Babylon 5 2×01 Effects Update Supplemental- Their Horses Were On Fire

With the Audio Guide to Babylon 5 getting into the third season of the show, and RedTed’s Babylon 5 model coming along nicely, I’ve been feeling more excitement about my old B5 effects project, which has been safely tucked in the back of my mind for the past few years. I think I’d like to take care of some more of the prerequisites before I jump back into making shots, not in the least because I’d also like to finish my current Star Trek project without introducing one of my trademark delays. I also think it’d be prudent for me to act as if this isn’t going to be a one-episode wonder, and take my time in laying the groundwork for continuing this project indefinitely.

Luckily, in my last post, I promised an investigation into the three depictions of the Battle of the Line in Babylon 5. I’d like to make all the depictions of the battle as consistent as possible, so I wanted to catalogue what happened, and which redone shots corresponded with which earlier shots. Let’s start with a chart of my findings, and then there will be some further discussion. I’ve listed the shots in chronological order.

Description And the Sky Full of Stars Points of Departure In the Beginning
Establishing shot of Human Fleet



Establishing shot of Minbari Fleet ITB_002_Minbari_Fleet


Alpha 7 Detects Signal ITB_003_A7_Detects_Signal


Alpha 7 Breaks off to Investigate ITB_004_A7_Investigates


A7 PoV: Minbari Fighters Appear ITB_005_A7_POV_Minbari_Appear


Minbari Squadron Firing ITB_006_Minbari_Fighters_Firing


Alpha 7 Explodes AtSfoS_001_A7_Explodes




Minbari Comes After Sinclair ITB_008_Minbari_Attacks_Sinclair


GC Enters Chamber PoD_002_Grey_Council_Chamber


GC Watches Attack ITB_009_GC_Watches_Initial_Attack


Minbari Fleet opens jump point in hyperspace ITB_010_Minbari_JP_in_HSpace


CU of Sinclair dodging fire AtSfoS_002_S_Dodges_M_Fire


Minbari Firing on Sinclair AtSfoS_003_MF_Firing




Wide shot of Minbari chasing Sinclair AtSfoS_004_MF_Chasing_S




Starfury Squadron From Rear AtSfoS_005_Starfury_Squad_From_Rear


Mitchell Breaks Formation AtSfoS_006_Mitchell_Breaks_Formation




Minbari Fleet Jumps Out ITB_014_Minbari_Fleet_Jumps_Out


Armrest Shot ITB_015_Sinclair_Arm_Shot


Starfuries Skid back from Minbari ITB_016_Starfuries_back_off


Starfury surrounded by explosions ITB_017_Starfury_Surrounded_by_Explosions


Starfury Cockpit on fire ITB_018_Starfury_Cockpit_on_Fire


Starfury loses engine ITB_019_Starfury_Loses_Engine


Starfury rams cruiser fin ITB_020_Starfury_Rams_Minbari_Fin


Starfury explodes and flies into screen ITB_021_Starfury_Explodes_and_Flies_Into_Screen


Sinclair avoids Minbari cruiser in his way AtSfoS_007_MC_Revealed




Mitchell firing AtSfoS_008_Mitchell_Firing_on_MC




Minbari fleet firing AtSfoS_008_Minbari_Cruisers_Firing


Mitchell Explodes AtSfoS_010_Mitchell_Explodes




Armrest Shot 2 AtSfoS_011_Sinclair_Armrest_Shot


Several Minbari destroy Starfury ITB_025_Minbari_Destroy_Starfury


Sinclair PoV: Helmet floats by AtSfoS_012_Sinclair_PoV_Helmet


Delenn looks at Coplann ITB_026_Delenn_Looks_at_CP_from_PoD


Pair of cruisers shoot down Starfuries AtSfoS_013_Pair_of_MC_Shoot_Down_SFs


Starfury Hovers ITB_027_Starfury_Hovers


Hovering Starfury fires (continued from previous) ITB_028_Hovering_Starfury_Fires


Pair of Starfuries explodes AtSfoS_014_Pair_of_SFs_Explode


Minbari launch from damaged cruiser (from “Atonement” ITB_029_MF_Launch_From_Atonement


