Over the last few years, the production of 3D movies have been getting more and more popular. In fact, Hollywood insiders have been saying that by the year 2015, it’s going to be a new goldmine. And the most talked about movie of the year is going to be the live-action version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella “Treasure Island”. And of course, this means that the movie will be one of the biggest productions in history.
There are never enough details to give you an idea of what goes on behind the scenes… especially when the job is as complex as making the largest independent feature film ever made. Dan Armitage is the leading man behind the camera, and he just finished his first God’s Not Dead. Dan was kind enough to sit down with me to discuss his journey over the past two years.
Of Gods And Men is the first feature film ever shot on Super 16mm film, and stars Ron Perlman, James Franco, and James Caviezel. It was shot on location in the beautiful deserted beaches of Morocco. It is told through the eyes of two men who are the only survivors of the titular event, which was a massacre of 1400 men, women, and children. It is a story of two men who try to find a way to avenge the deaths of their family members and the rest of the villagers. It is a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat and leave you thinking long after you have seen the end credits roll.
I published a collection of what I considered to be the finest moments and sequences from the realm of Star Trek fan films last month. (You may see it by clicking here.) Using a program that grabs YouTube videos, I collected around three dozen clips from fan productions over the past two decades.
The video quality was, however, all over the place. The most recent fan films, such as those from AVALON UNIVERSE, SQUADRON from the Czech Republic, and SAMUEL COCKINGS’ A LONG WAY FROM HOME, looked amazing in High Definition (HD) quality. And even five years ago, everything looked fantastic.
However, as I came to fan videos made before 2010, the video quality fell dramatically since those productions were made before HD grade digital video was widely accessible… because of the camera technology, the size of the video files, and the expense of hard disk storage
But, well, the show has to go on, doesn’t it? So I made do with what I had, and the response to the video has been mostly good. The picture quality of earlier fan films does not seem to be a problem for anybody. But, oh, if only…
Last week, approximately a month after I published my video, something called “If only…” occurred. Without fanfare, a YouTube user called DAN ARMITAGE from a village near Liverpool, England, uploaded an upscaled version of STAR TREK: OF GODS AND MEN! TIM “Tuvok” directed the first shoot in 2006. RUSS, ST:OGAM was mainly filmed at JAMES CAWLEY’s TOS sets at Ticonderoga, New York, and Vasquez Rocks, north of Los Angeles. The fan film was of professional quality, featuring NICHELLE NICHOLS as Uhura and WALTER KOENIG as Chekov from the (at the time) rich 40-year legacy of Star Trek. The performances were all outstanding. (For additional information about the production, go here.)
Between December 2007 and June 2008, the pioneering fan film was released in three parts. A few years later, in 2012, those parts were merged into one YouTube video, and this is how the film has appeared to most fans for more than a decade…
Take a peek at Dan Armitage is a British actor.’s recently published enhanced version…
Isn’t it incredible? Granted, it’s still not as good as the 80 episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation or the seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation that Paramount and CBS Home Video spent millions of dollars remastering. To be fair, those people went back to the original film negatives, digitally scanned and color-corrected them, re-edited each episode from the ground up, and had CGI artists spend thousands of hours producing entirely new visual effects scenes.
With what did Dan have to work? Let we inquire of him…
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you If you’re wondering, “Who is Dan Armitage?” you’ve come to the right place. What information about yourself and your history would you want them to have?
DAN – That’s a tough question to answer since the work I’ve done and the projects I’ve worked on have frequently gone overlooked by our community’s major players. You think of HIDDEN FRONTIER when you hear ROB CAVES, NEW VOYAGES when you hear James Cawley, and AXANAR when you hear Alec Peters.
I’ve always been fascinated in editing, and one of my earliest projects was combining the different Voyager two-parters into an one cinematic experience. With the use of a VCR. This isn’t my finest effort…
I’ve created audio plays and audio novels based on Doctor Who throughout the years. I put up a crew a few years ago to make a two-hour animated film based on the unproduced 1993 Doctor Who anniversary special “Lost in the Dark Dimension.”
