Production News–10/8/16:

Here on the eve of Columbus Day, Kara and T'Ling arrive at the end of their own long journey full of perils and uncertainty. Mudd in Your I is now complete and available on Youtube and Facebook! I want to thank the many people who helped along the way in the form of both voice work and technical help, but also to Aurora's many fans, whose support and encouragement helped keep us going through the years. As many fans know, recent guidelines from CBS/Paramount, the owners of Star Trek's copyright, have placed new restrictions on fan films, in particular regarding the use of recurring original characters in fan films, so the future for Kara and T'Ling is a bit cloudy at the moment. What is not in doubt is our commitment to creating animated stories for people to enjoy and share, so whether that involves Kara and T'Ling, or some new characters or even some "new world," be watching for further adventures from our little team!

PS: It was pointed out to me after posting the final Mudd in Your I movie that I forgot to credit the voice actor for Harry Mudd. It was me (Tim Vining)–you'd think I'd have remembered that!

Production News–7/4/16:

Happy 4th of July! As America celebrates her independence, I'd like to thank Aurora fans for their support of independent animation in the form of these movies. Work on the conclusion of "Mudd in Your I" is proceeding, albeit slowly, due to the complexity of the animation in this part. That said, I think Aurora fans will be pleased with the results. My aim is to have the conclusion available by late Summer. Wish me luck (and the time to work on Aurora!)

Production News–12/24/15:

Happy Holidays! Part 4 of "Mudd in Your I" is finally online! I thought after the delays faced in the previous winter that things would settle down and let me get a lot more work done, but 2015 proved to be busy both at work and home, leaving less time to work on the show. I am, however, happy with how this latest part turned out, particularly with the voice work of Nick Cook, Mike Hennessy, Carl Marchese and both the voice work and the Klingon translation work of Felix Malmenbeck--thanks so much, guys! Now it's on to Part 5 and the conclusion of story. Will Kara and T'Ling reach Harry Mudd in time to find a cure for T'Ling's mutagendered condition? Stay tuned!

Production News–4/21/15:

Well, it was a tough winter, with the last of the snow in our yard only melting this past weekend. I'm never satisfiied with the amount of work I get done in any given interval, but work and the weather conspired these past months to really cut into my productivity, so I apologize both for how long it has been since the last installment of Mudd in Your I, as well as how far I have (not) progressed. That said, I am pleased with how the latest scenes turned out, and I hope you enjoy them as well. Thanks to Nick Cook for his great Klingon and Xaneerian voice work! I'm hoping recent software and hardware upgrades to my workflow will speed production up a little, but we'll see in the coming months. Thanks to all for sticking with Aurora, and especially to those who have taken a minute to send me their thoughts on the show. Your input helps keep me going!

Production News–12/26/14:

As 2104 comes to a close, I wanted to update Aurora fans with the status of Mudd in Your I, and assure everybody that work is still progressing on the next part. Despite a somewhat disruptive last couple of months, I have the next scene completed and am well into the following one, and hope to pick up some steam after the first of the year, when the Holidays are over. So, please hang in there!

I also wanted to take a somewhat unusual step and share my thoughts on another animated show that has just concluded its run: The Legend of Korra (sequel series to Avatar: the Last Airbender) from Nickelodeon network.

Sometimes you don't know just how good something is until it's over. Maybe it's that I'm still in the glow of one of the most perfect finales of any show I've seen, but right now I feel like the Legend of Korra, which aired its final episode last week, is the best animated series I've ever followed, and one of the best shows I've followed, period. There are a lot of shows that I thought were really good, both animated (Bruce Timm's Batman, Superman, Justice League, Green Lantern, Clone Wars) and live action (Star Trek TOS and the Next Generation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly), but the conclusion of Korra has stayed with me for days now, such that I almost feel compelled to write my thoughts and feelings down and share them with others--in modern parlance I'm probably "geeking out". Be that as it may, I will say for that for me, the Legend of Korra (LoK) did something that few other shows, animated or not, have ever done: it truly inspired me with a deeply satisfying sense of a story well told.

