Two of the most ambitious and visually stunning Star Trek films you’ll see don’t have a single human actor on screen. Instead, both fan films are stellar characters from the Art Asylum line for Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (plus a Terminator figure for good measure).
One of these fan films took two and a half years… the other took over eight years! Both will blow your mind, and you’ll be even more shocked when you see behind the scenes the meticulous craftsmanship that went into each one.
Jürgen Kaiser grew up in Bavaria and fell in love with Star Trek. As a teenager, he dreamed of one day showing his own fan film on the big screen at the annual FedCon convention in Augsburg. In 2005, when Star Trek Enterprise was cancelled, Jurgen decided that the series had ended too soon. He wanted to see more of the crew of the NX-01. And if Paramount Studios wouldn’t commit, the 24-year-old from Schweinfurt had to do it himself!
Interestingly, Juergen wasn’t really a Trekkie. He really liked the Enterprise series and wanted to see more. Of course, Paramount had tens of millions of dollars and access to actors like Scott Bakula and Jolene Blalock. All Jürgen had was a bunch of 7 and 8 Art Asylum figurines, paper, cardboard, scissors, a DSLR camera….. and a lot of patience and perseverance.
But Jürgen also had very specific skills that he had learned and honed while working with his father. Jürgen knew how to make precise and meticulous miniature models of large objects, which he studied and reproduced with care and attention to detail.
Cinema has always inspired Jurgen, and he watched countless feature film productions growing up, learning so much. His day job as an oiler for automatic transmissions at a car supplier gave him little opportunity for creative expression. To bring some balance into his life, Jürgen founded the stop-motion studio JK Produktion in 2005 and embarked on a decade-long odyssey of producing two amazing stop-motion Star Trek fan films.
For those of you who are not familiar with stop motion : It is a sophisticated form of animation where inanimate objects and characters are photographed, slightly shifted (about a millimeter), and then photographed again. This is repeated about 30 times for every second of the finished video. The photos are then assembled into scenes by showing them one after the other. Shooting a day like this can, if you’re lucky, give you 2 seconds of your film at the end of the day.
Watch this video explaining how to move one of the figures several times to get a 4 second sequence…..
Jurgen’s very first attempt at making a stop-motion film was in 1998, when he was only 17 years old. Although it was never finished, Juergen spent more than six months modeling it and learned a lot from it. Seven years later, he was ready to try again, this time with the story of the Enterprise NX-01 crew, set shortly after the three-story arc with Cindy that concluded the season.
Until July 2007. Jürgen worked on this project for almost two years and shot about three quarters of the film. He had already built eight different models, but the most difficult challenge remained: the deck. His goal was to complete the film in its entirety and present it at Fedcon XVII next April. It must have been close!
Unfortunately, Jürgen didn’t make it. Construction of the bridge took nearly six months and was completed in late November. At the end of March 2008, all the stop-motion footage was finally finished, but there just wasn’t enough time to finish the half-hour fan film a few weeks before FedCon… although Jurgen did manage to release the following trailer (he calls the project Enterprise: The New Generation):
On the 20th. June 2008 Jürgen finally put his half hour fan film on YouTube. It was originally called Der Zeitspiegel and was spoken entirely in German by untrained actors. The graphics were pretty basic by today’s standards, but impressive in 2008.
In this story, the Enterprise NX-o1 tests a new engine and is thrown into the void between universes, encountering unexpected but familiar TOS action. Speaking of action figures, the captain’s log should explain that Dr. Phlox and Hoshi Sato were temporarily on leave from the Enterprise… although these characters were never made into standard action figures by Art Asylum (and Reed and Mayweather did not appear in EV suit variants).
At FedCon 2009 Jurgen finally got the chance to introduce his fan film. And that after Christmas, non-German speaking fans got a surprise gift when the English version was released with the voices of many STAR TREK members: New faces, thanks to the support of Star Trek: New flights in Germany.
And it wasn’t a failed translation project either. Peter Goundrill of Limited Faith Productions in the UK has assembled a full team to create a new and improved fan film. The actual English translation is by Stefan Mittelstass, the English adaptation is by Rex Duys. Rex also provided the voice of Malcolm Reeds, who is almost indistinguishable from Star Trek thanks to Rex’s British accent: Enterprise actor Dominic Keating.
