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I’ve seen many, many SciFi TV shows and movies over the years, and one of the most enduring motifs is the usage of “lightspeed” or “warp speed” in spacecraft.

The standard animation technique used when showing a craft jumping in/out of light/warp speed can be lightly characterised as the following:

The craft starts against a backdrop of in-focus stars. The stars then extrapolate from single dots into lines, while the craft stays relatively static. Finally, the craft “zips” into the distance.

My question: when did this depiction become the de-facto “standard” of animating a craft entering/leaving lightspeed, and why was this style chosen in the first place?

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    Hi, welcome to SF&F. Are you talking about the effect from Star Trek: The Motion Picture? You might be able to find a clip on YouTube to illustrate your question. Also, however, you may need to justify that this is a common trope.
    – DavidW
    Feb 7, 2022 at 23:32
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    @DavidW The hyperspace effect in Star Wars was both created and released to theaters before the Star Trek: The Motion Picture effects were conceived. Feb 7, 2022 at 23:45
  • @ToddWilcox The described effect doesn't match Star Wars. In Star Wars you see the stars go to streaks from inside the ship, but obviously it doesn't move. From outside the ship it just zips away into the distance.
    – DavidW
    Feb 8, 2022 at 0:25
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    Personally I'd say the streak is just a point moving faster than the frame rate. So I'd say Star Trek did it earlier they just had the stars as moving points but not streaks. Neglecting dopplar effects I'd estimate a ship would have to be moving at 100,000c to start seeing stars move like in the original Star Trek. The very first warp in the Cage had stars moving. youtu.be/zm6gXHh7ixs additionally entering the monolith stargate had streaks youtu.be/1DNbkKBW0K8 combine that and you get Star wars. Feb 8, 2022 at 0:58
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    @ToddWilcox while the op obviously intended to describe the Star wars effect I'd say the ST:II warp effect is a decent literal match for "The craft starts against a backdrop of in-focus stars. The stars then extrapolate from single dots into lines, while the craft stays relatively static. Finally, the craft “zips” into the distance." Feb 8, 2022 at 1:13

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A similar and extremely famous and influential special effect is the "beyond the infinite" or "through the monolith" effect from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1969). It doesn't have any of the precise elements you ask about, but the slit scan technique used does create a particular impression of travel at supernatural speeds:

According to Wikipedia, the first time star streaks were used for a warp drive or hyperspace animation was in the movie Dark Star in 1974. The movie was directed by John Carpenter and the special effects were created by Dan O'Bannon. The entire movie is available on YouTube. Here's a link to a time stamp about ten seconds before the first use of the effect in the movie:

The effects are primitive compared to Star Wars (1977), which means the latter might be the first complete example with all of the elements you asked about.

Here's a link to every hyperspace in the Star Wars universe with a time stamp right before the first one in the 1977 film:

The first use of a similar effect in the Star Trek universe was in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979):

You might be interested to read the history of the concept of hyperspace at Wikipedia.

As to why it's popular, well it certainly looks cool. It doesn't hurt that Star Wars was a huge success. There have been some changes and variations. Particularly the Star Trek universe doesn't normally have star streaks, although they call their FTL travel "warp" and the in-universe physics are different from most explanations of "hyperspace". Also Babylon 5 has a different system where gates are used to allow a ship to travel in hyperspace. They show the quickly receding ship without the star streaks, and a wormhole-like effect instead.

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    though...the Dark Star film effect looks an awful lot like '2001: A Space Odyssey" wormhole effect - so that would be 1968. Granted, 2001 wasn't necessarily depicting warp-speed a'la Star Trek, but it was definitely high speed galactic travel so for me, that would fit as an earlier example :)
    – NKCampbell
    Feb 8, 2022 at 0:31
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    @NKCampbell I thought about the slit scan effect from 2001 when I read the question. I expect all would agree it certainly had an influence on all that came after. My interpretation of the question is such that I believe the event in question would be called "warp", "hyperdrive", or "light speed", and that a ship receding into the distance and star streaks are the most important elements. None of those three criteria apply to 2001, so I didn't count it. But I think I'll add it in as a precursor, in case the asker thinks it counts. Feb 8, 2022 at 0:36
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    Its popularity probably has a self-reinforcing element to it. To a viewer primed by those classic films (and then the many other imitators of them), the stars-stretch-to-lines effect is a convenient shorthand for "the ship is going really fast now" without to movie having to really explain anything.
    – Cadence
    Feb 8, 2022 at 0:42
  • There's also the space travel at the beginning of Planet of the Apes (1968). Not quite the same but still galaxies zipping by. Feb 8, 2022 at 17:54

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