I have to admit that when I heard they were doing a new Avatar series, I was pretty skeptical. I had really enjoyed the original show, which I thought was great, with a fantastic premise and engaging characters, but I thought they had pretty much covered all the Avatar territory and didn't know how they could make LoK different, let alone as good. Boy was I wrong. The first thing I noticed was a bit of an upgrade in the animation, which was had been very good in the original show, and in the first scenes I was intrigued by the character of Korra, who, unlike Aang in the first show, was more than happy to be the Avatar. The thing that really initially hooked me, however, was the setting: 70 years after the first show, advances had brought the world to what would roughly be the equivalent of the very early 20th century in our reality, maybe just before or after WWI, which I thought was an incredibly bold and meaningful move on the part of the writers. Anyone who knows their history knows that that time period was one of great change and upheaval, both in technology and in sociopolitical terms. It also instantly begged the question of where the Avatar and other "benders" (see below) fit into a world where technology increasingly gives even ordinary people great powers of creation and destruction, let alone the daily miracles of electric lights, motor cars, radio and airplanes.

For those who haven't seen The Legend of Korra or the original Avatar: the Last Airbender, the Avatar is a bit like a cross between Jesus and the Dalai Lama--he/she has great miraculous powers, and when the Avatar dies, he/she is reincarnated as a child and grows up to be the next Avatar. In Korra's time, this concept is well known to the world, so when Korra finishes her initial training and is introduced to the world as the new Avatar, it's a little like if Jesus, rather than having been crucified, had instead been recognized by everybody as the son of God. Great for Jesus, you might think, but then, whenever something bad happens, who do you think gets the blame and is expected to fix things? Exactly. Thus with Korra--she's hardly started the new job in Season 1 and people--being people--are wondering aloud why the Avatar hasn't already solved all the problems of the world. Great numbers of other people in this world have similar "magical" powers--called "bending" (as in "airbending")--that they use both as a weapon and also in their daily lives, but none as powerful and broad as those of the Avatar. Who has bending powers or not is pretty much an accident of birth, and the tension between benders and non-benders actually figures into the first season--just one of many conflicts the Avatar must address.

As the series progressed, more and more I got the impression that the producers were telling the story they wanted to tell, and weren't letting anyone's expectations decide the direction of the story or the development of the characters. That's not to say that I think they weren't conscious of their fans--certainly there was much in the show that was there for the fans, but that isn't the same as letting fan expectations drive the narrative, since what the fans of Korra (and Avatar) expected was originality and complexity, and they got that in spades. The good guys are imperfect and sometimes fail in their attempts, and sometimes fail to act when they should. The bad guys aren't completely wrong, nor are they evil just for evil's sake. The main characters themselves--many of which initially seem pretty archetypical at first (the hunky hero, the comic relief, the wise master, etc.) didn't conform to expectation, the standout in this regard being Asami, the beautiful green-eyed rich girl with the raven tresses, scarlet lipstick and neofascist fashion sense that just screams "cartoon bad girl" who really doesn't turn out the way you'd have predicted from the start.

As we got even farther into the series, I would often ask my wife aloud: "this is for kids?"--and not because there was something shocking like onscreen sex or violence, but because of the subtlety and sophistication of the writing, and the profound themes and truths explored by the story, not to mention that the secondary characters range from four-year-old kids to adults in their 80's, all of whom help carry the story--and have stories--and are not mere props for the central characters; entire episodes can be devoted to some of them, even the "boring" adults. I guess we get so used to the idea that any kind of entertainment has to be aimed at a specific demographic that it seems almost revolutionary when we see something that isn't easily pigeonholed, and can be enjoyed on a number of levels by a range of ages. Such with Korra. There was goofy slapstick that kids could enjoy, exciting action sequences for teens and adults, and also plenty of heartfelt and heart-wrenching scenes and developments that even cynical adults might mist up at, or truly understand, not to mention the profound social, political and existential questions raised by the story arcs that you'd be lucky to see in any medium.

