2006-09-27

Why Not EdenFX for TOR?

It finally dawned on me why TOS Remastered looks the way it does.

First off, some have asked whether they could do anything like this with TNG, DS9, and the other standard-definition shows. The answer is that they could, but the answer is also that they never will. TOS was never meant to be an effects-heavy show . . . Desilu would've gone broke. But twenty years later, Trek audiences had (as per the statements of the time) come to expect the same quality of special effects that had been seen in the films. And, thanks to advancements like video compositing via the Quantel "Harry" (which took high-quality 35mm film elements and could allow you to mix (composite) them electronically) and other such devices, they were able to put out a high level of effects work at reasonable cost.

As you might've seen in the Basics section of the site, standard definition TV in the USA is also known as 480i . . . 480 horizontal lines of resolution, shown in interlaced frames. The new TOR is being created with 1080p in mind . . . the best format of HDTV. That's 2.25 times the number of horizontal lines of resolution.

The Quantel Harry's output was basically 480i. So if you wanted to remaster TNG, you'd want to take all those 35mm filmed elements and recomposite each and every one in HDTV quality. I don't know what elements they'd still have available, not to mention which ones were shot on film. For instance, some of the niftiest TNG effects were done at bargain-basement prices, and might've only ever existed on video. That mylar pom-pom shield effect comes to mind, not to mention the computer-generated phaser beams from DS9 and perhaps earlier. Weaker effects like that excessively-crappy purple-static-disintegrator effect from "Angel One" (which looked like CGI off of an Amiga) would probably demand some modern CGI replacement, too.

Think about that for a moment. Some might say "sounds good, let's do it!", but it'll never fly. TOS was great for its time, but when you get right down to it that show was light on the visual effects. Even episodes like "Balance of Terror" only have a few opticals. Probably "The Doomsday Machine" ranks highest insofar as opticals are concerned, but I'd wager that your average TNG episode trounces "Doomsday"'s count. The audience had come to expect quality effects and a little bit of "wow!", and the tech and budget was there to allow Roddenberry et al. to deliver.

Redoing TOS is a cakewalk. The effort they're going to spend on TOS Remastered is probably less than the effort that would be spent recompositing just TNG's first season in HDTV.

So will the TNG-era Trek shows always look like low-res ancient TV, with TOR and ENT looking 2.25 times better? No, not at all. When the time comes for TNG, DS9, and Voyager to appear in Blu-Ray, credits to navy beans says they're just going to upconvert it.

Upconversion isn't new. Even old DVD players taking a 480i movie, de-interlacing, and making it progressive scan 480p are upconverting to some extent. But there's consumer-level equipment out there now which will take 480i signals and upconvert for viewing on HDTV plasmas, LCDs, and so on.

It won't look as flawless as a totally redone TNG, but TNG-Upconverted won't look bad at all. Just witness the Ten-Forward scenes they lifted from TNG and reused in "These Are The Voyages"[ENT4] to see what I mean.

But of course, it won't look perfect, perhaps especially when it comes to the effects. Some of the early Image G ultraviolet compositing work looked a little weak at times compared to the ILM shots from the first season . . . and not just because of the "Bulldog" four-foot model.

However, that leads us back to the original point.

While faithfulness to the original effects is a laudable goal, and while I'm sure in-house CGI done by CBS Digital was cheaper than using the awesome work we've come to know and love from EdenFX, I think it's also true that they didn't want to show up the TNG-era shows too badly. The EdenFX test footage was awesome, but imagine looking at "Balance of Terror" or "The Doomsday Machine" in an EdenFX version, then popping in even an upconverted "The Defector"[TNG3] or even "Best of Both Worlds"[TNG4] . . . or for that matter, even the Dominion War fights from DS9. It just wouldn't compare . . . TNG-era shows looked great and hold up well, but even upconverted it would be trounced by the beauty of EdenFX.

(There's also the matter of the sets. TOS sets looked alright for the most part (but even in standard definition I remember shoddy bits like the button for the Tantalus Field device). However, according to some interviews with production staffers, the TNG sets were often built with the intent of 480i and no close-ups . . . it was the DS9 sets that first got the movie-quality-close-up treatment, and even then it was probably mainly just the standing sets.)

In short, then, I think they want to keep consistency. The Enterprise really could be done a whole lot better for TOR, but as soon as they whipped out an EdenFX-quality Enterprise they'd be stuck in a few years with 21 seasons of the TNG-era shows that look like crud by comparison. And there'd be nothing they could do about it unless the TOR team signed on for another 20 years of work.

"Better to keep things faithful to the original" would be the logic there, I'd say. And of course, since 1080p HDTV is pretty much the end-all be-all of resolution (since even high-quality movies like Star Wars Episode III were filmed on 1080p digital cameras and looked gorgeous blown up to theater-screen-size), getting a good-enough 1080p Star Trek Original Series, mixed with upconversion of the rest, is all they really need to do, and realistically all they can do.

But, alas, I still would've liked streaking warp stars . . .

1 comment:

  1. I agree that EdenFX should have gotten the job. Some of CBS' mistakes and the overall inconsistent nature of the entire project make it a complete washout for me. Remember, Mike Okuda has done much graphical work for NASA including the design of the new Altair mission patches. The team he is in charge of on TOS-R renders planet Earth rotating in the WRONG direction in "Assignment Earth" That was the final straw for me. I was so disgusted that I did not watch for weeks afterwards.

    Some other errors are the James R kirk tombstone, the horrid glove of Zeus, atrocious CG eyelids for gorns, myriads of phaser shots that went unremasterd, and the LAME first attempt at a CG enterprise that is still in several of the first remastered episodes.

    I'll say the second attempt was a little better but they both fail in comparison to EdenFX's U.S.S. Defiant from "In A Mirror, Darkly parts 1 and 2"

    Eden should have gotten this job for sure. i was sad when they did not get the job and I still am.

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