Most Star Trek fan films get anywhere between a few hundred and a few thousand views on YouTube. The more “polished” ones can make it into the tens of thousands of views and, maybe, after a few months or even years, crack the 100K threshold.
But STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION – THE ANIMATED SERIES, a two minute and 14 second fan film with no “coming soon” trailers nor any fanfare prior to its April 12, 2022 premiere, was able to blast its way into the six-digit range in less than a week, and after five weeks on YouTube is now nearing a half million views!
Sometimes a video just goes viral—although the simplicity of the concept along with the flawless technical execution and inspired concept was certainly enough to justify the rapid word-of-mouth, including a shout-out from WIL WHEATON on his blog. Take a look…
Part of the brilliance, in addition to choosing one of the most iconic scenes from one of fandom’s favorite episodes—the kidnapping of Picard by the Borg in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1”—was coloring the Borg and their cube in bright purples and violets rather than dull grays. This harkened back to how the original Star Trek animated series would color the Klingon uniforms in those same ridiculous purple and violet colors…
The short vignette animation was released on the YouTube channel of GAZELLE AUTOMATIONS, a small Toronto, Canada-based agency specializing in puppetry, model miniatures, and animation. Five days after its debut, in response to many, many questions posted by hundreds of viewers, animator JUSTIN LEE released a second video, twice as long as the original fan film, explaining how the project was animated. It’s also worth checking out..
Of course, you know me—I had even more questions that I was sure my readers would love to hear the answers to. So I reached out to Justin via e-mail to ask if he’d be up for an interview. Since Justin is from Canada, he couldn’t have been nicer (I think it’s in their DNA, eh?), and he was happy to oblige…
JONATHAN – Welcome to the world of Star Trek fan films, Justin. You’ve made quite the first impression!
JUSTIN – It sure looks that way!
JONATHAN – Let’s start off with a little about you…
JUSTIN – I’m from Toronto, Canada (and still live there) and have always been drawing and making stuff. I was lucky enough to go to a performing arts school growing up, and I studied film/TV in university—where I met my future wife and Gazelle Automations co-founder LINDSAY LEE!
JONATHAN – How long have you been a Star Trek fan?
JUSTIN – Like many of my generation (I’m 35), Star Trek: TNG was what I saw first, which I thought of as the ‘adult’ show my dad liked to watch. And now I’m a huge TNG fan, of course. As a young kid, I was also attracted to the ‘loud’ designs and colour palette of TOS, and they used to air re-runs of TAS before re-runs of Fireball XL5 (I watched both, obviously!).
JUSTIN – I’d definitely seen a whole bunch of Trek animated fan films, both in the TAS style and using other types of animation. Having seen other fans take the TAS visuals and mix it with their own new drawings definitely was part of the inspiration for TNG: TAS.
I’ve enjoyed many Trek fan films over the years. There’s something incredibly wonderful about seeing fans literally live out their passion on screen. I love the fan films that really exploit what filmmaking can do for the storytelling beyond the script—the way it’s directed and shot, the lighting, the way it’s edited, etc.
JONATHAN – What made you decide on “The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1” for your adaptation?
JUSTIN – I want to say it was because it was the best of both worlds (TNG and TAS) of “The Best of Both Worlds” (the episode), as I’ve seen fans point this out, although I fully admit that was a happy accident. I just wanted to take a really pivotal moment in TNG and give it the TAS treatment, and I think Picard’s abduction is pretty pivotal!
JUSTIN – I got lucky with removing the TNG music and isolating the dialogue, as the centre channel of the audio was mostly only dialogue. Unsurprisingly, it sounded a lot like the audio on the TNG bloopers, which has some natural reverb from the actors on set (which definitely highlights how much work the incredible and detailed sound design and audio work does on all Trek shows). I still had to manually clean up and EQ a bunch, but I knew that the TAS music and sound effects would also help to cover up some of the imperfections.
