In speaking of the genesis of Star Trek: Insurrection, producer Rick Berman says that "this story went through a great number of generations. Screenwriter Michael Piller and I, who have worked together for more than ten years, started over a year ago on a Heart of Darkness type of story, dealing with Picard going into a very foreboding place, having to bring someone back. That someone became Data, and soon the place took on a different quality."
Instead of rescuing Data from a grim, savage world, the crew of the Enterprise must save an idyllic world from destruction at the hands of the outside universe. "The story went through a lot of evolutions," says Berman -- "that's how we have always tended to work together. "Every time we set out we want to write and produce the best film we can. I think this one is a little bit more ambitious than any of the others in terms of its scope, the number of characters, the number of locations."
According to director Jonathan Frakes, who also plays the part of Commander Riker, Star Trek: Insurrection involved more location shooting than any previous Star Trek film. "Virtually half the movie is exteriors," he says, "which opens up the scope and setting for some incredible action sequences." Lake Sherwood provided the setting for the rustic village the Ba'ku have created to fit their way of life. The set included the village itself, with its homes, shops, and community center, as well as a bridge over a river, and the fields that surround the village.
In the course of the film, the Ba'ku are forced to flee their village when it is attacked. "The exodus of the Ba'ku at night is pure Cecil B. DeMille," says director Frakes, as men, women, and children escape into the darkness, leading with them the domestic animals they need for their way of life. The Ba'ku rely mainly on llamas, native to the Andes Mountains of South America. Animal handler Cheryl Harris, whom the cast and crew came to call the "llama lady," says of the llamas, "They're actually very sweet and friendly animals, and it's just a matter of training them to wear the packs and be around all the crowds and the lights. We start them out when they're very young, so they get used to it all."
For the scenes in the mountain refuge of the Ba'ku, the production moved to the eastern Sierra Nevada. One location used in the filming was on a remote, rocky mountaintop above Lake Sabrina. The location, 10,000 feet above sea level, could only be reached by helicopters, which were used to bring in cast, crew, equipment and supplies. According to director Frakes, "I've never commuted to work by helicopter before -- it was definitely a first." The mountaintop location was breathtaking in more ways than one: the set medic was ready with oxygen in case any member of the production grew short of breath in the thin air two miles up.
"There were a lot of challenges on this picture," says production designer Herman Zimmerman. "The film involved fifty-five sets," he explains, as compared to thirty-seven sets in First Contact. According to Zimmerman, "this is probably the most scenery we've built for a Star Trek motion picture since the first one, when everything was brand new. Jonathan Frakes is a delight to work with," Zimmerman notes, "and Rick Berman is absolutely the best producer we could hope for. Along with our visual effects producer, Peter Lauritson, we have developed a kind of shorthand which really helps us immensely."
Adds Marina Sirtis (Troi), "we've seen so many of Herman's great sets, and yet we're still infinitely surprised every time we see another one."
Creating the look and feel of the contrasting races and civilizations of the Ba'ku and Son'a was crucial to establishing the tone of Star Trek: Insurrection. Zimmerman worked closely with producer Berman and director Frakes in creating the look and feel of the Ba'ku village, where they live a tranquil life, having turned their back on space travel and advanced technology. "They are a gentle, spiritual people," says Zimmerman, "a culture that evolved to the point of being as technologically capable as the Federation, but they have decided that they would prefer to live a simpler life." To convey these qualities, explains Zimmerman, "we agreed on a style which became a kind of Pacific Rim style of architecture. Our influences came from Thailand, Japan, China, and Polynesia, and we were able to create a simple, elegant design for the village -- not a slick urban look, but more of an organic architecture, to reflect the simple Ba'ku lifestyle."
"Herman has done a magnificent job of creating this beautiful environment," says director Frakes. "I have a sneaking suspicion that people are going to see the movie and wonder where the Ba'ku village is, so they can go there."
Production designer Zimmerman also had the task of creating the utterly different civilization of the Son'a. "They are a glittering people," he says; "they like jewels, and silver and gold. They are very art deco, in a way, if you wanted to give them a design direction." He designed a Son'a starship and shuttle, as well as the command bridge of the Son'a ship, and a body-sculpting facility to reflect the Son'a obsession with preserving youth. The ship's bridge, according to Zimmerman, "has a lot of silver and plush materials. And the captain's chair isn't so much a chair as a couch -- it's a huge, double-wide settee on a turntable, which allows the Son'a commander, Ru'afo, to spin around and bark out commands without too much effort."
The climactic confrontation between Captain Picard and Ru'afo takes place aboard the Son'a science ship, a specialized vehicle built to extract the youth-extending metaphasic particles from the rings around the Ba'ku planet. "It was a difficult challenge," says Zimmerman, because the struggle between Picard and Ru'afo takes place over a gigantic cavity of metal girders which seem to open a space miles below them. All that distance and the danger of falling though that metal structure was real. With a combination of a real four-story set and a computer generated model of the structure, we created one of the most spectacular looking interiors we've seen on Star Trek."
Star Trek: Insurrection marks a new Star Trek milestone in the use of computer graphics to create ships maneuvering in outer space. According to Zimmerman, "for the first time in Star Trek features, we are doing computer-generated images instead of motion-control model photography. Two years ago, when we did First Contact, we probably would not have considered that." In addition to the Enterprise and her captain's yacht -- a vessel that has been mentioned in Star Trek ever since the original television show in the 1960s, but never before shown on the screen -- Star Trek: Insurrection includes three different classes of Son'a spacecraft. Among them are Rua'fo's command ship, along with two Son'a battleships of the same design, a scout ship, and the science vessel. "It was a lot of fun and a great challenge to create that big an armada for one race." Says Zimmerman.
