Streaming series Star Trek: Strange New Worlds brings viewers to where no Star Trek viewer has gone before – to a world with a look all its own. A spin-off from ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ and a prequel to ‘Star Trek: The Original Series’, this new series follows Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise.
Working on the shows’ virtual production sets, cinematographer Glen Keenan, CSC had also served as DP for seasons 1 through 3 of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. Glen said, “For Star Trek, there’s a studio, but no reality. I looked for a lens that would add more organic qualities to the image in order to convince the audience that we are in a real space.
Seeing is Believing
“Two things really help with reality – the expected inconsistencies between lenses to help ground the story as if we were really there, and the anamorphic falloff. Both of those features help to deliberately frame the action just where I want the audience to focus.”
He chose Cooke full frame anamorphic special flares for that reason, feeling that they have the right amount of aberrations and flare for the signature Star Trek blue streak flare.
For season 2 of the earlier 'Discovery' series, he had moved the Star Trek Universe to anamorphic primes to achieve a 2.39:1 aspect ratio for streaming. That experience had won him over. Now, using three sets of the Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus Special Flares, Glen worked to achieve an organic, realistic look and feel for ‘Strange New Worlds’ to convince the audience they were seeing a real location.
The suggestion that Glen take on ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ and develop the look came from Alex Kurtzman, creator and executive producer of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’. Glen said, “I had worked with Alex before and was already in Toronto with an opening in my schedule. 'Strange New Worlds' struck the right chord for me, bringing an element of change that I wanted the audience to understand, mentally and visually.”
While 'Star Trek: Discovery' was an HD production, Glen had bigger plans this time. “There was a moment when shooting 'Discovery' in anamorphic that I knew I really wanted full frame special flare for 4K for ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’,” he said. “Cooke built a custom set for the show, delivering two sets before episode one, and then the third set once they were made. Cooke stepped up with full frame anamorphic special flare for day one. It was remarkable to receive three sets in two months.”
The three sets of Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus Special Flare lenses consisted of the 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 85mm MACRO, 100mm and 135mm for three ARRI ALEXA LF and four ARRI ALEXA Mini LF cameras.
“During episode seven, I discovered the macro on the 85mm for close-up work,” said Glen. “It became our favourite close-up lens as it’s lovely, with great falloff. Our main lens was the 40mm, which can be seen in every episode, and then the 75mm for our Steadicam, where the full frame anamorphic allows me to have a great focal range. Steadicam helps tell the story well and gives you a nice shot that you don’t have to edit.”
Setting the Tone
Unlike other current Star Trek series, 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' has similarities with 'Star Trek: The Original Series'. Because each episode stands on its own, they could be shot out of sequence. Glen shot episodes 1, 2, 4, 7 and 9, while cinematographer Magdalena Górka shot episodes 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10.
“Having me shoot episodes 1 and 2 helped us to set the tone for the show, which in many ways resembles The Original Series,” said Glen. “You can see it in the main themes of our show runners and the nostalgic quality of the sets, wardrobe, characters and photography. We’re adhering as closely as possible to a show shot in the 1960s with a minimal budget.
“For instance, when talking with my crew – camera, lighting and rigging – we look at our problems as though we’re in the ‘60s. We have a lot of tools, but that doesn’t mean we should use everything and abuse it. The 'Discovery' approach keeps the camera moving, aggressive and spinning in every episode. This series is different. It’s a living space and we don’t get in the way unless called for by the script, which allowed me to go for a bigger camera with variations in episodes based on the scripts.
Two Million Embedded LEDs
Glen Keenan, CSC
“Thematically, we take an episode and devise the lighting scenario for that. Our challenge was to make it its own version of the Star Trek Universe...even the language of this show is just different enough to give it its own voice.”
Lighting ‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ is an elaborate process, according to Glen. “The set isn’t ready until the lighting is ready. We have over two million LEDs embedded in the sets, with five lighting boards and four operators rotating between set-up, shoot and programming. What works is when the set lights the actors. We’re always in an artificial space that’s not real. Our challenge is to make it real. The more our cast is lit by the ship’s lighting, the more real it is. Any other lighting is minimal.”
Beyond the Cooke Anamorphic/i Full Frame Plus Special Flare lenses themselves, Cooke’s /i Technology lens metadata was an extra feature that Glen appreciates. “I always pull the data for post so that I know everything about the camera and could police it. I don’t think I could do a show without it,” he said.
The first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiered on Paramount+ on 5 May 2022. A second season began filming on 1 February 2022, four months before the season one premiere. cookeoptics.com