Two of the production department heads on the Star Trek: Discovery “Visionaries” panel at WonderCon were the makeup and prosthetic effects duo of Glenn Hetrick and James MacKinnon. Glenn Hetrick is probably best known for the SyFy show Face-Off. He is a life-long Trekkie and co-founder of Alchemy Studios with his Face-Off collaborator, and Trek creature and character designer, Neville Page. James MacKinnon is a Trek franchise veteran makeup artist, who has been part of the makeup crews on TNG, DS9, Star Trek: First Contact, and Star Trek (2009).
Following the panel, TrekMovie sat down with these makeup gurus along with other journalists at a roundtable interview where we talked about the design of the Klingons, and the day-to-day process of working on a new high definition Star Trek show.
Redesigning the Klingons
What was your inspiration, where did you get the idea to change the Klingons so radically but then also keep the texture of who they are?
Hetrick: Early on, because we were on the show for almost eight months before we actually took over, so this was a looong discussion. With Bryan Fuller and the other producers, there was always this desire to create a new Klingon look, because we felt like it was something that had happened between TOS and Next Gen, it happened between TOS and the films. So, it was a natural step to take in the Star Trek universe when you are coming up with a new show. That and the fact that this is really the first Trek where we are dealing with the problems that HD creates. And those problems, combined with sophisticated audience eye means you have to come up with something even more hyper-real to make people believe it.
So, we wanted to do this with a keen eye on honoring the integrity of everything that’s come before us. I grew up on and loved the [veteran Star Trek makeup designer Michael] Westmore versions and James worked on those versions. So, we wanted to keep enough of it there that it resonated and felt like Klingon, but to take it as far as we could in the realm of realism and evolve the design to it’s next step.
Can you talk more about the different Klingon designs on Discovery?
Hetrick: One of the things I look forward to unpacking more as we move forward: I created a cultural axiom document for all the houses. It doesn’t mean it will be written into the show, but when we make design decisions and we show a House, and there’s lots more to show, there are all these cultural axioms I created to give us design impetus as to which planet of the Empire did they grow up on? In the past we’ve always seen a homogenized look to the Klingon with the wardrobe and the hair, give or take. We’re trying to make sure that all the houses feel like their own unique thing, because why wouldn’t they be? If you look at the cultural patina of all of our cultures, with our architecture, our food, our fashion or music, on just one measly planet that’s not even space faring yet, what would the Empire’s culture look like? And we’re really diving into that and will be as we go further.
Inspiration for updating the Tellarites
What can you say about the new look for the Tellarites?
Hetrick: [Tellarites were] a tall order, if you go back to TOS. There were some awesome versions on Enterprise, that’s a cool way to evolve the Tellarites. They were kind of a minor thing, just a little bit. We went back to the original, and how can we try to get that “thing”, that feel back into this but not make it look like it did then. So I really looked at Stan Winston’s work on The Island of Doctor Moreau, now almost a lost film, the Val Kilmer version. So many of those anthropomorphic forms, animal heads, were so beautiful and that is where we took our inspiration.
A collaborative and detailed design process
Do you guys get a brief that gives you that information and then you work from that?
Hetrick: When I said in the panel it’s the most immersive, generous, and inclusive, creative environment I’ve ever worked in, that is nothing but short of the truth. So, it is not common in our department to get this much immersion. Aaron [Harberts] and Gretchen [J. Berg] and all the writers and producers from Day One–and we started working almost 8 months before we were physically on set—that’s unique. So yeah, they share ideas before they’re even beat boarded, before they’re outlined, before they’re even scripts. And then they ask for— and actually mean it, which is a strange thing in Hollywood— your input. They’ll give us where they’re headed and some thoughts they’re kicking around in the writer room phase before it’s even beated out, and we’ll start throwing stuff back at them and they’ll grab some stuff that they like and that feedback starts to happen as Nev[ille Page] starts into the digital world.
Someday I hope all you guys get to see that, I think there is inexorably going to be a book, if not a documentary. [Creature designer Neville Page’s] design process is quite massive, so we work in the digital, not just because we’re 3D printing things, but for everything. So, there are digital designs that come from those conversations then he and I will talk about it. He’ll bang out versions. Then we’ll start taking the ones that are most likely and maybe doing some physical tests and looking at materials and colors. For instance, for the Orions, we just looked at raw silicone samples. We took this demon face that is not part of Star Trek and ran different translucent blue colors to see what the base tone was that really gave it an angelic, almost heavenly glow so that when light goes through it and bounces back to your eye it doesn’t look like a dude in blue paint. James can speak to that. The problem is, we can do all those things in the lab, and make all those cool techniques work, but he’s got to figure out how to get it to blend with the skin.
MacKinnon: It [Orion makeup] was four colors we have to spatter and spackle on there just to give it life and depth. Just so it’s not a solid blue, solid green, solid any color character, because that camera is gonna pick up every detail. Also, the prosthetics that I get now, with the camera being so sharp — like Mary [Chieffo] had a 5 piece prosthetic on, my goal is for you not to see all the seams that I have to hide with stippling and coloring.
Is it still a process of discovery as you go day in and day out?
MacKinnon: Oh sure. I mean my makeups change throughout the whole season in ways that I learn every day of doing it a little differently. You guys will never see it, but I see ways of shortening the time, putting the paint a little to the right which will hide something… those are little changes that I’ll see that make my job easier, that make production’s job easier because they get the actor on camera for more time. The less they’re in my chair the more they are on screen.
Hetrick: HD is this technological land mine. No one knocked on the doors of all the makeup effects people and said you know, in a few years from now you’re going to have to change the way that you do everything because they’re going to invent a new camera. When he says HD is not good for us—it takes away all our secrets. So on shows like CSI: New York where we’re doing all this high end forensics stuff (which we also worked on together) we had to literally throw away all the molds for the pieces that were in foam because they just no longer worked. Day one of the season when we changed to a Red [HD] camera, we were like “that’s it!” — we had to go all silicone for everything because you could see every edge. So it takes away a lot of our tricks. So it is a process of discovery and each character carries with it it’s own challenges, no matter how many makeups you’ve done, the next makeup is the first time you’re doing THAT makeup, so everything has to be figured out for that person and the way their edges work.
Designers would love to update the Borg
What kind of aliens from previous iterations of Star Trek would you like to see on Discovery? Is there anything you’re dying to make?
Hetrick: You know Klingons would have been the first answer. We luckily got to do the Andorians and Tellarites, so awesome going back to TOS. But Borg!
MacKinnon: Yeah Borg!
Hetrick: We’re DYING to do Borg. Because with 3D printing… no single species is better suited to the way we are approaching using technology now and immersing ourselves in 3 D printing than the Borg. So we’re just dying —I don’t know when or if that would even happen in this series, but that’s just our wish list.
MacKinnon: I did First Contact, so I got to do that version of it, which was all foam latex. Now it would be all 3D printing with silicone. It’s cool.
More TrekMovie WonderCon 2018 coverage
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on the Space Channel and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.
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