Mark Worthington confirmed to an audience at Eagle-Con LA last month that he is indeed the new Production Designer for CBS’s upcoming Star Trek television series. We caught up with him after his panel to talk Trek.
Before he headed out to Toronto to begin work on CBS’s upcoming Star Trek television series, we caught up with Production Designer Mark Worthington at Eagle-Con at Cal State LA on May 14, a student-centered sci-fi/fantasy/comic convention where he was talking about his last job, Production Designer on American Horror Story. His work on the American anthology horror television series could prove particularly relevant to the new Star Trek series if the prevailing rumor, that Trek will be an anthology series, proves true.
After his panel, we approached Mark to interview him about his new gig. We were fully aware the odds he would be willing or allowed to discuss the new show were slim to none. Not only did our intuition prove right, but he pointed out, “There’s nothing to talk about yet,” noting that scripts were still being written, and the world he would be giving life to had not yet been developed.
“There’s nothing to talk about yet.”
–Mark Worthington, Star Trek All Access Production Designer
We did have a brief chat however about some of the similarities of re-dressing standard sets like Ugly Betty’s ‘The Tube’ week after week to give the set a different look and feel and how that could easily be applied to creating multiple starship sets.
Mark Worthington at Eagle-Con LA
Although he didn’t have much to say in the way of Trek (yet), he spoke at length during his panel about his work on previous shows, along with American Horror Story Costume Designer Lou Eyrich and Set Decorator Ellen Brill.
When the moderator introduced Mark as Emmy award winning, he laughingly corrected her “Not winner, nominee – still waiting! I’m the Susan Lucci of production design!”
She then asked him how he got his start in the industry.
“Well a producer just found me under the 101 freeway one da and said here’s a pencil. No, No I started drawing as a kid and I always had a pencil in my hand growing up. One wonders why I can’t draw better.”
Ellen Brill chimed in “Oh he’s an amazing illustrator!”
Mark continued “I wanted to be a fine artist then my dad kind of intervened and he wanted me to go to a liberal arts school, so I ended up going to Reed College in Portland Oregon which had, at that point, a joint program with an art school, but I didn’t end up doing that.”
“I got into drama and theater and stayed in Portland after graduation with friends, directing and in designing theater pieces there and taking the money and then thinking ‘Hey! graduate school and theater because that way I’ll make money—even more!’ Of course this got a huge chuckle especially out of knowing students.
“I just started designing for the new Star Trek series for CBS, and no I can’t talk about it.”
“So I went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and got a costume design MFA.”
“Carnegie at that time had and still has a lot of contacts in the film industry and alums working in the industry…and within the next two years I was art directing the film Tombstone.”
“So, I came out to LA I started art directing and eventual production designing.”
“I did the pilot to Lost, which was my first foray into television. They hired me because I had done bigger features, and I was the person who wasn’t scared that it was only four and a half weeks when they brought me on util they started shooting. I was the only one who didn’t break out in a sweat apparently when they described what was happening.”
“And then I got Ugly Betty. Some of you may know that I was on that show, helped invent that show, was on for all four seasons, did some other things and now American Horror Story… although now I’m not doing American Horror Story‘s sixth season. I just started designing for the new Star Trek series for CBS, and no I can’t talk about it.”
“So that’s my bag!”
The concept sketch for the famous crash site scene from Lost (above) and a picture of the final set build (below)
Creating Multiple Worlds… for a Star Trek anthology?
And while the panel discussion was exclusively about “American Horror Story” much of what Mark discussed could easily apply to the Star Trek universe and gives us a glimpse into how he would deal with a show not only with a rich universe, but one that might be part of an anthology with changing eras and cultures. This of course will be particularly relevant if Star Trek All Access turns out to be an anthology series.
This was Mark’s response when asked to talk about the creative process of building a world each season:
“That’s an interesting question. It’s the most fun and most daunting. We didn’t know that’s what was going to happen. I don’t know if Ryan [Murphy] knew he was going to turn this into an anthology series.”
“Yeah he did,” Lou Eyrich American Horror Story Costumer Designer chimed in.
“Did he? I was a newbie it takes a while to get into the inner sanctum! So I didn’t know. So he obviously sort of invented, well didn’t invent but revivified, this idea of an anthology show.”
“We were in a house in LA and contemporary times in season one. Now were in early 1960s in Massachusetts in an asylum for the mentally ill, so where is the DNA that continues through? There’s no way you can self-consciously determine that before hand and say ‘here are the things we’re going to keep and not keep’. Tonally with the story you have to kind of trust that somehow it reveals itself. Which it does.”
“So every time you’re creating a whole new world. Even with the murder house that was in contemporary LA we have flashbacks to the 30s and 40s.”
“And we build everything for the most part. I’m not sure that something you’re aware of because people come up to me especially with that hotel and say ‘Where’s the hotel? Is that the Oviatt?’ No, it’s not. It’s on Sound Stage 15 at Fox.”
The hotel from American Horror Story
“One of the difficulties is that we rebuild from scratch every year. The template for television for decades has been that you set up a procedural show. So there’s a crime lab and then there’s the apartment of the protagonist and the apartment for whoever else, the antagonist, and then there’s the bar where they all meet and those are all set up from the beginning and then you have that for 10 years so it’s very cheap.”
“Not only do we tear things down and rebuild from scratch every year, they’re huge, ambitious feature- and more than feature-quality sets. That’s because in television you don’t know what space you’re going to need or what’s going to happen in that space in terms of narrative, so you have to build more. In a feature films you get a relatively short scene and you can say ‘we can leave this part out’ and reduce the cost. And of course a movie script is just one script where a television show can have any number from 5 to 25.”
