They say that the secret to success is to simply please yourself. Since it’s impossible to predict what people are going to love or hate, people are often told “make the movie you want to see, or invent the thing you want to buy.” Recently, I was approached to come up with an idea for a new Star Trek product; as part of the process, I found myself wondering, “what would I be interested in?” Sadly, the programmable Orion Slave Girl Clone didn’t quite pan out, but I came up with something else that I think is even sexier…
Nary a few months ago, my good friend and personal Star Trek reference library Jonathan Lane was doing some work for the good folks at Roddenberry Productions (yes, that Roddenberry). These guys basically started the Star Trek merchandising machine back in the 70s (when they were known as Lincoln Enterprises) and continue to produce limited runs of high quality Trek stuff to this day.
In any case, they mentioned that they were looking to expand their line of goodies so Jon told them about an artist friend who has a long history of creating incredible, breathtaking Star Trek imagery.
Unfortunately, he wasn’t available, so Jon also told them about me :-)
Regular readers of this blog already know that I spent many-a-year toiling over the visual effects for several Star Trek series, but only the sharpest Darth Mojo loyalists are probably aware that I was the co-creator and driving force behind the original Ships of the Line calendar series (more on that in future posts).
In any case, Roddenberry was interested in producing something that made use of cool Star Trek imagery and invited me to pitch some ideas. Shortly after our first meeting, I was in a local stationary store and noticed some new 3D lenticular items – mostly bookmarks and notepads adorned with pictures of teddy bears, dolphins, unicorns and other stuff that made me want to puke. But the one thing that really caught my attention was the high quality of the lenticulars!
TINY MAGIC LINES
Whether you know it or not, pretty much everyone is familiar with lenticular printing. Remember those little plastic Cracker Jack toys that featured an animated picture if you rotated the card? That’s a crude version of a lenticular image. They’ve been used as novelty items for decades now and come in two basic flavors – animated lenticulars (think winking jesus) or stereoscopic 3D lenticulars (think 3D jesus).
Basically, they work by interlacing multiple pictures onto tiny plastic lines (the lenticular lenses) which are so close together your left and right eye can simultaneously see different images – the perfect recipe for seeing in 3D (and without needing any pesky glasses).
In the days of yore, lenticular images were very coarse and low-res because you could only cram so many plastic lines into a square inch – but what amazed me about those bears and dolphins was how sharp they were! It turns out that the latest technology can now create imagery at 100 lines per inch, allowing for crisp, hi-res pictures.
Much too good to waste on kid stuff!
I went back to Roddenberry with a fistfull of unicorns and suggested that the same lenticular printing technology used to make cheesy bookmarks could be used for good – imagine the kind of Star Trek imagery you see in Ships of the Line calendars, but in hi-resolution, lenticular 3D (and with no fold down the middle, natch)!
I was wetting myself. This was the kind of thing I wanted to see! Pretty soon everyone was wetting themselves and thus was borne the concept of 3D TREK.
AHEAD WARP SPEED!
After a quick contract negotiation and mop-up, I went to work on creating the images and Jon set out to find the best lenticular printing company on the planet. It turns out that CGI animation software (such as Lightwave 3D, my favorite tool) is pretty much the only way you can create true 3D images that are perfectly suited for lenticular printing.
Without getting too technical, the vast majority of 3D lenticulars are created in Photoshop by manipulating various flat, 2D imagery (in other words, it’s faked, usually by multiplaning– like a Viewmaster effect). However, because I would be rendering my images using 3D models in true 3D space, I could tailor my shots to the exact requirements of the printers and thus create what is apparently very rare in the lenticular world – true stereoscopic 3D.
The guys doing the printing were so excited by this they decided to pull out their secret weapon and push the technology as far as it can go – to 24 phases. What does that mean? What, you mean not all of you have taken a crash course in lenticular printing? *Sigh* ok, I’ll explain…
As I mentioned earlier, lenticulars use multiple images, with each image representing a “phase” in the viewing process. In most cases they use between 8 and 12 phases (with 12 being the norm these days). However, if they really want to they can squeeze up to 24 individual pictures into those lenses (as long as they are really careful in the printing process). The end result is a much sharper and smoother picture.
After seeing the images we sent them, the folks at the printing company decided it would be worth the extra effort to go all the way to 24 phases. Woo-hoo! Speaking of the final images, I guess it’s about time I finally showed you what we’re talking about here (click to engage enlarge):
For the very first image, it was only fitting that it be of the very first Enterprise (the NX-01 can bite me). I thought it would be fun to recreate one of the most famous images of the ship – something everyone has seen before, but this time in 3D!
Next up we have the very latest Enterprise, in all its JJ Abrams glory. The ship rising up in front of Saturn is probably the most iconic moment in the movie, not to mention the planet and rings provides an excellent sense of depth for the 3D effect.
The third and final image is something for the Next Gen fans, a moment from a little film I like to call “First Contact.” Again, the composition is designed to heighten the 3D, with the E’s nacelle coming right off the page, and a strong sense of depth coming from the Cube’s beam.
Of course, seeing the images on a website just doesn’t do them justice, since the actual lenticular prints are in 3D. If only there was a way I could give you a preview of what they look like in stereo… hey, wait a second! Didn’t all of you go out over the weekend and buy some 3D glasses from Blockbuster? Well then go grab ’em, because I’ve got some old-fashioned anaglyph previews for you! These will give you a pretty good idea of the depth you’ll see when holding the lenticular prints in front of you (click to make in-your-face huge):
Now naturally I want to remind you, the actual prints Roddenberry will be selling do not require glasses. They look like normal, full-color images – that just happen to be floating off the page :-)
Each print is a giant 10×17 (that’s inches, not feet, just in case some of you fanboys started wetting yourselves) and the nature of lenticular printing means that the prints are super-sturdy (i.e. no one will accidentally fold or crease them). The introductory price is $14.95 each or $40 for all three, and the Roddenberry site has them live right now (they’ll also be premiering at San Diego Comic Con). I’ve been told shipping is worldwide.
Oh wait, I almost forgot to mention what’s on the back of these things! The aforementioned Trekspert Jon Lane (who had a hand in the tech data from Starship Spotter) has put together plan views, wireframes, historical information and more if you can pry your eyes away from the front of the print long enough to turn them over (the back images are on the Roddenberry site , so remember to check in over there).
In closing, let me say that I realize this post may sound like shameless huckstering – and so it should! I am genuinely proud and excited by these prints; they combine two of my favorite things, Star Trek and 3D, and as far as I know, no one has ever done something quite like this for Trek. Does that mean we are boldly going where… ok, never mind.
I’ve definitely followed that age-old advice and created something that excites me. I sincerely hope that everyone reading this gets a chance to see these lenticulars and shares that excitement, because one day soon I’d love to be asking your for your opinion – of what you’d like to see on the next batch of 3D prints!
Special thanks to Jim Carbonetti of 3D Blast for creating the anaglyph images. Take it!
Also thanks to Daren Dochterman for tea, sympathy and a sofa.
HEADS UP: If you’ve gone out and made the effort to get the glasses, let me know. If enough of you have them, I’ll post more 3D images from Star Trek, Babylon Five and maybe even some Battlestar Galactica :-) So go get those glasses – ye shall be rewarded!
UPDATE: I’ve had a few requests to post the 3D preview images in the classic “red/blue” anaglyph format, so here they are. Please take note that since the green/purple glasses are more widely available, in the future I will most likely only post in that format, so be sure to get your green/purple glasses ASAP!