Starfury explodes from above AtSfoS_015_SF_Explodes_From_Above


Cruiser steals kill from fighter ITB_030_MC_Yoinks_Kill


Starfury explodes from behind AtSfoS_016_SF_Explodes_From_Behind


Starfury explodes ITB_031_Starfury_Explodes


Starfury explodes from below AtSfoS_017_SF_Explodes_From_Below


Starfuries herded into kill-zone ITB_032_Starfuries_Herded_Into_Killzone


Line of cruisers firing PoD_001_MC_Line_Firing


Delenn: They fight bravely PoD_003_Delenn_Fight_Bravely




Coplann: They will die anyway. Brave or desperate? PoD_004_Coplann_Desperation




Delenn: Same thing PoD_005_Delenn_Same_Thing_&_Questioning


Sinclair and other Starfury score hit on cruiser ITB_035_Sinclair_Scores_a_Hit


Sinclair damaged AtSfoS_018a_Sinclair_Takes_Hit




Sinclair spins out of control AtSfoS_018b_Sinclair_Spins_Out




Sinclair recovers control AtSfoS_018c_Sinclair_Recovers




Sinclair aims at cruiser AtSfoS_019_Sinclair_Aims_at_MC




Sinclair hits afterburners AtSfoS_020_Sinclair_Fires_Afterburner




Delenn: We should bring one aboard PoD_005_Delenn_Same_Thing_&_Questioning




Coplann: Choose quickly PoD_006_Coplann_Choose_Quickly




Delenn scans the sky PoD_007_Delenn_Chooses




Sinclair approaches cruiser AtSfoS_021_Sinclair_Approaches_MC






Sinclair PoV: Collision Alert AtSfoS_022_Sinclair_PoV_of_MC




Sinclair passes into shadow AtSfoS_023_Sinclair_Passes_Into_Shadow




Sinclair seized by tractor beam AtSfoS_024_Sinclair_Siezed_by_Tractor_Beam






MC PoV on Sinclair being tractor ITB_048_MC_PoV_on_Sinclair_Being_Tractored


GC Watches Sinclair being Tractored ITB_049_GC_Watches_Sinclair_Being_Tractored


Starfury with missing engine explodes ITB_050_Fury_With_Missing_Engine_Explodes


Starfury explodes, pilot flies into screen ITB_051_Starfury_Explodes_Pilot_Flies_Into_Screen


Delenn is horrified by carnage ITB_052_Delenn_Horrified_by_Carnage


Earth stragglers being shot down ITB_053_Earth_Stragglers_Being_Chased_Down


Minbari fleet ceases fire ITB_054_Minbari_Cease_Fire



I think my most interesting discovery was that there was one shot that was used in all three depictions (24, 8, and 47, respectively), Sinclair flying towards the Minbari cruiser, then being disabled and tractored in. The shot was split in two in “And the Sky Full of Stars,” but was shown continuously in “Points of Departure.” In addition, it looks like a re-render; not only was the step-printing motion-blur effect omitted in PoD, a different fractal noise is used for the electrical arcing surrounding Sinclair’s fighter. There was one other shot that was reused from “Sky,” (23/x/46) the exterior shot of Sinclair throwing his arms up as his ship passes into the shadow of the cruiser. That does still have the slow-motion and step-printing, though.

Here are my notes, chronologically.

Both the Minbari and Earth fleets shown in the establishing shots have visible damage. I think that’s an interesting choice, since a major plot point was how outmatched Earth was in the war. (x/x/1,2)

It’s very quick, so I didn’t notice until I started analyzing the shots on the DVD frame-by-frame (it’s how we learn), but Alpha 7 has his own custom wing-art. It’s a lower-case Greek “alpha” in the center, with a “7”  on the left wing. I don’t think I’m going to go with this when I do ITB. (x/x/3)

Let’s talk wing-art for a moment.

In “Sky,” Sinclair (Alpha Leader) and Mitchell both have custom wing-art (you can see diagrams on this page from Starship Modeler) that are on a theme. Sinclair has yellow-and-black solid stripes and a large “02” painted on his ship, while Mitchell has wavy black-and-white tiger stripes and “06.” I’m assuming the stripes-and-numbers would be the theme for Alpha Squadron, so Alpha 7 should have something similar (his helmet seems to have diamond with some sort of curved U-shape inside of it, maybe a stylized phoenix? It’s hard to tell in the red lighting). I’d like to fill out the rest of the squadron, as well, since “The Gathering” and “Sky” both put a lot of emphasis on Sinclair’s squad-mates being shot down, so I’d like it if the shots from “Sky” showed his friends, specifically, being shot down.

