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I've been watching the old Star Trek again for the first time in 20 years or more. I am really impressed with the appearance of the ship in space, but more so I am impressed with the appearance of planets from space. They have a nice 3d appearance to them, the mountains and clouds have shadows, etc. How was this done in a special effects sense?

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    Whoever decided to VTC this question: this is firmly on topic, as it falls under "Behind-the-scenes and fandom information" section listed in the FAQ. Sep 8 '12 at 21:00
  • I won't put this in an answer, because I'm unsure... but the original series used matte paintings for all of the orbital/planet scenes. I'm uncertain if the Enterprise was greenscreened on top, or if the models were shot in front of them.
    – John O
    Sep 8 '12 at 21:05
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The original Star Trek episodes typically did not have that kind of detail on planets seen from space.

It's likely you're seeing the versions of episodes with the special effects re-done using CGI.

See this article, for example.

A typical view of the Enterprise in orbit around a planet from the original series can be seen here.

This article on Memory Beta includes what appears to be a newer CGI image of a similar scene.

And here's a side-by-side (well, top-by-bottom) comparison of a shot of the Enterprise in Earth orbit.

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    Oh boy, that's so disappointing! I was hoping they were way awesomer than I could appreciate when I was 10 years old. I had no idea... I'm watching on Netflix.
    – zipquincy
    Sep 8 '12 at 22:49
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    Don't be disappointed. I saw them when they first appeared (back before Time) and they were just as amazing to my ten year old mind as they may appear to you with their new CGI. I was enthralled with the idea and my imagination did the rest. There was nothing cooler to me than the Enterprise pulling into a parking orbit around a new planet. I couldn't wait until they beamed to the surface. I would inevitably feel bad for those security guys though... I always thought I would be sure to be in the command structure when "I" got to Starfleet... Sep 9 '12 at 8:22
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    Weird how the Enterprise looks better in the old shot (top), than in the new one (bottom).
    – Tom Lint
    Apr 2 '16 at 19:54

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