Sunday, February 27, 2005


"Sometimes computer-generated [effects] don't look convincing." In a shot of Voyager crash-landing on an icy planet, he felt that the ship skidding through the snow didn't work. The solution: "The snow was baking soda. We painted a toy model of Voyager black, and we had a guy take the model and run as fast as he could, running it through the baking soda" on a series of long tables.

Another case was lava. "Synthetic lava never looks convincing. Normally they use Metrocil-the stuff that McDonald's uses to thicken milkshakes. Or it's computer generated, but it never looks real." His solution for a scene in Voyager: "We found some 16mm footage of actual lava" from a volcanic eruption in Hawaii, "we digitally stabilized it, and I was able to use Inferno---all the visual effects boxes have really cool names---and twist it into perspective." The shot showed lava flowing down a channel that was a real dry streambed on location, photographed with live actors in the shot.

Effects Tech

Asked what software he uses now, Curry said: "For 3-D animation we use Lightwave, sometimes we use Maya. For 2-D compositing, such as green screen, we use Inferno." "For phaser animation and frame by frame animation, we do that on a Flame. A lot of people use Studio Macs, we don't. For matte paintings that don't move much, I do those in Photoshop."

The 3-D effects on Enterprise are done by two teams at Eden Effects, while the 2-D (greenscreen, etc.) is handled mostly by two teams at Creative Services. Curry himself still does some hands-on work as needed: "...some matte painting, a lot of the conceptual design, like designing the cg creatures, or else [makeup chief] Michael Westmore does that. It depends where the greatest needs are. I like to design the bladed weapons for the show. In visual effects, the supervisors will be hands on when they can best contribute."

The two sides of Teamwork

Curry stressed several times that TV and movies require the creative teamwork of hundreds of people. When I spoke with him later, I asked him how he had gotten so involved in areas outside his job description, like designing Klingon weapons and the tai chi-like exercises. He said it was one of the great things about working at Star Trek was that your job description didn't matter as much as what you could do. "If you could do it, you did it." Because they worked so closely and across departmental lines, they learned each others' interests, and so, for example, producers knew about his fascination with martial arts and t'ai chi.

Curry has also directed some second unit dramatic scenes, as one he showed from Voyager, a bit of comic byplay between the holographic doctor and Seven-of-Nine.

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