He and the group also spoke to dealing with budget issues and creative ways around it: how to hold their creative ground and prove why they need that extra couch or winding corridor. The speed of television production was also discussed. The current season of American Horror Story has an incredibly detailed Art Deco hotel that, as Mark mentioned, was actually a set. It took seven weeks from concept and empty sound stage to finished product. For all of those who think that Star Trek All Access should be further along in production, that’s something to keep in mind!
It seems with all of his skills and experience Mark is definitely qualified to help create the new television world of Star Trek.
CBS’s new television series comes to it’s online platform CBS All Access January 2017.
Maybe those drawings shown on Trekcore were the real deal, looks similar to his other work.
They weren’t done by him – they were by Sam Michlap and someone with initials JD.
Yeah, they did say that the sketches were from ‘multiple artists’. Wonder who “JD” is!
They looked like something designed by Antoni Gaudí. Just google photos of the Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona.
They deleted them:
“UPDATE – JUNE 6, 1:20PM ET: At the request of parties involved we have removed both the concept art and the previously noted project title.”
Was the project title “Green Harvest”? That’s the name of the art site, which is linked there and is empty now. And I missed the pics. :-(
How did they look like?
You can still find them if you google “star trek concept art mark worthington” and select *images* ;)
I am getting really excited and impressed with these moves that CBS has made in the last month or so. At first I was a little stand-offish on the whole prospect, but these last few announcements have given me hope for something that will be memorable. I don’t want to compare, because you can’t, but I hope these new episodes will inspire a new generation of kids as the originals did for me in the early 70s. Back then I could rattle off the names of each episode and knew what the story was about, still can today! But you felt like it was yours, and I wish the same for this venture. Good luck!
Seeing more of his work today, it’s obvious that he really likes very busy and artistic looking scenes. So for those of us who like the “clean” look of the TOS TV and movies, I seriously doubt he is going to gives us that. The best we can hope for I think is for others to restrain his ultra-busy and gothic tendencies.
He can do clean too. Ugly Betty is a good example of everything from ultra clean to crazy cluttered.
OK, I am feeling better about this. Thanks!
I remember in one of the early Ugly Betty episodes one of the characters remarks about how the magazine office looks like it is out of Star Trek.
Can’t remember many of the TOS movies having “clean” looks of the bridge and/or remaining interiors. Cleanliness left Trek after TOS ended in 1969, and returned when TNG began in 1987.
I like the idea of rich and deep. But those design sketches floating around were ridiculous. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.
You really need to rewatch the movies. The “clean” aesthetics of Starfleet, established in TOS, are clearly in place.
Really hoping those “Klingon Sarcophagus” ship sketches and the others that were briefly online were just sort of an off-the wall bluesky kind of thing, and not indicative of the direction the art design is going for this show. In my opinion you can dress up the ships and sets to make them look more modern, like the Abrams films did, but they have to maintain that traditional Star Trek DNA.
Well if it is an anthology series that took place in multiple Star Trek universes, then I could accept those designs as the look of one possible universe. The important thing to me, if you follow such an idea, is how you connect all the different dots in the end.
Could be epic.
And I would like to welcome Mr. Worthington to Star Trek fandom. Folding dunce hats are in the corner by the coffee service. Please keep one with you at all times. Someone here will let you know when to put it on.
…Or it all takes place in ONE universe, and stretched over several decades.
TrekCore: “Rumor: New Trek 2017 Production Designer chosen?”
TrekMovie: “Confirmed as Production Designer”
Might one inquire as to the source of this confirmation? I’d also like to add, that those designs on the TrekCore rumor article, are absolutely… HIDEOUS. I’d take the JJ Enterprise and accept it as canon, long before those concept art designs. And that’s saying a lot given my outspoken criticism of the JJverse.
Mark Worthington himself at Eagle-Con on May 14th. It was also in their program:
Basically it was never a rumor :-)
@ Aaron: Seems like everybody missed Eagle-Con since it hasn’t been reported before. As far as I know it hasn’t been announced officially by CBS.
“I’d take the JJ Enterprise and accept it as canon”
I’d take the JJ Enterprise (with all the designs) and put it into a cannon. Then I’d shoot it right out of the atmosphere.
I just noticed that you can buy tickets for Beyond in my local cinema now. 20th July, 8 pm. It is a little weird though, that no running time is listed yet. But I guess it will be again a little over two hours.
I just hope that if the anthology series (maybe?) goes beyond the 75+ year gap between TUC and TNG, we can have a season recreating existing shows and movies. I would love to see what took place between ENT and TOS, TOS and TMP, and TMP and TWOK. It would be neat if the new crew could recreate those distinctive aesthetics…
There’s a reference in this article to “Ugly Betty’s ‘The Tube’”. Can someone explain what this means?
Gary, looks like that image didn’t make it into the article. It’s very small in the header image. Attaching here…
It’s the main entrance to the fashion magazine offices from from the show. Each episode it was themed to match some plot point.
One thing Ill say, the premiere episode of Lost was one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen on television so props to this guy for the production design elements. Dont get me wrong, Lost ended up the worst of television, but for awhile it was also the best of television.
I’m not sure of the point that you are trying to make with this post? I recall a lot of things going wrong with LOST when it started getting picked up for more seasons beyond the writers’ apparent expectations, but I have no recollection of its production design elements suddenly going to pot.
Among the Paramobius leaks of December 2014 was that there would be a Trek anthology series. Though, he said that the anthology would be a precursor to a long-running series with a permanent cast/setting.
Well, one thing is for sure: so far this thing is a total white sausage fest behind the camera. But, hey, what’s new?