Fan Film, Fan Films

Star Trek Fan Film To Boldly Go Where No Man Can Go Anymore?

trekcastThe relatively new podcast, Trek Cast, recently got into the topic of fan films, devoting much of Episode 7 to discussing Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning; Star Trek: Of Gods And Men; Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II; Starship Farragut and other goodies.

While the banter between the co-hosts was fun, the best part for fan film enthusiasts was the revelation that their pal Vernon is working on a documentary about the late, great** Las Vegas attraction, Star Trek: The Experience.

“Vernon” apparently worked at the site throughout the ride’s entire existence and videotaped tons of material for a fan-made documentary, including footage of it being dismantled and removed from the Las Vegas Hilton. I have a real sweet tooth for fan docs and would love to see this thing; the hosts are threatening to bring Vern on to talk more about it, so let’s hope that happens!

**OK, semi-great—the original ride was cool, but the latter addition of the Borg Invasion was pretty weak (and for once in my life, I actually know what I’m talking about; while only a casual Trek fan, I got comped to go on it plenty of times over the years due to having authored two articles on the attraction, which I’ve included for fun below.

MARCH, 1998: Vegas, The Final Frontier
by Paroo Brown and Clive Young.

Las Vegas–Most science fiction fans dream about boarding the Starship Enterprise; now “Star Trek: The Experience,” an attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton, makes the dream a reality. The 65,000-square-foot “interactive entertainment complex” immerses visitors in the sights–and sounds–of the future for 22-minutes of action-packed adventure.

The voyage begins when a seemingly routine safety video is interupted by a flash of light and a giant “warp!” Magically, visitors are transported aboard the Enterprise as its crew foils an attempted Klingon abduction. The Experience then winds visitors through corridors and turbolifts to the heart of the Enterprise, the Bridge; and finally onto a shuttlecraft for an intense dog-fight over the simulated Las Vegas strip.

Audio plays a strategic part in creating the reality of the Star Trek universe for visitors. Chris Conte, director of Technical Design for Landmark Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based company that teamed up with Paramount Parks and the Hilton to design the Experience, noted, “Everything from the dynamic sound effects to the familiar low-frequency rumble that is present throughout the Enterprise makes the Experience come alive.”

The attraction’s audio plays a major role right from the beginning. While waiting on the “museum queue,” visitors are treated to a multimedia timeline of the Star Trek legend, complete with props and paraphenalia from the show. “The audio on the museum queue is purposely ‘tin-can’ sounding,” said Conte, “so when you get into the main theatre, the sound is much more dynamic by comparison. It’s an exciting way to support the surprise accoustically.”

The attraction’s intense audio-realism, designed and installed by Signal Perfection Ltd. (SPL) of Baltimore, MD, will impress the most scrutinizing Trekkie. “Recreating the Star Trek environment was more challenging, in ways, than creating something from scratch,” said Conte. “To match the ambient sounds of the show, you have to be creative in a different manner.”

Audio installation, lead by Dave Callahan and Zane Marshall of SPL, began in April ‘97 and took four months to complete, between laying ten miles of audio cable, installing speakers and mics, and loading in the equipment racks. All sound equipment was hidden within the sets.

Perhaps the most intense part of the Experience is when the audience zips through a wormhole, chased by attacking Klingons. The motion theatre’s sound wraps around the audience with the help of 12 main EAW speaker clusters, custom-designed by Craig Jansen, accoustician at Accoustic Dimensions, New York, NY, and 16 Crown power amps. SPL used modeling programs to anticipate sound absorption by the crowd and tacked on an additional channel of sub-bass frequency to the MediaMatrix system to help fill out the theatre. Additional point source speakers were also employed to enhance sounds zipping from one channel to the other as Klingon ships zoom by. “We wanted to supply the audience with terrific audio effects that would reinforce the realism of the sets, providing the greatest experience for the participants,” said Conte.

Audio producers Michael Stearns and James Fielden worked with thousands of Star Trek sound files provided by Paramount. They created sound profiles in digital rough mixes at their home studios before doing the actual mix and EQ on-site in Las Vegas. Using a Peavey MediaMatrix audio processing computer system, the audio suite was mixed live at each attraction point, and SMPTE time code was used to sync all the multi-channel Show Control devices together. The sounds range from the low 30db of ship rumble and continuous loop of ‘comm-traffic’ (recorded communications between Enterprise crewmembers), to the high 105db peaks of the exciting final battle sequence.

Although the audio crew’s work went smoothly enough, they had to be sensitive to last-minute changes. Initially, an Anitech Solid State audio playback card was used for a brief audio sequence on the Bridge. However, when script-writers decided to extend the Bridge sequence, changes needed to be made in the audio technology used. “We had to replace the Anitech system with something more linear that could handle four minutes of dynamically consistent playback,” noted Conte. “So we switched to an eight-channel Akai hard-disk set-up, enabling us to perfect the entire audio mix right there at the Bridge and dump it directly onto the hard-disk for playback.”