In “Points of Departure,” the first shot we see of the Grey Council is them entering their chamber (established in “Sky”) and the holographic viewer activating (which was not seen in “Sky”), with the battle already in progress, which is why I put the shot here instead of with the rest of that sequence. I don’t think this makes sense (they were late to their own holy war?), nor do I think it’s necessary to show the image activating to establish the conceit of the holographic room. I think it might be more visually interesting to have the image already active, but show how it looks from the outside, perhaps pushing in and having it envelop the camera. (x/2/x)

There’s another couple of minor logic issues in the next shot of the Grey Council. They’re seeing an image of the scouting party that shot down poor Alpha 7 causing havoc, but there’s also a Minbari cruiser on the extreme edge of the screen. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be there, so I’ll probably omit it and assume the fighters got there some other way than being dropped off by a cruiser that just wandered up to the moon without anyone noticing. (x/x/9)

Tiny error, but in one shot of Sinclair being chased by a Minbari fighter, his ship has Sheridan’s “Flying Tiger” wing-art. (4/x/12)

A slightly odder error is that in “Sky,” Mitchell’s fighter turns to the right to chase down Sinclair’s pursuer, while in ITB, it turns to the left. I’d say “Sky” is correct, since Mitchell is looking down and to the right in the shots inside the cockpit. (6/x/13)

Many electrons have been spilled on the problems that came with Babylon 5’s transfer to widescreen, but one that isn’t noted as often is that reused live-action footage from earlier episodes was treated just like visual effects shots (apparently, each episode was remastered in isolation, and didn’t have access to footage shot for other episodes). This means that in episodes like “In the Beginning” or “War Without End, Part 2” which incorporate a lot of earlier footage, it should be possible to get a quality increase in a fan edit by splicing in the uncropped footage from the original episodes. This won’t always be possible, if the original use of the footage had some sort of effect applied to it, or more of the footage was used in the subsequent appearances, but it’s an interesting note.

The grand shot of the Minbari fleet jumping out of hyperspace in ITB brings up a bit of production trivia I didn’t understand until years later. In the distance on camera-left is a globe which I always assumed to be the moon. On closer inspection, it’s actually Earth. In an interview on B5Scrolls, Tim Earls noted that, for ITB, he worked out a concept where the “line” in the “Battle of the Line” was an actual line, with the Human ships strung between Earth and the Moon. The theory behind this shot is that the Minbari are jumping out in a parallel line, meeting the Earth forces ship-for-ship. I don’t agree with this concept (why wouldn’t the Minbari exit hyperspace from a direction that was undefended? Why would Earthforce arrange all their ships along the only direction the Minbari couldn’t be coming from, under cover from the moon?), and it doesn’t entirely come across (I don’t have my books with me, but I believe “To Dream In the City of Sorrows” and the ITB novelization described “the Line” as more of a sphere surrounding the planet), but aside from explaining why the Minbari jump out of hyperspace pointing perpendicular to Earth, it explains this graphic from a briefing scene early in the movie, which I’d never been able to parse until I realized it was diagramming out Earls’ concept. (x/x/14)

There’s a shot of Sinclair in his cockpit, looking up at him from his armrest. You can see through his canopy window, but no effects were added (going frame-by-frame, you can see the studio rafters when flashbulbs representing explosions light up). It appears in two different contexts in “Sky” and ITB, so I think I’ll cheat and put in different effects for each production.

It’s arguable, but I believe there’s a shot in ITB that’s intended to be a remake of the “reveal” shot of the Minbari Cruiser in “Sky,” which became one of the more iconic visuals in the show. (7/x/22)

The sequence with Mitchell firing on the cruiser before being shot down is very different and much faster in ITB than it is in “Sky” (for one thing, Mitchell doesn’t eject in ITB). Since I first saw ITB as a kid, I’ve had an idea for how they could be reconciled, and I’m interested in seeing how it turns out when the time comes. This is probably also a good time to note that Mitchell’s wing-art wasn’t used in ITB. Netter Digital had issues with texture maps. (8/x/23, 10/x/24).

