Industrial Light & Magic

The Original Series was built using a shoestring budget, plaster sets and blinking lights; by the time the features and continuing television series came about, producers were able to push a rapidly progressing technological envelope, using techniques that hadn’t been imagined in the l960s. And when Industrial Light & Magic, veteran of a number of the Star Trek films, joined forces with J.J. Abrams to work on the new Star Trek feature, they wanted to up the bar yet again—but without losing what had worked in the past. Abrams gave visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett one directive: realism. Abrams wanted to create a spectacle, but he didn’t want the effects to ever seem more important than the characters on the ship. It became Guyett’s task to connect the aesthetic vision to the storytelling. To keep a sense of history, he had the ILM team compile a reel of all the best effects shots from the previous Star Trek films. They then took that array of alien planets, otherworldly creatures and cosmic images and discussed how to elevate them. Guyette knew that Abrams didn’t want to shoot many scenes against bluescreen, so he collaborated with the film’s department heads and designers of each environment with the thought that the effects would serve to extend the sets and locations in exciting ways, giving the movie real scope and scale. For the ILM team, this meant breaking each scene down to its component parts, figuring out what could only be created as an effect, and then shooting what was real first. Guyette chose to use every tool available, from cutting-edge tech to old school optical effects with miniatures and perspective. He wanted to present the Enterprise in a very emotional way, so he and director of photography Dan Mindel used the lighting approach that Stanley Kubrick had used in his film 2001 as a template, with a lot of darkness hinting at the unknown. A more earthly challenge was in shooting the scene in which the teenaged Kirk is stopped for speeding in his retro Corvette by a hovercruiser cop.  The effects team built the hover bike on the end of a crane arm, which was attached to a very low riding car chassis. Just as if they were shooting it in the l960s.