Behind" Station X Studios Cinefantastique, Vol.32, No.4/5, p. 91
Star Trek: Voyager
Intrepid-class[24] n/a Santa Barbara Studios Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, pp. 72–75, 79-81
Intrepid-class[25] VOY: "Caretaker" Amblin Imaging Cinefantastique, Vol. 27, No. 4/5, pp. 72–75, 79-81; Drex Files(X)
Reptohumanoid vessel[26] VOY: "Parturition" Amblin Imaging Drex Files(X)
Akritirian patrol ship VOY: "The Chute" Digital Muse Drex Files(X)
Swarm species vessel VOY: "The Swarm" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, pp. 46-47, 49
Borg cube VOY: "Unity" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Orbital tether VOY: "Rise" Digital Magic VOY Season 5 DVD special feature "Ships of the Delta Quadrant"
Voth research vessel VOY: "Distant Origin" Foundation Imaging VOY Season 5 DVD special feature "Ships of the Delta Quadrant"
Voth city ship VOY: "Distant Origin" Foundation Imaging VOY Season 5 DVD special feature "Ships of the Delta Quadrant"
Species 8472 bio-ship VOY: "Scorpion" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, pp. 48, 51
Kradin fighter
Kradin fighter
VOY: "Nemesis" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: Voyager Companion, p. 463
Raven-type VOY: "The Raven" Foundation Imaging VOY Season 5 DVD special feature "Ships of the Delta Quadrant"
Srivani vessel VOY: "Scientific Method" Foundation Imaging
Zahl starship VOY: "Year of Hell" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models,issue 32, p. 51
Mawasi cruiser VOY: "Year of Hell" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models,issue 32, p. 51
Nihydron warship VOY: "Year of Hell" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models,issue 32, p. 51
Prometheus-class VOY: "Message in a Bottle" Foundation Imaging Liquid guitars
Nebula-class VOY: "Message in a Bottle" Foundation Imaging Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models,issue 32, p. 54; Drex Files(X)
D'deridex-class[27] VOY: "Message in a Bottle" Foundation Imaging Cinefantastique, Vol. 30, #9/10, p. 80
Hirogen communications network VOY: "Message in a Bottle" Foundation Imaging
Hirogen ship VOY: "Hunters" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Dauntless-class VOY: "Hope and Fear" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: Action!, pp. 45–47
Malon export vessel, eleventh gradient VOY: "Night" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Night Alien ship VOY: "Night" Foundation Imaging
Devore warship VOY: "Counterpoint" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Borg Queen's ship VOY: "Dark Frontier" Foundation Imaging Liquid guitars; Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models International, issue 41, p. 25
Chaotic space hulk VOY: "The Fight" Digital Muse Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 10, p. 71; Drex Files(X)
Malon export vessel VOY: "Juggernaut" Foundation IUmaging VOY Season 5 DVD special feature "Ships of the Delta Quadrant"
McKinley-type VOY: "Relativity" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 50
Drydock type VOY: "Relativity" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, p. 50; Liquid guitars
Nova-class[28] VOY: "Equinox" Digital Muse Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 14, p. 21
Assault-class VOY: "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Delta Flyer escape pod VOY: "Good Shepherd" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Telsian freighter VOY: "Live Fast and Prosper" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: Voyager Companion, p. 466
Borg tactical cube VOY: "Unimatrix Zero" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
D'Kora-class VOY: "Inside Man" Eden FX Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 24, p. 54
Subspace warhead VOY: "Human Error" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Friendship 1 VOY: "Friendship One" Foundation Imaging Pierre Drolet Sci-Fi Museum
SC-4 VOY: "Endgame" Foundation Imaging Drex Files(X)
Star Trek Enterprise
NX-class ENT: "Broken Bow" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, pp. 50-57; Drex Files(X)
Inspection pod[29] ENT: "Broken Bow" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 2, Issue 10, pp. 24-30; Drex Files(X)
Suurok-class ENT: "Breaking the Ice" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Echo Two ENT: "Silent Enemy" Eden FX Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Zobral's ship ENT: "Desert Crossing" Eden FX Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Zobral's encampment ENT: "Desert Crossing" Eden FX Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Romulan Bird-of-Prey (22nd century) ENT: "Minefield" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Wisp ship ENT: "The Crossing" Eden FX Drex Files(X); Eavesdropping
NX-Alpha ENT: "First Flight" Eden FX Liquid guitars
Intrepid-type ENT: "The Expanse" Eden FX Drex Files(X); [22]
"Warp Delta" ENT: "The Expanse" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Osaarian merchant ship ENT: "Anomaly (ENT)" Eden FX Eavesdropping
Tret's containment vessel ENT: "Extinction" Eden FX Eavesdropping
Xindi-Insectoid starship ENT: "Twilight" Eden FX Eavesdropping
Sarajevo-type ENT: "Storm Front" Eden FX Eavesdropping
Constitution-class ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Tholian asteroid dock ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly" Eden FX Drex Files(X)

