The third Star Trek: Discovery panel at Star Trek Las Vegas was focused on creature designs for the show, namely the Klingons and Saru, and featured Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick, who may be recognizable to fans of SyFy’s Face Off. Page is also known to Trekkies for doing the creature designs for the three Kelvin era Star Trek films. He and Hetrick – a self-proclaimed major Trekkie – have teamed up to form Alchemy Studios and they have been put in charge of creating the makeup and creatures for Discovery. For their panel the pair focused mostly on giving insights into the process of designing the look of the Kelpian Lt. Saru (Doug Jones), and all of the Klingons. They also shared some imagery of their design work for the show.
A Process with Canon Built-in
When asked about their design process, Page and Hetrick detailed the various steps they go through which includes 3D printing and various different test passes. Hetrick wanted to assure fans the team were dedicated to Trek history in their development process, saying:
There is also another step to this design process which is not just logic or the esthetic or the chemical or physical process, it is an almost religious level of devotion to the integrity of canon and making sure that all of you are getting what you want out of it. We spend a lot time talking about how things would work in the story and constantly buttressing our thought process with things from canon and from stories.
Designing the different Klingon houses
Page knew that coming up with designs for the Klingons for Star Trek: Discovery wasn’t going to be easy, telling the crowd:
I was brought on to start redesigning Klingons, which is a dangerous thing to do in general, as I found as I’ve reviewed comments online.
The redesign of the Klingons began very early on in the pre-production process by Page and co-creator Bryan Fuller. Page described Fuller’s original vision for the Klingons:
The words that he used were “The Klingons are self-ware estheticians, and I want them to appear less brutish and more conscious.” He made references [to] baroque and samurai [styles] in terms of armor because there is this whole suit [Torchbearer].
Page saw this as an opportunity to make the Klingons “deeper and richer than they already are.” They ensure that everything they design for both creatures, costumes, and props have “purpose and meaning.” Hetrick noted that they use the term “evolutionary imperative” as a term to inspire all decisions to make sure design choices are based on specific reasons. This approach is part of the reasoning behind the previously reported detail that the different Klingon houses will have different looks. He explained the reasoning:
The empire is very big. They don’t all grow up on Kronos. They don’t all live on the same planets and certainly those different planets would have different environments. So how would the cultures have evolved differently?…We tried to come up with cultural axioms for each house so each looks different and they bear a cultural patina like our cultures do here on Earth.
Down to the Smallest Details
The pair cited the design of the Klingon torchbearer as an example of the level of detail they’re striving for. For example, the top of the Torchbear’s knife contains Klingons poised to thrust themselves into the honor of battle, and this kind of symbol is used throughout other Klingon designs seen in Discovery.
The Klingon skull and vertebra are part of their design ethos. It’s reflected in their ornate helmets, such as the “Periscope” helmet, which includes a heads-up display on the inside.
The Torchbearer suit is their pride and joy, as it uses all new production techniques and incorporates incredible detail.
There’s a detail again of a Klingon sacrificing himself for the honor of battle, the shape of which harkens to the emblem of the Klingon Empire. Additionally, in between the calf plates are thrusters for flying through space.
Why are the Klingons bald?
Being that the Klingons are an apex predator the design for their anatomy assumes they have highlighted senses, specifically extra sensory receptors running from the top of their heads to their backs. This was the “impetus” with Page and Fuller for the shape of the heads. They started with designing Klingon skulls.
And these lead the the first designs for a “generic Klingon.” Page explained that DSC’s Klingons are bald because of these heightened senses on the top of their heads. The bald look was also a mandate from Fuller.
Designing for the Character and the Actor
The pair talked a lot about the high-tech equipment and techniques they use in their work. For example, they start with a laser scan of the actor, such as Doug Jones for designing his look as Saru. They are then able to build up and try different simulated materials to arrive at the look they want.
Page explained that the next step was to use sculpting software to finalize a design, but with a focus on the character and the actor, explaining using Saru as an example:
All the while I’m trying to get a sense of character. It is all about character mostly and trying to yeild something fresh and new which is a challenge. And what I felt so paramount with this particularly character was making sure that Doug Jones himself is able to do his job.
Even though Doug Jones has worked with prosthetics extensively they were well aware he would be in the Saru makeup quite a bit, and he needs to be able to act through it.
Additional Star Trek Las Vegas Coverage
Stay tuned for additional coverage coming all week long.