However, in recent years, I’ve been considering restoration and remastering. There’s a lot of ephemera out there that’s about to be forgotten.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you So, what drew you to remastering ancient Star Trek fan films in the first place?
DANIEL – For many years, I’d been working on remastering some of the lesser-known Star Trek assets, such as vintage VHS trailers for the different shows, which I reproduced shot by shot in HD. I used the similar method for the famous fan trailer “The Wrath of Kirk.”
Since, I believe, 2005, I’ve been a fan of STAR TREK: HIDDEN FRONTIER. I recall downloading New Voyages’ “In Harms Way” and “Come What May” at 5kb/s during the huge fan film craze. It took…quite a while.
People are hanging on to less physical media as streaming services become more popular, and they are holding on to less digital material as well. Why would you want to download the files when you can simply watch them on YouTube? Except that the quality of those uploads, especially the older fan films, isn’t great. For many of them, the original files are still available, therefore I began the process of preserving them. I never upgrade from a YouTube or comparable file… Only from a DVD or, if I can locate them stored someplace, the original files.
When I first learned about the advancements in AI upscaling, I was blown away, and I realized that the technique might be used to the long-forgotten treasures of Star Trek fan creations from the golden era. It’s not ideal what I’m doing with this preservation/restoration/remastering procedure. The Of Gods and Men upload looks fantastic, and it’s wonderful to finally be able to see all of the details on a 50-inch screen. However, this isn’t always feasible. The method is reliant on the original filmmakers’ excellent work. I can’t, and wouldn’t attempt, to improve on their efforts. I simply want to provide their works in the best possible condition, with all faults and flourishes intact.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you Which fan films are you remastering right now? Which of these do you want to undertake in the future?
DANIEL – I’m presently working on converting the whole Hidden Frontier library to 720p HD. Rob Caves generously provided me with access to the cast and crew DVDs, which provided me with the finest source material from which to work. I’m also using the same technique on the first four episodes of New Voyages, which were shot in HD before the series started.
Although I’m mostly interested in the more well-known fan films of the past, I’m also interested in those that have faded into oblivion, such as U.S.S. HATHAWAY and TALES OF THE SEVENTH FLEET. Because the source materials for those are considerably lower to begin with, I can ensure that viewers will get the film precisely as I see it by providing downloads rather than streaming videos.
I’ve attempted many times to remaster STARSHIP EXETER’s “The Savage Empire,” but the original.mov source files are much too poor quality to add any more detail. In reality, applying the procedure to those files would result in a loss of detail, which would be much more detrimental to this preservation effort. I’m aware that the episode was published as a VCD.mpg file, but I’ve been unable to locate it. Please get in contact if you have a copy.
A still from the first episode of STARSHIP EXETER, “The Savage Empire.”
That, I believe, leads me to the STARSHIP FARRAGUT. I have the first two episodes’ original.mov files, but I’d want to contact the producers in the future to see if they have anything better that I can utilize. Is there a DVD available? The options are limitless!
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you What is the procedure for remastering a fan movie? Is it something that anybody can accomplish, or is it a more involved process?
DAN – The procedure is basically quite straightforward, and the software I use has been set up with a variety of models, each of which produces a distinct outcome. A model that works for one production may not work for another. I’ve spent enough time with the program to know which models to employ depending on the quality of the original image.
A group of enthusiasts is presently working on remastering Deep Space Nine in 1080HD, and the results, although not quite up to level with a genuine BluRay release, are a considerable improvement over the original DVD releases. Those files are now “out there,” but I think that as the method improves, the outcomes will improve as well.
Anyone interested in working on a restoration like this should make sure they have a good GPU [graphics processing unit – Jonathan]. While anybody can learn to use the program, you’ll have a hard time getting anywhere quickly if you don’t have the appropriate hardware.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you For a normal fan film, how long does the remastering process take on your computer?
