Lower Decks – Behind the Scenes

By Star Trek 15 April 2022

Greetings Commanders,

In this new blog post, we wanted to go behind the scenes on everything Lower Decks, from creating our new frames and ship to the animation of its characters.

Let’s check this out!

Lower Decks Frames Creation Process

The Lower Decks Frames were created by the UI Team. We had not worked in this cartoony, 2D style before, but we were excited to give it a shot as we love the show.

The first step to creating cosmetic items (especially when working in a new style) is to grab as many reference images as possible. From there we started breaking down the shapes, materials, color schemes, lighting, line weights, visual flourishes, etc. that make something fit the Lower Decks style. We have multiple artists working on different assets so establishing a consistent style is important.

Next, we came up with sketches for each frame. These were based on the reference material, and the rarity of the cosmetic items (Uncommon, Rare, or Epic). We review the sketches at the size they appear in-game while showcasing various avatars. The artist collates any feedback and works up the final version.

Take the Epic Lower Decks Frame (first one). Here we tried bringing the atmosphere of those lower guts of the ship, where everything is darker, more cramped, and dirtier. We looked at existing references and all we saw were exposed cables, claustrophobic spaces… and noodle cups. For the Uncommon Holodeck Frame (second one), we brought directly the look & feel of the same episode where we see the interior of the holodeck, with its glowing lines and metallic canisters.

Let’s look at the Epic USS Cerritos Frame (third one): this was all about matching the materials, color scheme, and light panels from the iconic ship. Last but not least, if you look at the Rare Boimler Effect Frame (fourth one), we look at the episodes and found inspiration in the gold plaque and other examples of golden materials we can see when we learn from Boiler’s a ship-wide mandate.

Shipping New 2D Officers

Lower Decks was an exciting but challenging departure for the art team on STFC. As we are a team that is used to the 3D character and animation work, we had to completely re-imagine our art pipeline to accommodate this unique 2D look that appears in the TV show.

The first step in the pipeline was to re-create the 2D assets in a simple layered form in Photoshop. We were given some of the original assets from the show but even these had to be cut up into individual layers. After that, we added some more layers for new unique movements and expressions that we wanted to achieve.

Next, we send the asset to our Unity game engine, and it gets re-arranged in an efficient layout. Then we draw a unique skeleton of joints, which we attach to the various parts of the character, to enable us to move and animate the new officer.

The final step is to re-create the movements of the characters from the show. As they have a very unique movement style this was a big change from the more ‘fluid’ animation style we are used to. However, we feel we’ve captured the mood and feeling of the show and are very happy with the final look.

Creating the USS Cerritos Ship

Doing the Cerritos ship for STFC was definitely a unique experience for us as a 3D team. Because it has quite a special look, we had to be very accurate with how we approached texturing and the 3D modeling side of things. Firstly, we had to adjust the existing 3D model from the show and create a more simplified though still detailed enough model which would suit our in-game restrictions.

Then, after the modeling side of things was completed, we proceeded to the texture phase. That means adding color and material properties to the model. It was quite challenging process because we had to adapt our pipeline specifically to achieve the TV show look of it. All reference and show materials were examined very carefully and we paid close attention to such things as: the intensity of all glowing and emissive elements, how reflective the surface is, and how much saturation and color vibrance certain ship part requires.

It wasn’t the easiest ship that we ever did in the studio. However, we think the final result is worth all the extra time we’ve put into it.