JONATHAN – How long did it take you in total to complete this short film from start to finish?
JUSTIN – It was about a week of work, which I poked away at on evenings and weekends … and whenever I had a moment to poke at it!
JONATHAN – WOW! That’s pretty quick! So what was the most challenging aspect of the project for you?
JUSTIN – I found drawing the backgrounds a bit of an artistic challenge, mainly because I didn’t want them to look exactly like the TNG set. Much like the 1701 bridge on TAS, I wanted this 1701-D bridge to look like an artist’s interpretation of that set. So choosing which details to keep, which to lose, which to exaggerate or whatever, and the colour palette that would skew the 80s/90s TNG set into a more 70s look. I went through a bunch of iterations until I got something I was happy enough with.
JONATHAN – Did your wife Lindsay know that you were working on this, or did you just show it to her one day as a finished product?
JUSTIN – Lindsay is also a big Star Trek fan, and this was also meant as part of a birthday present for her (her birthday is in April). Because this short took a while to finish, I was only able to send her the audio and little glimpses of the unfinished picture for her actual birthday, to which she said, “You have to finish this!” She’d been in the U.K. for a few weeks, so I sent it to her the night I finished it (which was VERY late for her), and she absolutely loved it!
JONATHAN – How did you and Lindsay come to start Gazelle Automations?
JUSTIN – Lindsay and I had previously produced Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes with our friends at Century 21 Films in the U.K. for ITV (these are now streaming on BritBox U.K.), and brought the practical filmmaking techniques from doing that back with us to Canada. That’s when we formed Gazelle Automations in 2017, with the aim of making stuff with puppets, model miniatures, and animation. Our first major series, Miikshi, stars Muppet-esque furry puppets and Thunderbirds-y model miniature vehicles, made in partnership with Shaftesbury (Murdoch Mysteries, Life with Derek) for Canadian broadcaster TVO (https://miikshi.com). We recently also worked on classic Doctor Who for the BBC, sympathetically updating some of the visual effects.
JONATHAN – How large is your company?
JUSTIN – Gazelle Automations has two permanent staff members, which is me and Lindsay, and we scale up with freelance model makers, VFX and audio people, etc. from project to project. Miikshi had our biggest crew with about 25 people, not counting the staff working on the show at Shaftesbury.
JONATHAN – So what does a typical day of work look like for you and Lindsay?
JUSTIN – In our line of work, there isn’t a very typical day! Sometimes we’re coming up with concepts for new series, sometimes we’re building models or puppets for our own productions or for other companies…and sometimes I’m sneaking in making a TAS-inspired TNG cartoon.
JONATHAN – With 350,000 views in the first seven days, I think it’s safe to say you’ve gone viral. Did you think your little animation would become this popular this quickly? Ad why do you think it got so many views so fast?
JUSTIN – The night I finished TNG:TAS, which was mainly made to entertain Lindsay and me and hopefully a small handful of fans online, I turned off my computer and phone and just went for a long walk to give my eyes a rest. When I woke up the next morning and saw how much it’d been shared, I was totally shocked. I’m just so thrilled other fans are enjoying this weird idea I had!
Something not dissimilar happened to me years ago when I made a Community fan film called Bagmunity with paper bag puppets. In both cases, it was something I really loved and wanted to do, and I think people can always tell when it’s genuine.
JONATHAN – And finally, now that your video is so well-received and (I’m sure) people are clamoring for more, do you have any plans for more TNG animated adaptations? If so, what’s on the short list? Or is it one-and-done for you?
JUSTIN – The wonderful response to TNG:TAS has been so unexpected, so we’re still kind of considering stuff right now! I did just release a making-of video (which I hadn’t planned to do) after reading a lot of questions online, and it gave me the opportunity to specifically address something Wil Wheaton requested in his blog post about TNG:TAS.
JONATHAN – Ah, so that’s why you added Wesley at the end of your making-of video—even though he wasn’t in that episode!