This page is dedicated to examples of my work, both for fans to enjoy and my peers to nitpick. We’ll start with video and move into still imagery, with each post annotated by notes about what you see (i’ll update it as I get more material online, so check back occasionally).
If you have any questions please feel free to leave comments or contact me via the “about me” page. Enjoy!
This montage features much of my work on the series. More specific clips are coming soon!
ORIGINAL GALACTICA FX TEST
This is a test reel I created for Universal Studios; it was a pitch to replace the copious number of stock FX shots in the original Galactica series with new, story-specific shots. The idea was to seamlessly blend in the new CGI work with the original live action and make it all look like it was created in 1979. I laboriously analyzed the original sequence and designed new shots to reflect every plot point (the original scene’s FX were 90% stock footage) and did my best to deduce the intent of the writers. Ultimately, my goal was to create the scene that the show’s producers would have made if they had the time and money back in 1979. I eventually screened the sequence for one of the original producers and he commented, “this is the show we were trying to make.” Universal was excited by the idea but eventually deemed the project to be too expensive.
STAR TREK VOYAGER: Borgasm!
Here is a collection of what is, essentially, the “Best of Voyager Visual Effects” (aka all the Borg stuff). The first 3:30 are from “Scorpion”, a 2-part episode I supervised, with the majority of shots Mojo-designed and executed. After that, we move into the feature-length episode & VFX Emmy winner “Dark Frontier,” for which I also served as Supervisor and artist. From 6:30 on we see work from several other minor Borg shows and then eventually conclude with the series finale “Endgame,” which was a collaboration between myself and co-supervisor Rob Bonchune. In this day and age it would be unheard of, but on Voyager the majority of shots were all done “in-camera,” meaning all the elements you see are part of a single shot and rendered in one pass – there was virtually no compositing.
STAR TREK: VOYAGER “The Year of Hell, Pt2”
I served as CGI Supervisor & artist on this episode, which was nominated for an Outstanding Visual FX Emmy Award. There were a lot of great shots in this episode, but I think the one where the alien ship scrapes along Voyager’s hull was the clincher. Notice the camera angle – it’s specifically designed so that the sparks and glow from the contact point hides the actual line where the models intersect; seeing this area would have required incredibly complex and time consuming animation to visualize twisting metal and tearing hull surfaces – something we would not have had the time for. Nevertheless, the impact and “wow” factor of the moment still works!
STAR TREK: VOYAGER “Aeroshuttle Test”
During the 5th season, VFX Producer Dan Curry wanted to introduce the “Aeroshuttle,” a small spacecraft that had always been embedded in the underside of the Voyager’s hull but never seen (the ship would be capable of warp travel and be able to fly inside a planet’s atmosphere). To help sell the idea to the show’s producers, Rob Bonchune and I created this test to show what a launch sequence would look like. Sadly, a similar scene was being planned for the upcoming movie Star Trek: Insurrection and so the Aeroshuttle was never introduced.
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE “Sacrifice of Angels”
This episode marked a turning point for DS9: it was the beginning of CGI for the series. Up to this point it had relied on traditional models & motion control, but the massive space battle called for in this episode was originally budgeted at over $3 million dollars (more than the cost of making the rest of the show). Since the series Voyager had already been proving the cost-effectiveness of CGI, the producers of DS9 decided to draw a line in the sand – from this point forward, traditional VFX would be abandoned in favor of the new technology. This major decision was made just weeks before the episode had to be finished, and it took the resources of both Foundation Imaging and Digital Muse (another CGI company often used by Star Trek) to quickly transition the series into the digital realm (the work I supervised and co-animated begins at the 2:08 mark). The change was a resounding success and the Trek franchise never looked back!
BABYLON FIVE “Severed Dreams”
Babylon Five marked the first time in history that CGI was used to create the visual FX for a TV series or movie, and this season three episode was the culmination of over four years of learning & research by the groundbreaking team at Foundation Imaging. Containing over five minutes of CGI, Severed Dreams contained the most ambitious FX sequence ever produced for television and rivaled Return of the Jedi in scope. VFX Supervisor Ron Thornton allowed me to take the reigns of the FX for this episode, which I painstakingly storyboarded, directed and supervised (as well as animated many of the shots). While the quality of today’s CGI has certainly improved, I still think the overall look & feel and general punch of the battle still holds up!
