Saturday, December 14, 2013

Star Trek Aurora Begins New Production

Star Trek: Aurora is one of my very favorite fan-made productions. Its creator, Tim Vining, thoroughly "gets" Star Trek. It's not about the ships, it's not about Star Fleet, or Captain Kirk. It's all about the human condition. Vining has taken that world and looked in the dim corners of the Star Trek universe to spin a tale of ordinary people... the sort of people that the crew of the Enterprise would zip past without a second glance. In the process we learn a bit about the extraordinary things that can happen to ordinary people and the lengths to which they may go to survive. The characters are fully fleshed-out, and I don't mean in the CGI sense. They have real motivations, real motivations, and real fears. They're completely believable as people.

In the second episode we are treated to the return of an original series favorite, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, interstellar con-man and shyster, purveyor of the most questionable goods imaginable. The first time we saw Mudd, he was peddling mail-order brides to lonely miners... which would have been completely above-board had it not been for the fact that these brides were "enhanced" by a "Venus drug" (from the episode, "Mudds Women"). When we last saw Mudd he was held prisoner in the custody of hundreds of "Stella" androids; replicas of Mudd's own shrewish wife. (from the TOS episode, "I, Mudd"). Now he's back, and it appears his Venus drug has been replaced with something a bit more... potent.

So far we have only the first part of the episode, which is basically a teaser for the fun to come. Tim Vining must be congratulated here for his adoption of the Open Source philosophy of "release early, release often". By tacit agreement with the copyright owners of Star Trek, fan productions cannot make a profit off of these efforts, so by necessity these are all done in the creator's spare time. Tim not only releases each act as it's done; he goes back and corrects issues that are pointed out in the earlier ones. He improves the work.

Here are two screen caps from the first episode. One is from an early-released part, and the second is from the final production. Here Tim's fixed the injustice of T'Ling not having a seat of her own, and has generally improved the detail of the scene.

In the first episode of Aurora, I found the modeling to be superb, but the actual animation to be a little bit unnatural. I falls well into the uncanny valley. However, that's not the case with this new production, making me wonder if Tim is rotoscoping some of the scenes. Whether he is or not, bravo! Big improvement. Note in particular the "gotta go" moment outside of the bar, and the entire scene in front of the computer.

Here's the original episode, about 55 minute long, complete. Watch it to get an intro to the characters and to get a taste of what character-driven sci-fi is all about:

And here's PART 1 of "Mudd in Your I", As you can see from the opening shot, some of the renders appear to be incomplete, but as I mentioned, Tim has previously fixed such things in the final product. Seeing the rough edges does not detract at all from the story, in my opinion, and I have high hopes for the finished product.

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