Costume designer Gersha Phillips and props master Mario Moreira work closely together on Star Trek: Discovery to kit out the crew. Following the Star Trek: Discovery “Visionaries” panel at WonderCon, TrekMovie sat down with Gersha and Mario and some other journalists at a roundtable interview to talk about how they make the props and costumes feel real, and what they hope for in season two.
Ready to have some more fun for season 2
What can you tell us about costumes for the second season?
Phillips: We aren’t really allowed to say anything.
Moreira: I think what we’ve been saying is that we set the bar so high for ourselves this year that we are just going to keep pushing and pushing and give you something even more awesome and spectacular.
What kind of guidance are you getting? What freedom do you have in your designs?
Phillips: It comes from the story. Basically, when it is written that’s where I start. The story is my basis and then I pull from that. What costumes I have to design, what is new, what can we reuse? That’s the process. I feel like last year went so well, they were pretty happy, so I feel they are giving me a little more leeway. They said the other day when I asked about a character, “Just do what you do.”
Moreira: We’ve gotten to a level of trust. I think we’ve gained that trust. They let us really explore first, and then we present to them and they may say, “Oh, you know we didn’t think of this,” or “I was thinking more like this but I like what you’ve done so can we find a middle ground?” We are in that world now where we get to really explore and have a bit of fun.
When do you feel that sense of trust finally started to appear?
Phillips: I think Mirror Universe was a tipping point and episode 15 was the icing on the cake. That went really well.
Challenges from uniforms to bat’leths
Is there anything in particular in Season 1 that was more of a challenge for each of you?
Phillips: Everything. Except the Disco workout shirt. That one was easy. When they told me they wanted me to do this shirt I thought it was a joke. I put it aside and didn’t even think about it until I got asked about it later. So, that was funny. The Starfleet uniform itself took us 6 months to get to. Luckily, we had that prep time because the sets weren’t ready. That was a journey.
Moriera: Part of that journey for me was the badges. Because they are really a reflection of the costume because as the costume changed, so did the badge. When Gersha landed on it, I knew we were able to land on it as well. We really came to a point together and could finally present that final version of the uniform.
What was the most difficult prop to create?
Moreira: For me there was a lot of collaboration with the bat’leth. That took a while to really get to. The bat’leth and the phaser were tough ones. The phaser for me — I’d wake up in sweats because it was so iconic. It’s such a thing and I thought “Man, I got to nail this thing.” We got there, and I was so proud of it. The bat’leth, we just kept circling around different colors and shapes. We were sort of putting a new stamp on the Klingons and wanted to show this aesthetic warrior culture, and we needed to create a weapon that was a piece of art.
We heard Glenn [Hetrick] talk earlier about all the different houses of Klingons and their design. Does this extend to their weapons?
Moreira: Yes. There are different shapes of mek’leth as well for different houses. We have worked some of that out, with different shapes for different characters, and I would like to introduce some new bat’leths for different houses if it comes up.
Nerding out with NASA and JPL to get it right
Are you watching other Trek series for inspiration in your designs, and if so, which ones?
Phillips: Depending on what the story line was, I dipped into many different versions of Trek. I go to other inspirations as well. I looked at a lot of other sci-fi and other futuristic films, series, etcetera, just sort of combing the world. Also, when we were doing the space suit, the EV suit, we looked at NASA and that lightweight space suit a woman there was designing.
Moreira: And we were talking to Jet Propulsion Laboratories almost every day and asking things like “How would this function? What’s the standard for this?” And of course, there isn’t one, and calling Jet Propulsion isn’t the easiest thing to do, but when you say you’re from Star Trek everyone there wants to get on the phone.
Is there someone there at JPL who is an official consultant?
Phillips: Yes, someone set it up. I think Vincenzo [Natali] did it for Bryan [Fuller]. It was very important that what we design would actually be able to function. When we had the illustration for the EV suit, we sent it to them and got on the phone and had a conversation about the reality of it and what the pieces were. I actually feel like there was nothing that came down to us about what we needed to do…
Moreira: No, I think we got it!
Phillips: He was pretty happy with what we had done. That was cool. For season two, I was watching Interstellar. There are some really great backstories about how they came up with the script. What was really interesting was listening to [physicist] Kip Thorn, talk about science and space travel and all that. It was really cool and interesting for me because I’m not a science person.
Moreira: She’s turned into a nerd!
Phillips: I know, but the thing to me is being in a room and having these conversations about certain subjects and thinking “I’m way over my head and I don’t know what I’m doing.” I had to do a lot of research on the fly. Whenever they had specific thing for us to do, I had my team split up researching and reporting back. As Aaron [Harberts] kept saying, it’s got to be grounded in some form of reality and it’s got to make sense to us.
Yes, the Trekkies will call you on that.
Phillips: I feel like the first iteration of Trek did do a little of that. In the ’60s, you couldn’t fact check things like you can now. There was no Internet available to you. So, I feel like they got away with a lot more than we do. And also, they don’t have the history to deal with.
Original Star Trek inspired a lot of real life technology. It sounds like real life technology is inspiring you. Can you speak about that?
Moreira: What I want to do specifically with prop design, is not just nod to The Original Series, but as Gersha discussed with me earlier, The Original Series inspired the cell phone, medical scanners, iPads, and so many things. That’s what we want to do now with [Discovery]. We want to inspire someone to go, “hey that could work.”
When you are designing a prop, a piece of technology, how deep do you go into the rabbit hole of how these things work, or is it more about being camera ready and looking good?
Moreira: For me, it has to function in my head. I have to know what every button does on it. I have to know how far the communicator can communicate. We have to know these things so that when an actor on set asks “what does this do?” we have the answer for them. Because we are not just designing things, we are building a world for the actors to live in. So if we don’t have the answers for them, they can’t fully develop their characters. So, we have to fully develop our props and costumes so that they can do their jobs.
More TrekMovie WonderCon 2018 coverage
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