Hey J.J. Abrams, What's With the Lens Flares in Star Trek?

April 29, 2009
Source: io9

Star Trek

Once everyone finally gets to see Star Trek next weekend, one complaint that I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot of will be in regards to the excessive use of lens flares. Director J.J. Abrams and his cinematographer Daniel Mindel use them a lot, we're talking about in almost every scene, and multiple times in every scene. We did quote Mindel at one point, who explained that at least on the Bridge of the USS Enterprise, he used those flares to give a "very realistic feel to an otherwise static scene." But as for Abrams and why he wanted to use so many - well, we'll let the filmmaker tell you himself, or at least via a press conference last week.

Before we go any further, let's take a look at the definition of lens flare: Light scattered in lens systems through generally unwanted image formation mechanisms, such as internal reflection and scattering from material inhomogeneities in the lens. Essentially, a lens flare is a (usually) curved or circular image of light superimposed on the frame created by the lenses of the camera (see an example here).

So why would anyone actually want lens flares in their movie? "I wanted a visual system that felt unique," Abrams says (via io9). "I know there are certain shots where even I watch and think, 'Oh that's ridiculous, that was too many.' But I love the idea that the future was so bright it couldn't be contained in the frame." Interesting thought so far, and I like where he's going with this, as I trust that most of Abrams' decisions are for a good reason. But that's only just the start, as Abrams explains. "The flares weren't just happening from on-camera light sources, they were happening off camera, and that was really the key to it," he says.

"I want [to create] the sense that, just off camera, something spectacular is happening. There was always a sense of something, and also there is a really cool organic layer that's a quality of it. They [lens flares] were all done live, they weren't added later. There are something about those flares, especially in a movie that can potentially be very sterile and CG and overly controlled. There is something incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous about them. It is a really fun thing. Our DP would be off camera with this incredibly powerful flashlight aiming it at the lens. It became an art because different lenses required angles, and different proximity to the lens. Sometimes, when we were outside we'd use mirrors."

Abrams goes on to say that the lens flares were "like another actor in the scene," which is a bit crazy. "It was this ridiculous, added level of pain in the ass," he says. "[The flares] to me, were a fun additional touch that I think, while overdone, in some places, it feels like the future is that bright." Essentially, they served a dual purpose of representing how bright the future really would be, at least in the Star Trek universe, which is certainly viable (considering how easy it is to create energy at that point). And they also were a way of adding some realism to scenes in order to prevent the audience from thinking it was shot on a static set.

I'm just amazed that Abrams had a legitimate answer for this that actually made some sense, too. While I know there will be some complaints, I never really had a major issue with the flares, except in a few scenes where I temporarily felt like I was being blinded by some off-screen light. But maybe that was exactly what he wanted in that scene, plus it added some sort of vibrancy to the moment, beyond the acting. Satisfied?

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I don't mind. They use these flares almost every week on Fringe.

Fuelbot on Apr 29, 2009


Paul thomas anderson and his DoP Bob Elswit use a blue lense flare a lot in their films. hard eight, boogie nights, punch drunk and There will be blood all utilise this anomaly to creative effect and i feel it creates a very unique visual and realsitic style. I have not seen star trek yet but i feel the use of lense flare will add an extra sense of realsim and less glossiness to what most general public will see as a campy trekkie fest until they actually see it and realise 'OH MY GOD STAR TREK WAS COOL ALL ALONG!

penfold on Apr 29, 2009


lens flare

evilnik on Apr 29, 2009


lens flare eyes flare..... but it helps the visual to cut down on the cg feeling... cos you tend to e distracted and you wont notice the fake feel.

evilnik on Apr 29, 2009


Why would you even post something like this prior to the movie coming out. You could of ruined a lot of the film for folks saying stupid things like this. Its not noticeable but now some folks may go in looking for this crap and miss something worth while. I would delete this post if I were you, it takes away from the movie.