Ultimately, I guess I'm writing all this because I want to share a sense of celebration of a great series with those who have watched it, and to make a recommendation for people to check it out if they haven't. (It is available at Nick.com and Amazon where I bought it, and maybe some other places.) If you give Legend of Korra a chance, I think it will surprise and delight you, excite you, touch you, make you laugh and cry--sometimes at the same time--make you think, and maybe even inspire you as it has me. For myself, the show has made me feel more secure in the idea that good storytelling relies on respecting the intelligence or your audience, a well as their willingness to go along for the ride as long as you are true to your characters and tell their story in an honest way. I feel the writers of Korra did this (network constraints notwithstanding), and their work has further inspiredme to try to do the same with Aurora.

Anyway, I'll get off my soap box now and get back to work!


Production News–8/17/14:

Part 2 of "Mudd in Your I" can now be seen here. This video combines Parts 1 & 2 together so that can be seen as a single video. I hope you enjoy the continuing story. It took a bit longer than I thought it would to produce Part 2, tho we had a pretty busy year. Here's hoping for a quieter year going forward, since Part 3 is now underway!

Production News–9/14/13:

Part 1 of the new Aurora movie, "Mudd in Your I", can now be seen here. This video includeds new footage that extends the original teaser, released previously under the title "Thine Own Self." The title change was made in deference to Star Trek tradition that any story involving Harry Mudd has to include "Mudd" in the title! It goes without saying that the tone of this movie will be somewhat different from the first one.

Production News–4/8/2012:

This is a nice interview with Darren at Trekspeak.com where we discuss Aurora and its production process as well as some of the inspiration and thinking behind the concept of the story. Star Trek past, present, and future is discussed as well. Check it out at: Trekspeak.com

Production News–11/10/2011:

Well, it's been a long haul, but Aurora is now complete! Thanks to everyone who helped with the production, primarily my wife Jeannette–who in addition to her great voice work and mocap acting for Kara and T'ling–also gave me great advice about the story; lent me support, encouragement, and sympathy when things were not going well; and put up with my long disappearances into my office to work on Aurora for entire weekends and into the night. In many ways, I couldn't have done it without her.

Thanks also to the many friends who contributed their voices to the production, particularly the Saur family, (and, yes, that is "the boys" both as their young and adult alter egos–that's how long I've been working on this!), who gave Kara a home, and who thought they were done after Part 1; Tim, Ely, Johnny, Susan and Eddie for their help on a pivotal scene; and Mike, who I think still remains the only Down East Mainer in Star Trek. Further thanks to volunteers like David Ault, who really made Mr. Trang's technobabble sound convincing; Eric Busby's crusty Doctor; John Whiting's even crustier Stationmaster; Laura Post's short but sweet turn as Nurse; and Sean Lantry's business-like Security Officer.

Still more thanks to the many generous 3D graphics professionals and hobbyists who have made their work available online for others to use in their own work in the form of Star Trek and science fiction starship models, sets, equipment and textures, and even useful software tools, bits of code, and technical advice–I name many in the credits, and I apologize for any I have missed, but I will add Phil Cooke, an unsung hero of Aurora who provided me with absolutely crucial python scripts and advice, and great products for Poser.

Extra special thanks must go to John Catney, music composer for Aurora, who came to me out of the blue to volunteer his work. I think that he really "gets" the feel and purpose of the story, and through his work, has very much enhanced the emotions of the scenes as I envisioned them.

Lastly, I must thank the many fans of Aurora who have taken the time to drop me a note to let me know how much they have enjoyed Aurora–your support really helped to sustain me through the years of work, stray hurricanes, lightning strikes, freak snowstorms, seemingly intractable technical problems, and my own frustration with the limitations of the software and my own homegrown skills, and who also served to "keep me honest" to the original vision of Aurora, since you let me know that you cared about the characters and what happened to them.

To all of you, once again: thank you. I hope you enjoy the conclusion of the story.


Aurora's Production Process:

Star Trek: Aurora is produced using a variety of software programs and techniques. Until just a few years ago, these necessary tools for creating a full animated production were far out of the reach of the ordinary consumer, or even of small companies, but the technology has advance rapidly to the point where one person can create an entire animated production on their own. Except for voice work–and not counting 3D models I have purchased or downloaded–Aurora has been produced by one person on a single Mac computer.