Note: The remark "upgraded" refers to the reprogramming and remapping of CGI models originally done in software other than LightWave 3D (or an older version thereof) into this format.

  1. upgraded at Digital Muse for DS9: "Call to Arms", again upgraded at Eden FX for ENT: "These Are the Voyages...")
  2. this version only used in this film
  3. upgraded at Digital Muse for "Favor the Bold"
  4. upgraded at Digital Muse for "Call to Arms"
  5. upgraded at Digital Muse for "Call to Arms"
  6. this version only in trailer
  7. upgraded at Digital Domain for Star Trek Nemesis
  8. Pre-production evaluation version, neither used nor seen until 2013
  9. the very first model in the Star Trek-franchise which had no physical production counterpart; originally constructed in Dynamation, the Archive was reconstructed by CBS Digital in LightWave 3D for its remastered 2014 counterpart
  10. the first new starship design for Deep Space Nine upgraded at ILM for Star Trek: First Contact, again upgraded at Digital Muse
  11. only conceived as CGI and its first CGI starship
  12. premiered in renewed title sequence of DS9 Season 4
  13. the second DS9 ship design conceived as CGI only
  14. upgraded at Foundation Imaging for "Sacrifice of Angels"
  15. upgraded at Foundation Imaging for "Sacrifice of Angels"
  16. built at Rhythm & Hues at for a Star Trek: The Experience attraction, upgraded at Foundation Imaging for "Sacrifice of Angels"
  17. the third DS9 ship-design conceived as CGI only
  18. the fourth DS9 ship design conceived as CGI only
  19. adapted several times at Eden FX to represent vessels of different affiliations
  20. adapted at Foundation Imaging to represent vessels of different affiliations
  21. co-built in-house and at Digital Muse, the fifth new ship-design only conceived as CGI
  22. upgraded at Foundation Imaging to represent an Imhotep ship
  23. only seen in the very last shot of the very last scene of the DS9 series
  24. back-up version, eventually never used
  25. several times upgraded at Foundation Imaging to various ends
  26. the first new ship for VOY only conceived as CGI, adapted several times at Foundation Imaging to represent vessels of different affiliations
  27. upgraded at Digital Muse for DS9: "The Changing Face of Evil"
  28. upgraded at Foundation Imaging for VOY: "Endgame"
  29. upgraded at Eden FX as Vissian stratopod for ENT: "Cogenitor"

CGI species[]

