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Robert Abel & Associates

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(written from a Production point of view)
Robert Abel & Associates company logo

Robert Abel & Associates, or RA&A for short, was the first visual effects company that was hired to work on the visual photographic effects for the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture, directly after the television production Star Trek: Phase II was upgraded to a movie project, for it to eventually to become The Motion Picture over the course of 1978. Design and construction work for the company was handled by Art Director Richard Taylor.

The founder of the firm, Robert J. Abel, was considered a pioneer in motion control photography, 2D and 3D visual effects. [1] It was on the strength of the work they had done on the groundbreaking visual effects of period commercials, that they were hired, though they, "(...) really had no more feature film experience than Magicam.", as Model Painter Paul Olsen later elaborated. (Star Trek: Creating the Enterprise, p. 46) That shortcoming came to the fore when, according to Olsen, conflicts with Paramount Pictures arose at the end of 1978 about the shooting of the studio models, resulting that Abel & Associates were unable to deliver effects footage acceptable to the film's producers and the firm was ultimately released. Some consider Abel's work on this film to be a "failed experiment"; [2] others in the industry have cited conflicts between the effects team and the production staff. [3] During their involvement, RA&A operated its own physical visual effects company under the name Astra Image Corporation, especially created for the production and also headed by Abel, it closely cooperating with Paramount's studio model shop, Magicam. [4] "Astra", according to Olsen, was an acronym for "A Star Trek Robert Abel". (Star Trek: Creating the Enterprise, p. 46)

Douglas Trumbull's company, Future General Corporation, was subsequently given responsibility for the effects work in March 1979. (The Making of Star Trek The Motion Picture) Several key staffers, initially employed at Abel, moved over to that company, among others Scott Farrar, Mark Stetson and Andrew Probert, whereas Richard Taylor stayed with the company, only to leave later that year.

Taylor, Probert, and Pederson

Taylor, Probert and Con Pederson at RA&A

Founded in 1971 by Abel, together with his friend Con Pederson, RA&A was a pioneering company that employed the newest techniques in creating visual effects, including slit-scan photography, a technique Pederson picked up while working for Trumbull on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and the earliest computer generated imagery (CGI). Initially the company employed these kind of techniques for producing groundbreaking commercials, among others for the beverage 7-Up and the clothing brand Levis, before branching out to motion picture productions. One of the first motion picture projects they worked on was Disney's The Black Hole (1979), for which they produced promotional materials and the opening sequence, before they were contracted to provide the special effects for The Motion Picture.

After the ill-fated project, the company worked on High Fidelity (1982), Disney's critically acclaimed TRON (1982), Breakin' (1984), the LaserDisc videogame Cube Quest (1983), and Steven Spielberg's television series Amazing Stories (1985-1986).

In 1986 RA&A entered into a merger with Toronto-based Omnibus Computer Graphics, Inc., but went out of business the following year as Omnibus defaulted on its investment. Many former, predominantly post-Motion Picture, employees went on to found their own companies to continue the pioneering work in CGI, and other techniques, which were among others, Rhythm and Hues, Metrolight, Sony Imageworks, Santa Barbara Studios (by later employee John Grower), Boss Film Corporation, Kroyer Films, and others.

Robert Abel himself passed away in late September 2001, at the age of 64.

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