DANIEL – I used the technique to a DVD copy of Of Gods and Men and upscaled it to 4k for my recently released remastered edition, effectively pulling every pixel out of the image. This procedure took five days on my (very ancient) PC, with the program running around the clock. Then it was only a matter of converting the file to 1080p and uploading it. Easy.
Other fan films, on the other hand, may require a lot more effort, depending on the source image and how the files are created. Take, for example, the Hidden Frontier. When comparing the low-quality.mov files that were previously available on their website to the cast and crew DVDs, I think that the released files were cleaned up further before being reduced in quality. The green screen would sometimes stop suddenly (especially in the early episodes) and the screen would spill into the actual world. These images were reframed in the final version to eliminate the bleed-through. However, these pictures were not corrected on the DVDs, so I had to recreate everything by hand. So, although each episode of Hidden Frontier is considerably shorter than a movie, getting it ready for distribution may require a lot more “real” labor.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you You started a crowd-funding effort to pay your expenses lately, but it has now been deleted. What expenses did you have to pay, and why did the campaign end before you reached your goal?
DANIEL – As I previously said, I started this process using a computer that was on its last legs and was clearly not intended for the kind of work I was doing. My laptop got so hot one day that the solder connecting the power jack to the motherboard melted! I was able to repair it, but it ultimately died. I pushed it to its breaking point.
Because my efforts appeared to be attracting attention, I started a crowd-funding campaign to buy a new computer, one that was especially built for the kind of job I’d be doing. I got one contribution over the course of a week. My father, on the other hand, contacted me the day after I launched the campaign. He was curious as to what I was doing and why I was doing it. I told him everything, and the following day he took me out and got me a brand new computer with more processing power than I could possibly need! Projects that used to take days now take just a few hours.
My family has always been supportive of my endeavors. My parents and I used to watch my humiliating early edits when I was a kid. They encouraged me to train and develop my talents, and they have observed as my abilities have improved over time. We sat down to watch a movie I had fan-edited last month, and that cut is now the favorite version of the film on their Kodi.
My mother, father, and wife have always been staunch supporters of my career, and I would not have made it this far without them.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you Were you ever personally engaged with any Star Trek fan films before starting the remastering? If yes, which one(s) and would you be interested in participating in any future productions?
DANIEL – With Star Trek fan films, I’ve always been an outsider, and over time, I’ve moved away from the community and into the Doctor Who fanbase. My works are more well-known there, ranging from audio dramas such as A Town Like Malus to animations such as Dark Dimension and The Great Key.
Many of the performers, animators, musicians, and artists with whom I’ve worked over the years have gone on to make a living out of their skills, many with direct ties to the Doctor Who program. I am very proud of them and wish them nothing but success. I want to one day follow in their footsteps and make a tiny mark on the program that so many of us adore.
But, to return to your initial point, I haven’t been personally involved with any other Trek fan films, and that’s OK with me. While I was growing up, the Golden Age of Star Trek fan productions occurred, when I had a poor Internet connection and had to wait hours and hours to view each episode. Nonetheless, I look back with fondness. In some ways, remastering those old productions allows me to revisit those days.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you So, now that ST: OGAM has been restored, what can fans expect to see next?
DANIEL – It is, in fact, already available. I restored the pilot episode of New Voyages, “Come What May,” a few days after I published the remaster of ST: OGAM. Whatever the case may be…
With that upload, I discovered that YouTube’s compression may have an impact on the upscaling process’ advantages. As a result, I’ve started working on a blog where people may download movies from the file storage service MEGA in the highest possible quality.
JONATHAN – I’m Jonathan, and I’m here to tell you Well, Dan, I have to say that I admire your dedication to preserving and enhancing the rich heritage of Star Trek fan films. Thank you so much for all of your efforts on behalf of our community, as well as for this great interview.
DANIEL – Thank you very much.