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Son'a shuttle model

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)
Sona shuttle fore
Son'a shuttle forward view

Until the re-invented Star Trek 2009 film, Star Trek: Insurrection, tied with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, TNG: "The Best of Both Worlds, Part II", and Star Trek: First Contact, has been the Star Trek live-action production that introduced the most new space faring designs at once, eight each, the Son'a shuttle being one of them. As with the other Son'a starship classes, no description of the Son'a shuttle was given in the script, when they appeared for the first time in scene 139, merely mentioned as "Son'a shuttlecraft roar overhead..." That left Illustrator John Eaves with considerable freedom to come up with his own designs for the vessels of a race that has not before been referenced to in the Star Trek universe, as was envisioned by his supervisor Herman Zimmerman, "John is such a talented man, I normally give him first crack at whatever the idea is that we've discussed with the director. He pretty much comes up with what he thinks that is, then we talk about it. The idea was to bring a kind of art nouveau sense into the Son'a ships, as if they were extensions of the organic Ba'ku culture that they have left, and, without actually giving that part of the plot away, give the subliminal feeling that these cultures were connected. That was really where we started with those designs, and I think John just did a wonderful job." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 2, p. 61)


Son'a shuttle model design by John Eaves
Eaves' design directions

In a very early concept, the Son'a shuttles were originally conceived as "stand-up jet bikes". That notion, however, was abandoned for two reasons: firstly, the cost involved; animating the Son'a figures aboard each unit was technically challenging, and thus cost-prohibitive, and secondly; the producers wanted to avoid any comparison with the "speeder-bike chase" in Star Wars's Return of the Jedi. (Cinefex, issue 77, p. 84)

As with his other Son'a starship designs, Eaves based the design of his Son'a shuttle on "(...)activity games I found out in the backyard. I wanted to give a whole different kind of look to their architecture, so I kind of went with yard toys - Ru'afo's ship is based on a horseshoe, the battleship is based on a boomerang, the shuttle is a yard dart, and the science vessel ... well, the front of it is sort of a badminton shuttlecock turned inside out." (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 3, p. 21) Eaves later elaborated, "One of the favorite designs I worked on, was the Son'a scoutships. And that was kind of based on the boomerang, but with more of aggressive angles on it. It was primarily written to be seen at night, with just the lights flying by, and they just shot a lot of daylight shots with it. And in kind of the entire film, that was one of my favorite ships produced for the show." (Star Trek: Insurrection (Special Edition DVD)-special feature, "The Art of Insurrection"), adding on a later occasion, "This was a very fun little ship from ST Insurrection, It’s shape is lightly based on it’s DS9 predecessor the Jem Hedar battle cruiser. This was a quick and dirty little design that wound up being my fav from the movie,, It had sleek look in the flying sequences designed by the boys over at Santa Barbara studios and the folks at Blue Sky made a great model to use as CG reference." [1] Working throughout April 1998 on his design, it apparently escaped Peter Lauritson's predilection of having the Son'a ships fly with the forked appendices backward swept, as was exceptionally evident on the (re-)design of Ru'afo's flagship, soliciting a gleeful remark of Eaves on his blog years later, "HAAAA! this one fell thru the cracks so no which way did she go’s here!!!", making the shuttle the only Son'a ship that flew with the forks forward facing, as Eaves had initially intended for all his Son'a ships.

Study and scanning models

The movie Insurrection, was the first feature film were it was conceived that all the visual effects would be executed as computer-generated imagery (CGI). At that point in time, the technique was still relatively new, and the workload entailed in creating these effects was such that it was decided to employ two effects houses for their creation; Blue Sky/VIFX, was contracted to provide all planet bound effects, as well as the interior Son'a collector visuals (and, as it turned out during production, its destruction as well), whereas Santa Barbara Studios (SBS) would be responsible for all the space bound visuals. The construction of the Son'a shuttle CGI model, as it was only featured in in-atmospheric scenes, therefore fell to Blue Sky.

Son'a Fighter study model by Greg Jein
Jein's study model
Son'a Fighter scanning model by Dave Chamberlain
Chamberlin's scanning model

Nevertheless, though the usage of CGI had become commonplace for television productions in that time-frame, both SBS and Blue Sky were very conscious of their perceived limitations of providing such for the big-screen. at the time. Not only did Blue Sky require more detailed orthographic views, which Eaves dutifully provided, but they also commissioned a three–dimensional study model, eventually built by Greg Jein. Blue Sky's Carlyle Livingston reiterated, "Our work on the shuttle began with an examination of Greg Jein's sculpture. And then Dave Chamberlain did a foam sculpture based on that and John Eaves' artwork. John always tells you his drawings are just a guide that you can add to or subtract from as needed-which is a very generous attitude-but we tried to stay with his design anyway, only adding some thrusters." (Cinefex, issue 77, p. 84) Jim Key described the construction of the scanning model as follows, "Assigned to complete this scanning model was Dave Chamberlain. Provided with several color sketches and a 3D maquette built by Greg Jein, he began the carving process, From dense yellow foam, the ship was produced out of five main parts–the left and right wings, the cewnter horseshoe body, and the left and right wing gun pods. Once glued together, the pieces were then covered with urethane casting resin to firm up the surfaces. After curing, these surfaces could be sanded smooth, gray primered, and detailed with pencil panel lines. Only tiny details would need to be added to indicate exhaust ports, vents sand gun barrel tubes." (Sci-Fi & Fantasy Models, issue 34, p.30)

CGI model

Son'a Fighter CGI wire Frame model by Robert Rioux
Rioux' wire-frame model
Son'a shuttle CGI model
The Blue Sky/VIFX CGI model
Son'a Fighter CGI mode worked upon by Edwin Rivera and Mark Rodahl
Rivera and Rodahl finetuning the Sona'a shuttle model

Once the scanning model was constructed, the final CGI model, for use in the feature, followed suit very quickly afterwards. Constructed in the Maya software, as was every other CGI effect in the feature, the model went on to perform quite satisfactorily the role it was endowed with. The basic model, once digitized, was constructed in full at Blue Sky/VIFX by Robert Rioux, whereas the finetuning of the model in the form of rendering and animation were performed by Blue Sky/VIFX's Compositing Supervisor Edwin Rivera and Digital Supervisor Mark Rohdal. (Cinefex, issue 77, p. 84)

Though later mentioned in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine television series, as well as in Star Trek Nemesis, the Son'a would never again be featured, nor would any of their ships be ever called upon to make another in-universe appearance, so none of the Son'a starship CGI models were upgraded in the LightWave 3D CGI software for later representation. Rendered in Maya, and not reprogrammed, the design, like the other Sona'a designs, was never officially seen again, be it on-screen or on or in licensed print-products.

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