After wrapping up four seasons on the FX series The Strain, production designer Tamara Deverell joined Star Trek: Discovery about half-way through the first season, making it her job to take the show to the strange new world of Pahvo and into the Mirror Universe. Following her time on the Star Trek: Discovery “Visionaries” panel at WonderCon, TrekMovie sat down with Tamara and some other journalists at a roundtable interview where we talked about her time in the first season and some plans for the second.
Changes in Engineering coming
Will we see an actual engine room in season 2?
We might. We’ve expanded parts of the ship. We’ve added a corridor that we didn’t have so now we have like a loop corridor. We went a little more mechanical with that corridor which I’m pretty excited about. We had designed something much bigger but we could only go so much, so we’ve got new spaces. There’s a new opening into the mess hall, and one into sick bay. One of the problems we had with [Stamets’ Lab] in Engineering was that it was very dark in one area and the DP, our cinematographer, kind of complaining and a lot of light came from the [spore chamber] cube. So, we are doing a little bit of renovation there, and I’m just going to leave it at that. But I’m pretty excited about it.
The 10-minute Pahvo pitch
How much freedom do you have designing. Like for example when you went to Pahvo, did the writers tell you exactly what they want it to look like or do you get to use your imagination and create it for them?
That was funny. That was actually the network said “We need to go to a planet and we need to go now. We want to get off the ship, so you need to go somewhere.” And so the writers called us and said “We need to go to this planet and they gave us some parameters and said pitch us something—in 10 minutes.” This is a true story. So, we went away for ten minutes and I was like “Ah, ah, ah…a yurt?” No, a yurt is not good enough. It has to be like a membrane structure. So, we built this membrane yurt. And it has to be mathematical. So, everything we designed is based on this math equation to build these fins and it’s quite complicated to make this membrane thing. But that was my pitch. And they stuck to it!
So, they go to this planet and the planet beings build this thing. We talked about getting dancers to be the Pahvans, but it had to be VFX. We tried a costume, but to be something that ethereal and it’s not TOS days anymore when we can put a guy in a goofy costume. You have to really charge the audience with something exciting. So, it became this amorphous being. I hope we do a few more of those because it’s kind of fun.
Fitting with The Original Series
Can you talk about the challenge of designing tech that fits in between Enterprise and TOS?
It’s impossible. So, when I started out I was like “Wow, this isn’t TOS.” You can never go back to TOS. Those were charming, lovely sets made out of cardboard and sticky tape. You can tell if you watched them what they did. Like when they went to the Mirror Universe, they literally took a Terran logo – which we did use as a basis of ours – and slapped it on a couple walls and called it done, called it Mirror. We have all this technology at our fingertips to build, including 3D printing, and the audience expectation now in science fiction is to give them things that are more “designed,” and more exquisitely designed. We just had to make that leap of faith and say the audience is going to come with us on that journey. Yes, we are pre-dating TOS, but no we are not going to offer you TOS again fifty years later.
At a panel last year it was mentioned that the colors on the show may evolve to be more like TOS, instead of the more darker tones. So, will we see that evolution in Season 2?
Boy, you guys are really digging around! I guess it depends what we build! But we really did go very dark when we went to the Mirror Universe. I left some of that. We actually put dark, shiny things in the sets and reflective things and we kept some of that because there was a shift when the Discovery went to the Mirror Universe and we want to feel that darkness. It’s a little bit of a blight on the whole world of Star Trek: Discovery right now. It’s a thing, a memory, that they have and so I sort of want to show that in the set.
It’s a darker show in general terms compared to all the other Star Trek shows. Part of that is the technology and the way we light the sets and use LED lighting which makes it darker. And also it’s what people expect now. They expect darker parts. It’s not all dark, though.
What were some of the biggest challenges for you in season 1?
Well I started around episode 6, so I’m just getting caught up. The reason I decided to do the show was that I was blown away by the sets. At first I was like, “Star Trek, sci-fi, hmm, I don’t know.” I like to design big things, but then I went on a tour with my predecessor. I was like “OK, I want to be a part of this!” And then, BLAM I’m in there. They had a long time of getting up to speed on building things and I was thrown in and all of a sudden I had to do the Terran ship, which is this massive ship and the sets for it. When you start a series, you have months to build, and we had episodic timing. So, I had to think quick on my feet about what to design that we could do quick enough to get it to make it look great. And of course, relying on some visual effects and set extensions was key. So, that was the biggest challenge.
And getting up to speed with canon; having to go to “Star Trek University.” There’s a lot of stuff out there. I grew up with TOS, because that’s my generation. So, I had to do a lot of going back. You know there’s amazing resources out there, like fan sites that you can just go and with a click I can get, like Section 31. There’s not a lot on Section 31. They’re very secret.
Glenn [Hetrick] was saying that HD cameras make his job a little tougher and kind of took away all his tricks and tools. Has the HD camera made your job more difficult?
Yeah, things shift. So, you pick a color for a set and you’re like “Oh my god it looks green or blue.” We don’t have time on an episodic show to do camera tests the way you would on a feature film. But, if we test things it helps us to know what we will get. So, all the main ship colors have been tested with the [HD] camera. It’s the nature of it. Sometimes the DP [director of photography] will say I want to light this or the director will want to make this a blue scene or a golden scene. That happened in episode 11. They decided to make the sun of the Harlak planet right through the windows, and the whole set was washed in amber. And I wasn’t expecting that and was quite taken by surprise. But when I saw it, I loved it. We’re working fast. So you just have to go with it.
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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