The clever low-tech filming trick in 2009’s Star Trek movie

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2009’s Star Trek had a lot of CG, but director JJ Abrams also was keen to use practical work wherever possible – including the skydiving sequence.

JJ Abrams’ film Super 8 isn’t literally biographical – I think he largely fictionalised the particular species of alien that we see in the movie – but it captures something of his adolescence as an amateur filmmaker. Sure, it’s deeply romanticised, but that’s nostalgia for you.

That grounding in “let’s put on the show right here!” spirit informs Abrams’ big-budget years more than people might think. It certainly left him an avowed lover of practical effects, arguably to a fault – acing the aesthetics of Rey’s hydrating bread for Star Wars: The Force Awakens was notoriously time-consuming, taking around three months of R&D for a few seconds of screentime.

One of Abrams’ more elegant lo-fi tricks can be seen in 2009’s Star Trek, in the sequence where Kirk, Sulu and a doomed redshirt skydive onto a Romulan drill and then, a wee bit of fisticuffs later, go falling off it again. Rather than suspend Chris Pine and John Cho upside down in front of a green screen, Abrams instead took the actors out into the Paramount lot and simply had them stand on mirrors.

Here’s the clip, in particular the moment 16 seconds or so in…

So how was it done? Well, according to various reports, Abrams himself operated (i.e. violently shook) the camera for these shots, just like he operated his own camera that time he met an alien in 1970s Ohio. Allegedly.And here’s a handy GIF of Pine and Cho in upside-down action. I hope you agree that the whole trick works rather well. If the GIF isn’t working automatically, try clicking or tapping on it…

There are plenty of other effects and tricks in the whole ‘drill jump’ sequence, including plenty of good CG and VFX work – never to be taken for granted or underappreciated, I feel. What there isn’t, according to stunt co-ordinator Joey Box, is a single frame of skydiving.

And that’s the magic of the movies…


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