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Star Trek DoP talks Cooke Anamorphic lenses

Posted on May 12, 2022 by Samara Husbands

DoP Glen Keenan shares his experience with the Anamorphic/i Full-Frame Plus Special Flare Lenses on the set of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Spin-off of Star Trek: Discovery and prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, this new instalment follows Captain Christopher Pike and the crew of the USS Enterprise.

Star Trek’s anamorphic journey started with Star Trek Discovery (Disco), featuring Keenan as cinematographer for the first three seasons. So, when Keenan was offered the chance to develop the look for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds by ex-colleague Alex Kurtzman – creator and executive producer – he gladly accepted. Keenan recalls: “I worked with Alex during Sleepy Hollow, and I was already in Toronto with an opening in my schedule. Alex had a bunch of projects, but he wanted me for Strange New Worlds. It struck the right chord, with an element of change that I wanted mentally and visually to get to the audience.”

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Star Trek: Discovery was already produced in HD, but Keenan had bigger plans for Strange New Worlds. Inspiration struck to use Full-Frame Special Flare for 4K when shooting Disco in anamorphic. Instantly, he contacted Cooke Optics, who built two custom sets in record time (that is, before episode one!); the third set once they were made – three set in two months is a remarkable feat.

The three collections of Anamorphic/i Full-Frame Plus Special Flare Lenses used on the production consisted of the 32mm, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm, 85mm MACRO, 100mm and 135mm for three ARRI ALEXA LF and four ARRI ALEXA Mini LF cameras. Although, Keenan only discovered the macro on the 85mm for close-up work when working on episode seven. “It became our favourite close-up lens”, he enthuses “it’s just lovely with great falloff.” The main lens used was the 40mm – present in every episode, and the 75mm for the Steadicam was utilised where great focal range was required. “Steadicam helps tell the story”, gifting a shot that doesn’t require editing.

Strange New Worlds is in tune with The Original Series. Each episode stands alone – “you can really see it in the main themes of our show runners”, Keenan points out, “the nostalgic quality of the sets, wardrobe, characters and photography” are as true to the 60s classic as humanly possible. To preserve authenticity doubly, the crew looked at any camera, lighting or rigging issue as though they were in the ’60s, avoiding the over-complications that can plague modern-day tech.

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Differing slightly to the Disco approach – see: cameras spinning with aggression every episode – Keenan describes “a living space [where] we don’t get in the way unless called for by the script.” A more intimate affair, the challenge was to ensure individuality from its predecessors, while keeping the essence – “even the language is just different enough.”

Use of lighting was important – “elaborate”, even, according to Keenan. Being unable to commence filming until the lighting is set-up (no mercy for everything else waiting to go), is quite the challenge when over two million LEDs are embedded across sets, with five lighting boards and four operators rotating between set-up, shoot and programming. illuminating the actors with the set lights proves the key differentiator.“Our challenge is to make it real. The more [the actors] are lit with the ship, the more real it is”. On data, Cooke’s /i Technology lens metadata was an extra feature that hooked Keenan; “I always have the data… always pulling [it] for post” – and now, he is addicted!

Catch the first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds premiered on Paramount+ on May 5, 2022. Season two commenced filming in February 2022, four months prior to the season one premiere.

Find more on the impressive Cooke Optics lens collections on their website.

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