My main tools are Smith Micro's Poser , Maxon Cinema 4D, and NaturalPoint Optitrack motion capture system. Kuroyume's Interposer Pro is instrumental in importing Daz/Poser content into Cinema 4D. In any case, my basic workflow for animating characters (Daz V4 and M4) is:

1. Record voice using a decent microphone (M-Audio Nova mic, Mobile Pre preamp, Apple Soundtrack)
2. Record motion capture movements with Optitrack motion capture system.
3. Import mocap data into Daz Studio via Arena plugin; export bvh.
4. Import bvh file into Poser; edit/refine animation, add hand movements.
5. Create mouth moves in Daz Mimic
6. Apply Mimic file to character in Poser; save pose
7. Apply pose to character in Cinema 4D environment and render to TIFF files
6. Create .mov file from TIFFs (using Quicktime Pro)
7. Import .mov file into Apple Final Cut Pro, edit into animation
8. Add voice file/sound effects

Other programs used: Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator.

There are a number of software/hardware quirks and workarounds necessary throughout the process, but that's the basics. (Note that this is my current workflow: Parts 1, 2 and 3 were animated largely by hand.)

General and Specific 3D Animation Advice–a Top 5:

1. Create a storyboard (in conjunction with finalizing your script) for all your shots–it can be stick figures, but a storyboard will save you a lot of trouble--and re-rendering–since it will allow you to work out the setup of your characters, framing, camera angles, and moves in advance rather than flailing around when you're trying to animate. This is probably the least appreciated and most important single thing you can do if you're doing a longer work with multiple shots (even 2 minutes of animation can have dozens of shots).

2. Pay attention to lighting–lighting is the one thing that 3D animation does better than any other method, and can make a huge difference in the look and feel of a scene. It takes a little longer to render, but if your stuff doesn't look good, why bother? And don't be afraid to "cheat" with your lights: when filming movies/TV, there are all kinds of subtle lights just outside the camera frame lighting the characters and scenes from angles that would never happen in the real world–the trick is to balance lighting your character well with making the lighting look natural.

3. Don't be a 3D purist: concentrate on what is in the shot, and don't worry about things that aren't. This is where a good storyboard really helps, since, for example, if you were shooting a street scene and your storyboard doesn't include the other side of the street, then you know you only need to build and light the buildings on one side, and if your character is just walking down the street, then the "buildings" in the background can just be the lower fronts, no need to build the backs or roofs of buildings you'll never see.

4. Eyes are the first place people look at a character, so get them right. This is kind of specific advice, but I always have "Point At" on my character's eyes, and have them looking at a ball prop (made invisible). People's eyes are almost always fixed on a particular place, so when they walk, gesture, etc. their eyes don't just stare ahead move with their head like a robot. Also, people almost always blink when they move their head to look in a new direction (try it!), so make sure you add that (you move the invisible "look at" ball during the blink). Mimic will give you an idea of how the blinks work.

5. If you're using Poser, use the Graph Editor to do almost all your animating and editing. The Animation Window is virtually useless. The graph editor allows you control over the character movements, so you can make slow graceful moves (long slow curves) or more abrupt moves (short linear curves)–people move with both, at the same time, and having only slow graceful moves makes the character look like a motorized store mannequin, and only sharp moves looks like a clanking robot or bad stop-motion animation.

Some useful websites:

Daz 3D–home of the most popular human models used for Poser; lots of accessories (like clothing, hair, etc.): http://www.daz3d.com/

Renderosity–tons more content for Poser; very active Poser community; a good place for advice: http://www.renderosity.com/

CGSociety–active community for Cinema 4D; also, lots of high-end professional work, good inspiration: http://www.cgsociety.org/

Kuroyme's Development Zone–home of Interposer Pro plugin for Cinema 4D/Poser; excellent customer support: http://www.kuroyumes-developmentzone.com/

Phil C Designs–many useful plugins for Poser (Wardrobe Wizard is a must); excellent customer support: http://www.philc.net/


I hope some of this is useful to anyone interested in 3D animation. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me.


Send your questions/comments to: admin@auroratrek.com

Star Trek and related marks © CBS Television and Paramount. Characters, images and story, except where specified, ©2008 by Tim Vining