Starfields or streaming stars are ubiquitous to give the impression of movement of space crafts.

I am thinking of flying directly and frontal into the starfield, as in the beginning of the intro or the famous Windows screen saver. Of course it is easy to create this with digital technology. But how were they created before that, e.g. for the Star Trek:TOS intro?

I have an idea with filming a bundle of point light mounted on a center position pointing at a plane and angular movement of the individual spots. If it was something like this it certainly would not have allowed free movement or curving in space - but that I don't remember just now, only straight movement.

  • Great question, the only information I can find is that the static starfields are just black curtains, as this prop website shows, but I can't find anything about the moving stars. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 1:25
  • Multiple exposures of zooming into a plane with small lights as stars seems possible also.
    – his
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 11:10
  • After simulating it in Blender it indeed seems possible and likely that this is done by zooming in (changing the camera's focal length) on several layers of light sources.
    – his
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 11:29

1 Answer 1


The following is stolen (borrowed, I'd like to believe) from the Star Trek BBS:

Quoting Howard A. Anderson, ASC from "Out-of-this-world Special Effects for 'Star Trek'" in the October 1967 American Cinematographer:

One of our most difficult assignments for the series was to create the impression that the Enterprise was racing through space at an incredible speed--faster than the speed of light, which is 6,000,000,000,000 miles a year.

Other space shows have shown spacecraft more or less "drifting" through space. We wanted to avoid that cliche. The solution did not come easily or quickly. We experimented with dozens of ideas before we hit on an effective solution.

The principal elements in our solution are a space sky and the use of an Oxberry optical printer. To make the space sky, we painted black stars on a white background about 2 1/2 feet by 3 feet, arriving at a suitable design. We then made a series of black-out mattes that we could use later with the sky in the optical printer.

The advanced Oxberry printer was unique at the time. It is capable of making a 5-to-1 reduction through a 4-to-1 enlargement with continued automatic focusing. The space sky was photographed and a still frame used on the optical printer. We tracked the space sky to the left, to the right, to the top and to the bottom, using a different black-out matte on each pass and superimposed these various moves at different speeds. We were able to create the illusion that the Enterprise was racing through space at an incredible speed. We start with a space sky filled with some 500 stars and finish with perhaps 30 on each pass. In the automatic focusing process, we got from a 3-foot scope down to about 10 inches.

Although that's just how Anderson did it. ST's effects were produced by multiple different effects houses. From the same article, Linwood Dunn discusses how his company Film Effects of Hollywood created their starfield effects:

The background star fields were created by punching holes of various sizes, in proper scale and location, in large sheets of black paper, backed up by special diffusion screens and color filters to create the desired effect. By combining scenes made at varying camera distances and travel speeds, a realistic illusion of depth was created. This was particularly important in star fields which tied-in with forward or reverse travel of the ship, and seen on its forward viewing screen.

So basically they both photographed multiple starscape layers which were moving at different speeds relative to the camera. Superimposing them created the effect of 3-D movement, nearer stars moving faster than more distant ones.

  • I hope I got it right: This creates a parallax starfield, a sideways look? I specifically thought of flying frontal into the starfield as in the picture in the linked TVTropes article (showing Star Wars, Millennium Falcon FTL sequence) or in the intro right at the beginning. Or think of the famous Windows screen saver. You can't do this with fixed layers as the stars don't retain their relative position to each other.
    – his
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 16:04
  • @his Stars are always parallax unless you're on a collision course with them, and the multiple layers mean that only stars on the same layer appear to move in synch. Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 17:30
  • @CrowTRobot I am aware of that. The tropes article has some words about the realism of the depiction. But in this specific case I just want to know how the effect was produced, the one, where the stars (or particles) pass to every side of the nose of the craft.
    – his
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 17:51
  • They made those shots the same way. Re-read the final sentence of the second quote.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Oct 29, 2014 at 19:11
  • I still fail to see how that explains how the sequences of flying right into a starfield are done. The explanation works just for sideways views in the background.
    – his
    Commented Oct 30, 2014 at 10:34

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