The result of all that hard work is a ride that sounds pretty darn good. But what do the experts say? “We had some of the actors from Next Generation and Deep Space Nine come through,” laughed Conte. “They said the Bridge was so realistic, they thought they were at work!”


MAY, 2004: Borg Invade Las Vegas
by Clive Young
Las Vegas–In 1998, Star Trek: The Experience debuted at the Las Vegas Hilton. An immersive, interactive ride based on the popular science-fiction franchise, the $70 million attraction was an instant hit, garnering more than 3 million riders to date. In true Trek tradition, then, this past April saw the debut of a sequel: Star Trek: Borg Invasion 4D.

The new ride takes visitors to Copernicus Station, a research spaceship which is invaded by the evil title characters. After being led by live “crewmembers” through the crumbling ship, riders wind up in a large theater where they watch an eight-minute 3D movie that simulates the Borg and humans battling it out right there in the room. Who wins? Well, we won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say the spaceship’s passengers arrive at the gift shop in one piece.

When the Experience attraction opened in 1998, it featured two rides that were mirror images so that both could run simultaneously, moving visitors through quickly when lines got long. It was always presumed, however, that one would eventually be replaced by a new, different ride, so when the Borg attraction was greenlit, it naturally took over one-half of the existing space.

“It’s a very complicated space, this attraction,” said David Thornton, vice president of production for Paramount Parks, speaking on-site a few weeks before completion. “I often joke that it doesn’t look like a space ship; it is a space ship. We want this [change] to appear completely seamless to the guests, so the logistics involved in that were considerable; it was a little bit of a Siamese twin operation. It’s been a precision job so as not to disturb the normal operations on the other side. For instance, we had to disconnect one side from the other in terms of Show Control as well as physical barriers, plus we had to demo out and reinstall.”

The Borg attraction now has a different interior layout and a radically different theater. As a result, most of the intended space–over 15,000 square feet–was gutted and rebuilt over seven months. “We worked around a lot of existing walls,” said Thornton, “and the original structure was built to extremely high standards for sound isolation. We’ve got a fair number of105db walls and obviously we didn’t want to touch those, but we did do extra solid partition walls when we were separating from one area to the next, so we did have acoustic isolation between the spaces.”

Just as some of the walls remained, so did some of the audio equipment from the former half of the attraction. “Essentially, everything in the original racks is still there,” said Thornton, running through some of the changes and updates. “We’re still running through Peavey MediaMatrix. We’re adding SSA’s [Solid State audio playback cards] from Anitech Systems. The overall audio video contractor on the job this time is Electrosonic (Burbank, CA), whereas in the past, it was SPL.”

Electrosonic had eight technicians onhand to complete the audio system, while two engineers worked on the on-site mix with George Johnson, a principle at Threshold Digital Research Laboratories, who was head sound designer/sound producer on the project. Additionally, the attraction’s internal technical staff was also present supporting the audio installation.

Thornton was effusive about the project’s commitment to quality sound, stating, “We really value the importance of the audio for the stories we’re telling here, and as a result, we’re actually investing the time and money to mix final versions of everything in each space over six nights. We’re really optimizing the software/hardware interface.”

The main focus of the ride, of course, is the theater, sporting 23,000 watts of 12-channel sound. The centerpiece to its sound system are 48 gray-cloth armchairs, each built at a cost of $25,000 by Technifex, Inc (Valencia, CA). The chairs feature surround rear speakers in the headrests, as well as Buttkickers attached at their bases. “We wanted to create kind of two soundfields,” said Thornton. “Obviously the traditional main left-center-right and surrounds in the theater are there, but we also wanted a special effect of the Borg Collective speaking to the guests, almost whispering in their ears, so we’ve added a stereo pair behind the heads of the guests to facilitate that.”

The chairs also simulate various physical sensations, using air bladders to create the feeling of being pressed into a seat due to speed; there’s also various pokes in the back that effectively startle visitors.

Equally key to selling visitors on the ride, however, is the 3D film, which is presented to look like anything but a movie; plot-wise, it shows riders events taking place in the room and through a hole in the spaceship’s side. As a result, Thornton was “super excited” about the film’s projection system, built around the first two Christie CP 2000H High Def projectors, which run $500,000 a piece. “They are a vast improvement over all the other digital projectors out there,” Thornton reported. “We get an absolutely stunning resolution and a much better version of 3D, because the images are rock steady and really, really crisp.”

Pausing to consider the massive amounts of technology brought to bear on the project, Thornton simply mused, “They’re very big toys and they work amazingly well considering what we’re asking these devices to do.”

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1 Response to “Star Trek Fan Film To Boldly Go Where No Man Can Go Anymore?”

  1. 1 Christopher Moshier

    I hit the Star Trek: The Experience back in 2001 for the 35th anniversary of Trek Convention. It was a pretty cool concept although wayyyy over priced for what it was.

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