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Director J.J. Abrams explains why there are so many lens flares in 'Star Trek'

Director J.J. Abrams explains why there are so many lens flares in 'Star Trek'

If you've watched a J.J. Abrams' movie, there's one thing you're always bound to see: Lens flares.

They're in his monster movie "Super 8" and they're extremely noticeable in his "Star Trek" movies.

super 8

Paramount Pictures

Lens flares are scattered light that you usually try to avoid having in photos. It's usually caused when a bright light shines into the lens.

lens flare star trek

Paramount Pictures

Abrams loves them.

star trek lens flare

Paramount Pictures

You can visibly see them across his rebooted "Star Trek" movies.

lens flare star trek into darkness

Paramount Pictures

Often they'll end up obscuring actor's faces.

During a conversation between Stephen Colbert and "Star Wars" director J.J. Abrams for the Montclair Film Festival Saturday evening, host Colbert pointed out just how much Abrams uses the device in his films.

Colbert noted that one fan counted 721 instances of lens flares in his first "Star Trek" film. (That same fan also found 826 in the secon).

"It has to mean something, right?" Colbert asked.

"I'll say that when we were doing Trek, I loved this idea - Now, of course, I'm going to explain this whole thing, but then when you say, well, there are 825 in 'Super 8,' I have no answer," started Abrams. "The reason I wanted to do it was I love the idea that the future that they were in was so bright that it couldn't be contained and it just sort of broke through -"

Colbert interjected saying, "Flares off the side of the screen," and the "Star Trek" director continued with a long impassioned response about his love for lens flares.

jj abrams stephen colbert montclair film festival

Neil Grabowsky / Montclair Film Festival

Yes, that's a little BB-8 hanging out with Stephen Colbert and J.J. Abrams.

"Every time I've seen a movie, if you look at 'Close Encounters,' 'Die Hard,' which was just referenced, it's an amazing thing that anamorphic lens, which is a lens that ... There are spherical lenses and there are anamorphic lenses that have a different kind of compression," said Abrams. "What you do is you expand the picture so on a 35 mm frame it gets basically crushed, and when you project it you use a lens that uncrushes it. But, what happens when you do that is you get these really cool oval background - when the sun's out of focus - and lens flares on anamorphic lenses, that are not coded, if you must know, had this great streaky quality and I've always loved how that looks."

"There are so many movies from my childhood that had those that when we were shooting 'Star Trek' I remember saying to Dan Mindel, the DP [director of photography], 'It would be so much fun if we' - I didn't think we were going to have quite that number of them, but it became this thing, and it was ridiculous," he said.

Abrams recalled Mindel bringing in these giant powerful halogen spotlights called "best in show" on set and they would use them while filming.

"It became this weird kind of artform of how to make the perfect lens flares with different kind of lenses," said Abrams. "And it was just this thing that sort of felt like it was a kind of visual system for the movie."

jj abrams montclair film festival

Neil Grabowsky / Montclair Film Festival

The full stage at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center where Colbert and Abrams spoke for about 90 minutes November 21, 2015.

Abrams mentioned his obsession and love for lens flares started to get him into trouble after 2009's "Star Trek."

"I just fell in love with how it looked, and I was starting to get in trouble with it from people, because they were like, 'Enough already,'" he recalled. "And then I did 'Super 8,' and I did a lot of them there, too."

However, it was when Abrams returned to work on "Star Trek Into Darkness" that he really hit his tipping point with the art form.

"There was literally one scene where Alice Eve, who acts in the movie, was so obliterated by a lens flare and I was showing the scene to my wife Katie, who just said, 'Okay, you know what? Enough. I can't see what this scene is about. Who is standing there?'" Abrams recalled. 'I'm like, 'It's Alice Eve.' And she's like, 'I cannot see her!'"

alice eve star trek

Paramount Pictures

A scene with lens flare obstructing Alice Eve in "Star Trek Into Darkness."

For those reasons, don't expect to see as many lens flares in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

"So, I kind of pulled back, and as you'll see in the 'Star Wars' movie, I've allowed lens flares to take a very back seat," said Abrams.

They will be there, though.

kylo ren star wars force awakens


One example of lens flares you'll see in "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

"There are a couple [scenes] where you have to have them though because there's a giant - there's a moment where you go - we're making sure that it looks photorealistic and photoreal," assured Abrams. "But every time there could be a flare, because he [visual effects supervisor, Roger Guyett] knows that I've liked to do that a lot, I've said, 'This is not the movie. These are not the flares you're looking for.'"

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