Over the weekend at the Directors Guild Canada event showcasing the Star Trek: Discovery art department, TrekMovie had a chance to speak with production designer Tamara Deverell about what she and her team have been up to for the second season.
What would you say was the biggest challenge for you and your team going into the second season?
Figuring out what we were going to build. We probably drew up seven sets that never happened. There was a lot of design work on crazy, great stuff that we couldn’t use. You can only afford to build so much and have time to build so much and what does the writing room need. The biggest challenge for me is getting that question answered. What do the writers need to tell the stories in season two?
One of the new sets for season two is Pike’s ready room, which is quite different than Lorca’s. What do the differing designs say about the two characters?
Well, Lorca was character-less in a way. I didn’t want to give him any character, except for the bowl of Chinese fortune cookies. He really only had one table in his room, and he was devoid of any warmth or humanity, and we know what happened with Lorca. So, that all made sense in the end.
So, when we decided we were going to do the ready room for Captain Pike I, of course, watched “The Cage” and went back to TOS and looked a lot at the character. We talked a lot to the writers as well about what his backstory is, what his history was, where he is from in Mojave, what he collected and what he brought with him. He brought stuff. We had stuff from New Mexico, from Mojave, from Arizona and we brought all of that in. He had a table that he brought in that was his table from childhood that had been hit by lightning. So, there was a whole backstory and richness and the other aspect was that he was a warm character who wanted to welcome people. He didn’t want a cold space. He wanted people to come in, so we had a sitting area. We made a bigger space and place where you could have a meeting. So, it wasn’t just his ready room. It is a place that you can imagine him falling asleep. Having some Cheese-Its and falling asleep watching his iPad. We really wanted that comfortable vibe. He was a cowboy, so we put in Remington sculpture, Navajo artwork and pottery. We brought in all these things that were Pike, his welcoming warm, cozy world.
We saw Spock’s quarters on the Enterprise. What were some of the opportunities or pitfalls for designing a set for what many consider a sacred ship?
Doing Spock’s room, we used the existing space. We brought in a lot of what he had in his room, the Vulcan bells, the tiered chess game, the mesh walls, the orange color. We really tried to draw as much of those character pieces in as we could. But given that this is episodic TV, we had to pick a space and redress it and do it. It wasn’t like what I would do fresh if we had the time. It wasn’t the money, it was just the time to build the proper Spock’s quarters. I think I would have gone more with canon and what we saw on TOS. I just wish I got to design the Enterprise bridge. If I were to do something like the Enterprise bridge, I would draw a lot from the original.
What kind of inspiration did you draw from for the world-building aspect of New Eden and how did you achieve the separation of how a viewer interprets post-WWIII New Eden vs. current-day Earth?
As New Eden was an untouched planet except for this church, we thought a lot of how to make this work, so there was a lot of going back to pioneer days. We drew that fine line. The church was brought and transplanted and what is in the church is technologically advanced, but not too far. They were growing their own food, living like pioneers. It was really drawing from that and we found a church as a location outside of Toronto that was perfect. We built the basement as a set, which was old-school for me, putting paint and plaster in, and old wood. It was really nice of days and months of these shiny surfaces and Starfleet ships to an old basement in a church and stained glass windows.
We had a lot of back and forth with the writers on those windows. The story evolved and we had to do reshoots and redesigns on the windows because the windows tell the story. So, we had a lot of fun with that. It was nice to just get away from the spaceship of it all. We did these tents, which we wanted to shoot outside but it was May in Ontario and you couldn’t count on the weather. So, we shot the scenes with the dinner in the tents, which were all homemade-looking. It was fun.
What can you say about the approach and influences for the Section 31 ship?
Of course, I went straight to look and see what other sets there had been in past franchise history for Section 31 and there was really nothing. Just some guys in some suits and that’s it. I was like okay, there is nothing I have to draw from – which is great as a designer as it is a free-for-all. What is Section 31? It is dark, it’s mysterious, it’s covert, it’s a little bit scary. It’s nookish. In conversation with the writers, we added little nooks and little rooms, just nooks and crannies. I also looked at a lot of film noir and the lighting and the harshness and the black-and-whiteness of it. That made it very glossy surfaces and a lot of interactive light and very low color. It’s grey on grey and black. So, it’s really about the form of the space and how it functioned for the various action pieces, some of which you have seen and some of which you will see.