Lifeform First appearance Original CGI vendor Citation
Star Trek films
Time warp effects experienced by crew of HMS Bounty
HMS Bounty crew and humpback whale
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ILM Computer Graphics Cinefex, Issue 29, February 1987, pp. 4–31; Computer Aided Design T363
Ba'ku hummingbird
Ba'ku hummingbird
Star Trek: Insurrection Blue Sky/VIFX American Cinematographer, January 1999, p. 44
Star Trek: Insurrection Blue Sky/VIFX American Cinematographer, January 1999, p. 45-46
Teenaxi leader
Star Trek Beyond Double Negative Cinefex, No. 148, p. 76
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Crystalline Entity encounters the Enterprise-D, original
Crystalline Entity[1]
TNG: "Datalore" The Post Group Star Trek: Communicator issue 148, p. 49
Junior is born
Junior's species
TNG: "Galaxy's Child" Rhythm & Hues Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 3rd ed., p. 156
Coalescent organism
Coalescent organism
TNG: "Aquiel" Digital Magic Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 3rd ed., pp. 233 & 255; TNG Season 6 DVD-special feature, "Select Historical Data Year Six"
Anaphasic lifeform
Anaphasic lifeform
TNG: "Sub Rosa" Digital Magic Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 3rd ed., p. 281
Emergence circuit node
Emergent lifeform
TNG: "Emergence" Amblin Imaging Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, 3rd ed., p. 296
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Odo morphing
Founders in liquid and morphing state[2]
DS9: "Emissary" VisionArt Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 11, pp. 88-93
Odo attacks Mora
Odo as diseased Founder
DS9: "The Alternate" Video Image Cinefantastique, Vol 25 #6/Vol 26 #1, pp. 106–107
Laas as spacefaring lifeform
Founder as spacefaring lifeform (Laas)
DS9: "Chimera" Digital Muse Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 11, pp. 88-93
Star Trek Voyager
Caretaker in natural state
VOY: "Caretaker" Amblin Imaging
Nucleogenic cloud being
Nucleogenic cloud being
VOY: "The Cloud" Santa Barbara Studios Star Trek: Communicator issue 105, p. 57
Photonic aliens
Photonic lifeform
VOY: "Heroes and Demons" Digital Magic Star Trek: Communicator issue 105, p. 57
Space-dwelling lifeform
Space-dwelling lifeform
VOY: "Elogium" Santa Barbara Studios Star Trek: Communicator issue 105, p. 56
Transwarp Human offspring
Hyper-evolved Human offspring[4]
VOY: "Threshold" Pacific Ocean Post VOY Season 2 DVD-special feature, "Red Alert: Visual Effects Season 2"
Hanonian land eel
Hanonian land eel
VOY: "Basics, Part II" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, pp. 46-51
Macrocosm attacks The Doctor
VOY: "Macrocosm" Foundation Imaging VOY Season 3 DVD-special feature, "Red Alert: Visual Effects Season 3"; Cinefantastique, Vol 29 #6/7, pp. 97–98
VOY: "Distant Origin" Foundation Imaging Cinefantastique, Vol 29 #6/7, p. 111
Species 8472 close-up
Species 8472
VOY: "Scorpion" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 6, pp. 46-51
VOY: "Think Tank" Digital Muse
Nucleogenic creature
Nucleogenic lifeform
VOY: "Equinox" Santa Barbara Studios Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 18, p. 23
VOY: "Riddles" Digital Muse Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 18, pp. 27-28
Miral Paris infant hologram
Human-Klingon Hybrid
VOY: "Lineage" Eden FX
Star Trek: Enterprise
Alien bipedal species, 2151-1
ENT: "Silent Enemy" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49; Drex Files(X)
Targs in the pantry
ENT: "Sleeping Dogs" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 9, pp. 50-57
ENT: "Rogue Planet" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Wraith, true form
ENT: "Rogue Planet" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Symbiotic lifeform
Symbiotic lifeform
ENT: "Vox Sola" Foundation Imaging Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 3, Issue 7, pp. 42-49
Tucker possessed
ENT: "The Crossing" Eden FX
Xindi-Aquatic councilor 1
ENT: "The Council" Eden FX Drex Files(X)
Xindi-Insectoid councilor
ENT: "The Council" Eden FX DrexFiles(X)
Sehlat, 2154
ENT: "The Forge" Eden FX
Tholian, 2155
ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly" Eden FX ENT Season 4 DVD-special feature, "Visual Effects Magic"
ENT: "In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II" Eden FX ENT Season 4 DVD-special feature, "Inside the "Mirror" Episodes"
  1. Recreated at CBS Digital for the 2012 Blu-ray release
  2. Upgraded at Digital Muse
  3. Suspiria built at VisionArt
  4. Only newborns, first CGI species for the series
  5. Upgraded from the Targ CG model
  6. Built as non-corporeal


1 The distinction between SFX and VFX is a relatively new one, introduced in the early 1990s. The distinction was felt necessary due to the growing influence of the use of computers, first as aid in post-production editing and later as generator of visual effects themselves. Prior to the 1990s, from the very beginning of the motion picture industry, all such effects were invariably referred to as "special effects". Acceptance of the distinction was a slow one, particularly among the effects staffers born and bred with the traditional methods of effects production, as the traditional usage of the term was so well established, and has led in several period publications to considerable confusion as the two terms were used interchangeably. The publications of the Starlog Press, for example, never adopted the term "visual effects", whereas Industrial Light & Magic had "invented" the term "Special Visual Effects" for their early 1980s productions, dutifully carried over to the articles of the magazine Cinefantastique, covering the subject. Yet, by the second half of the 2000s, the distinction between the two has become firmly established.

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