Star Trek: First Contact recently had its 26th anniversary last week, and an ILM legend in the VFX field celebrated it by showing how the film pulled off a shot that had never been done before.
For Star Trek fans, the best movie in the franchise is Wrath of Khan. With Star Trek: First Contact arguably right behind it.
On November 22, 1996, Jonathan Frakes (aka Commander Riker) made his feature directorial debut with the second movie headlined by the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, one that pit former Borg -- Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) -- against the alien race hellbent on assimilating humanity into their collective. It's Picard's Moby Dick in space, as the Enterprise captain struggle to save his crew (and salvage his humanity) from the object of his vendetta: The Borg Queen (Alice Krige). One of the movie's most memorable scenes -- and one of the most iconic in all of Trek history -- is the Borg Queen's entrance, the first time the audience has seen her in the flesh.
She arrives as a disembodied torso that descends from cables inside the assimilated engine room of the Enterprise-E before joining with the rest of her Borg body. The Queen then crosses to a captured Data (Brent Spiner) while villain monologuing -- all in one shot. With no edits.
In 1996, to pull this off required a mix of motion control rig and digital VFX that had never been done before. While most put Star Wars or 2001 deservedly atop the list of landmark sci-fi visual effects, VFX artist Todd Vaziri (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) makes a strong argument for why this shot from First Contact deserves to be right up there as well. To celebrate the film's recent anniversary, Todd retweeted his thread on how this game-changing sequence was made. Check it out below:
If I were in charge of the universe, I’d create a Visual Effects Hall of Fame, an inductee would be this shot from "Star Trek: First Contact" (1996), directed by @jonathansfrakes. In a movie filled with spectacle, it's a quiet, jaw-dropping moment. pic.twitter.com/mnTQCbMB5N— Todd Vaziri (@tvaziri) December 21, 2018
"If I were in charge of the universe, I’d create a Visual Effects Hall of Fame, [and] an inductee would be this shot from Star Trek: First Contact," Vaziri writes, kicking off the Twitter thread version of a thesis paper on VFX.
The first part of the shot is a challenge unto itself: a severed human torso being lowered by cables onto a body. The extra added challenge is that the body needs to be assembled and walk toward camera in an uninterrupted shot. pic.twitter.com/awI907HQW8— Todd Vaziri (@tvaziri) December 21, 2018
What You Can Learn
Firstly, you learn from the jump that you should be following Todd's Twitter and checking it often. The guy is a goldmine when it comes to behind-the-scenes "how'd they do that" insights into some of the most epic (and subtle) VFX sequences in film history. Second, this thread illustrates how Industrial Light & Magic is constantly at the forefront of visual effects and one of their best works is also one of their most under-appreciated.
Fans and aspiring VFX workers have studied this clip like it was the Zepruder film, and you can learn a lot from this oner on how to make a character have a memorable introduction -- especially your villain.