In both “Sky” and “ITB,” there’s a battle montage at this point. There’s a brief shot of Delenn watching the battle which is from the PoD scene that appears later in the battle (I haven’t decided if I’ll put in different effects behind her in ITB, since like the armrest shot, it’s shown at a different time in a different context). (x/x/26) There’s also a shot of Minbari fighters flying away from a pair of damaged cruisers which is stock footage from the Earth-Minbari first contact, made for “Atonement” and seen earlier in ITB. (x/x/29)

After the montage, we get into the meat of the sequence from “Points of Departure,” Delenn and Coplann’s conversation in the holographic chamber, which is mostly included in ITB. One thing I only realized looking at the list of screen caps I prepared for this blog post is that there seems to have been a mix-up in the visual effects. Two angles were prepared, one looking at Earth, one looking at the Minbari fleet. They’re used in series, not corresponding to the cuts between the two characters, so in the first two shots, two characters facing each other both have Earth behind them, and then in the next two cuts, they each have the same Minbari ship behind them. That’s something I’ll want to address. (x/3/33, x/4/34, x/5/41, x/6/42)

The next shot in ITB is Sinclair and another Starfury scoring a direct hit on a Minbari cruiser. In “The Gathering,” when Sinclair describes the battle, he says he managed to shoot down one Minbari fighter before he got hit, so I’d like to make that the source of the explosion, for consistency. (x/x/35)

Sinclair actually being damaged, spinning out of control, and recovering is one long shot in “Sky,” but three in ITB. Aside from pacing, there don’t seem to be any major differences in the choreography of the scene. (18/x/36, 18/x/37, 18/x/38)

There’s a third plate behind Delenn before she turns around to pick which Starfury to capture. She looks up, which is odd, because “Sky” and ITB both show Sinclair coming at them from below (20/x/40). I’m torn, I’d like the eyelines to match, but shooting from below makes things look bigger, so it would underscore the scale difference between Sinclair’s fighter and the cruiser. On the other hand, coming from above may make Sinclair seem to be going faster, like a dive-bomber. I may have to experiment.

We go back to new-for-ITB footage of the Grey Council with Coplann leaving to question Sinclair as his fighter is being towed in. (x/x/49) This invites a philosophical question I’d like to sort out before I start tackling shots in the Minbari hologram chamber; what does it actually look like if you were walking around inside of it? It seems obvious, but there doesn’t seem to be a consistent theory behind it beyond what looks cool for a given shot. The general idea would seem to be that it shows what it would look like if the Council’s ship was transparent. This shot, along with others showing Starfuries flying impossibly close seems to suggest the hologram is a 2D spherical projection of the view from some arbitrary point on the ship (Sinclair’s ship seems to grow bigger than life-sized in the hologram, and what if the camera turned 180°? Where would the tractor beams seem to be coming from? Would we see the landing bay of the ship they’re in?) Meanwhile, in “Atonement” and the early part of ITB, it appears the Earth expeditionary fleet is being projected in 3D at a small scale (each ship only a few feet long), being viewed from a point outside the Council’s ship. On the other hand, in “Legends of the Rangers,” Minbari are flying through space and whirling around in a holo-chamber, so maybe it’s all of these possibilities, with the viewing mode chosen on a case-by-case basis.

I realize I’m probably overthinking this, but doing this as a fun personal project means I have the time and the freedom to make everything line up, whether it’s stock footage or eyelines or how a Minbari hologram room works. To my way of looking at it, taking shortcuts when I don’t have to takes the fun out of it.

The final note is that I’d like to make it clearer in the final shot of the battle from ITB that the Minbari are, in fact, surrendering. The cut back to Londo happens so quickly after the Minbari stop firing that there’s no time for the moment to land. I’d also, in the distance, like to include the Trigati breaking away and abandoning the fleet rather than surrender. (x/x/54)

There are other aspects I’d like to tackle in my versions of these shots, beyond simple consistency. I’d like to add more ships in the background, especially Earth capital ships. I’d also like more shots that include Earth or the moon as landmarks.

My next post on Babylon 5 is likely to be another research post, though one more along the lines of my Battlestar Galactica hangar post, where I’ll attempt to reverse-engineer sets and visual effects into a more-or-less consistent whole.

~ by David Gian-Cursio on March 20, 2016.