Atomic Popcorn on Apr 29, 2009


I caught an advance screening of Star Trek last night. Lets just say that movie was good enough that if you are thinking about lens flare, you have a bigger problem. I'm not a Treky by any stretch, but I know the origanal show... and JJ Abrams did it more than justice!

dave p on Apr 29, 2009


Right on #5 Alex, not to be a prick, but I would strongly agree that you should get rid of this post. After seeing the film and really enjoying the experiance, I would be afriad that it could tarnish that going in looking for things like lens flare. Just a thought. Whatever.

dave p on Apr 29, 2009


I do kind of agree with 5. When you hear someone elses pet peeves about a film, you cant help but go in looking for them..

9mm on Apr 29, 2009


So, in the future, everytime you're shooting something with your camera, some dude will aim an incredibly powerful flashlight at the lens...Man, future keeps disapointing me...

Ricardo on Apr 29, 2009


I understand where Abrams is coming from with his thoughts about the future being so bright and unable to be contained. It's an interesting visual concept. But you can tell *from the trailers* that the effect is overdone. There is such a thing as restraint. They're going to catch a lot of shit for it. But then again, this is the guy that gave us the epileptic shaky-cam in Cloverfield. So you know he's not going to sit still for long. My concern is that the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise looks like an Apple Store.

Tom Brazelton on Apr 29, 2009


Also, in response to #5 and #8, if you don't want to read articles about this kind of thing, I suggest not visiting sites that discuss film - marketing, style, hype or otherwise. Maybe go to sites that impartial, toe-the-line in terms of disseminating the marketing materials the studios give them and don't feature writing from individuals who share their personal opinions. If you want a virgin experience with a film in the theater, you're probably better visiting someplace like Yahoo! Movies. Or, better yet, staying off the internet entirely. Seriously. Take a little responsibility for yourselves. No one tricked you into reading the article.

Tom Brazelton on Apr 29, 2009


#1. On Fringe I think the Lense Flare has a meaning and purpose with the story itself. I have a theory but don't want to spoil for people who have not started watching this awesome show yet. But It has something to do with memory retrieval. Maybe Star Trek and Fringe are both taking place in the same universe. I mean spock is the richest man on earth.:)

Unseen on Apr 29, 2009


I think the lens flare will work and, while perhaps excessive in some places, not be an issue.

Timothy on Apr 29, 2009


Easy #12, It was just a thought. I'm all for film discussion, and I certainly see your point. But I still see some value in not looking for something like this the first time seeing the film. Coming from someone who has already seen it, it's really great. In this case, I think it was great for me to be able to see it with a totally open mind. But, to your point, not everyone is like me. I do believe though, there is a point at which we can over analyze a film.

dave p on Apr 29, 2009


#11 - I definitely think its more than aesthetic value as well. I think it's a plot point, aswell. Though my theory involves parallel universes.

Fuelbot on Apr 29, 2009


I've only seen the trailers a few times, and I'm already utterly sick of the bloody things.

Wottock Hunt on Apr 29, 2009


This film's look is like Sunshine(2007)(best scifi of recent memory, too)meets MI:III. I love lens flares myself, as long as the person in control of them knows exactly what they are doing. Also, what is the real point of this article, I feel like this could've been trimmed down and put into another larger more cumulative one. It really seems like nitpicking, especially because you disagree that it's a real problem. The only thing really worth reading here is JJ's explanation, which is great and shows a real visual/metaphor understanding which seemingly a lot of directors seem to not really comprehend the depth of the films they are undertaking. Maybe you needed to fill a certain quota for articles published?? I'm just kidding around. It's awesome you would take time out of your day to publish an article about such a miniscule thing, at least this way if it blows up in the news or causes major complaints from the audience(like the camerashake in Cloverfield), then you can lay claim to making major note about it...haha 🙂

LINKFX on Apr 29, 2009


...J.J. Wall lights aren't spectacular... so nothing spectacular should be happening with them... we should focus on the characters and details instead, not blinding lights coming from the roof/floor/panels

Jim on Apr 29, 2009


jj is the man

scar on Apr 29, 2009


Not being a fan of Trek and being on the fence about the movie, (sorry guys) this makes me want to see it for sure. I didn't know much about JJ or his style. I always assumed he was a wanker, but it looks like he really knows his stuff and is trying to make a really beautiful FILM out of a franchise. Thanks for getting into the details Alex. It's posts like these and the recent (detailed) interview with the Observe & Report director that keep me coming back.

b on Apr 29, 2009


I'll have to wait to see it to fully understand how much it is being used. But his explanation makes sense in a way. The movie looks great so I think it will be fine and Abrams is a great director so I have faith.