All other voices were provided by actors and extras who appeared in the fan series Star Trek: New flights with Paul R. Sieber, Ron Boyd, Megan King Johnson, Ralph M. Miller, Jeffrey Quinn, Charles Root, Julienne Irons, and even Vic Mignongna (this was years before he left the series to start Star Trek Continues).
Aside from the voice dubbing (which wasn’t annoying to watch, since the characters’ mouths never move), the original film was cut in the original 4:3 aspect ratio and widescreen format. The new recording has been renamed STAR TREK : ENTERPRISE – CROSSROADS and published on YouTube in June 2009….
At about the same time, Jürgen was bored, as he told this German press service. So he decided to make a sequel, but not just any sequel. With a 53-page script written with his two friends Stefan Mittelstrass and Sabrina Hoyer-Dyakov, this time he set out to shoot a full hour-long film with real German actors, state-of-the-art camera equipment, original music and 18.5 minutes of breathtaking VFX footage designed by a professional animator and supervised by 15 modelers and CGI effects specialists.
Anyway, this sequel project called Star Trek: ENTERPRISE II – THE BEGINNING OF THE END will force Jürgen and his team of nearly 40 people to finish THE HUNDRED YEARS! Much of this time was spent by Jürgen himself, who told Deutsche Welle that he needs about an hour for every second of live action with figures. Without the visual effects, there are about 35 minutes of stop-motion…. so if you do the math, that’s over 2000 hours of painstaking work!
And that’s not counting the time it takes to make all the new miniature game models. Jurgen will restore the bridge and the finished space set (which was partially destroyed for the final Red Empire attack scenes for his first film). He will also recreate other sets with his usual meticulousness, including the infirmary, engine room, interior of the shuttle, crew quarters and part of the bridge from the USS Enterprise movie. Jürgen needed about two months for the production of all model kits. And if you want to see how extensive his work was, check out these three videos of a selection of photos he took…..
Once the sets were built, it took 220 days of digital stop motion photography with a Canon 50D DSLR….. which simultaneously moved millimeter symbols and cleaned the sets to perfection.
Unlike the prequel, this new fan film is produced in full HD with a widescreen format. The sequel would also have something else that didn’t exist yet: mouths that move! Using a program called Stop Motion Pro (the same software used in the production of Wallace & Gromit), Jurgen was able to draw individual animation frames to move the characters’ mouths and even synchronize them with the actors’ voices. You can see what the sequence looked like before many special effects were added, including mouth movements, green screen composition and animated console screens – this amazing side-by-side video…
Speaking of voice actors: The cast of this film was assembled by Sabrina Hoyer-Diakou, the German dubbing voice actress who co-starred with T’Pol in The Beginning of the End. Sabrina enlisted the help of other actors from all over Germany to manage the project and followed all the actors via Skype, so the production looks very professional…. if you understand German, that is.
Dennis Schuster composed a stunning score and, as mentioned, more than a dozen CGI modelers and animators contributed to the final visual effects. This was back in the days when the fan film guide didn’t exist, so there was no moratorium on paying people to work on your fan film. Jurgen never said whether anyone was paid. However, he revealed (in a series of media interviews) that in the seven and a half years (!!) it took him to complete The Beginning of the End, he spent enough money to buy a mid-sized car….. and none of it had ever been crowdfunded!
Anfang vom Ende started in May 2016 where it all began for Jürgen: at the Fedcon at the Maritim Hotel in Bonn, in front of thousands of enthusiastic visitors. This time the world premiere took place at FedCon, and a month later a fan film was released on YouTube.
Since then, Star Trek: Enterprise II – Beginning of the End has already been viewed over a million times on YouTube. The film won awards and remains the longest stop-motion Star Trek fan film ever made (the prequel is the second longest). Unlike The Time Mirror/Crossroads, Beginning of the End was not dubbed into the English version. But subtitles are available on YouTube, and you shouldn’t let a little extra reading stop you from enjoying the work of meticulous cinematography. And it’s not just the stop-motion and the incredible miniature sets. The VFX shots are breathtakingly beautiful. In fact, they were combined into one VFX reel just to enhance the 18.5 minutes.
But really, you want to see the whole movie, trust me….
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