Exterior Star Shots - Methods 1 & 2
When MST3K first started, it was decided that there would be a window on board this ship (the beginnings of this idea are discussed on the scrapbook tape, no less.)
Also, to keep with this idea that a man was, in fact, in space, occasional exterior shots of the S.O.L. would need to be used.
With this in mind (along with the need to explain the show in the theme song), BBI created an effect that, in Mike's own words, gives viewers the impressions of a "just above average cable acccess show."
Prior to shooting MST3K:TM, BBI toured the set of Star Trek, Deep Space 9, and was taught a new, more realistic way to make stars. Both methods are presented below.
Method 1 (1989 - 1994)
- 'Tiny' White Christmas light bulb strands
- Flat Black paint
- A staplegun
First, measure out an area where you wish to build the star panel.
If you are creating a window, it will need to be several feet in diameter.
The necessary size of your shot will be determined by how much content you wish to include in it, so plan accordingly.
Remember that you do not want shadows to be cast on this wall, as stars are infinitely far away, so you will need a large panel so the foreground is spaced accordingly distant.
Take the plywood, and after cutting it to an appropriate size, paint one side completely black.
This will serve as the background for the stars.
Now lay out the christmas light strands in random arrangements across the plywood.
When you have achieved your desired effect, staple the light strands down to the board.
Now take out a smaller paintbrush, and paint the wiring and bulb sockets the same black you used on the plywood.
If it doesn't match up completely, thats ok.
Because of the low resolution of television, as well as the distance at which this will be seen, paint runs and slightly mismatched colors are A-OK.
Fire up the lights and marvel at one of the cheesiest effects BBI ever designed.
This was method used from the beginning of Season 1, to the final episode of Season 6.
The Christmas lights method works fairly well, but in good transfers of the show, it is very easy to see the painted strands of light wiring.
This is particularly obvious in 309 - The Amazing Colossal Man, during the exterior shots of Glen.
This method is also rather limited in that you can do star clusters, as the brighness of the lights will cause issues with color bleeding (in essence creating what appears to be a single very large star.
Method 2 (1995 - 1999)
- Large sheets of black felt fabric
- Aluminum foil
Cut out a large sheet of black felt (possibly attaching multiple pieces together), until you have reached a desired size.
Take a sheet of aluminum foil, and cut it into very very small pieces.
Essentially you want very tiny shreded pieces of the foil.
Apply glue to one side of the foil, and stick the pieces to the felt.
It's painstaking work, but the eventual results when a light is shined on the felt are very very impressive.
BBI, at least in their exterior shots of the ship also used a smoke machine to create a space fog of sorts.
Not required, but it adds to the effect.
This method creates much more realistic stars, and allows for uniquely sized stars, which is impossible using the Christmas light strands.
The stars are also much easier to light, as a single small bulb can light large swatches of the foil stars.