Creating That Filmation Look for the 24th Century and ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’

An animated Mr. Worf

Gazelle Automations An animated Mr. Worf

Visual effects artist and puppeteer Justin T. Lee had a bit of a problem. His wife, Lindsay, had a birthday coming up, and he didn’t know what to get her. Together, Justin and Lindsay run a studio in Toronto called Gazelle Automations, specializing in puppets, miniatures, and animation. Then he had a one-of-a-kind idea. He’d give her the gift of “Star Trek” — from an alternate universe.

“This is a really geeky thing,” said Justin, who Heavy spoke to via Zoom. Justin explained that he and Lindsay started a “Star Trek-athon” together. 

“We started at ‘The Original Series,’ and then we just started watching, in Stardate order, every episode,” said Justin. “And, of course, that crossed through ‘The Animated Series.’”

Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Animated Series

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“Star Trek: The Animated Series” was produced by Gene Roddenberry in the 1970s, during the “Star Trek” revival. Thanks to reruns and syndication, Trek had new life, and NBC ordered the animated series. Roddenberry worked with Filmation, which was a U.S.-based studio responsible for hundreds of animated cartoons in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, including “Superfriends,” “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” “Tarzan,” and “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.”

Filmation had a distinct style, and in a time before computers changed animation, their style was recognizable from show to show. They relied on reusing clips to save production costs and used the technique known as “rotoscoping” to better create life-like movement and action. 

Justin said that they watched the entire ‘Animated Series’ together. While they both enjoyed TAS, the differences between live-action Trek and the animated version got Justin thinking. 

“There’s that combination in that it’s very earnest,” said Justin. “The stories are taken very straight, but there’s obviously the hilarity of the style of the animation. It is funny!”

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“And to be totally honest about it, we both love the music, but they used the same ten cues over — and we’ve heard that one cue they always use for action,” said Justin. “There’s an episode where they use it four times, and that really stuck with us.”

Justin said that they also enjoyed the details in which the Filmation animators made the Trek characters come to life. 

“As time went by, I kept thinking — wouldn’t it be so funny if you took something from Trek lore, some other part of Trek, and gave it that treatment,” said Justin. So that’s what he did. Justin chose possibly one of the most pivotal moments from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and animated it as if it was done by Filmation in the 1970s.

The scene was when Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) was abducted by the Borg from “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I.” Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Worf (Michael Dorn) are powerless to stop the Borg as they take the captain back to their cube for assimilation. Fans know that this was when Picard became Locutus. 

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“This idea kept bouncing around in my head for months,” said Justin. He wondered if this had been done before, so he did a Google and YouTube search and did not find anything. 

“It took a little longer to finish than maybe even I anticipated,” said Justin. Part of the reason it took him longer than expected was because he wanted to recreate the Filmation look from the TAS era and not use any modern shortcuts. Justin says that he’s used animation software like Toon Boom and Adobe Animate for projects before, but these modern tools would not have been able to recreate the Filmation look.

Justin said that he studied TAS on Netflix and on Blu-ray to understand the nuances of the video style. He noticed that sometimes the cells jiggled a bit when a character moved. He also thinks that some of the artifacts seen on the shows must be cigarette ashes from the animators as they worked.

In the end, he created the two-minute video with a drawing tablet and Adobe Photoshop. Justin said that he was unsure how well received the video would be upon release. Still, Lindsay told him to look at his computer as the love of Trek fans everywhere poured in. 

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They appreciated the Filmation look and detail, especially the Kzinti crewmember, which can be seen at the very start of the animation. 

He said that he needs to take a break from animated “Star Trek” for a while and turn his attention to the multiple ongoing projects at his company, Gazelle Automations. Some of their projects include work for “Dr. Who,” the “Thunderbirds,” and their new series called “Miikshi.”

Justin would not commit to another episode or scene from “Star Trek,” but he did mention that he has a soft spot in his heart for “Deep Space Nine.” 

“Oh, I absolutely love ‘Deep Space Nine,’” said Justin. “I think everybody should love ‘Deep Space Nine.’”

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