And the bridge of the ship started as the USS Shenzhou?
Yeah. We had the Shenzhou which was sharp and angular, and we were going to take that set down and I thought “wait a minute, it has got a certain language that relates to Section 31.” And remember the Shenzhou bridge was on the bottom of the ship, so we had this two-story set with this whole area down below and I thought let’s just go down and make stairs and do this interesting two-level. And everyone thought it was fantastic and so that’s what we did. We also changed the viewscreen, but it is still the same language of a Federation starship, so I thought we could get away with that.
Did the USS Vengeance design from Star Trek Into Darkness have any influence on the Section 31 ship?
I am sure I looked at it, I remember kind of looking at it. Designers don’t want to copy, but we were drawing a lot from the Star Trek movies, because of [Alex] Kurtzman [who was co-writer and producer on J.J. Abrams first two Star Trek films] and just because they look so good. So, I probably was looking at them, but specifically no I would have to say it was more of keeping what we had to work with, which was the Shenzhou and developing this new ship.
Are there any other areas of Section 31 that we are going to see?
Yeah, probably. Section 31 is a big story point in season two. So, keep watching.
The Klingons have gone through a lot of changes for season two in terms of tone and makeup. How has this flowed into your approach for the new sets, like L’Rell’s garden?
Just doing a Klingon house was a new thing. I don’t think Star Trek has gone there. They have done throne rooms and burning council chambers and that sort of thing. So doing her house, we start thinking about how she is female, where can we put this? We redressed an old set. We do a lot of that to save time and money. We were always cave-like and I decided let’s give her a courtyard and garden. Klingons need to eat. They have gardens. It is not just a dead rock planet, which I think is always the go-to for sci-fi, just dead rocks. So we have a garden with a lot of interesting architecture.
With the future of the spore drive in question, does that mean we will finally see the actual warp drive engine room for the USS Discovery this season?
Not necessarily. Stay tuned.
Well, Stamets’ spore drive lab has some connection to warp drive in back, right?
That’s the warp core. The warp core is there. We did do a rebuild of part of the engineering room, just in terms of we opened it up and had a bit of a dark corner we added on. And we did a dilithium processor that had previously been built and used for a tiny little scene in season one and we brought that out and built it for the engineering space, just to have it there, because they would still be able to access that technology. Whether they do or not, you will have to see.
We saw some of Kaminar in Short Treks but Doug Jones has said we will be going back. Were those sets use for both the Short Treks episode and the full Discovery episode, and are there more to see?
I think you saw a lot of them in the Short Treks. I don’t think you will see more, but you will see them again. You may see more in the short. We were disappointed because we put our heart and soul into those huts. Just film these huts! You have kind of seen it. Maybe there is a little bit more, but not much. That’s something to look for.
We also saw some more of Kaminar in his quarters.
That was a fun set to do, Saru’s quarters. We found out in Short Treks that he brought seeds and we wanted to play that up and give him something different.
There seem to be touches of more color this season, is this part of the lighter tone of the show and can we expect to more of the color palette evolve in the direction of the original Star Trek going forward?
Possibly. Yes. Visually we get bored. So we are going to new planets, which we are doing and expanding the worlds and TOS-like areas, for sure.
[MINOR SPOILERS BELOW]
Alex Kurtzman has already revealed we will be visiting Talos IV in the second season. Without giving away any spoilers, is there anything you can say about this challenge from a production design standpoint?
When I was a kid and I watched [Star Trek:] The Original Series I had nightmares and was so freaked out about the Talosians with the big pulsing heads that when it came up that we might go there, I have to say I relived that moment of my childhood. Oh my god, I am working on Star Trek and I might – she says without giving anything away – I might have to do Talos and the Talosians. As a little kid, I was scared to death of these things. A lot of stuff I design in my head when I sleep at night, because there’s no time. So, there were a lot of weird dreams when that came up. Weird dreams of big heads and pulsing veins. [laughs]
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusively in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.