This was an idea for a TV series conceived by myself and writer/producer Mark Altman. It was envisioned as a round-table, genre review & discussion show made by geeks for geeks. I produced, directed and edited this proof-of-concept pilot for the show on literally a zero budget and am proud of what we accomplished for so little (the wonderful location was the now-defunct restaurant Encounters at LAX). Ultimately, the Bravo network showed the most interest but inevitably passed on the show. Mark and I are currently talking about reviving the concept as a web series!
THE MAKING OF HYPERNAUTS
Hypernauts was a 22-episode sci-fi series for tweens which originally aired on ABC. Created by VFX pioneer Ron Thornton and produced by Foundation Imaging, through the use of ground-breaking CGI techniques, this imaginative, low budget show had the production value of a feature film. I produced, directed, shot and edited this behind-the-scenes short for presentation at sci-fi conventions.
I call this “flying higher.” It was an image I created while working on Galactica after hours one night. I was looking at an inspiration image of an Airforce fighter jet and wanted to make something similar for the fictional Viper fighter. The idea was to make the viewer wish he was the pilot of that ship, soaring high over the clouds of earth. While the Viper is CG, the background is very real – it’s a picture I took during sunset from the window of a 747!
This is a shot of the USS Voyager that didn’t make it into the show. We had a sequence of the ship in drydock over Mars and I discovered this amazing angle the day after we delivered the final FX shots. The producers loved it and would have made room for the extra shot if only I had discovered it a day sooner!
Here’s a nice, photoreal shot of old faithful. It was created for the Baltimore Star Trek convention Shore Leave and was printed, framed and sold at the charity auction.
A favorite from the 2003 “Ships of the Line” calendar (a Star Trek calendar series started by myself & Rob Bonchune). This image visualizes an evocative shot which was cut from a Voyager script: Borg cubes search for renegades over a war-torn forest. Although the scene was scrapped from the episode, I always had this haunting image etched in my memory and resurrected it for the calendar. While the cubes are CG, the foreground is an actual image of trees that had been decimated by acid rain.
ONE NIGHT OVER GRIFFITH PARK
Another favorite from the successful calendar series (“Ships of the Line” went on to become the best selling Trek calendar of all time). This shot is a more detailed look at a moment from the episode “Future’s End,” in which the Voyager returns to present day Los Angeles.
STAR TREK BY ANSEL ADAMS
These black & white shots are a result of my flipping through a book of artistic photography and realizing no one had ever treated starship imagery as “art.” I sat down to create some renders with an eye towards traditional B&W, with the focus being on contrast and composition. As far as I know, this is the first time anyone had done this with Star Trek. Here’s a minimalist view of a Basestar from Battlestar Galactica:
INTO THE SUNSET
The Next Generation crew never had a final shot of the Enterprise flying off into the sunset, so I decided to give them their much-deserved, classic send-off. As opposed to the previous black & white images, I wanted this shot to feature more color than we usually see in space scenes.
THE KLINGON BIRD OF PREY OWNER’S MANUAL
Published by the same company that sells detailed owner’s manuals for automobiles, this tongue-in-cheek edition tells you everything you need to know about a 23rd century Klingon warship. Complete with technical specs and blueprints, I provided dozens of photoreal renders of the ship and interior. These are a few of my favorite exterior views.
BIRD OF PREY BRIDGE
Also required by the book was a detailed look at the bridge of the Bird of Prey. Based on specs of the actual sets from the TV series, modeler Ed Giddings created the basic geometry and texture while I finished off surface details and rolled up my sleeves to tackle the all-important lighting. As with any set (real or virtual), lighting is the key to realism and I largely focused on re-creating the look of the dark & moody Klingon sets as they appeared on-screen. Great attention was paid to lighting the model as if it were a real set; the majority of fixtures are spot lights, with much of the fill coming from true radiosity (light bouncing from one surface to another). Additional lights were placed to create spill from visible fixtures and control panels. Also, a dark set like this would force a wider camera aperture resulting in shorter depth of field – I addressed this by shortening the focal length on the CG camera, throwing the backgrounds into softer focus.