In spite of the use of computer graphics for deep-space footage, the traditional skills of the model builders are still called on. In one key sequence, the Son'a send down scores of drones to shoot tagging devices at the Ba'ku, so that they can be forcibly beamed up and away from their world. During the sequence, Enterprise crewmen get up close and personal with the drones, demolishing several of them.
The action scene on the planet's surface ruled out using computer graphics, so models were built instead. According to model shop foreman Patrick Denver, building the drones "was a process with four to six weeks from paper to the finished product." The drones are also shown being launched in space from the Son'a ship, and that sequence was filmed with computer graphics. "What they've done," explains Denver, "is they've scanned this into the computer to duplicate it for the flying scenes in space."
As essential to Star Trek as creating the civilizations of alien races, from villages to starships, is creating the aliens themselves. Much of that task falls to veteran Star Trek makeup designer Michael Westmore. "It was quite a challenge to create this unique look for the Son'a," says Westmore, "and particularly for their leader, Ru'afo." The Son'a are an old race, terrified of aging and mortality. "I did a lot of medical research for this alien incarnation," notes Westmore, "and I am very pleased with the result." As for what the Son'a actually look like, the film's creators are cagey and close-mouthed, but director Frakes offers a hint. "Let's just say they look as if they may have had one too many facelifts!" says Frakes.
F. Murray Abraham (Ru'afo) found it a new and intriguing experience to play an alien, with his real appearance concealed by a makeup mask, "I have rediscovered the value of a mask. As an actor, what happens behind the mask is that a certain creative gate opens -- an enormous freedom that is only allowed to you through a mask."
Tom Morello of "Rage Against the Machine," who plays one of the Son'a, comments on the makeup process. "It begins at five in the morning -- that's my rock hour normally, when I'm crawling back into my coffin." According to Morello, "there's a foundation mask that they build on, and they're able to keep some of your facial expressions intact with the thick makeup."
Another challenge for Westmore and his makeup team was posed by Lt. Commander Data. In reading the script, says Westmore, "I kept on thinking, 'where are they going to tinker with Data this time?' In First Contact, we took his head off, which was a challenge because of the electronic circuitry involved. For this film, instead, I was trying to waterproof Data's makeup so he could take an underwater stroll."
In a key sequence, Data has to walk into a lake in order to uncover the schemes the Son'a have hatched against the Ba'ku. Extensive testing was necessary to make sure that Data's makeup could survive the underwater excursion. "I didn't know if the makeup was going to float up to the surface or remain on Brent," explains Westmore," so I had to design a new type of hand makeup for him to wear."
Scott Wheeler, a member of Westmore's make-up team, describes the free-wheeling process that goes into creating Star Trek's many alien races. "I had an idea for an alien that I sculpted a couple of years ago," says Wheeler. "We made a mold of it and it sort of sat around, and Mike said, 'Eventually we'll use it for something when it is appropriate.' And it worked out that this particular head had a good look for this particular character. We sat down and talked about how the face should work with them."
Production designer Zimmerman and makeup designer Westmore shared the task of creating the look of four new alien civilizations with costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays. "For the Ba'ku," explains Hays, "we used colors that a culture could derive from nature, from vegetables, flowers, and fruit -- that's why the colors are not too rich, but sort of faded, because they are from natural dyes."
Special attention was given to the costume for Anij (Donna Murphy), the beautiful Ba'ku woman whose natural grace enchants Captain Picard. "We created a new fabric for Anij out of cellulose," says Hays, "on which I collaborated with a fabric artist. She cooked the cellulose, flattened and died it, and gave it a very organic look -- something we have not seen before."
In addition to the Ba'ku, Hays also designed costuming for the Son'a, as well as for two other alien races that work with them. For the Son'a, Hays had to create a look that was in complete contrast to the nature-oriented Ba'ku. "Jonathan, Rick, and I collaborated on their look," says Hays, "trying for a military feel, while maintaining a certain richness of fabric and metals for their materialistic culture. Bad guys," adds Hayes, "are always the most fun to dress."
Some action sequences involve not special graphics effects or stunt work, but imaginative use of the camera. Director of photography Matt Leonetti provides an insight into how the filmmakers create the effect of a starship being jarred and shaken by a hit from enemy phaser fire. "We put some big cushions underneath the camera itself," says Leonetti, "and just hit the camera, vibrating it with our hands."
According to Leonetti, "in previous times they moved the set and it didn't quite look the same -- it wouldn't look real. So we decided to come up with this method, which is a little bit simpler and seems to give a good effect." Says Leonetti, "It actually looks more real when you shake the camera, as opposed to shaking the set. It shakes the whole set instead of just parts of the set. The actors have to cooperate," he adds -- "they have to move also, so it looks real."
The predecessor to Star Trek: Insurrection, Star Trek: First Contact, enjoyed the biggest opening-weekend gross of any of the Star Trek films, and went on to earn $92 million at the box office. The eight feature films, along with revenues from the original television series and various merchandising deals (including more than 40 best-selling novels), have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. Early in 1998, Star Trek: The Experience, a multi-media entertainment attraction, opened at the Las Vegas Hilton.
With Star Trek: Insurrection, the starship Enterprise marks a new milestone in its continuing mission. As two races struggle for the gift of youth, Captain Picard places his career and his future in the balance for the sake of a higher ideal.
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