In a couple of weeks Titan books will release “Star Trek Beyond – The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow,” which goes in depth into the designs which earned Beyond an Oscar nomination. TrekMovie had a chance to speak with Harlow about the new book, the “50 aliens for 50 years project,” his redesigns of classic TOS aliens, the possibility of Star Trek 4, and more.
Star Trek Beyond: The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow
What can you tell me about the book?
It is basically an archive of all the alien characters we made for Star Trek Beyond, some of which were seen in the film, some of which were never seen in the film. Some of which were only briefly seen. But to do justice to all of that work – I was working with Joe Nazarro on an article for a prosthetics magazine and he asked me how many images I had. I documented this film more than any I had ever done so I have over 5,000 photos.
Was this because of the 50 for 50 project?
Kind of. It didn’t start off as 50 for 50. It started that I knew this was a special film because it was going to come out on the 50th anniversary and I just wanted to – because Star Trek does mean so much to me – I just wanted to make sure I documented everything. And when I told him that he said that deserves a book. So when we finished our interview talking about how many characters we made and how each one is worthy of its own film. There is nothing that we short cut as far as “Oh, let’s just make another one” that is only going to be background. There is not a single background alien in that film. They are all foreground hero aliens worthy of their own story and their own film.
Will the book tell those stories?
Not so much because those stories were never developed. But the aesthetics of the characters will be. Being a coffee table book, it is mostly a document in photo of what each one of these characters went through from concept, design to mechanics, to finished sculpture to test makeup to alteration to finale makeup. It covers every aspect of the creative alien process for every one of those aliens.
Each alien in Beyond got its own backstory
So if each has a story does that mean each of these aliens has a name?
Yes. The names could probably have been a bit more thought out. I mean we were approaching 50 aliens in the shop. Some have spines, some have horns, some have teeth, some have quills, some have hair, some have gloves – whatever it is. I just needed a way in the shop to designate what element went with what character. You would get buried under codes so we gave them all names which fortunately or unfortunately stuck during the shoot. They would come to me and say which character is this? I would say “That’s Quills” or “That’s Bogs” or whatever it is. In sort of the history of these characters we should have spent more on the names but there just wasn’t time. We are building them all simultaneously and trying to get ready for their shoot date. So this is “Slug” and obviously he looks like a slug.
So there is actually a list? All the names are documented?
Yeah. I’ve got a list. Because initially what I did, just for the folks in the lab and the people who applied on set, I made a book through one of those online bookbuilding programs. I made a book of all of our aliens. That’s one of the things that I showed to the folks at Titan first. I was like, “Look, this is what I did just so that I could archive it for myself because I wanted to look back and say “these are the guys that worked on it…a lot of behind the scenes…the artisans, and technicians that helped to bring each character to life. I wanted that for myself. What Titan has done is infinitely better than that book because it’s got text to it, it’s got backstory to it, and it spelled out the process of what we were doing.
Those classic Trek aliens we could have seen in Beyond
Is it interesting, or weird, or fun for you to see people cosplaying some of these aliens you’ve created here?
No, it’s touching! It’s really touching, and I mentioned this in an interview earlier when I was on stage [at Star Trek Las Vegas 2017] that, you know, when we started we did have our versions of classic Trek aliens. We had Andorians, Gorn…whatever it is…that we ended up not going with.
So we maybe would have seen those in Beyond?
You would have seen versions of those in Beyond. They were our updated versions, but we ended up going with completely new races across the board except for, obviously, Vulcans and Keenser, and the Orion girls. Those, I think, are the three holdovers from the series. But I was a little nervous because we weren’t addressing some of the beloved alien characters. We were introducing an entirely new group. Even though I was very conscious about maintaining the aesthetic of the Star Trek alien, which is primarily humanoid…it’s hands, the head…but it’s that kind of aesthetic that sets the Star Trek alien apart from, say, the Star Wars alien, or other sci-fi franchise aliens. So we were really conscious in designing these new aliens to keep that aesthetic, and to see people cosplaying those characters…to me it means that they embraced what we did as opposed to, you know, why didn’t you do this? Why didn’t you do that? That’s exactly what we had in mind from the beginning. They had the others, but we wanted to give them the same feeling, but new lifeforms to look at.
KI: You mentioned in your panel at Star Trek Las Vegas how you made sketches of some of the original, classic aliens. Can you rattle off a few names? You said Gorn I think…
Yeah we had Gorns, we had Andorians…we had so many. We ended up crossing over some of the original Trek aliens. But yeah, we ended up coming up with so many different amalgams of things. Even with Andorians, there’s that element…so we’ll take it and put it on this character, and work it into them. At the beginning…we had actually — and it got to sculptural form — a Klingon that was going to be one of these scavengers that Scotty meets on Altamid when he first meets Jaylah. One of those scavengers was going to be Klingon, but we ended up not going with that in favor of something else.
Was that going to be different from the ones we’d seen from Into Darkness?
Yes. It was still based on Neville Page’s design, but it was a more amped-up version…and Neville did design that, and then we translated it into 3D makeup, but it never got molded unfortunately. It seems closer to what I’m seeing in the press for Discovery. It seems like Neville took his original aesthetic for the Klingons and used it for that series.
I don’t suppose any of those designs are in the book…
There is our finished sculpture for the Klingon. It is in the book. There’s a lot in the book that you’ll never see anywhere else.
Looking ahead… to Star Trek 4?
Looking forward to future movies: Star Trek 4. A) have you heard anything about it? and, b) would you be interested in working on it?
Oh absolutely! I mean, I’ve never worked on a film that’s afforded me so much creative opportunity as Star Trek Beyond. Certainly, working on the 2009 Star Trek with JJ…we took home an Academy Award for that film, which was an absolute high point in my career. And then not being able to work on Into Darkness because I had a prior commitment, and coming back for Star Trek Beyond, what I wanted to do was take the level of quality of what we did on the 2009 reboot and amp it up in terms of volume. There are so many other concepts and designs that we had that are just waiting for their opportunity to be translated into living, breathing, acting characters.
Is there any chance, if a new film does happen, that we could see the Gorn that you designed or the Andorians?
I would love to bring those characters into it, absolutely. I think that I would push for that.
Have you heard anything about a fourth movie?
I haven’t. No, I haven’t. I’m just, fingers crossed, hoping that it happens. I’ve heard the same stuff that everyone’s heard online about a story with Chris Hemsworth, but inside track I haven’t heard anything. I would hope that they would come to me, and I had a great relationship with the entire production team so, fingers crossed that they’re knocking on the door sometime soon.
Any other stuff that you’re working on these days?
Yeah. I flew in yesterday because I’m on the set of Godzilla, you know the new Godzilla film. I’m also prepping the new Hellboy. I didn’t work on the others, and this is a reimagining…a completely new crew, completely new cast, a complete reimagining of the characters. It’s a chance to do something new with it that hasn’t been done before.
“Star Trek Beyond – The Makeup Artistry of Joel Harlow” comes out Tuesday, October 17th and is available to pre-order now on Amazon.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Titan has informed us the proper release date is October 17th and the October 3rd date on Amazon is incorrect. The article has been updated to reflect this.