Dan W on Apr 29, 2009


That same lens flair effect happens in indiana jones and the kingdom of the cristal skull !. So i do notice it!, but i think thats actually all done on perpose for a special type of look or effect for the movie itself!.

Sean on Apr 29, 2009


Give me a break. The future is so bright? That's a weak rationale. Just say, because I think it looks cool.

Cinemassiv on Apr 29, 2009


Something interesting will be happening off screen. It will be me making fun of how dumb this MTV style popcorn flick is.

Motu on Apr 29, 2009


if he was going for the look of a mid ninetnies 3dfx powered PC game, it's worked.

chris on Apr 29, 2009


i can understand their use, especially on the bridge scenes where there would be a lot of light coming through as they are in space, just as long as it doesnt take away from the movie though, blinding the audience or make it where you cant see anything often like in horror movies where its too dark to hide the fact their set is low budget

harrison on Apr 29, 2009


it actually looks cool. and there was alot of those flare things in other films. this news is just stupid

Darrin on Apr 29, 2009


wth is a lens flare?

ian on Apr 29, 2009


When it's said that lens flares makes things look more real that cracks me up. Shaky cameras are cool for moments but not the whole movie. It seems sorta like me using my handycam. If they want to make it look "Real" Why not shoot the movie in video. it dosen't get more real than that. This way the kids that are into reality tv will be hooked for life! Man why couldn't they have filmed it in a more classic manner. This way it won't be look over dated in 5 years.

LordCheeseCakeBreath on Apr 29, 2009


Apologize for my English. Blackberry brain rot!

LordCheeseCakeBreath on Apr 29, 2009


Not much of a Star Trek fan more of a Star Wars fanatic but this movie looks kinda good and the lens flares from what i've seen look like it might amp up the film .

BadKarma on Apr 29, 2009


I guess I'll see it when I see it, but too much lens flare sucks. I'm a photographer and worked with cinematographers and coming from us as a community, flares sucked when used ALL THE TIME!!! Like I said, maybe Alex is overstating like he always does. We'll see but if it's ALL THE TIME this is going to suck.

Hey Ya on Apr 29, 2009


If he admits the lens flares were overdone sometimes, why did he leave them in?

scm1000 on Apr 29, 2009


if you can grade films by the same standards as digital art created with photoshop, then I'd have to say that this is possibly the worst film ever made. I'll hold my real opinion until I see the thing. I will say that the trailers are a mixed bag for me. Some parts look decent enough, but some of the parts that were large parts of the trailers made me groan. The kid driving a car off a cliff, for instance. Maybe in the future people can break all the laws of physics or something? I mean... would a scene like that work in ANY other movie and be taken seriously?

Squiggly on Apr 29, 2009


On fringe they only due lens flare sometimes not all the time like the episode when they introduce the observer they used lens flare randomly still love the show though

Darren on Apr 29, 2009


I kind of understand his point. The flare does allude to the modern, futuristic quality of the film. Not so sure its needs it in so many shots, but I'll have to see it to make that judgment.

JimD on Apr 29, 2009


Who gives a fuck about Lens Falres? Is the story any good?

T9000 on Apr 30, 2009


I'm with with #37's comment.

avoidz on Apr 30, 2009


I agree #5! Glad your comment did not get deleted. I know that does not happen on your site!

AtomicPopcornFan on Apr 30, 2009


LOL, I can't wait to see this but I have to say that even before this article I was thinking the lens flare effect was overdone even in the trailers. So aiming a flashlight at the camera lens is "organic?" And they represent the "future being bright?" Oy. So why isn't everyone wearing sunglasses? 😛 Vic

ScreenRant.com on Apr 30, 2009


Agree Vic! Love your site too. You can post there with no fear of getting deleted if you disagree with something! Good job!

