Star Trek Voyager Episode Pushed Special Effects To Cutting Edge

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

Star Trek special effects

When you think about Star Trek stories with killer special effects, chances are that you don’t think about the Voyager episode “Emanations.” Behind the scenes, however, digital artists worked hard to push the effects in this episode to the absolute cutting edge. The result was an adventure that surprisingly convinced both producers and fans that this spinoff could take the franchise’s production value to the next level.


Based on its description, you may not think of this Star Tek episode as one that really called for great special effects. “Emanations” is the episode where Harry Kim seemingly dies on an Away Team mission, waking up among aliens who consider him a visitor from the afterlife.

Eventually, Kim takes the ultimate leap by killing himself in an attempt to return to Voyager no matter the cost.

A Ringed Planet

Star Trek special effects

The decision to make this Star Trek episode a special effects bonanza began in the planning stage, after the science consultant André Bormanis and others on the crew “decided that the rings of an alien gas giant planet would be a fun setting.”

This behind-the-scenes “Emanations” planning reveals a unique problem that this franchise regularly faces. When almost every episode involves a “strange new world,” it can be a real challenge to make each one visually distinct from the rest.

With the setting for this Star Trek episode decided, special effects supervisor David Stipes revealed that producers originally wanted something much simpler onscreen.

In “Emanations, “ he said “We were initially going to see a ring at a distance, so it looks like a Saturn-like planet, then we were going to go into a graphic that shows the asteroids, and then we were going to talk about them.” He said that audiences “were not going to see them” as a measure of cutting costs.

Close Ups Of The Rings

Star Trek special effects

However, moved by the subject matter of this Star Trek episode, special effects guru Stipes pushed to include close-ups of the rings. He got his wish, and this certainly made “Emanations” more visually striking than the episodes that came before it.

It may seem quaint to modern audiences, but the secret to bringing these ambitious effects to life was using a CGI Voyager instead of a model.

Stipes was quite happy that he wouldn’t have to shoot any motion control footage for Voyager like with previous episodes because of the CGI ship. He excitedly presented storyboard ideas to both episode director David Livingston and producer Jeri Taylor.

The director was onboard and the pragmatic Star Trek producer said that as long as the special effects would stay within the budget, “Emanations” could have everything Stipes envisioned for it.


David Stipes was inspired by the design of Voyager‘s opening credits sequence. “I think [visual effects producer] Dan Curry and the guys at Santa Barbara Studios held out a promise for the show in the title sequence,” Stipes remarked. “I try to adhere to the mood it established.

The title sequence was part of the inspiration and the thrust for the ‘Emanations’ show–the scale of the planet, the planetoids, the asteroids, and the rings, all of those things.”

While David Stipe had a pretty singular vision for this Star Trek episode, bringing that vision to life took an entire special effects village.

Grant Bouchet of Amblin Imaging later said of “Emanations” that the team was proud because “everybody was involved,” and “all of us finessed motion, lighting, texture maps, planets.” He specifically praised animator David Jones, who “worked full time on getting that planet to look like David Stipes wanted it to look.”

Pushing The Envelope

Some of the techniques involved in this Star Trek episode’s special effects included manipulating satellite footage of Nevada in Photoshop to create planetary surface details and using a program named Lightwave to create the planetary rings.

This involved the aforementioned animator David Jones hand-painting “a matte of a rocky, bumpy surface” that the program then used to create the individual asteroids in the ring. Once the CGI Voyager was added, everything came together perfectly to make “Emanations” look spectacular.

Star Trek science consultant André Bormanis had nothing but praise for the final product, saying that this “was one of the ‘cutting edge’ special effects that we had done on Voyager” and noting how “there was nothing else like it” on TV.

These days, while the CGI is arguably overdone (copy/paste fleet from Picard season 1, anyone?), the franchise is looking better than ever. And that might never have happened if an episode as humble as “Emanations” pushed the limits of digital effects on television.