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7th Trek Day of Xmas 08: Animations!

Just as with the mass media market, animation is enjoying a boom as an option for creating video drama, both for the cinema and for TV.

What are the advantages? Making a fan film takes some immense resources in time effort and money. Let's take Star Trek: Phase II for example, although one could just as easily take Starship Exeter, Farragut or the German Das Vermachtnis. One of their major resources are their sets, built by James Cawley as a labour of love and based on original plans taking years to build. The investment in time, effort and cash on something like this is immense and not easily reproduced!

Groups like Star Trek: Odyssey and Intrepid have got around this by using a technique called "Greenscreen" filming, where live actors are 'overlaid' onto a computer generated background against. However animation takes this a step further by making even the actors virtual! This can be a challenge in that it takes a certain amount of skill to breath life into two or even three dimensional graphics.



There are a bewildering array of methods for creating a virtual world within which we can play. Some are well known already such as the "stop motion" type monsters that Ray Harryhausen became famous for. The technique involves stringing together a series of photos of a model that is moved. There are a number of examples of this that have been applied to Star Trek that use different methods of building the models or "puppets".

The traditional media for building stop-motion puppets is clay and early in '07 there was a cute two-part YouTube video called "Clay Trek" that has since been taken down by the creator. There are now two major forms of stop-motion in fan animation (all examples are listed in alphabetical order) ...

Lego 'Brickfilms'
Action Figure puppetry


By far the most recognisable form of animation though is Cel animation graphics which are hand-drawn & animated and whenever Trek fans think of Star Trek animation, they think of Star Trek: The Animated series which was made by Filmation in 1973. Amazingly, two Star Trek fans are following this traditional route.

Cel Animation
There's no way around it though, cel animation is very labour intensive and takes considerable artistic talent, basically you are animating two dimensional artwork. Using a computer can now speed up the creation of the artwork and in some cases is the basis of a digital (as against a photographic) animation process.

Toonshows - Which bring a limited number of stills to life via fades and wipes
Flash - A popular software package for creating and animating graphics


So far we've been talking about creating and animating (bringing to life) 2d artwork but computers are capable of creating 3d worlds. Fan animators have a wide array of tools at their disposal that create three dimensional models that can be filmed in virtual sets. So many in fact that the resulting shows are as individual as their creators ...

The principle behind Machinima is that users control avatars in a proprietary game engine like Star Trek: Elite Force or one of the MMOG's, and then record what they do, like this Second Life promotion. They have become so popular that games have been specially developed to take advantage of in-game movie-making, such as ...

The Sims
The Movies

Understandably this can only be a partial list and viewers and film-makers are invited to discuss this and add their own finds on the TrekUnited forum.

What lies ahead for Star Trek fan animation in the next twelve months? I think we are going to see more work done on all of these fronts as those who follow, build on the experience of the trail-blazers. Will one become more popular than the others? Not necessarily, each appeals to people for different reasons and each has different strongpoints and requirements in terms of investment in skill and cost.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity that animation suggests as a creative fan media is that it is accessible. Anyone who learns how to play a computer game with a certain amount of skill will find it possible to record themselves and use this to make a machinima.

The challenge will be to make good ones, which means developing skills in all areas - I think we're up to it!


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