PHOTOREAL MODEL LIGHTING
Several years ago, with the addition of new, powerful lighting tools, I completely reinvented the way I did basic lighting. Through a combination of tight control over key light spread angles and the implementation of true radiosity, I was able to achieve far greater photorealism with fewer lights. These images use no more than three lights each (key, fill and rim) and the resulting renders look more like practical models than CG. The first two ships were modeled over ten years ago, once again demonstrating the importance of lighting.
An important, final stage to building almost any model (from a spaceship to an office building) is a self-illumination kit. Be it running lights, landing lights, headlights or the glow coming from inside office windows, these oft-overlooked details can spell the difference between photrealism and something that “just doesn’t look right.” The goal isn’t to make the model look like a Christmas tree, but to have just enough built-in lighting that you would know what you’re looking at even without any external light sources. The above example also shows how a light kit can be instrumental in creating an evocative mood (there are no key or fill lights present) and, as seen in the example below from Battlestar Galactica, these tiny lights also create a sense of scale:
The image directly above is how the model looked in the episode, lit only by the running lights and a faint hint of star light. For a more in-depth look at the creation of this ship’s self-lighting, click here: https://darthmojo.wordpress.com/2008/06/04/bsg-vfx-self-lighting/
UK Publishers Eaglemoss have created a series of 4-inch Batmobile replica models, based on every Batmobile ever seen in print, movies or TV. The miniatures are 3D printed from the CG models you see here; my responsibility was to light & render them with as much realism as possible for the magazine that accompanies each model. I also created interior cutaways, giving each vehicle a sense of being a “real thing.” Each car required approximately a dozen lights, necessary not only for basic lighting but to add color and a variety of shiny (specular) highlights, giving them that “showroom” look. Here is a gallery of a few of my favorite images:
STEREOSCOPIC 3D GALLERY
As a lifelong fan of stereoscopic art, I’ve always sought projects that allow me to utilize this now-popular format. I was the VFX Supervisor for the 3D ride film “Borg Invasion,” (which ran for many years in Las Vegas) and have spearheaded several 3D merchandising runs for the Roddenberry company. I was an early pioneer in creating stereoscopic renders with CG software and guided the efforts of a top Los Angeles studio to create stereo previsualization for major motion pictures. Here are some of my favorite 3D images in anaglyph format. Break out your red-blue glasses!
Music & audio technology has always been a passion, and presented here are a few examples of my production work. First up is my “Immersive Edition” of the soundtrack to Blade Runner:
I was never satisfied with the commercial releases of the Blade Runner soundtrack, and wanted to create one that offered the listener the experience I was after – the feeling of being inside the unique and atmospheric world of the film. Using several versions of the official soundtrack, a handful of bootlegs and various sound effects, I loaded the elements into a multi-track audio editor and painstakingly created a seamless journey through the soundscape of Blade Runner.
Next up is my infamous soundtrack to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. This cinematic 80s icon never had a soundtrack release, and over many years I laboriously hunted down every music track featured in the film. Combining the music with clips of dialog from the film, I created a piece that is as much fun to listen to as the movie is to watch:
To download the file, and for the full story my soundtrack and how I met John Hughes, click here:
Finally, here is a short segment of the fictional “Banzai Radio” series I created for the DVD extras of the movie Buckaroo Banzai. I served as producer for all the special features on the disc and did everything I could to cram in as much extra material for this cult favorite as space would allow. At one point the disc was essentially full, yet I still wanted to interview several people associated with the fan club and movie’s unique publicity campaign. Another video segment was out of the question, so I asked the DVD producer “is there room for more audio?” Fortunately, audio takes up very little space in the world of bits and bytes so the idea for a “Banzai Radio” segment was born:
If you’ve made it this far, here’s a little something I did just for fun:
Some of my CGI lighting tutorials:
And a fun note to the US Military:
I hope you enjoyed this trip down Mojo Avenue! More material will be added soon…