The diverseness in the species of Star Trek is something that has always stood out to me. Each episode is full of lovingly crafted alien species that fear no lack of budget or Prime Directive. Everyone knows the species that had returning roles almost every season, but most of my favorites are the seldom seen or one and done characters that are complex enough to deserve a second look. This is where we find the Bluegills, taken lovingly from "Conspiracy," an episode of The Next Generation. We then expanded on this creepy little critter to create the neural parasites, a whole new enemy group for Star Trek Online.
Hello, I’m James Lutz, Character Animator for Star Trek Online, and in this article I’ll provide some insight into how we go about bringing new yet familiar creatures to life in the Star Trek Online universe.
What’s a Bluegill?
On TNG, the Bluegill is this little, semi-cute alien that invades people’s bodies, taking over their thoughts and granting them enhanced strength and resilience. Later in the episode, a defeated foe gurgles back to life and reveals a much less cute larval version of the alien. Captain Picard and Riker then light it up with phasers, thus ensuring the Bluegills can do no further damage to the Enterprise or the Federation.
So with limited information in hand, our Designers and Concept artists set out to fill in the entire evolution of the neural parasites and fulfill our goal of making them diverse in size and function. From small as a dog to large as a rhino, these beasties have physical traits and animations that make them unique from one another, yet still keep them feeling like they spawned from the same gene pool.
How does a giant space bug like creature move?
Early in animation studies, students are told to identify physical and character traits of the subject at hand with something that is real and can be referenced for convincing lifelike believability. As an exercise, you can combine several animals’ characteristics to create something that is unique when all of the elements are combined. For instance with the Bluegill, the front limbs and large shoulders gave me the impression of a heavy ape, which provided us an opportunity to make them heavy and slow in comparison to the smaller hind legs, that would be fast and bug like.
When planning out poses for the attacks I found referencing the impressive size and ferocity of grizzly bears lent itself to the look and feel of how the Bluegill would behave in battle. This was fun because it meant getting to watch tons of web videos of bears, bugs, and apes before diving into the animation.
A formidable foe, the Bluegills’ attacks are designed to be physical and direct utilizing the creature’s size and natural biology to inflict damage. From mind control pheromones to blobs of acid, the Bluegills use their bodily functions to defend their queen.
“Aghhh, that’s going to be gross … but awesome.”
After the initial pitch meetings the team will start getting together for kickoffs. These meetings are always fun because you get to sit around with everyone and really flesh out what this new species is going to be when it’s done. We all seemed to agree that the Bluegill needed to be “gooey”. This idea was solidified when we realized that our producer was bug phobic and a little unsettled (yet extremely understanding) about how excited we were to make these, to sum it up nicely, fantastically disgusting. With every “Aghhh, that’s going to be gross, but awesome.” We knew we were circling in on something that was going to be a lot of fun.
Seeing it all come together.
For animation purposes we create limited information meshes or Proxy Meshes that we can use to see a close example of what the final character will look like. After spending hours animating these limited costumes it’s always extremely satisfying when we get to see everything come together and just how awesome it looks. The Costumes and Vfx artists really had fun with the Bluegills and it shows in the care they took in their contributions to them.
(Example of the Animation controls)
(Example of the Skeleton used for the Bluegills)
(Example of the Proxy Mesh used for the Bluegills)
We are all super excited to share our latest critter the Bluegill with you and look forward to whatever else our adventures in space may bring.