Screenrantfan on Apr 30, 2009


meh...lens flare or no lens flare, i am watching this. i'm not even a star trek fan and i'm sold on the trailers. next weekend couldn't come any faster.

aaron on Apr 30, 2009


For someone who totally didn't read anything about the Lens Flare problem beforehand..I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and DIDN'T NOTICE the lens flare at all LOL. But now that I take a second look..yeah there's lots of it..but I'm glad I didn't read about it because I'm sure my movie experience would've been ruined. The movie is that good..lens flare or not.

Jenny on May 9, 2009


I saw "Star Trek" last night, and the shaky, ADHD, MTV-esque cinematography and the overuse of lens flares detracted immensely from the film. The movie was enjoyable, but it could have been so much better with a traditional approach to film making. It ended up being exactly what I expected it to be: Another typical J.J. Abrams project.

Tim on May 9, 2009


The movie was shot with cinemascope lenses (anamorphic optical lens elements) which create lens flare effects very easily as soon light is shining directly into the lens. I like the flares......something different and people who claim "to not see the actors because of the flares....are blind" 🙂

Aykman on May 13, 2009


I like the idea and I like some of the shots in which the lens flares actually added something to the movie, BUT: it was WAY overdone... Especially the scenes in which really all of the contrast in the shots was lost by the lens flares were really unconfortable to watch... my eyes felt a bit sore when I left the theatre, like I really was blinded all the time sitting there. Ok trek-movie, great scifi-movie, but the flare effects really spoiled some of it for me.

Sorcerer on May 13, 2009


Hello I love the image, http://www.alpix.com/3d/worldwin/WW14_Lens_Flare_13_m.jpg. I would love to use it on a website that I am about to build and wondered if you would be willing to give me rights to do so, or pass this on to the owner of the image? Thank you very much Kind regards Vince

Vinni on May 22, 2009


I thought it was an effective technique, and I am a Trek fan since the beginning. Unlike Abrams' several rather emotionally dark and morally ambiguous TV series, he is dealing with Roddenberry's very positive outlook on the future. If I remember correctly, and I've seen the film twice, there were no flares on Nero's ship. So we have juxtaposed photographically here, the hope for the future (Enterprise interior with characters)-- sort of "the incredible lightness of being"-- and on the other hand the dark and photographically heavy Romulan ship. I enjoyed this glassy, light (vs heavy), clean Enterprise bridge that was effectively portrayed through that cinematic technique.

Mike on May 26, 2009


The want to create a different look to clean scifi look and Star wars Ep 1-3......they may stretched the flare-thingy too much but...what the heck......I was able to watch the movie and I liked it except the somehow flat storyline. I dont like the last Star Trek movies.........Star Trek 2 and 6 were good.....the STNG movies were crap. So, the new Star Trek movie is really something new and fresh!

Alan on May 27, 2009


love the flare , can any one know and share how to get those flare on zeiss high-speed 1.3 or cooke s4i lens . thx

zain Haleem on Sep 19, 2009


I hear that the DVD will have an option menu called "Lens Flare" and the ability to toggle it on or off, like with subtitles.

Adnan on Oct 19, 2009


@51 - Love it 🙂

snickers on Oct 19, 2009


Some people just don't like weird little flashes of light here and there, don't blame them for having this problem. But, being one of them, it's annoying when it could have been prevented. Was used to over-dramatic effect in Star Trek, to the point where I turned it off after half an hour. Sorry, but it's distracting when you're aware of it. And kinda pretentious, you know? Stay away from Superman, Mr. Abrams.

John on Nov 6, 2009


Tyto p?j?ky jsou v?hodn?, m?m dobrou zku?enost s HomeCredit p?j?kou.

P?j?ka on Feb 16, 2010


I just watched the pilot of Fringe and I noticed that Abrams really went crazy with the lens flares in the dream sequence/vision in that episode.

Patrick on May 29, 2010

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